To idiom or not to idiom

Fascinating INTO interview with Jonathan Cole here, written by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. Cole’s music has in recent years retreated from mainstream practices of technical refinement and ‘good’, modernist wagers of taste, towards a sort of cultivated primitivism that sounds, as Tim says, ‘exhilaratingly raw, yet still possessed with an aura of purposeful creation’. This impression is confirmed listening to the works themselves (accessible via the interview), particularly Burburbabbar za, from which it is hard to tear yourself, so compellingly does it hover in frenzy between movement and stasis, music and (the music of) the chaotic everyday.

I particularly like the following from the interview, on the subject of strengthening the relationship between composers, audiences, and performers:

‘The way I’d been thinking about doing it for years was completely wrong. It was about trying to create something as ‘vivid’, ‘imaginative’, or as ‘specific’ as possible, whereas actually it’s about opening up listeners’ choices and their perceptions in a way that they are able to accept for themselves’.

This relates back to the earlier discussion of the trappings of refinements of technique and presentation, particularly for their lure both to audience and composer towards an apparent richness that is, when properly thought through, lacking in deeper qualities of originality and transformation. Refinement, convention, even common language, are here understood to embed a consensus as to what constitutes artistic value by capturing whatever energies might provide an image of true, radical resistance, and muting them, shoring up their subsumption into the dominant discourse.

The whole discussion put me in mind of the 1960s and 70s free improvisers’ cultivation of a style of playing that could be as free from idiom as possible: in the end this proved impossible – ossification and canon-forming is unavoidable when art is subject to time, even in the hardiest of experimentalist disciplines – but the value of the music and thought that resulted from their efforts is plain for all to see. Sometimes, perhaps always, true resistance is not about realism, but rather tries to play on and broach as much as possible the perennial gap between idealism and empiricism. Steven Shaviro in inspirational form on this very topic of the gap:

‘It is our absolute, categorical moral obligation to reject the ideology of No Alternative, and to act as if something other and better than today’s universal market capitalism were possible. We know that there will always be a gap between this moral imperative and whatever empirical accomplishments we manage to make; the revolution will always disappoint to some extent (we can, and should, try to make it less disappointing rather than more, but we will never entirely succeed); yet we may not give it up and acquiesce in the “actually existing” system of systematic injustice’.


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