Modern Music and JazzThere is [a] particular area worth paying attention to, because it reflects some typical processes of the epoch, and examining it will lead us on to some general phenomena of contemporary life. I am speaking of music.It is obvious that, unlike what is proper to a "civilization of being," the music of a "civilization of becoming," which is unquestionably the modern one, must have developed in a peculiar way to enable us to speak of it as a Western demon of music. The processes of dissociation behind all modern art naturally play a part here, so that in the latest phases of music we find self-dissolving situations...It is no oversimplification to say that the most modern Western music has been characterized by an ever more distinct separation from its origin, whether in melodramatic, melodious, pretentious, heroic romanticism (most recently in the line represented by Wagnerism), or in tragic pathos (we need only refer to Beethoven's usual ideas). This separation has been realized through two developments, only apparently opposed.The first is intellectualization, in which the cerebral element prevails, with an interest focused on harmony, often leading to a technical radicalism to the detriment of immediacy and sentiment ("human contents"), resulting in abstract rhythmic-harmonic constructs that often seem to be the ends in themselves. The extreme case of this is recent twelve-tone music and strict serialism.The second is the physical character found in the most recent music. This term has already been used for a music, mostly symphonic and descriptive, that returns in a certain sense to nature, removing itself from the subjective world of pathos, and is inclined to draw its principal inspiration from the world of things, actions, and elementary impulses. Here the process is similar to the intolerance for intimist, academic studio painting during the rise of early impressionism and plein air painting. This second musical tendency has already begun with the Russian school and the French impressionists, having as its limit compositions such as Honegger's Pacific 231 and Mossolov's The Iron Foundry. When the second, physical current met with the first, super-intellectualized one, this meeting came to define a most interesting situation in recent music. One need only think of early [Igor] Stravinsky, where an intellectualism of pure, overelaborated rhythmic constructions blossomed into the evocation of something pertaining less to psychology, or to the passionate, romantic, and expressionistic world, than to the substratum of natural forces. One can see The Rite of Spring as the conclusion of this stage. It represents the almost complete triumph over nineteenth-century bourgeois music; music becomes pure rhythm, an intensity of a sonorous and tonal dynamism in action. It is "pure music," but with an additional Dionysian element, hence the particular reference to dance. The predominance of dance music over vocal and emotional music has also characterized this current.Up to this point, such a process of liberating dissolution in the realm of music might have a positive aspect from our point of view. One could well approve of a revolution that has caused Italian operatic music of the early nineteenth century, and German as well, to appear out of phase, heavy, and false, and likewise even symphonic music with high "humanist" pretentions. The fact is, however, that, at least in the field of "serious" concert music, the next phase after the revolutionary stage...consisted of abstract forms dominated by technical virtuosity: forms whose inner meaning recalls what I have interpreted as an existential refusal or diversion, taking it beyond the plane of dangerous intensity.Here one can refer to Stravinsky's second period, where dance music gave way to a formal music that was sometimes parodistic, sometimes neoclassically inspired, or else characterized by a pure, dissociated sonorous arithmetic that had begun to appear in the preceeding period, producing a timeless spatialization of sounds. One also thinks of Schoenberg, considering his development from free atonal music, often in the service of an exasperated, existential expressionism (the existential revolt being expressed here as the atonal revolt against the "common chord," a symbol of bourgeois idealism), to a phase of dodecaphony (twelve-tone system). This development in itself is very significant for the terminal crisis of modern music. After the chromatic limit had been reached, from a technical point of view, step-by-step from post-Wagnerian music to that of Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin, atonal music abandoned the traditional tonal system, the basis of all preceding music, transporting, so to speak, the sound to a pure and free state, almost as if it were an active musical nihilism. After that, with all twelve tones of the chromatic scale taken without hierarchical distinction and in all their unlimited possibilities of direct combination, the twelve-tone system sought to impose a new abstract law, beyond the formulae of common-practice harmony. Recently, music has experimented with sounds created by electronic technology, which transcend traditional orchestral means of production. This new territory also incurs the problem of finding an abstract law to apply to electronic music.One can see in the extremes of dodecaphony reached in Anton von Webern's compositions that the trend can go no further. While Adorno could state in his Philosophy of Modern Music: "The twelve-tone technique is our destiny," others have justly spoken of a musical "ice age." We have arrived at compositions whose extreme rarefaction and formal abstraction depict worlds similar to that of modern physics with its pure algebraic entities or, on the other hand, that of some surrealists. The very sounds are freed from traditional structures and propelled into a convoluted system where the complete dissolution into the formless, with skeletal and atomically dissociated timbres, is contained only by machine technology, the technical perfection and force of these new musical resources is accompanied by the same emptiness, soullessness, spectrality, or chaos. It is inconceivable that the new twelve-tone and post-serial language, with its foundation of inner devastation, could express contents similar to those of earlier music. At most, this language can be conducive to exasperated, existential expressionistic contents such as surface in Alban Berg's works. The limit is crossed by the so-called musique concrete of Pierre Schaeffer, with its "organization of noises" and "montage" of environmental and orchestral sounds. A typical case is that of John Cage, a musician who declares explicitly that his compositions are no longer music. Going beyond the disintegrations of traditional structures through serial music and leaving behind Webern and his school, Cage mixes music with pure noise, electronic sound effects, long pauses, random insertions, even spoken ones such as radio transmissions. The goal is to produce disorientation in the listener in the same way as Dadaism, so that one is hurled toward unexpected horizons, beyond the realm of music, and even of art in general. [Emphasis by moi, rivethead Ed.]If we look instead for the continuing role of dance music, we shall not find it in the "classical" symphonic genre but in modern dance music, specifically in jazz. It is with good reason that the present epoch, besides being called the "age of the emergence of the masses," the "age of the economy," and "the age of omnipotent technology," has been called the "Jazz Age." This shows that the extension of the trend in question now goes beyond esoteric musical circles and saturates our contemporaries' general manner of listening. Jazz reflects the same tendency as early Stravinsky, in terms of the pure rhythmic or syncopated element; apart from its elements of song, it is a "physical" music that does not stop at the soul, but directly arouses and stirs the body. This is quite different from the earlier European dance music; in fact the very gracefulness, impetus, movement, and sensuality permeating those dances--for example, the Viennese or English waltz, and even the tango--are substituted in jazz by something mechanical, disjointed, altogether primitively ecstatic, and even paroxysmal through the use of constant repitition. This elemental content cannot be lost on anyone who finds himself in great European and American metropolitan dance halls, amidst the atmosphere of hundreds of couples shaking themselves to the syncopation and driving energy of this music.The enormous and spontaneous spread of jazz in the modern world shows that meanings no different from those of the physico-cerebral "classical" music, which superseded nineteenth-century bourgeois melodrama and pathos, have in fact thoroughly penetrated the younger generation. But there are two sides to this phenomenon. Those who once went crazy for the waltz or delighted in the treacherous and conventional pathos of melodrama, now find themselves at ease surrounded by the convulsive-mechanical or abstract rhythms of recent Jazz, both "Hot" and "Cool," which we must consider as more than a deviant, superficial vogue. We are facing a rapid and central transformation of the manner of listening, which is an integral part of that complex that defines the nature of the present. Jazz is undeniably an aspect of the resurfacing of the elemental in the modern world, bringing the bourgeois epoch to its dissolution. Naturally, the young men and women who like to dance to jazz today do so simply "for fun" and are not concerned with this; yet the change exists, its reality unprejudiced by its lack of recognition, since its true meaning and possibilities could only be noted from the particular point of view employed by [we radical traditionalists] in all of our analyses.Some have included jazz among the forms of compensation that today's man resorts to when faced with his practical, arid, and mechanical existence; jazz is supposed to provide him with raw contents of rhythm and elemental vitality. If there is any truth in this idea, we must consider the fact that to arrive at this, Western man did not create original forms, nor utilize elements of European folk music, which, for example in the rhythms of southeastern Europe (Romanian or Hungarian), has a fascination and an intensity compromising not only rhythm but also authentic dynamics. He instead looked for inspiration in the patrimony of the...more exotic races, the Negroes and mulattoes of the tropical and subtropical zones.According to one of the scholars of Afro-Cuban music, Fernando Ortiz, all the primary elements of modern [popular music] actually have these origins, including those whose origins are obscured by the fact that they have come through Latin America. One can deduce that modern man, especially North American man, has regressed to primitivism in choosing, assimilating, and developing a music of such primitive qualities as Negro music, which was even originally associated with dark forms of ecstasy [voodoo black magic].In fact, it is known that African music, the origin of the principal rhythms of modern [pop music], has been one of the major techniques used to open people up to ecstasy and possession. Both Alfons Dauer and Ortiz have rightly seen the characteristic of this music as its polyrhythmic structure, developed in such a way that the static [on-beat] accents that mark the rhythm constantly act as ecstatic [off-beat] accents; hence the special rhythmic figures that generate a tension intended to "feed an uninterrupted ecstasy." The same structure has been preserved in all so-called syncopated jazz. These syncopations are like delays that tend to liberate energy or generate an impulse: a technique used in African rites to induce possession of the dancers by certain entities, the Orisha of the Yoruba or the Loa of the Voodoo of Haiti, who took over their personalities and "rode" them. This ecstatic potential still exists in jazz. But even here there is a process of dissociation, of abstract development of rhythmic forms separated from the whole to which they originally belonged. Thus, given the desacralization of the environment and the nonexistence of any institutional framework or corresponding ritual tradition, any suitable atmosphere or appropriate attitude, one cannot expect the specific effects of authentic African music with its evocative function; the effect always remains a diffuse and formless possession, primitive and collective in character. [In other words, the music is secularized and made for pure animalistic/destructive hedonism - Ed.]This is very apparent in the latest forms, such as the music of the so-called beat groups. Here the obsessive reiteration of a rhythm prevails (similar to the use of the African tom-tom), causing paroxysmal contortions of the body an inarticulate in the performers, while the mass of the listeners join in, hysterically shrieking and throwing themselves around, creating a collective climate similar to that of the possessions of savage ritual and certain Dervish sects, or the Macumba...The frequent use of drugs both by performers of this music and by the enraptured young people is also significant, causing a true, frenetic "crowd mentality," as in beat or hippie sessions in California involving [hundreds] of both sexes.Here we are no longer concerned with the specific compensation that one can find in syncopated dance music as the popular counterpart and extension of the extremes reached, but not maintained, by modern symphonic music; we are concerned with the semi-ecstatic and hysterical beginnings of a formless, convoluted escapism, empty of content, a beginning and end in itself. Hence, it is completely inappropriate when some compare it to certain frenetic, collective, ancient rites, because the latter always had a sacred background.Quite apart from similar extreme and aberrant forms, one can still consider the general problem of all these methods that provide elemental, ecstatic possibilities, which the differentiated man, not the masses, can use in order to feed that particular intoxication...which is the only nourishment he can existentially draw from an epoch of dissolution. The processes of recent times tend precisely toward these extremes; and whereas some of the present youth merely seek to dull their senses and to use certain experiences merely for extreme sensations, others can use such situations as a challenge that demands the right response: a reaction that arises from "being."
Interestingly, he also seems to dislike the "pathos" of Romantic music. Romantic music already was a "degeneration" of Classical music, in a way and the Modernists merely took Romantic music to it's conclusion.
Summary:Modern music mimicks form and not content, so it's disorganized random crap that supports a neurotic outlook.Amirite?