Thursday, June 10, 2010

Writing about music - well or badly

A few weeks back a young composer friend of mine, Ryan Youens, mentioned the strange things music critics say about modern music. It's as if they're trying to be elliptic because there's really nothing real to say about the subject in hand. Here are a few quotes from the article Ryan alluded to:
Chris Watson's about nothing ... really was, as his pieces are, replete with incident, four players charting ingenious textures on either side of an searching cadenza for Lardelli's brilliant guitar.
When I first read that, I thought it meant Chris Watson's piece really was about nothing. It pays not to give your music titles that can be just a tad too ambiguous. Here's another example:
Alex Wolken's the body linguistic may seem a complex, spidery affair on paper, but in performance the four players made it all lucid. Did "plan and place collide", as Wolken's programme note suggested they would? Perhaps, yet the miracle was that, for all the fluttering and swooping, one never felt the lack of a structural anchor.
Now, that could mean anything. It could mean 'I loved the piece', 'I hated the piece', 'I had no idea what it was about and wished I was home stroking the cat in front of a roaring fire', or, 'The piece wended its way into my soul in such a fashion that I was discombobulated for the next 24 hours.'
It wasn't surprising to find these reviews were written by William Dart, in the NZ Herald. I know for a fact that William Dart is an extremely intelligent musicologist - and perhaps performer (I've never come across him in the latter capacity.) He presents a program on Radio NZ Concert every weekend - Sunday nights, if I remember rightly - in which he plays a host of alternative music (not so much 'serious' - closer to 'pop') and again and again regales us with lengthy introductions in which he tells us of the wonders we're about to hear. Again and again I listen in vain for these wonders when the music actually plays. Where he gets all this extraordinary stuff from, I have no idea.
Anyway, somewhat apropos of all that, I received an email out of the blue the other day from a PR company in New York. Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR is a New York-based digital firm that connects artists to blogs, podcasts, Internet radio stations and social media sites. How they do this is by presenting a digital publicity campaign that gets artists prominently featured on blogs, podcasts, and Internet radio worldwide, and supercharges their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles. They work to increase the artists' overall online exposure and lay a virtual cornerstone upon which to build their future success. I'm quoting, as you can tell.
In this instance they were promoting to me (and no doubt hundreds of other bloggers) a couple called Shelley and Cal. You can watch their video of a song called, Maybe, either on MySpace, or You Tube.
How does all this connect to the way I started this post? Well, while the blurb written about Shelley & Cal isn't quite in the William Dart league, it's still, to me, not saying anything much. It follows in the footsteps of so much verbiage about music, particularly Christian rock, which is the scene S&C partly inhabit. Stuff such as:
Every so often we're fortunate enough to be exposed to music that somehow creeps into our hearts and minds, and moves even deeper into our souls and spirits to touch and change.
or
"MAYBE" ....speaks to the hopes and yearnings of the human heart and the questioning we all go through."
Don't get me wrong, Maybe is easy on the ear and....I don't know what else. I don't hear the words of this kind of music easily; if there's a video I'm more likely to be trying to read the video than listen to the words. (But, as is so often the case with music videos, it's full of random stuff that doesn't really say much.) I'll have to give it another earful and see if I can see what it's really all about. The video is plain confusing - which may be the way videos are meant to be these days!
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