Thursday, 4 November 2010

Tomorrow still doesn't know

This was asked on the TC-Helicon facebook page by Joey Elkins (a fabulous singer, e.g. I really like this):
Music - where do you think it's headed in the future both vocally and instrumentally? How has it changed over the time you've been alive?

I kinda went to town a bit for a FB post, and it's a bit off the cuff, so not terribly well thought through - however, I thought it was worth posteritising it.. so here is my reply!

Interesting question. From the point of view of a chap who grew up in the south of England in the 70s & 80s, and went to an all boys school (as an opening disclaimer!)..

It feels like the changes I've seen through the years are from diversity in style to diversity in distribution.

From the mid 50s to the mid(ish) 80s saw bands and individuals be more willing to borrow from other genres, cultures, etc. Rock and pop drew inspiration from India, from the Andes; lifting sections of 'classical' music; high art would borrow from jazz, and emulate rock & disco; the boundaries of what can be done, and rules about what is allowed to be juxtaposed and superimposed on what were broken down. We got progressive rock, we got minimalism pervading popular culture, we got world music. Probably the last innovation was rap, which had already debuted by the 80s.
I love that time, my central love is the progressive rock of the early to mid 70s. You have Gentle Giant, Yes, King Crimson, Family, Stackridge, Penguin Café Orchestra, etc all sipping from a melting pot of music. Today it would probably be given that frightful badge of 'mashup'..

Time moves on.. whilst other musics have developed, they haven't seemed as embracing as previous periods. House music and its derivatives are largely just dirty disco; Techno and it's sub genres has its roots in the electronica of years ago; grunge was arguably just folk with louder guitars, in the same way that punk was rockerbilly played more aggressively. Even prog now has been reduced to rehashing what others did before, rather than forging their own path.

The diversity that was present within albums appears to have given way to more narrowly defined musics, but there is more of it in each bucket, and more ways of getting it out. Maybe its a natural extension of how to get heard - be really good at one thing, refine its essence, and push it through particular channels. 30 years ago the distribution channels were quite fixed, and companies were more prepared to invest in the development and creativity of their 'roster'; time has made the distribution more fluid and the very idea of a roster seems like fairy talk.

Where is is going to..? For the moment, I can only see things getting more segmented, with individuals focussing on niches where they feel happy to create, without reaching beyond too many boundaries. Artist development will be a personal thing, funded individually. I believe that greater diversity per artist will re-emerge, but it'll take some time. Even tho' we have reduced the world to a small café with the internet, the crossover and cross-pollination of styles has barely started - I think there will be a renaissance of the spirit of musical adventure that was seen 30-50 years ago, but it won't happen overnight.

We'll still be playing the same instruments (things like the Chapman Stick, and Eigenlabs wonderful Eigenharp will remain on the margins), we'll still be singing the same notes (microtonal stuff still hasn't caught on, despite various efforts); it's just, perhaps, our method for choosing those notes and the spaces between them needs to relax again.

Feel free to shoot me down.

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