Traditionalism, the Obstacle

This is a pretty simple complaint: traditionalists are precisely those who want to define their genres completely, to categorize all music as to whether it falls in one genre or another.

But, music is an art form that arises from the creative inspirations and direction of individual artists or groups. Each song or composition has its own set of influences that may or may not come from the "genre" in which the work is intended to be included. Most musicians listen to a wider variety of music than they perform, and those influences sometimes encroach on their own composition and performance.

Thus, the very institutions that we create to propagate the art form (from classical "conservatory-type" schools to studio/jazz programs to music reviewers who write in magazines and newspapers), tend towards the well-defined categorization of music. You can't teach or evaluate music without imposing some after-the-fact analysis upon it, but that very act of deciding what is important about some music is beyond the intent of the composers and performers themselves. The analytical process is an artificial construction that may satisfy some sociological quest, but is often unrelated to the process by which the music was itself created.

So, I have an aversion to the very concept of musicology and/or music criticism. Like literary criticism, it often gets lost in its own commentaries upon commentaries, losing sight of the actual subject it is supposed to be illuminating. It begins to satisfy the interests of the reviewer/musicologist instead of the interests of the artist and the work itself, and that's just perverse.

Trouble is, those radio formats that are used to market music through radio to consumers fit in very well with the whole process of defining genres and traditions. They're all related forms of categorization, which imposes a sort of "average" or "majority rules" on the perception -- and thus the evaluation -- of music, rather than addressing individual works on their own terms, which all music deserves.

The intermingling of musicological and commercial interests really packs a powerful punch, in combination. Get a bunch of marketers together with a bunch of traditionalists, and you have the makings of a juggernaut of undeserved influence on the content of the art form itself. No wonder the music world is so stunted and inflexible when it comes to dealing with novelty. I can only speak for myself, but the unusual is what really grabs me in music, when it is internally coherent. The commercial marketplace has got less and less individual, original work having any success, and the traditionalists aren't helping to counteract this tendency -- just the opposite.

Then, the Darwinian process weeds out those who aren't making any profit, and the majority of the audience gets less to choose from.

-- Dan Krimm, 3/96

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