Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
MUSIC AT THE END
OF THE 20th CENTURY
“Abstraction, atonality, non-linearity, serialism, and aleatory, revolutionary as they once seemed, still belong as categories in the Romantic tradition of high-art and art-for-art’s sake. The Cageian reaction to this does away with the old notion of art and replaces it with activity and awareness; it tells us that art is what we think it is” (Salzman 192).
Musical imagery comes now either in the form of sporadic reference to other familiar music or in the imitation of natural world sounds. The familiar appears juxtaposed with the unfamiliar so that we get “previously unassociated sound objects” (Salzman 193). The shock of recognition and the transformation are what create new meaning.
In the last decades of the century, the cross-over between electronic music and experimental video art led to multi-media sensory overload works (Salzman 195). But this was a phase, and quickly became impractical and unfundable.
“Pluralism” may be the best term for the current musical scene — the unlikely combinations of styles and aesthetics and the fragmentation of audiences for various kinds of music (Morgan 350).
“The era of exploration is over. All experience is now available raw material for art–through 360 [degrees] and on a continuum. What matters is what is done with this raw experience. The old questions of context (the social setting of the work of art) and content (“meaning” understood in a widened sense) must be taken up again. The best new art concerns itself with the ordering of a particular universe of ideas and experiences from the totality of possibilities within the psychological, poetical, and social realities of the act of performance, the meaning of non-verbal–or verbal/non-verbal–communication, and the experience of sound” (Salzman 199).
“The old categories are purely historical and no longer really relevant. For the younger composers and many of the older ones the barriers are down, the categories destroyed, the old battles over and done with. Any kind of statement is possible. All possible materials and all possible relationships between creator, creation, performer, and perceiver are possible (including none); but the significance of these possibilities is only to be found in the creative achievements themselves” (Salzman 200).
So is this the “end of history” and the “death of culture”? Do we live in a “post-” everything era?
Morgan, Robert P., ed. Music and Society: Modern Times. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc., 1993.
Salzman, Eric. Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1974.