Arts and Entertainment

Sounding off on sound-art

By Denebola
Published: September 2007

By Max Alper

I’m going to begin my first column of the school year with an egomaniacal introduction: My name is Max, and I write about music. I tend not to talk about “the next best thing in indie rock” or anything like that. Instead, I tend to rant on what’s wrong with the world of pop music today. By keeping things negative, I’m more likely to get a response, since many of the things I say can and will provoke many groups of people.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to talk about a fast growing trend in popular music today that’s quickly gaining publicity from the press, while simultaneously losing it’s originality just as quickly. This trend is known ass sound-art.

In the early stages of instrumental independent rock, bands like Tortoise or Sigur Rós often featured members of the band who would focus on simply electronic effects, made through pedals, sound modules, samples, etc., rather than the more orthodox instruments used in rock.

Many critics saw this new technique of instrumentation as a way to provoke the crowd through chaotic ” noise” and violent soundscapes, which usually ended many of the live sets of bands such as Mogwai.

Regardless of harsh criticism from many publications, both in print and on the internet, this trend has continued to grow in today’s world of independent music, with members of supposed ” freak folk” and ” noise rock” bands using these instruments to illustrate completely new sounds for their listeners.

But have these experimental musicians lost their originality?

Over the past few months I’ve been listening to many New Age bands that have been admired for their originality when using these instruments. But as months turn into years, I have come to the realization that many of these artists popular on music news/review websites such as Pitchfork Media are not trying to compose a piece meant to be listened to and studied with intensity like such music originally was. This music has merely become a thoughtless trend requiring no real musical talent, with the aim of creating something barely adequate for the masses.

Many other styles have dealt with these problems, such as electronic composers converting to dance artists, and singer-songwriters becoming sweet teen heartthrob sensations. Not that there is anything wrong with all of the above, yet in this scenario, the origins of this type of music started out as a way to create fuller and richer-sounding compositions and have become banal and uninspire. In this case, sound artists have created their own demise.

Many of these artists, however, rather than progressing into provocative dance music, have regressed into a state of composing with many avant-garde classical composers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Artists such as Stars of the Lid, Eluvium, and Panda Bear of Animal Collective, use these electronic instrumental set-ups to create unique and moving symphonic pieces.

It’s time for indie musicians to either expand even deeper in the genre of sound-art, or find themselves a new niche. Trends occur all the time in ANY kind of music, and I’d hate to see this enter one headphone and out the other as just another fad.

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