Crystalisation entails death

I have recently read an essay ‘Aesthetic Transcendence’ by Trine Paulsen and Kim Solve, part of Trine + Kim Design Studio. They are (among other things) involved a lot in the graphic design aspects of many Black Metal acts. In their discussion of black metal aesthetics, Solve points out how the iconography and messages have developed a distinct form of currency, but in the process it cannot be said that Black Metal exists as an underground movement or a form of rebellion.

 

Solve makes the point that Black Metal is a visible subculture with imagery in children’s programming, entries in Eurovision and talked about by academics. These are hallmarks of something that can hardly be addressed as revolutionary.

 

This gives me pause to think. I could try and resist this conclusion and address metal subcultures where there is a genuine underground such as Africa, depressive-suicidal black metal, non-European and non-North American metal or even specific genres like NSBM being inherently underground due to the political beliefs associated with it. In fact I would try to resist this conclusion and say there are many different concentric circles of BM in the world and the Nordic type may be the hegemony but it is not the only type.

 

What if we accepted the conclusion that BM had lost its revolutionary edge? Perhaps this is inevitable. Could we say that Schoenberg is still radical? It is true that Black Metal probably wouldn’t have a mainstream AOR radio station presence, but it could have enough of an audience to fill out say, a 300-capacity venue and work within the engine of the indie label toilet circuit tour, for instance.

 

If it were the case that BM can be part of the cultural industries, even to the extent of being talked about by academics and having mail-order t shirts. What does that say of the potential of the revolutionary fervour in general? Is everything reducible to a t-shirt slogan? Well I suppose my only answer to that is: sapere aude (have the courage to use your own understanding).

 

P.S. 7 years ago to this day the blog was born. Belated happy birthday.

 

Thinking about Lent

This week a lot of conversations from various circles of friends and in other places (such as at work and of all places my gym classes) have oriented around the start of Lent. Invariably I have been led to think about this issue. I looked to the origin of where the whole thing about temptation and the role of abstinence came from in Lent which led me to Matthew 4:1-11. What I found interesting about the story is how something about temptation is made to be a personal issue for various Christians and non-Christians around the world; yet for seemingly different reasons to why Jesus was tested. Lent seems to be meaningful to people insofar as they find some personal significance to denying some thing that they are giving up. Perhaps that is smoking or chocolate, alcohol or some other behaviour.

 

Without entering into the language of sin, temptation seems to be about agency. Our agency has dispositions. We have tendencies to like things or dislike things. All too often some of our tendencies are for things not necessarily good for us. I have been thinking about choosing to give something up as I was brought up in the traditions of lent and trying to find some meaning to resisting temptation.

 

I have some dispositions for things that I might consider beneficial. I like walking to places that are short distances and avoiding using other forms of transport. I also like walking to new places to have an experience of the local geography in a different way. There are other things in which I abstain from that I would normally be moderate with and I am rarely immoderate with. I am quite a fan of tea and coffee for example. I choose however to avoid tea and coffee most of the time for something simpler. I know that coffee can make it difficult to sleep but even if that were not the case I would still choose to avoid it. Sometimes the reason to do so is just because I can say no.

 

I am reminded of a story from Melvyn Bragg who once said that there periods of time where he goes completely without alcohol just to prove that he can. Bragg also says that there have been times where he had had a lot of alcohol. There is a certain value to moderation. I make a point of not having alcohol very much and when I do it generally is barely more than around 2 pints. Following the Mitchell and Webb sketch that says ‘around 2 pints’ is the optimal amount of being drunk.

 

Asceticism is something I was brought up to value highly. Asceticism is something that prima facie, the current Pope Francis I values a great deal more than his predecessors. Asceticism can mean different things. In my view the enduring value of lent comes in the ways that people find value in abstinence. I have been thinking about what I might abstain from and instead of anything specific I thought about the issue of food waste and waste in general. I have this week made a decision to try and minimise food waste and non-recyclable waste.

 

One way I’ve been trying to do this is reducing what I am getting in food shopping in general and not only trying to be minimal, but also being less wasteful and using more of what is already at home. Thinking this way is forcing me to be a bit more inventive about how I cook things. Not doing a daily food shop as I usually do has led me to think more about using what I already have at home and not constantly looking for things to buy. Doing this has tempted me to buy a lot of unusual things, they are just minor temptations but they are temptations that I would normally succumb to. I have a thing about getting lots of tinned soups and frozen food and I seem to buy more frozen food and tins than I actually consume. What I am trying to do is less of consuming things that are immediately available, but thinking more about what I already have and avoiding a wasteful attitude about it.

 

P.S. On an unrelated note I‘d like to thank the readers from the Russian Federation who had given me a spike in this website’s visits yesterday (saturday 8th March). I’m not sure what that was about but I always like when more people glance at the blog. Thank you for reading.

Received Opinions

Received opinions are the enemy of any informed democracy, and are the enemy of good taste. Whether a received opinion is wrong or right is immaterial. What is material is having enough familiarity with an issue to merit an opinion, or having a reasoned response to some issue.

 

It may be that we know too little about an issue to have an opinion. It may be that we have no view about an issue and yet many around us advance theirs. Having a perspective is overrated. There is such a thing as withholding judgment or simply having no view on an issue.

 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of a received opinion as there are many things in modern European history (by this I mean from the Baroque period to roughly the 20th Century). From my recent Spotify subscription I have decided to make really big musical playlists of composers or musical acts that I would like to be more familiar with. I like things like the BBC Sound of 2014 as I have been following those critical lists for a couple of years. I also have a mini tradition (as of about 2009/2010) of going to a 2-3 day festival called the Camden Crawl where almost all of the acts I see are completely unfamiliar to me, and then I have found that a few months later or a year later, some of them end up being on the radio and I can say that hipster thing of ‘I saw them before they were famous’.

 

Since about 2010 I have made music listening playlists for large collections such as ‘the complete work of Mozart’ or ‘the complete recorded corpus of Glenn Gould’ (part of what inspires me going on ad nauseam about one of my favourite pianist-artists). I have decided to listen to ‘complete works’ lists of other people as well. Last year I listened to Kate Bush, which was interesting – I must admit of my own male biases coming into play in my musical preferences and that I rarely acknowledge the female experience in music both as performers and lyricists. I listened to the complete work of Frank Zappa which required a lot of effort but was very rewarding at points. There was also a significant amount of leitmotif in his work too which would make me chuckle in that pretentious Glenn Gould way (not to say that I think Gould was pretentious – but he parodied it self-consciously).

 

Two composers have struck me in attempting to listen to their ‘complete work’. One is the composer CPE Bach, who is quite difficult to find big lists for on Spotify. The other was a composer that most people seem to forget these days: Paul Hindemith. CPE Bach I read in an article described as ‘proto-Romantic’ (wikipedia’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ piece), which I find an entirely eccentric claim. I also find it odd how standard intro textbooks refer to Locke and Berkeley as empiricists unequivocally. The problems with overview or received opinions are that they oversimplify and simultaneously under-explain. A received opinion may be a good point of view, but when presented as a received opinion tends to be less rigorous and argued for the more times it is copied by other people.

 

I have emphasised to people the importance of coming across primary source material on your own terms and reading it yourself. Instead of reading what other people think of them. It takes much more effort to read a Descartes commentary than it does to read Descartes’ meditations. That is more a testament to Descartes’ readability of the Meditations. When I hear opinions about Kant I can  sometimes guess where they are parrotting their opinions from. (pre-Manfried Kuehn or post-Kuehn’s biography). The beauty of the information age is that the resources for having an informed opinions are out there. With the exception of paid journals and unpublished papers, there’s a wealth of information from which we can contextualise and recontextualise our history.

 

Received opinions are subject to contestation. Some received views seem to linger no matter what, like a bad fart. Like the view that Nietzsche was a Proto-Nazi (which someone like Kaufmann in the 1950s’ successfully contested). Received opinions can obscure more interesting contexts. Listening to Paul Hindemith recently was reminiscent of Bernard Herrman film scores or les six composers such as Milhaud. I was reading a bit about Hindemith and he seems to have a strange set of contradictions: influential to the neo-classical movement of the 20th Century, yet in his post 1910s work shows influence from Schoenberg (as far away from neo-classical as you can get). The work of Hindemith seemed to have its own internal logic, its own sense of narrative and it didn’t quite fit with my received views of the 20th century. By one metric he is a musical conservative, and by another he was part of the avant-garde. I would be willing to consider Hindemith as both.

 

Another example of a received opinion that I’ve also mentioned countless times: when I read ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ I had no sympathy for the character’s suicide. It was not Romantic and it was not noble. It was not tragic, it was stupid. The story boils down to constituent elements: ‘boy likes girl, girl says ‘we should stop hanging out’, boy has breakdown as a result’. I am not saying that this is uninteresting and it is a life predicament that many people live through. However it is my view that there is nothing didactic about his response except perhaps (and this may be a bit oversight on my part), we accept that his actions are rash and aim to orient our behaviour away from what he does as a form of literary moral instruction. I find it dangerous to place such a high aesthetic value on this work and the way in which it seems to be commonly received suggests that we are more willing to follow the views of others than take our own view. Kant’s motto of the enlightenment is as relevant to musical history as it would be to current political situations: Sapere Aude: have the courage to use your own understanding.