Consume Your Symptom!

“Never mind my fruit comes from Chile, as long as it’s cheap and tastes good” is but one particular kind of consumer glut: the “out of sight, out of mind” theory, adopted for its vividness last year by the International Counsel for Responsible Spending (Icarus).* In their most recent publication, Icarus named several other kinds of similar negligent spending attitudes (most dealing with transportation, i.e., oil), which, according to their research, accounts for a great deal of international animosity towards America. The “blind” and voracious nature of American consumerism has led to many international conflicts involving resources, territory and military action.

Countries have thus compared America to the Roman Empire, whose glut was best exemplified by gross exhibitions of wealth, like the gladiatorial contests of the Coliseum (also Colosseum). The Colosseum played host to many spectacles, most notably Emperor Trajan’s lavish celebration of his victories in Dacia (107 A.D.), which involved “11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days.”

Yeah. But what does this have to do with critiquing critics?

[John Corigliano’s Third Symhpony], "Circus Maximus", promises to be fun: Corigliano compares the decadent ancient Roman entertainment district to our modern glut of cable television channels and reality TV.

I’ll let David Hurwitz explain:

My only wish is that Corigliano didn't take himself quite so seriously: to equate the slaughter and mayhem of Roman entertainment to, say, the Real Housewives of New Jersey surely is pushing the comparison too far.

I dunno. Parading wealthy women bumbling through life on television for all to laugh at is pretty ghastly.

Figure 1. Training kids to buy oil (and it’s fun!)

Anyway, political/allegorical/satirical pieces are nothing new. So what’s the problem? That Corigliano’s too serious? Or is it that music is ultimately supposed to be pleasurable and not challenging?

Moreover, it runs the risk of sounding snobbish (not the music, the [program] notes).

I think it’s safe to say that “classical” music connoisseurs are already kinda snobbish. So I’m sure no one will mind.

Remember, when Ives did this sort of thing it was the popular tunes and other found objects that he was celebrating, and the classical tradition that he was thumbing his nose at (with good reason).

Not to be ignored, he also had a very healthy streak of political derision and sarcasm. Goddamned thieves?

Anyway, that's not really important: what matters is that this is good music whatever its inspiration...

And if Corigliano is being a bit provocative, it's never at the expense of your basic enjoyment.

Without pulling out the whole Zizek-jouissance thing, we’ve come to another, yet equally problematical paradox.

It seems that the guy pitching (critiquing) “serious” music is also the guy who doesn’t want it to be too serious—“above all it must be enjoyable.” So, those very program notes, which are gravely imperative to understanding the piece, are cast aside by the author in favor of “blind” enjoyment. This, in turn, results in positive advocacy—the music critic’s equivalent of buying fruit from Chile.

*Icarus is wholly fictional.


Sator Arepo said...

Not for nothing, but Ives' use of popular tunes can easily--in fact, more easily I think--be seen as commenting on and critiquing them as "celebrating" them. See also (I'd argue) Adorno's ideas about Mahler's use of popular and "low" song in his symphonies.

Adorno, "low" music, can of worms, Frankfurt school, yadda yadda yadda.

Gustav said...

Program notes rarely communicate anything important about the music, but often, rather, give insight into the composer. Notes on works by historical figures (accompanying your Beethoven symphonies, Mozart concertos, etc) are usually abridged biographies and anecdotes surrounding the given work. When written by the composer him/herself, no matter the content, program notes are tell you about the composer's personality, interests, and inspirations. What Hurwitz is really saying is that "I hate intellectuals. I only want to listen to music by people who I would enjoy having a beer with." (see what I did there).

And, goddamn Ives is awesome.