Today is National Coming Out Day. I thought pretty hard about it, but in the end I decided that now probably wasn’t the best time. I’ll leave that for another day.
Instead, I’m going to talk about how much I detest serialist music. I know, it’s not about books. It’s not about NaNoWriMo. It’s not about Doctor Who or any of the other things that I normally talk about — and many of you probably don’t know what serialist music is, nor do you care. But that’s kind of the point. I want to talk about how something I’m studying bothers me, not because it’s inaccessible, but because it represents a form of artistic elitism that illustrates a wider problem.
Basically, this is where I go into Enjolras mode and start talking about social issues. Kind of. From a position of intense privilege, since I myself do know about serialism, and again, that’s kind of the point. Anyway, you’ll see what I mean when I’ve finished.
For those of you who have absolutely no experience of serialist music, it is a style that developed during the 20th century as a reaction against older forms of music and their inability to express the anger and disillusionment created by events such as the First World War, as well as economic hardship. It’s experimental, it sounds absolutely awful on first listening, and you have to understand it to like it.
Here’s an example. I do recommend listening, because it will make the rest of this a more interesting. This particular piece is actually the one I’m studying for my music exam, so it’s the most relevant to this rant.
It sounds random, doesn’t it? It sounds like somebody got very drunk and attacked the piano. It sounds like a cat crawling across manuscript paper with ink on their paws. It does not sound like it has been composed with mathematical precision, utilising a special type of scale called a “tone row”, and is highly structured. It doesn’t sound like it’s clever.
But it is. It’s so clever that it is been written so that nobody can enjoy it unless they understand quite how clever it actually is. It’s like the ultimate in ego boosting — if your critics like it, then they are clearly incredibly clever, and what’s more, they now understand exactly how clever you were. But if they don’t, then you can dismiss their comments because clearly they just didn’t understand your genius.
In other words, it’s the world’s most inaccessible music.
Okay, so some smart ass is probably going to tell me that something is more inaccessible, and fine. Maybe there is. But the point is, you can’t enjoy this music unless you have received an education that explains to you why it is good (because apparently, “good” just means “clever” these days), and that’s not exactly the majority of the population.
I believe that music is for everyone. It never ceases to anger me how difficult it is for people with a lower income to receive instrumental lessons, or how expensive instruments themselves are. Of course, I understand that it’s a highly skilled industry and it’s difficult for it to be made cheaper, but that doesn’t mean it’s right that it should be limited to so few. Like dance, music is exclusive and classist. As a result, I much prefer film music to Mozart. Okay, there might be more to it than just the social issues (like the fact that all Mozart sounds pretty much the same?), But think about it. Film music was written with the same dedication and care, and has been performed by musicians of the same standard, but it reaches so many more people, because you can enjoy it without having to understand it.
Serialist music makes me angry because it deliberately tries to ensure that its only fans are those who are incredibly educated and musically talented. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people struggle to enjoy it at all, but are made to feel this is simply because they are less intelligent, and therefore their opinion is invalid.
Well, I would like it to be known: I have learned about this music. I understand the precision involved in composing this music. I have analysed these tone rows until I wanted to cry… and at no point have I thought, “oh, isn’t this nice music?”
I don’t understand why a composer who had the opportunity to reach a huge number of people and touch them with music chose to create something so exclusionary, limiting his audience to pretentious idiots seeking to escape from what they perceived as boundaries. It’s basically hipster music, or at least its classical equivalent. Everything else was too mainstream, so they wrote this instead.
They are a bunch of pretentious hipsters, hiding behind a mask of “experimentalism” and “innovation”. And that’s really all there is to it.
Why am I ranting about this here? Well, the truth is that I haven’t got anywhere else to rant about it. I never said I wasn’t going to talk about music on here, and it’s not exactly the first time I’ve talked about classism in the arts.
Oh, and there might be the small matter of the fact that if I weren’t writing this, I would be writing my English coursework…
Yeah, that probably has something to do with it.