Low Classical Usic
Sometimes it comes to the attention of someone or another that I play keyboards, guitar, percussion or other such things too commonly associated with "music". Sometimes I'm asked something like "What kind of music do you play?" This is where it starts to get tricky. I've tried such responses as "I don't play music, I play booed usic" - which leads to a brief explanation of the unpopularity of using sounds organized without "musical" intent. I've also tried responding with "I play Aleatoric "Fortean" Novelty Mytho-Gossip Usical Service Industry So-Called Whatevers". Given that most askers seem to be expecting a simple answer, this last response seems to arouse the hope that I won't explain any further. Long eccentric answers strain the attention span & make many people nervous.
I thought "booed usic" was a pretty obvious take-off from "mood music" but it seems that I was wrong. Now I've hit on "Low Classical Usic" as the easy answer to the question. Its buzz-word potential is stellar. Everyone I've tried it on so far has immediately grasped that "Low Classical Usic" = "Low" Class Classical (M)Usic. Now, to try to define it & put it in, at least, a superficial historical context.
First, let's just define classes in terms of economic power. The "Low Class" being the poor people - the ones with the minimum of property, income, & buying power - the slaves, the indentured servants, the poorest of the wage slaves (the minimum wage recipients), the welfare recipients, the unsuccessful or non-greedy criminals, the ones the company store "owns", etc. The "Upper Class" being the richest - those with the maximum of property, income, & buying power - the "owners" of the slaves & the indentured servants, the ones who set the minimum wage (& pay less when they can get away with it), the successful greedy criminals, the owners of the company store franchise, the "owners" of the land & housing that the "Low Class" can barely afford to rent. The "Middle Class": those in between. A thoroughly superficial class analysis.
Now, what is "Classical Music"? To partially quote a dictionary at hand it might be music that "conforms to certain established standards of form, complexity, musical literacy, etc." Commonly, "Classical Music" seems to refer to a sortof "high-brow" music, music that appeals to supposedly sophisticated tastes, music mainly liked by the staid upper classes. In a music history class I was taught that there's a period in "Classical Music" between Baroque & Romantic called "Classical". I dunno.
I've always had my own criteria in searching out & evaluating anything that interests me. These criteria, in relation to products of sentient beings, are roughly that the creations be representative of an unusual idea manifested in a distinctive way. Often I find complex & difficult realizations more satisfying to my tastes because the skill required for them is unusual in itself.
The ability to play "Classical Music" is supposed to represent a pinnacle in playing skill achievement. This is part of the snobbery of "Upper Class" ideals. In order to "prove" that the "Upper Class" deserves its privileged position, "Classical Music" can be used as an example of "Upper Class" "superiority". Ironically though, "Classical Music" history is rife with instances of its composers being ridiculed for composing music that surpasses previous playing skill demands. The classic scenario of innovation being spurned & gradually co-opted can be found with the contempt that Tchiakovsky's first Piano Concerto opening chord sequences were met with. Now, of course, Tchiakovsky is held up as a revered romantic "Classical" composer.
The story goes that when Charles Ives hired a respected violinist to play one of his sonatas the violinist left in a rage saying something to the effect that it was unplayable. This brings us to the era of "Classical Music" that doesn't seem to've settled into any comfortable name yet - despite its arguable existence since 1885 (or whenever). Some would call it Contemporary Classical or Modern (which, of course, brings up Post-Modern) or Experimental Classical or Avant Garde Classical or, perhaps, Difficult Listening. I don't find any of these terms satisfactory.
"Classical Music" as representative of the "Upper Class" seems to serve a fairly straight-forward function of upholding certain "values" or, as the dictionary read, "established standards of form". "Classical Music"'s reputation as the most refined & difficult & "superior" music implies metaphorically that the societal "established standards of form" that it's an outgrowth of are of parallel "superiority". In other words, the status quo that sustains the "Upper Class" in power is implied to be the status quo that makes possible "superior" culture such as "Classical Music". Such an implication serves to "justify" the upholding of the status quo.
In order for this lie to work however, what's mainly presented as "Classical Music" must be presented as a relic of a "Golden Age" safely beyond the lifespan of anyone living &, as such, definable by conveniently kiss-ass historians. These "historians" are like the "expert witnesses" whose diplomas make them useful for lawyers needing "credibility" for whichever trial position they stand to make the most money off of. This "Golden Age" is one in which strife is neatly historicized & everyone is put in their proper place - to all of the classes their "god-given" niche. The "natural" "divine" rights of the Ruling Class & the laws of "natural" selection that keep the poor in poverty.
When things get closer to the present, historification can't render everything a safe story yet. History is a story but the present tense is reality (in one sense at least). As such, the present tense of the "avant garde" of "Classical Music" (of any era) can create a "crisis" for the image of the "Golden Age" simply by being a product of current concerns. "Classical Radio" rarely plays (& I do mean rarely) any music that represents a challenge to whatever "established standards of form" are most correlative to the historification of the status quo. In other words, any music that disrupts the status quo by significantly calling any established form in question. As such, "Classical Radio" serves more as a reminder of who's still in power than it does to play complex music.
"Twentieth Century Classical Music" has been somewhat characterized by rejection of tradition. Percussion instruments were taken from their usual simple-minded role & used in as many ways as the composers could think of. "Tone color" in general came to include a much larger variety. Electronics, noise. Variety, variety. Variety is not the spice of life from a Ruling Class perspective when that variety threatens the status quo. Hence, only the semblance of variety can be "allowed". The composers who become absorbed into the pantheon of the "Classical Music" gods are those who question the viability of class divisions the least.
This is just as "true" with pop music. Too much real variety is a threat to assembly-line low-cost production. It's much more profitable to simply repackage the same-old, same-old as the exciting-new, exciting-new & up the price.
So who is it that creates this Difficult Listening when the "Upper Class" pay-off isn't forthcoming? Why the "Low Classical Usicians" of course. Strictly speaking, I might say that the "Class" I'm most interested in promoting the idea of in this instance is the "No-No Class". That is, the "Class" of people who most slip thru the cracks between any class definition. I once briefly taught a class in guerrilla actions called the "No-No Class" & explained that no matter how the students performed in the class they'd all get "D"s (the lowest passing grade) - but that's a different story. However, given that this "Low Classical Usic" terminology originated partially in my attempts to make an easily comprehensible joke for a change, I'll stick with this "Low Class" biz.
The "Low Classical Usician" can be defined as someone who develops some aspects of "Classical Music" theory & praxis so seriously in certain directions that they threaten to skew the true class status quo perpetuation function & are, thusly, not acceptable to the diplomaed "Upper Class" (or, would-be "Upper Class") arbiters of "Classical Music" as "Classical Musicians" at all. If these upstart "Low Classical Usicians" should happen to make it into "Classical Music" history anyway, there's always the chance that the "experts" will be able to completely misrepresent them & their relation to established power.
The main stranglehold that the "Upper Class" has on music production is economic. When only certain instruments are presented as "real" instruments, there's the problem of acquiring them. When the "acceptable" sound-producing "instrumentation" is expanded to included "anything", money is no longer as necessary. But who has the time to think about these things or to produce? The moneyed are only going to throw their spare change to their idea of the "good" musician in order for them to reach the economic security where the maximum time can be spent producing "Classical Music". In the meantime, the "Low Class" is often too busy struggling to pay the "Upper Class"-imposed rent to have much time for anything else.
The orchestra is one of the ultimate symbols of Ruling Class "superiority". Who else can afford to get so many musicians together to play "the same thing" at once. Various examples of what I want to call "Low Classical Usic" come to mind as remarkable accomplishments in the area of large scale "musical" projects not entirely based in Ruling Class privilege & the usual economic relations.
The Scratch Orchestra & The Portsmouth Sinfonia, for example, both strike me as prime examples of how to organize an orchestra without requiring total adherence to status quo class structure. By accepting what Howard Skempton, composer/performer & co-founder of the Scratch Orchestra, is reputed to have referred to as "uncontrolled variables", they made situations possible where orchestra members could not only squeeze themselves in without having to be practiced musicians but could also exploit their classically undesirable quirks as a main producer of distinction.
The Portsmouth Sinfonia specialized in only playing popular classics (made popular, as Michael Nyman points out in his book experimental music - Cage and beyond, by "sources outside the concert hall - the William Tell Overture from the Lone Ranger series, the 1812 from Family Favorites"). These were played without requiring that its performers necessarily know "how" to play them. This, for me, is an epitome of the "Low Classical Usician"'s attitude - a sortof reclaiming of music as general property. With music once again perceived as a metaphor for other aspects of social relations, this "reclaiming" could be called parallel to the Diggers' (brutally supressed) use of the Commons for "common" (read "Low Class") purposes after the English Civil War.
The Portsmouth Sinfonia even managed to coordinate 82 members + an excess of 350 choir members for their May 28th, 1974 performance at the Royal Albert Hall (go figure?!)! Interestingly, in their repertoire was the above-mentioned Tchiakovsky Piano Concerto. In the liner notes to the recording of this event, the following anecdote is related:
"Tchiakovsky's notion of his inability to grasp & manipulate musical form was not helped by Rubenstein's hostile reaction to the Piano Concerto No. 1 when Tchiakovsky played it through to him on Christmas Eve 1874. It was hoped that the virtuoso would point out any technical impracticalitites. To his mind, though, the piece was unplayable, clumsy, worthless and commonplace, it was beyond correction and only two or three pages had any value. The rest had to be destroyed or completely remodelled. However, Tchiakovsky refused to change a single note. "I have never felt so proud of anything I've written", he said later."
The Portsmouth Sinfonia repossessed "long-haired" music for the "long-hairs" of its day - minus the all-important dress-code. Looking at the P.S. photos, very few are to be seen wearing tuxedos or "formal dress". Some members of the Sinfonia even have their shirt-tails out. It might not seem like much to some readers of this article, but most non-conformist dressers will be familiar with the experience of being denied admittance to restaurants for "lack of proper attire", being kicked out of school for "failure to follow the dress code", or of not getting or losing a job for not being toned down or "professional" "enough" or for not wearing a uniform. The "Upper Class" wants all its employees (even the relatively privileged symphony musicians) to show what their "proper" place in the hierarchy is by dressing in the approved servant attire. All in the name of "good taste" of course. Whose good taste? Certainly not mine.
This latter subject of "good taste" opens up a big enough can of worms for Stefan Szczelkun, one time member of the Scratch Orchestra, to have written an entire book about it entitled The Conspiracy of Good Taste. This book is basically an analysis of how Working Class Culture is subtly repressed - especially focusing on figures supposedly representing the working class with a sanitized version of its culture that smothers & hides the workers' true vitality by imposing internalized middle-class values taken for granted as "superior".
A 21 page section of this book is on the English folk song collector Cecil Sharp (born in 1859). It's interesting to note that of the 7 folk song collectors profiled by Szczelkun to give historical background before discussing Sharp, one of them was a judge, one was a high-bailiff, & another was a son of a lawyer. Characteristic of all of these "song collectors" was their consistent censoring & rewriting of the basic material to produce something "acceptable" for printing. An oral culture that used non-literate language & that included references to politics & sex became "tastefully" translated into a literate language that censored & subdued controversial subject matter.
Some examples of this provided in The Conspiracy.. are as follows:
"Phillips seems to have been advised that his first edition was not tasteful enough and he was careful to see to it that his second edition contained 'no vile Conceit, no Low Pun, or double Entendre'."
"Ritson['s..] own selections were chosen not to "tinge the cheek of delicacy, or offend the purity of the chasest ear." [..] He would [additionally] [..] 'make sense of nonsense'."
"Before Scott died, he admitted that perhaps he was wrong to 'improve the poetry' at the expense of their 'simplicity'. In fact the mother of Hogg, one of his main lower class collaborators, told him to his face:
"ye hae spoilt them awthegither. They were made for singin' an' no for readin'; but ye hae broken the charm noo, an' they'll bever be sung mair. An' the worst thing of a', they're nouther richt spell'd nor richt setten down" (Harker, 1985, p.70)."
"The lyrics were a poor transcription of oral language and clashed with literary standards. The critics had no understanding of the structure of dialect which was just considered a poor version of 'proper' speech and clearly needed to be translated into 'correct' English. Baring-Gould found that they were "Usually rubbish" or that "some of the most exquisite melodies were coupled to either foul or silly words"."
Here we have Oral versus Literary (spoken words transcribed as written words) & Aural versus Literary (heard sounds transcribed as notated ones). I'm certainly in favor of both oral & literary culture - but it seems important to point out that neither is an exact translation of the other & that both have intrinsic characteristics of value. To again quote The Conspiracy..:
"Between 1888 and 1915 the word 'folk' was used in the titles of at least 27 song collections. The vast majority of these would be accompanied by piano arrangements, "which, while providing the necessary prop for a drawing-room performance and theoretically helping to coordinate the undisciplined singing of a hall full of school children, at the same time imposed the rhythmic strictness and tonal strait-jacket of the pianoforte upon a music which appears to have cared not at all for the discipline of the metronome and owed nothing to the chromatic scale employed by art musicians and composers" (Pegg, 1976, p.18)."
Given that the advent of publishing enabled a breakthrough in the massive dissemination of the "history of the victor", it's no wonder that the orientation of the ruling class would be towards an oral/aural culture as close to the literary one as possible. The more the ruling class thought & spoke in literary terms, the more adept they could be at manipulating the published & most widely distributed & taught version of reality. I liken the refining of music thru the filter of traditional notation to the refining of food to the point of overkill in which most of the nutrition is removed.
In my own experience, I recall listening to one friend's traditionally "upper class" notated music & commenting that "all I heard was a bunch of 16th notes." This rather harsh comment of mine was meant to say that the limitations of the notation used & the rigidity of the performance were such that the rhythmic results were bland & the timbral language was practically nonexistent because the notation was too crude (or overly "refined") to include it!
Szczelkun quotes Dave Harker's Fakesong: The manufacture of British folksong 1700 to the present day as quoting Sharp as saying "Our traditional songs are a great instrument for sweetening and purifying our national life and for elevating and refining popular taste". Szczelkun then goes on to develop the idea that:
"Working class culture was to be stultified, backdated, modified, cleaned up and sold back to us as the genuine article -- the mythologizing of authenticity that goes to the irrational core of bourgeois culture. This was to be done by infecting one of the great hopes of working people, education."
Szczelkun then quotes from Chris Waters' British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture: 1884-1914 in order to demonstrate how the teaching of a limited tonal system could be used for indoctrination: "The Tonic Sol-fa system of music notation was originally intended as a means of moral training for workers, giving the illusion of unsupervised participation without threatening middle-class hegemony." Szczelkun's own experience with the oppression of the tradition of working class song was exemplified by when his singing "was met with a harsh "Pity you can't sing", a judgement which must have been based on the success of the Sol-fa scale and the general message that the working class people who didn't pick up these conventions quickly, or who intuitively resisted them, 'couldn't sing'." I've talked with at least a few friends who had similar experiences that discouraged them from exploring their own musicality by frightening them with a fear of ridicule.
Elsewhere, he notes that:
"The 'high moral tone' which was applied to censor the content of songs became part and parcel of the Victorian manufacture of childhood. The vulnerability of the young was confused with a myth of innocence. The reasonable protection of children from abuse was confused with a protection from supposedly crude language and vulgar realities: in other words from working class culture. The child was to be inculcated from the start with 'good taste'. So as young people were released from the bondage of child labour they were embraced by a new style of oppression."
Szczelkun's observation about these changes is that "Fundamentally, dominant culture is a repression of the 'lower senses', for example, reference to bodily functions--which the upper classes, being more akin to gods than animals, really did not want to admit to."
It's very interesting to me that "no vile Conceit" should be contained in the transcriptions of the folk songs considering that, to me, the pretense of representing a culture while simultaneously radically changing it is in itself a "vile Conceit". Even more interesting to me is the eradication of the "Low Pun", the "double Entendre", & "nonsense". Such humorous ambiguities are powerful underminers of fixed roles & are, as such, a threat to rigid class hierarchies. I wonder how my terminology would've been reacted to.. I like to imagine that "Low Classical Usic" would've fit into all 3 of those rejected categories.
As for "not offend[ing] the purity of the chasest ear", I think any sound at all can fuck with the virginity of a "truly" chaste ear. Sensing anything is to have the "purity" of that sense "sullied" by experience (to use a similar vocabulary). At any rate, to take material from one culture & then highly modify it to make it acceptable to another while still pretending that it represents the 1st culture can be more than simply bad scholarship. The hidden agenda of this process was (& is) to ultimately eradicate working class culture by pretending to present it in its "true goodness" - attempting to "shame" the original culture's "rowdier" elements into conformity w/ values held by "higher" classes that could ignore "facts of life", such as economic despair, that the "lower" class had to deal with more directly in order to survive. As Szczelkun puts it:
"The working class folk song culture had been colonized through the activity of the collectors and publishers. It had been cleaned up and was then fused with bourgeois idioms and presented back to the people as national culture in opposition to the 'vulgarized' urban popular culture."
As for sexual content, here's my shortened version of Szczelkun's quote from the introduction to Jerry Silverman's The Dirty Song Book:
"Where were the dirty songs when Cecil Sharp, Carl Sandburg, and John Lomax came around? [..] ...Did the cowboy, sailor, or chain gang convict suddenly become shy when confronted with the strange fellow with the notebook [..]? [..]
[..] we can only infer a tacit conspiracy of silence as the reason for their almost complete non-existence in print...when Alec Guiness led his hardy band over the River Kwai they only whistled the tune of the so-called 'Colonel Bogey's March'. Do you suppose that the British soldiers didn't have some choice lyrics to fit that stirring march? Your're damned right they did! Turn to page 92 for a poetical analysis of the anatomy of Hitler, Goering, Himmler and Goebbels and then see if you could ever be satisfied just whistling the tune again."
In David Ocker's liner notes to Frank Zappa's "Francesco Zappa" parody record of the "Golden Age" of "Classical Music" we find the following description of a "Classical Musician"'s life:
.."Francesco found honest employment sawing away [at his 'cello] while noblemen ate dinner. It wasn't such a bad job if you remembered every fifteen minutes to remind the nobleman what a perfectly wonderful human being he was, stressing the intense personal privilege you felt by coming to his digestive assistance. He might even remember to pay you." Ho Hum. I much prefer Spike Jones' Dinner Music...for people who aren't very hungry! to music butlers cranking out "Classics" with humorless robotic precision.
Spike Jones & the City Slickers, The Portsmouth Sinfonia, & the Scratch Orchestra all had a place in their repertoires for "Classical Music" - as Spike said, they could use them to show their "musical depreciation". In Mr. Michael Bond's extremely straight-faced address to the opening of the Sinfonia's Royal Albert Hall concert, his referring to the pieces to be played as having "been known & loved by each one of us" is greeted by much laughter. If Bond's address had been preceding a straight "Classical Music" concert, not a word would've been "out of place" - but would there've been any laughter? I wonder whether a generalization can accurately be made about what the audience was laughing about? Did many of the people just put the Sinfonia in the same category as humorist Peter Schickele's P.D.Q.Bach?
What's funny to me is that I find Schickele's following description of the imaginary instrument the "Hardart" (a thinly veiled reference to Difficult Music perhaps?) to be much more interesting than most of the 18th century music promoted by "Classical Radio":
"One of the strangest instruments of the 18th century, the Hardart has a range of over two almost chromatic octaves, with each successive tone possessing a different quality or timbre. The sound-producing devices include plucked strings, bottles which are blown and struck, and a cooking timer. Windows in the center section, which can be opened after inserting the necessary coins in the slots, contain the different mallets required to play the percussion devices, as well as sandwiches and pieces of pie which are particularly welcome during long concerts." Sounds like an honorary "Low Classical Usical Instrument" to me.
In a coincidental overlap of terminology, The Neoist Headquarters of New York City announced in August of 1986ev "the beginning of the GREAT CONFUSION, the Immortal Revolutionary Hard Art Époque initiated by Monty Cantsin and the people of the Lower East Side."
Back to the "uncontrolled variables": In my essay accompanying my record entitled Usic Minus the Square Root of Minus One I wrote in reference to my 1975ev d composition entitled dadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadada that it "is both the complete title & the complete score" & that:
"The idea behind this score was that it be extremely simple to realize. All the performer "has" to do is somehow sound the title out loud & if they fuck up, well, it isn't such a disaster. I made recordings w/ friends who wd've never thought of themselves as "performers" otherwise & produced some fine "inanity". A part of the idea was to create a context so narrow that any quirks w/in it, including "performer" mistakes wd become "exciting" novelties in contrast."
As another comment on what might be called a shuffling of rigid class role-playing, I quote from my "Social Philosophy" section from the More Information than most people are likely to want to read booklet that accompanies the Official Wafer Face Record: "So-called "improvisation" is often perceived as pointing in this direction insofar as whatever skills any player brings to the moment are often stressed as being at least as important if not more so than the skills originating from a directing person or group."
Quoting once again from the Usic - -1 essay, in reference to the above-mentioned "Official" Project:
"The people willing to work with this project ranged from people who had never played an instrument before to people with master's degrees in music from academies - with rock & "pop" musicians "in between" & people like Neil Feather & John Berndt & myself coming from a more "outsider" angle. People were united simply by their interest in the project & the fun that they got out of it & didn't require the pay that motivates most classical & pop "professionals". Everything that was played could be taught with fairly simple explanations & by demonstration. The amount of improvisation involved allowed the players to maintain enough individual personality to keep the rehearsals fun enough to make them a sort of social event game (at least for me) & to ensure that more rehearsals than common in classical circles could be had. And the results could be wonderfully convoluted! Even so, the project was exhausting &, as usual, the lack of money didn't help. Nonetheless, the "Official" "Big Band" managed to lurch along for a year & a half!" - "Low Class Usicians" & members of the No-No Class All! (even if they deny it)..
The production of "Low Classical Usic" could be said to be motivated by the desire to produce creations of a parallel or greater indensity (pun intended) to that of "Classical Music" while depreciating the oppressive class structure that "Classical Music" is the tool of. The Scratch Orchestra may've had the most clear-cut "easily recognized as such" political orientation. In the Scratch Music book edited by Cornelius Cardew (another of the Orchestra's founders) the following introductory paragraph from Cardew is found:
"The Scratch was saved from liquidation by two communist members. At the August 23/24 discussions of the [Catherine Williams] Discontent documents John Tilbury exposed the contradictions within the orchestra, and proposed the setting up of a Scratch Ideological Group. I and several others were glad to join this group, whose tasks were not only to investigate possibilities for political music-making but also to study revolutionary theory: Marx, Lenin, Mao Tsetung. Another aim was to build up an organisational structure in the Scratch that would make it a genuinely democratic orchestra & release it from the domination of my subtly autocratic, supposedly anti-authoritarian leadership." Note the absence of anarchist theory. Ho hum.
The Scratch Orchestra, despite its communist rather than anarchist leanings, as an important theoretical precursor to both the "Low Classical Usic" of the "Official" Project & another project I've been involved in: the Volunteers Collective. Note the similarities between Cardew's "Scratch Music was halfway between composing and improvising" & my explanation of the "Official" Project's playing structure: "the distinction between "composition" & "improvisation" is of a usefullness limited to relativity issues" or between Cardew's "A Scratch Orchestra is a large number of enthusiasts pooling their resources (not primarily material resources) and assembling for action (music-making, performance, edification)" & John [Berndt] Kennedy's "I propose that I be included in a group of people, a loose ensemble of changing "membership", focused on goals by their individual enthusiasm at each point, on projects which suggest the participation of a defined group but for which no su[i]table contexts exists here, the value of which for me would be the sharing of individual resources outside the already known & oriented forms of the music group, the theater group, the two-person col[l]ab[o]ration, ktp...." (from his "Proposal for Volunteer's-Collective").
One of the many "ideological" obstacles to the production & acceptance of "Low Classical Usic" is the emphasis on Production "Values" & "High Fidelity". While I certainly have nothing against either, I do have something against these "values" getting in the way of production done under circumstances in which such "values" are impractical. Note the similarity between the concepts of "good taste" & "high fidelity". In a letter written in defense of my tape company, Widemouth Tapes, published in the "V" issue of OP magazine in March/April of 1984ev I wrote:
"Regarding the recording quality, comparison w/ folkways, postal interaction networking, and the Bullshit Detector again seems relevant. Should poor people without access to hi-fi equipment be discouraged from recording and disseminating? It seems to me that some things need to be distributed independent of fidelity criteria and that there is information instrinsic to lo-fi. Indeed the lo-fi enhances the conceptual obstacle course of the phone recordings - which have carefully avoided artiness and musicality in order to make them more difficult to accept for people who assume that sound is only worth listening to if it has pseudo-professional gloss."
A case in point being that of Norman Yeh. Norman's a remarkable violinist & pianist who, at times, creates a world of garbage around himself. I released a tape by him recorded (by him) under extremely crude circumstances - using some semi-broken "home-entertainment" console tape recorder (or some such). In the notes that accompany Norman's tape I wrote:
"Hunting the wild Norman Yeh can be quite a challenge. First there's the labyrinth of accumulations from auctions. The neighborhoods full of cars; the trucks full of tires; the burning vans; the sneaky plates; the ceiling high stacks of moldy books; the tvs & stereos & boxes & appliances & furniture to be stepped over & on.. You name it & Norman may just have it somewhere between you & him.. - & then there are the plates of fried eggs & half-eaten fish stuck between the newspapers - & the fierce those-who-are-only-alluded-to-obliquelies : well-nigh present tense in more ways than once-upon-a-time-&-time-again.. For the obstinate who make it past these obstacles there's the final test of the inimitable Yeh spewing of invisible ink. The octupus with artificial arms. &, of course, if you like this sort of thing, the complexity of someone who refuses to even accept my saying that he refuses to be simple-minded - if you'd rather encourage flies to make movies rather than pin them down or go after them with the swat team, then this rare selection of recordings may be for you.."
In addition to my own poverty, the obstinateness of Norman's eccentrically "unapproachable" personality made it difficult for there to be any other recording than his own primitive one. If there had been a "clean" recording of him made, however, it wouldn't have echoed so well the filth of the environment that he so fertilely created in. "Low Classical Usic" has room for gardening in the manure of "lo-fi" (ultimately, I prefer "sci-fi").
Nam June Paik, who is said to've begun as a traditional composer in Japan before moving into the video/tv work that he's most renowned for, is quoted on page 152 of the 1973 edition of Douglas Davis' book Art and the Future as saying:
"From Giotto to Ingres there is a steady search for more perfection in high fidelity. Then Monet made it low fidelity. TV has been searching for high fidelity, too. The whole electronics industry has had but one purpose to serve: reproduction of the original signal. They never question that signal. [..] The nature of the source is not their problem. Electronics has thus been used for military purposes, for censorship, for eavesdropping. I want to make electronics more humanistic, more conscious of the problem of source material--which isn't a difficult problem at all. For example, many millions of engineers knew that you could distort TV signals with a magnet; millions knew it, but no one did it. They were trained never to question the source material, like soldiers at West Point. Mr. Abe [Paik's engineer collaborator] says, everything in TV is now set for high fidelity, but there is nothing to do. Therefore, now is the time in TV for low fidelity. Hi-fi is dead in music with Stockhausen & Cage, dead in marriage with Dr. Kinsey, and dead in TV with us."
"Low Fidelity" need not only refer to the "quality" of the recording process. It can also refer to the "quality" of sound produced in general. A trained instrumentalist playing a "highly crafted" model of the instrument they're trained to play might be said to be playing "Hi-Fi". Untrained (or even trained/experienced) players without access to "well-crafted" instruments (or rejecting them) might choose to exaggerate these ordinarily "negative" characteristics in order to produce something different from "Hi-Fi" - often as a "Low Classical" political positioning. In Istvan Kantor (a) Monty Cantsin AMEN!'s essay "Sounds Like Neoism?!" he recounts the following anecdote:
"I was also involved with unpopular forms like anti-music, spontaneous improvisation, noise. One early example of this is the syphon-music concept, a neo-dada experience originated in the late 60s, early 70s in Budapest. The basic idea was to provoke the audience through the unskilled use of musical instruments. You could only be a participant of a syphon-music performance if you couldn't play any instruments, or, if you happened to know how to play piano, for example, then you had to play trumpet or violin. But at each occasion you had to change instrument to make sure that you wont get familiar with any of them. [..] We became infamous & and got banned from many clubs. But, eventually [..] the rumours made us known in the music circuits and we got invited to do our own shows. This kind of success reversed the original idea and turned it into an accepted form of entertainment, and, of course, these consequences meant the end of the syphon-music era."
Another lo-fi angle might be represented by Jack Behrens' "Utopianism (for "found" piano)" on the MUSICWORKS #64 recording. Accepting the "found" qualities of anything often means observing what the found thing is & then exploring its unique characteristics rather than trying to "tune" those characteristics into being in keeping with a common standard. According to Behrens' MW article, the piano that he used "provided the microtonal possibilities of composing for what might be described as a "found object" -- each piano key had to be considered as an individual sound source, not necessarily related in any rational manner to the other eighty-four." By accepting what would ordinarily have been called the "out-of-tune" aspects of the piano, he was able to compose for a tuning that might not've been produced "rational"ly otherwise.
Now, of course, comes the punch-line. After having circled an implied definition of this all-important concept of "Low Classical Usic" it's time for me to try to cram 2 recent audio products from me into its ambiguous context. I'm reminded of the Japanese man growing watermelons in cubes. The first piece in question is entitled A Year & a Day @ the Funny Farm Bogus Piano Concerto - in 2 Rapid Bowel Movements: 1. Left Wing Movement, 2. Chicken Wing Movement. d composed in 1995ev, this "Bogus Concerto" is partially explained by this excerpt from my 1996ev revised notes:
"After hearing one of these recordings of the BPC, my step-brother said something about the relationship between the "piano" part & the "orchestration" making "no sense" to him. In an attempt to explain my intention I developed the analogy that the 1st movement is like a tightrope walker's marathon thru a variety of weather conditions. Regardless of whether there's a thunder-storm or intense sunlight, the keyboardist's challenge is to maintain a focused course."
Now, What the fuck does that have to do with "Low Classical Usic"? Is this essay going to conclude with a call for strength & perseverance on the part of the "Low Class" in order to survive the "Upper Class" long enough to bury it? Hardly. But the Bogus Piano Concerto does occasionally show our (M)Usical d preciation of many a popular classic (thanks to the marvelous playing of John Henry Nyenhuis). Actually, the BPC is mainly "Low Classical Usic" because I "originated" it & everybody "knows" what a "Low Class" type I am. If I were admitted into the "Upper Class" pantheon of the "Classical Music" gods I might start spreading dis-eases. Ho hum.
Another recent bit of cubical watermelon "Low Classical Usic" might be my acoustic guitar piece "Past Life Regression". This piece of fluff (can any guitar usic be otherwise?) is the only "interesting" guitar solo I've managed to play in my 27 years as a guitarist. As such, I just have to plug it. It's a "Past Life Regression" because I was once a "folk musician" as a teenager & playing guitar for me often feels like a regression to that past life. I created it whilst teaching a friend of mine to play guitar. While teaching her to play I discovered that I'm actually very "knowledgable" on the subject. Whatever skill I may exhibit in this piece might seem to approach the academic (probably not), but I assure you, it's pure "Low Classical Usic" - a grab-bag of Jack-Off-Of-All-Trades use of whatever my exploratory experience brought me & not the product of carefully manipulated ideological Academy training.
As usual, this essay is hardly presented as being "perfect". I can imagine a detailed analysis of my own text revealing problems with it that its current form inadequately explores. One obvious problem is that it deals almost exclusively with the culture of England, the United States, & English Canada (aka "Great" Britain, the NUS@, & Caca-Nada) - with a smattering of Russia & Hungary - & is, as such, extremely narrow focus. But, then again, I'm not trying to establish a comprehensive history or a steadfast hierarchy, I'm "simply" trying to open a can of worms that we can go fishing for punchlines with.
AMEN!, Istvan Kantor (a) Monty Cantsin - "Sounds Like Neoism?!"
Behrens, Jack - "I am not Greg Curnoe. Part 2" - MUSICWORKS Magazine #64, 179 Richmond St. W., Toronto, Ontario, M5V 1V3, canada
Berndt, John - "Proposal for Volunteer's-Collective" as published with November 21 '87EV to April 16 '89EV (as edited by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE) & November 21 '87EV to April 16 '89EV (as edited by John Berndt) - Widémouth Tapes, Box 382, Baltimore, MD, 21203, usa or 3809 Melwood Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15213, usa
Cardew, Cornelius - Scratch Music - MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 02142, usa
Davis, Douglas - Art and the Future - Praeger Publishers, Inc., 111 Fourth Avenue, New York, NY, 10003, usa
Farley, John - notes for Hallelujah - The Portsmouth Sinfonia at the Royal Albert Hall - Transatlantic Records, 86 Marleybone High Street, London, W1M 4AY, england
Harker, Dave - Fakesong: The manufacture of British folksong 1700 to the present day - Open University Press, uk
Nyman, Michael - experimental music - Cage and beyond - Schirmer Books (A division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.) - 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10022, usa
Ocker, David - notes for Francesco Zappa - Barking Pumpkin Records, usa
Pegg, Bob - Folk: A Portrait of English Traditional Music, Musicians and Customs - Wildwood, uk
Schickele, Peter - notes for Music of P.D.Q. Bach - Peter Schikele Town Hall Concert - April 1965
Silverman, Jerry - The Dirty Song Book - Stein & Day, New York, NY, usa
Szczelkun, Stefan - The Conspiracy of Good Taste - Working Press, 85 St Agnes Place, Kennington, LONDON SE11 4BB, england
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - "complaining letter" - OP Magazine - "V" issue, March-April, 1984, usa
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - notes for Norman Yeh - Widémouth Tapes, Box 382, Baltimore, MD, 21203, usa or 3809 Melwood Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15213, usa
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - "More Information than most people are likely to want to read" from The "Official" Wafer Face Record - Wafer Face Records West, Box 4007, Berkeley, CA, 94704, usa
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - Usic - -1 = A Plethora of No-Longer Neglected Audio/Conceptual Obstacle Courses - Wafer Face Records West, Box 4007, Berkeley, CA, 94704, usa
tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - notes re the A Year & A Day at the Funny Farm Bogus Piano Concerto in 2 Rapid Bowel Movements: 1: Left Wing Movement, 2: Chicken Wing Movement - Widémouth Tapes, Box 382, Baltimore, MD, 21203, usa or 3809 Melwood Ave., Pittsburgh, PA, 15213, usa
Waters, Chris - British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture: 1884-1914 - Manchester University Press, uk
- tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
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