September , 2018
Postmodernism in Music
19:58 pm

Kaushik Chattapadhyay

It becomes more and more difficult to specify exactly what is that ‘postmodernism’ is supposed to refer to as the term gets stretched in all directions across different debates, different disciplinary and discursive boundaries, as different factions seek to make it in their own way, using it to designate a plethora of incommensurable objects, tendencies and emergencies. An anti-teleological (possessing no overall design or universal plan) tendency within epistemology (the science of knowledge), the attack on the metaphysics of presence (a self-certifying or absolute structure or foundation which lies beyond the operation of language), a general attenuation of feeling, an identity, consciousness or ego which is deferred, displaced, fragmented or marginalised within a structure can be described as postmodernism and then it’s clear we are in the presence of a buzzword. Debates have raged with intensity in the field of music for several years now. As a result, individual subject areas have thrown up varying bodies.                                              

Key characteristics of postmodern ‘experimental’ music...

It combats the self as expressive agent in music, so that chance processes, nondeterminism or indeterminism become main compositional principles.

There is a rejection of rational and scientific systems in favour of irrational, mystical non-rational belief systems. Confronting the ordered hierarchy of a system of priorities and dualism, a new equality is introduced where nothing is given priority over anything else.

In contradistinction to the complex and cerebral music, a physical per formative new simplicity is espoused. Instead of being highly notational and text-centred, it is practice-centred; for example, in the new reliance on environmental sounds. The music is conceived of as cyclical, repetitive and static. A subjectivity, which is always moving along different sectors and changing its shape, but not always having a shape.

Music videos....

Of all the visual media in recent decades which have attracted the most concerted descriptive analysis of postmodernism, music videos or promos have been at the top of the list. Music videos exemplify pastiche, a knowing appropriation of other audiovisual media right across the range, self-reflexive and ironic approaches in their portrayal of stars, and montage strategies with inter-textual cross-referencing at all times.

Music videos disrupt the conventional distinction between television and video art. With new post production technologies both these aspects converge in one form. These videos break down familiar genre distinctions with the development of new mixed-media forms. Rock videos combine elements of live musical performance, film and television to produce an ‘electronic mini-operetta’ or ‘an animated record sleeve’.

Music videos bring about a tremendous amount of hybridisation, blurring categories of programme and advertisement. Music has moved into fashion and performance, with clothes displayed on catwalks to the sounds of the latest pop hits. 

Experimental music...

Given that one of the principal assaults of postmodernism is on the false dichotomy of high and low culture, it is something of an anomaly to refer to ‘experimental’ or ‘serious art’. Thus experimental music is often thought of as the fruit of excessive speculation and the result of an exclusive mustering of the powers of reason. Everything in it is constructed according to pre-established quantities and is justified by the rules of a strictly combinatorial logic. Except for the rules and quantities themselves, nothing seems to have been left with the realms of free intuition. In short, a pitiless regimentation would seem to rule over the music, controlling the course of events. While performing or listening to experimental music, one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focussing in, on the musical process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards to it.....

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