David Bennett has managed to write a lucid account of some difficult concepts in 'Sounding Postmodernism'. Postmodernism is a term which has fluid meanings, meaning to most people, an unwillingness to make hard judgements on values, on avoiding setting up hierarchies.
Sounding Postmodernism: By David Bennett
I approached this book with a degree of trepidation, but by the time I finished reading David Bennett’s Sounding Postmodernism I felt quite exhilarated. Exhilarated because this book gave me so much new to think about, and annoyed too, because as an attender of concerts and a buyer of CDs so much of this music was unavailable to the non specialist. This is a specialist book, written as Bennett says: “To composers and musicologists for whom much of postmodern cultural theory is a closed book, and to readers well versed in modernist and post modernist debates in other disciplines”.
David Bennett has managed to write a lucid account of some difficult concepts. Postmodernism is a term which has fluid meanings, meaning to most people, an unwillingness to make hard judgements on values, on avoiding setting up hierarchies. It can be anti-theoretical and anti-intellectual. In music, it is a reaction to the modernism, atonality and formalism of Shoenberg-Adorno hegemony.
The first part of this book is an explanation of postmodernism in music, made with an explicitly Australian readership in mind.
The second part in a series of interviews with a large group of Australian musicians, academics and commentators about music on the way in which postmodernism and other philosophies or ideologies affects their own work, and their views of the work of others. Terms such as avant-garde, art music or exploratory music differentiate the music Bennett is writing about from contemporary pop, the classical repertoire, or jazz. Most of the musicians interviewed are very reluctant to use labels for their music in anyway at all, but most of them albeit reluctantly would agree that they are writing in a postmodern period, therefore a postmodernist style.
Amongst the questions are questions about ‘new music’ boring or frightening audiences, nationalism in music and the use of technology. There are also questions about the way in which there is an assumption, which not all of the interviewees accepted, that postmodernism has altered listening and marketing of music.
Maria Grenfell touched, in passing only, on education of young children to enjoy listening to and making music. The idea of audience reaction was mentioned in many interviews, but there was little emphasis on the education for enjoyment of ‘art’ music. Where do new audiences come from? The audiences for formal concerts at concert halls are dying off, and are not being replaced. Do small children in state education ever hear interesting music? What music do secondary school students hear at school? Are young adults exposed to a variety of many styles of well played ‘art’ music?
Perhaps listeners in the postmodern world do not have choices about what they listen to, and where and when they listen to it. Supermarkets have constant sounds pouring over their customers, on hold ‘music’ can be the most annoying sound possible, even the dentist will torture you to the music of his choice. Some of this music is interesting, most is not. Commercial and pop music seems to be ubiquitous.
So where can people experience thought provoking new music? Non-commercial radio stations try. There are music festivals, installations and events at which new exciting music is presented. Digital technology means that it is possible to produce music and distribute it via the web. (All the interviewees have websites; some of these sites have examples of the music the composer talks about.) And we can do, what Jim Denley said he did, to get the best part of his musical eduction, listen to his CD’s and read the notes that come with them.
Sounding Postmodernism: By David Bennett
Sampling Australian Composers, Sound Artists and Music Critics
By: David Bennett
Australian Music Centre
Paperback: 536 pages
Publisher: Australian Music Centre (December 31, 2008)