Counter Culture

I quite agree with Alex Ross when he says:

I'll repeat my outré contention that classical music, for all its elite trappings, is actually a radical, disruptive force in American culture, whereas most popular culture, for all its rebellious trappings, is intensely conservative.

I'll only add that it's been true for a very long time.


  1. Anonymous8:12 PM

    Popular culture is the music of both the establishment, and our established pattern of living - it is run and produced the same way as toasters or cars - with the smae objective.

  2. Agreed. Could you expand on what you think the objective is?

  3. Anonymous12:33 PM

    Ultimately popular music is about leveraging the channels of distribution and communication to mine the energy - sexual, personal and sometimes cultural - of the public. It is giving people the means to express themselves through capital. Don't say what you feel, send a greeting card.

    Music which is about extracting that energy has sharp limits on what it can do and say. Not in terms of outragousness, but in terms of having to tap either a few basic themes - coming of age, infidelity or anger - and it has to create territoriality. There is territoriality, aplenty, in other music, but there is a difference.

    Namely territoriality of classical music and jazz is not how the value is extracted, but the result of value being created. Classical music and jazz are free not to "send a message". This freedom is counter-establishment, because actual reflection on society is not beneficial to the way our society runs. A pop CD - however good - affirms consumer values.

    Classical music has not faired well as a consumer object, because its territory - a kind of neo-snobbism - isn't a very big product. There are other, just as effective, ways of asserting ones economic taste and elite consumption status - cars, cigars, wines, location of home, golf and so on. This is why it is constantly working to subvert its own consumer placement.

  4. Seems like you are touching on the whole "soundtrack of your life" thing, which people in classical music really don't talk/think about.

    Can you expand on that last comment?

  5. Anonymous4:40 AM

    Well, you can go to a website or forum on classical music and get "ratings" of composers, and how people use music as a soundtrack - and certianly the ubiquity of music players is making the soundtrack consumer more and more common. It's also a wonderful thing in itself - who wouldn't want to live surrounded by the music they love.

    At the same time, classical music does better when it leads people out of, into into, their shells. People use music to assert their identity, but they can also use it to expand their wordl of thought. Pop songs can do this, have done it, and will continue to, but even in this area they tend to focus in on a person's relationship to an issue or part of the cultural landscape.

    It's not that pop bands never do this - while I don't like the music of the Grateful Dead, they certainly wanted their audience to be more than being "about" identity, even if identity was what they eventually ended up trading on.

    However, classical music's difference is that it has a feast of such music - sound worlds, pieces that are ideas, or abstract dramas. Pieces that are not "about" something, but how to think about something.

  6. Anonymous2:57 AM

    Alias: Piano Boy
    Email: piano-sheetmusic@yahoo.com

    Actually classical music is very realxing to hear as well as you enjoy every note that the musician plays. Yup, it places a big part on the culture.

    URL: piano-sheetmusic.com