eloquent list of pop and "art" music combinations

Jonathan D. Kramer, Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (Bloomsbury, 2016), Chapter 4:

Questioning, or even attacking, the previously all but unassailable barrier between pop and art music has energized postmodern music. Whereas there have certainly been modernist composers who enjoy vernacular music, only under the influence of postmodernism have art-music composers invited pop music into ostensibly art-music compositions. In the case of conservative postmodernists, the motivation may have been to reach out to an audience increasingly alienated from the world of serious concert music; in the case of radical postmodernists, the reason may have been to create unsettling and challenging contexts in which different styles confront each other. Despite the rhetoric of some composers and critics, most such crossover music does not cross completely freely from one musical world to another. Postmodernism thrives on otherness, on the recognition that something foreign is being embraced.

Footnote (no. 46) to the above passage:

John Rea offers a wonderfully varied list of postmodernist crossover music. Notice how, in most instances, the composer or performer’s stylistic or aesthetic affinity is on clearly one side of the divide, with foreign elements welcomed in precisely for their otherness, their exoticism: “Yehudi Menuhin playing ragas with Ravi Shankar or improvising hot jazz with Stéphane Grappelli; the Swingle Singers interpreting Bach by scat singing; the Beatles using a sitär in the Sergeant Pepper album; the settings of Folk Songs by Berio; Switched-on Bach for synthesizers, where the arranger/transcriber would change sex by the time he/she had completed the recording project; any one of the innumerable happenings organized by John Cage; the second movement of György Ligeti’s Three Pieces for Two Pianos entitled Selbstportrait mit Reich und Riley (und Chopin ist auch dabei); almost any ensemble in the Early Music movement that, in performing to extremely fast tempi, always leaves the impression that it might as well have played music to accompany a cartoon; jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performing Shostakovich or playing the harpsichord; the Kronos String Quartet, dressed in costume and exploiting rock-’n’-roll theatrical lighting, performing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix; the Koto Ensemble of Tokyo playing Vivaldi; Pavarotti singing with Dalla and Sting; the symphonies of Philip Glass; the Liverpool Oratorio by Paul McCartney; Itzahk Perlman playing klezmer music; Gidon Kremer playing tangos; the Shanghai Film Orchestra playing In C by Terry Riley on traditional Chinese instruments; the symphonies of Krzysztof Penderecki; Bobby McFerrin conducting and Chick Corea playing a Mozart piano concerto where the cadenzas are jazz-like improvisations; Belgian singer Helmut Lotti singing classical songs and arias but sounding like Mario Lanza’s operatic persona-manqué; American pop singer Neil Diamond singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah; jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek playing in a church while the Hilliard Ensemble sings Lasso and Palestrina; the English pop music group Oasis, feebly copying the Beatles, including their haircuts; the celebratory Symphony 1997 -- Heaven, Earth, Mankind by Tan Dun, written to mark the transfer of power in Hong Kong from Great Britain to China; the very long symphonic poem, Standing Stone, by Sir Paul McCartney, which sounds as if it had been written by Rachmaninoff after having taken LSD; and, finally, cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing tangos,” John Rea, “Postmodernisms.”

mo vs poMo (3)

It's amusing to read Daniel Albright's writings on Modernism -- brimming with enthusiasm and insight as if T.S. Eliot and Luigi Russolo were alive today and needed explanation -- alongside Jonathan D. Kramer's book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (2016), which treats Modernism as a slightly tainted artifact of the distant past, deserving no sympathy or apologetics. In a series of posts we'll consider this incongruity.

Kramer's book ultimately gets at the crux of why Modernism receives so many pejorative words in a current chart comparing it to Postmodernism: an intergenerational conflict based on the entrenchment of the Modernist canon in academia. It's one thing to study Modernist works, as Albright does; it's another to insist that this is the only correct art.

In Chapter 1.7, "Why Today’s Composers Write Postmodern Music," Kramer notes that "some young composers are uncomfortable with pressures from their teachers to like and respect one kind of music (tonal) yet write another (atonal). Like adolescents in the world of postmodernism, they rebel against the values they learn in school. They want to create the music they love, not that which they are told to love."

These "pressures" from teacher/authority figures are explained in more detail in Chapter 3.1:

The atonal canon has been promoted in American academia not only by composers but also by theorists, who have found in the music of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, and Bartók fertile ground for their analytic studies. Music which lends itself to systematic analysis tends to be analyzed in universities more readily than that which does not, and the music which is often analyzed is the music that students naturally are expected to think of as the most significant and relevant.... Their modernist teachers reinforce these imitations with praise and encouragement. And why have theorists concentrated on this small body of music? Part of the reason is expediency: it is easier to analyze consistent music than pluralistic music, in which no one system of thought will explicate an entire piece. Another part of the reason is political. When theories of atonal analysis began to spread through academia, this music was already well entrenched, thanks to several influential progressive modernist composers who held major teaching posts.

Theorists were thus able to assure their own importance by providing keys that unlocked the secrets of this highly valued but little understood repertory.

Audiences have come around to some modernist music (such as the early ballets of Stravinsky, the quartets of Bartók, and the sonatas of Ives), but the compositions of the Second Viennese School still fail to attract a large public. The reason often given is the unrelieved dissonance in the music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, but I doubt that this is the whole story. There is also a lot of dissonance in those Stravinsky and Bartók works which have found audiences, as there is in some downright popular Ives compositions, like his massively dissonant Fourth Symphony. Is the reason, then, atonality? I think not. The Rite of Spring, for example, may use some tonal materials, but it is not tonal. Stravinsky’s neoclassic works, which come closer to tonality, are less widely appreciated than the Rite. Schoenberg’s tonal works, such as Pelleas und Melisande and the Suite in G, are no more accepted by the public than are his atonal compositions. It seems that Schoenberg’s musical values and personality, more than his use of atonality or tonality, put listeners off. Is the reason for the gap between modernist music and the general public, then, the alleged lack of emotional content (whatever that vague term might mean)? Again, I think not, because some of Schoenberg’s most hermetic scores are also his most emotional (or so they seem to me). I think the main reason why some of the modernist works most prized by academics have little audience appeal is their elitism: you need to be a sophisticated listener to understand Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, or Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet, or Webern’s Orchestral Variations. You need to learn how to listen to these works. They are an acquired taste.

Whatever the reasons for the failure of audiences to enjoy much modernist music—and the failure of most modernist composers to write music capable of appealing to a large audience—modernism’s hermeticism has become almost a badge of honor. Late modernists, adopting a defensive posture, often act proud of the inaccessibility of their works to a general public. No pandering to the masses for them! No compositions with easily discernible structures! No postmodernism!

mo vs poMo (2)

It's amusing to read Daniel Albright's writings on Modernism -- brimming with enthusiasm and insight as if Virginia Woolf and George Antheil were alive today and needed explanation -- alongside Jonathan D. Kramer's book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (2016), which treats Modernism as a slightly tainted artifact of the distant past, deserving no sympathy or apologetics. In a series of posts we'll consider this disjunction.

In "Postmodernism vs Modernism," Chapter 1.4 of Kramer's book, he borrows a couple of tables from other writers to illuminate the differences. The one below comes from Larry Solomon's article “What is Postmodernism?” The words used in the Modernist column (left) are mostly pejorative, and not terribly accurate. Are works such as Schoenberg's Erwartung (music as articulated screech of madness) or Beckett's Murphy (praising the catatonic state) actually "harmonious," "logical," or "utopian"? Many of the words that Solomon ascribes to Modernism could also be considered "Classical" and the poMo words "Modernist." In the table below I've made those substitutions:

Table 1.2

Modern Classical

Postmodern Modern



utopian, elitist



non-patriarchal, feminist


non-totalized, fragmented



European, Western

global, multicultural





staid, serious, purposeful

playful, ironic



intentional, constructive

non-intentional, deconstructive


practical, pragmatic

reductive, analytic

nonreductive, synthetic

simplicity, elegance, spartan









multi-pathed [or, multi-directional]

harmonious, integrated

eclectic, non-integrated









Obviously some items aren't good candidates for the switch -- abstraction belongs in the Modernism column but still, representation works better under "Classical" than Postmodern. But so many of the items Solomon calls Modernist are just straw people to justify the perceived musical status quo. The art he characterizes as "staid" was anything but when it first appeared in the world. In a later post we'll talk about the ways in which Modernism became orthodox, justifying to some extent the approach taken in this chart.

mo vs poMo (1)

It's amusing to read Daniel Albright's writings on Modernism -- brimming with enthusiasm and insight as if Beckett and Schoenberg were alive today and needed explanation -- alongside Jonathan D. Kramer's book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (2016), which treats Modernism as a slightly tainted artifact of the distant past, deserving no sympathy or apologetics. In a series of posts we'll consider this disjunction.

Kramer's book was published posthumously so he can't be blamed entirely for the following passage from Chapter 1.1 (footnotes omitted):

A more subtle and nuanced understanding of postmodernism emerges once we consider it not as a historical period but as an attitude -- a current attitude that influences not only today’s compositional practices but also how we listen to and use music of other eras. Umberto Eco has written tellingly, “Postmodernism is not a trend to be chronologically defined, but, rather, an ideal category or, better still, a Kunstwollen, a way of operating. We could say that every period has its postmodernism.” Jean-François Lyotard suggests a still more paradoxical view of the chronology of postmodernism: “A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant.” Lyotard seems to believe that before a work can be understood as truly modern, it must challenge a previous modernism. Thus, to take Lyotard’s example, Picasso and Braque are postmodern in that their art goes beyond the modernism of Cézanne. Once their art has achieved this postmodern break with the past, it becomes modernist. Similarly, certain music of Mahler, Ives, and Nielsen, for example, becomes postmodern by going beyond the modernist practices of such composers as Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner.

This statement isn't paradoxical so much as it is confused: "Picasso and Braque are postmodern in that their art goes beyond the modernism of Cézanne. Once their art has achieved this postmodern break with the past, it becomes modernist." "Going beyond" suggests belief in progress, which elsewhere Kramer says is a Modernist trait, not Postmodernist. Ditto, "breaking with the past." So, all these artists going beyond other artists would seem to be flavors of Modernism, not something new that requires definition.

[continued in next post]

tiny mix peaks



On the eve of the Twin Peaks reboot launch, Will Neibergall published a thoughtful essay at Tiny Mix Tapes about this particular TV-series-as-meme and how it's viewed by millennials (or at least the one writing the article): a failed show that resonates as a fictitious America even less palpable than it was to its original target audience. "One of the many reasons you love Twin Peaks," he writes, "is that its characters feel like people you know in real life, even though everything else in the show feels very unfamiliar. Twin Peaks makes you nostalgic for a time you don’t remember and a place that doesn’t exist."

From this reaction, Neibergall extrapolates how an even-further-removed generation will appreciate the show:

Maybe those viewer-subjects live in a huddled condition, in what philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls “ecological stress communes,” pressed inland and away from cultural centers now remembered and revered like ancestors, jostled about by resource scarcity, plagued by ridiculous fantasies of aliens and sea people punctuated by actual disaster, war, and collapse. Or maybe these troubles loom on their horizon. In the face of these real nightmares, do they dream of ending up in a place like Twin Peaks, of grappling with its fake demons? Maybe future Twin Peaks viewers see in it a refreshingly provincial vision of encompassing crisis. A town where a yellow light still means “slow down” resonates abstractly with them. They are absorbed by the dark forces stirred out of the brown-gray American forest, by the murder of the cocaine-addicted homecoming queen and secret prostitute. Maybe, naive to the reality of their own circumstances, they feel like Dale Cooper chasing after those elusive and idealized spirits.

Neibergall wonders whether the 2017 version will be any good:

[W]ill Twin Peaks really walk and breathe more freely, as if awoken to a new life, and find something like that original sense of purpose? Or will it lose its way again in the smoke and mirrors of a shoddily constructed model of the public?

Twin Peaks 2017 pressed on with the occult narratives that seemed scatterbrained in 1991, creating actual mythology out of a hairball of modern paranoiac concepts. The atom bomb and its proximity to Roswell. Causality loops controlled by mysterious "lodges" and entities that seem to work at cross-purposes. A red-curtained room with chevron-patterned floor that serves as atrium to those nether-spaces. Human suffering in the form of a creamed corn-like substance that vomits inexplicably out of character's mouths. A parade of unexplained urban "types" having late night conversations in Twin Peaks' impossibly large bar. Audrey Horne's afterlife in a hellish marital scenario. Musical acts that all seemed to have moved to LA to be "Lynchian." A cornucopia of aging and/or mothballed actors, still strutting their stuff.

These elements mesh somehow into a poignant whole that binds the loose ends of the original series and redeems it retroactively. Whether its characters still feel "like people you know in real life" takes back stage in the Lynch/Frost uber-saga, or counter-saga, of supernatural interventions in mixed-up, SNAFU'd America.

Whether any of it will be of value to future eco-stress communards can't be guessed. Judging from current fan involvement on the Twin Peaks Wiki and other sites, the show speaks to the here-and-now. Mythologies begin with cults, and it's not unimaginable that this one might blossom, so that when our descendants ponder when it all went wrong they will know -- when the Woodsmen appeared above the gas station, of course. "This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within." In Bob's name we pray.

It's "just a TV show," but also a kind of poetry of shared repressed nightmares. Including, but not limited to, Wally Brando.