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ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

"The Song Remains the Same".

On creativity in popular music.aniviolo.gif (8222 octets)Clic and Listen to music.mid 
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  "The Song Remains the Same".


  But this conception too has its flaws. Things are not so simple. Rock music far from being revolutionary or counter-cultural "articulated the reconciliation of rebelliousness and capital"  Frith, 2). This implies that new genres are not simply radical departures from previous ones. Behind the romanticism of punk and other rock styles, the flag-brandishing, the sacrifices on the altar of artistic "progress", lies an attempt at preserving the status quo, which coalesces with the pressure of the music industry to recoup any deviance. Besides, the revolution principle stresses too heavily rupture and discontinuity.

Dave Laing underlines that regarding punk rock, there is a tendency to encourage "the view that it is also revolutionary, having been created ex nihilo, rather than formed out of the available existing musical material... Seeing punk as new  clouded how it represented a re-working of motifs familiar from rock music history" (22-23). The periodization of rock history that has been established conceals the continuity of practises. As Lawrence Grossberg put it, "punk attacked Rock & Roll, celebrating anarchy and the pure negativity of its deconstruction" but it also "reencapsulated" it (117). This notion of reencapsulation is for us capital. It suggests that there can be both ruptures or revolutions, and continuity. More important, it not only acknowledges the process of popularization and conventionalization but it also puts forward a possible explanation for creativity in music. It implies that what is new has an origin which is not necessarily "genius" or "spontaneous creation".

    Reencapsulation means taking the past into account as a ferment for creativity, as a basis to build upon. The concept was best formulated and taken one step further by Michael Jarret, notably in his article "Concerning the Progress of Rock & Roll" (167-180). Jarret founded his model on the theory of decay. Transposed into the realm of cultural studies, the theory of decay enables to take into account the past and the present, tradition and innovation, and supplies "a paradigm of innovation that could be generalized for every type of writing, every field of knowledge" (171). Decay is a digestive process. It breaks down existing structures and uses their constitutive elements to build something new. It implies that all musics, even those we do not like, that seem trivial, unimportant, boring, have their role to play and that the whole history of music can be treated as compost pile.

At this point, what John Cage wrote in Silence, "much can be learned about music by devoting oneself to the mushroom" (274), begins to make sense. What have fungi got to do with the evolution of Rock & Roll music? The answer is that fungi are saprophytes and as such exemplify the logic of decomposition: they thrive on dead or decaying matter. They recycle nature by entertaining a bilateral relationship with the host organism. As saprophytes, "rock & roll", suggests M. Jarret, "feeds off the decay of tradition" (173). 

The compost pile of previous musical forms is there not to be plundered but rather re-used, appropriated, combined, through careful or random selection to create something new. Instead of becoming increasingly less relevant, requiring, to be deciphered, the expertise of specialists, cultural productions from the past are transformed into signifying contemporary practises. The past can still be enjoyed as such, but it also becomes a nourishment, giving birth to and nurturing innovation.

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° Rubrique About The World