Sunday, May 16, 2010

Modernism and Me

I have a deep attraction to art I know I am going to hate. The other night I had finished reading all the interesting parts of the latest New Yorker and was too lazy to get up and find something else to read, so I continued into the other parts. One of these was a review by Alex Ross of some recent avant garde musical performances in New York. Ross made the music sound awful -- "a rigid riot of obsessive repetitions" was one of the more striking phrases. So of course I went to Youtube to see if I could find any recordings of this stuff. Ross was particularly impressed by an American composer named Missy Mazzoli, "a leader of New York's young moderns," and lo! Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to listen to the exquisite awfulness of her "Shy Girl Shouting" (above). It's the sort of thing that delights the grouchy pedant in me, full of itself and completely ludicrous. The work that Ross particularly praised is called "Worlds Within Us," and after some searching I turned up a recording of that on Mazzoli's web site. I found this rather pleasant and innocuous. I did not hear the "pain experience through the haze of a forgiving memory" that Ross heard, but certainly there wasn't anything to hate about it. It might make good background for a sophisticated film about adult romance.

After listening to half a dozen of Mazzoli's works, I would say that it all falls onto the continuum represented by the first two, from silly in an awful way to blandly pleasant. If you're in the mood for some weird and interesting music, I suggest you check out Buckethead Jordan instead. He may be a rock guitarist who wears (or used to wear) a KFC bucket on his head, but he stretches the boundaries of music in a way I find far more compelling and masterful than anything coming from the rarefied salons of modernist Manhattan. Soothsayer is one of his more pleasant, rock and roll sort of pieces; Baptism of Solitude is also rather pleasant, in a dreamier way; for something weird, try Beaten with Sledges or Killing Cone.


MLB said...

There is a new show starting on Bravo in June. It is called something like "The Next Great Artist" and it appears that it will have a format similar to shows like Top Chef where a contestant is eliminated every week. I think it is either going to be fascinating or horrific, or both.

John said...

Wow. That is so contrary to my understanding of art that I can't imagine how anyone I would consider an artist could win.