AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: Guimarães Jazz Journal #13 - Câmara Municipal de Guimarães/ Associação Cultural Convívio/ A Oficina DATE: November 2018
Music must be perceived as a form of documentation of time, a sound palimpsest that is permanently being written, an attempt to find a redemption to existence. To redeem human failure was the great purpose of the art that attempted to understand the causes of so many cruel and excessive manifestations; artists denounced, by means of radical creative processes, both in its form as well as in its diverseness, the society in which they were living.
Musicians understood the importance of expressivity, imagining sounds that were not supposed to be beautiful; in order to build bridges between ethics and aesthetics, between past and future, artists followed their intuition and talent or any other sort of indications, whether that of the music of their masters, composers or even of the rules established in scores; the jazz musician was exempt of such compromise, and he desired to express his ideas autonomously in order to survive artistically. Ethics is given to him through the truth of reality, full of sensible references; the description of his true feelings allows him to express his ideas; aesthetics comes from the urge of formulate his own versions of reality, improving it with his art. His permanent dissatisfaction motivates him to search for the intangible, therefore generating a sense of impotency that is often mistaken with beauty; beauty is felt as an unreachable point which can only be captured by courage, obstinacy and the will to surpass his own limitations. Living in a time of fear and under the sign of catastrophe, the jazz musician had to escape the racial tension of his native environment, and was forced to find a way of avoiding the crushing of his sensibility through the cruelty of his social context. The historical events of the twentieth century provoked very different kinds of reactions: revolt, protest, dissatisfaction and feelings of injustice, and, on the other hand, marginality, isolation, incomprehension, intolerance, violence, anguish and depression; these were all parameters which were sublimated through art in the shape of irruptions of negativity, revealed in deception and sarcasm, in subversive critics, in the denouncement of an evil farce proposed by a society hostile to all non-mainstream artistic manifestations, which were crushed by a discourse of conspiracy formulated by corrupted politicians and dishonest intuitions. A significant part of the society feels the need to control those who are bold, those who dare to criticize, those are impertinent and toxic, in order to preserve prejudicial and segregationist social rules. The suffering caused by such processes of control and exclusion is inscribed in the origins of jazz and remains alive as a sign, an obstacle, a prohibition and a form of repression. Jazz was created through an effort of freedom and a consequence of repressed desires; its matrix is the integration and the cooperation of cultures, gathered around a musical cosmos called “the world”.
The media circus and the market’s persuasive propaganda pornographically and arrogantly expose ignorance, misery, stupidity, corruption… The social system from which jazz descends is contaminated by the force of a redeeming negativity, transforming it into a form of art that one must see and feel as an attempt to denounce disturbing truths, to deny erasures, separations and racial and social divisions. This music is full of messages against decadency, cynicism, falsity and lies, messages which have contributed to the eruption of many political, economic, social and cultural events throughout the twentieth century. Jazz music, having acquired the force of document, of testimony and of memory, projecting itself as an ideal communal reality fully anchored in its musical origins, has accomplished a relevant anthropological dimension of an important symbolic meaning, but its vitality was only understood many years later.
Internet has created a world of digital abundance; financial profit in music is increasingly difficult in the context of this new reality. The technological progresses were a presage of the worst case scenario to phonographic industry as it existed during the pre-internet era.
The history of jazz is made of facts that absorb and translate specific and porous circumstances between the different contexts in which music is created and manifested. When we analyse an album or a track of that same album, we feel the vertigo of the moment when that music was recorded, a moment which will never happen again; the albums and the tracks form a very useful archive which is also, nonetheless, contradictory, balancing between the antagonistic feelings of distance and closeness; the archive or whst is left of it is made of sound images, cumulated sounds, discontinuous, disorganized and random sounds, displaced from the environment from which they proceed, or, in other words, displaced from their original structural element. Only an educated listener is capable of finding orientation within an almost infinite musical universe. Listening to jazz music may lead to an almost unreal world, marked by confusion, saturation and oblivion…. The ones who are able to extract something more than the mere material evidence of sound are forced to do an effort of conscious interiorization in order to establish a closer and comprehensible relation with jazz; only then will they be able to recognize the music that is closer to him or her, a feeling that presupposes a the understanding of jazz as something to which it is possible to establish some kind of relation on a daily basis; as if jazz was a person with whom we have a relation of intimacy; to be close to something or somebody means to share a common ground of experience where each person is comfortable. Jazz shows an unfathomable tendency to attract and to deepen relationships; in jazz, people feel pleasurable sensations, capturing its tonalities, shapes, combinations, details, textures, structures, associations, juxtapositions, ruptures, provocations and conflicts; being an intelligent and flexible music, it forms an open and free space where the listener does not feel lost and not knowing what to do or what to feel. To be inside this music means the possibility of witnessing a unique and unprecedented moment, the possibility of getting acquainted with something that is attracted to oblivion but that, somehow, resists time. In jazz, we experience a strange feeling of memory, which configures a fundamental element of our understanding of the world. A musical piece is always completely different each time the listener gets in contact with it.
The preciseness and the perfection of sound were always irrelevant to the general consumer of music, who had the tendency to perceive such conflicts as relevant issues to jazz specialists and to people obsessed by technology only. The commercial success of an album was a problem of the record labels; the most important thing was to listen to recorded music. They used old and non-sophisticated turntables; in many cases, the vinyl records themselves were completely broken and full of imperfections. We may affirm that, in general, the audience was not much interested in the conditions of audition. Their sensibility had an enormous capacity of adaptation to sound; the most important thing was that they loved the music they were hearing.
The sound of a concert is completely different of the sound studio, though we must admit that nowadays live recordings are of much better quality. Usually, the sound of a concert is worse but, strangely, people have more predisposition to go to concerts than to listen to music at home. Therefore, each individual abdicates of the requisite of a good sound in favour of the emotional force of a collective ritual performed by an anonymous and fragmentary crowd besides the physical presence of a musician onstage. People go to concerts because they want to feel a sense of identification, to feel that they all share a common musical preference and, therefore, to manifest it through music a social and cultural consensus, a feeling of acceptance, a personal feeling; such collective experience brings forth feelings of sharing and belonging, and the sense of participation constitutes their most important motivation.
The entertainment provided by a collective celebration of a concert compensates, with pleasure and satisfaction, the eventual deficit of sound quality. However, the technical resources involved on a live performance confer an interesting and intense dimension to the music; these factors provide some important clues about the stimulus that move people to go to concerts, since everyone is a potential consumer.
The audience is an increasingly nomad and abstract entity; a human mass constantly changing their preferences towards a vast musical diverseness that fulfils their lives. The urge to acquire new experiences and to live new realities, through the audition of songs with no apparent links between each other, is one of the reasons why people prefer going to concerts than to listen to records.
In a world full of selfish, individualistic and egotistical solicitations, live concerts are perceived as counterpoints and mere meeting points, although we recognize in it the extreme fugacity and frailty of these moments in terms of solidary and permanent compromise.
The intersection between sound and image, mediated by sophisticated technological devices of conception, production and recording, has evolved rapidly during the last thirty years. The democratization of the access to music has the effect of making people feel alive, almost the leading actors of a semi-public performance within a collaborative economy whose pattern transcends the logics of profit. The real change is yet to occur, but it is impossible to predict when it will take place.
The people will become the authors of image and text (more images than text), and they will become fully responsible for the promotion of their work. Blogs are an attempt to delay the announced death of books and of written words. Images are almost devoid of messages and, however, people prefer images to texts; the individuals are the leading actors of a widespread flow of do it yourself diffusion, and they create and archive images, recordings, words and texts that circulate through the clouds of cyberspace. Such an advance will consolidate the power of images and will eventually cause the extinction of the CD and of all the other traditional devices of music.
The consumerist logics that determines the commercial strategies of music insisted on the repetition of audition, habit, saturation, in order to obtain the maximum amount of profit. Music possessed a strong social component and culture followed that same phenomena. Chewing gum music, which in the past dominated the billboards, has been replaced by ganster rap.
Contemporary music suffers from this state of permanent deficit, and we must fill the gapprovoked by the excess of novelties. Boredom and the escape to boredom, caused by an excess of musical offer, forced the music industry to promote all kinds of artistic projects devoid of artistic criteria and which have no other objective than to numb and alienate the crowd.
The digital world’s culture is a dematerialized field that amplified the visibility of ordinary music, focused on the cliché, the common place, the fétiche and the trivial. Music travels at fast speed throughout the whole world and, in order to attenuate the tyranny of bad taste, the music industry chooses velocity as stimulus; however, velocity is not the solution to musical vulgarization.
Nowadays, people are more trusting of market surveys than of the opinion of the critics. Such change is reflected on the disinterest about jazz, which, on the other hand, is manifested on the mainstream media. Concert and album reviews are very rare. Currently, the lack of aesthetical quality and popularity are qualitatively equivalent; therefore, the bestselling albums are, for the general public, the better albums. To listen to ordinary music became a common practice; in order to exist and to find its place within the profuse cultural landscape of contemporaneity, good music must be artistically legitimized. The growing influence of the market brings forth the emergence of opportunistic and dishonest commercial successes. Everything is changing so fast that music becomes rapidly unfashionable; the time of survival of any music is diminishing radically. To overflow the sound landscape with new products is part of a strategy of saturation and interference in the audition’s field, a tactic that is followed by the major record labels, which are constantly releasing new albums, rendering past editions obsolete.
Nowadays, society is oriented towards consumerism; networks have replaced structures and people are either accomplices or participating agents of an endless game of connections and disconnections, acting anonymously and with emotional detachment. The old sentiments of belonging, loyalty and compromise have been substituted by a new reality where every options are equally valid, independent of any patterns or any demands of quality and rigour. The major record labels submit musicians to strange deals, inviting them to abdicate of their copyrights. Musicians felt that they were being impaired, so they began to learn the lesson. They started paying more attention to the income they were making a posteriori, thanks to the multiplication and the diversity of the communication devices using songs in their activity, such as advertising agencies. Musicians understood that copyrights are susceptible of generating future income, that being the reason why they are now more reluctant to offer those potential profits to the record labels; they argue that the music they create belongs to them and that they are not willing to give up the indirect income of their creative activity. Such change of attitude brought forth great tensions between musicians and record labels; in response to this conflict, many musicians founded their own record labels and began to negotiate the distribution and the commercialization of their music with the major emporiums.
Human body ceased to need the force of a testimony, having being replaced by countless artificial games of belonging; images are no longer a product of the eye but a pure and apparently plausible creation of realities. Digital systems produce and render sound and images abstract; it obliterates the imagination, having also a negative impact on thought, which sinks into a lazy passivity towards speed and movement. Images were fabricated to give consumers what they most desire; they assist to events which are already something different in the moment of its occurrence; however, the eye is no longer sufficient to observational purposes.
Images and sounds are easily propagated through assemblage, instantaneous and mechanical sequences of an attractive design that cannot be perceived as a consistent and coherent body of work. Internet’s contents are mere suggestions of disaggregated images and sounds, parcels of reality extracted from their origins; images and sounds form composite products of fragmentary nature and of wide visual intensity that, in many cases, destroy the inherent importance of music itself. However, when we meditate on the content of those images and sounds we find nothing relevant. Sounds and images are made of outspreads, interactions, mixes, junctions, assemblages, sequences and juxtapositions, and such an audio-visual amalgam easily deceives our senses.
Meanwhile, the system and its agents must exist, and such evidence discloses a paradox. Artists, with their talent, creativity and imagination, are on one side; on the other there are the managers, who support a sort of counter-natural order, foreign to the values of the artistic creation. If musicians are loyal to their principles and follow their intuition, they will necessarily be forced to reject the system, exposing its misery and perversity. The cultural agents possess an almost congenital propensity to mistrust the artists’ attitude and discourse; they tend to consider them chaotic and unsubordinated, and the unpredictability of their actions a symptom of art’s natural dysfunction. The artist also experiences a similar paradox, since he is forced to tolerate the interference of individuals with whom he is often in disagreement; both sides fight with each other, but in the field of art nobody survives alone; the managers who deal with organizational plans must do their job inside a systemic structure. Therefore, if the artists wants to be faithful to their desire to change the world, they must be seen, heard of and noted, and consequently they have to accept the inherent paradox in which they live in.
The world is rapidly changing and, sometimes, what seemed to be lost forever suddenly reappears, thanks to surprising tactics of reinvention and self-recovery, as if things came out of nowhere.
Music consumers are less and less interested in physical objects, preferring sensitive experiences; in virtual reality, people do not have contact with palpable things but rather with immaterial stimulus such as: cultural consumption, lifestyle, sophistication, sexuality, communication and audio-visuality.
The concept of alienation is related to bureaucracy, and intellectual authorship is becoming an obstacle of freedom. If bureaucracy is effective or, in other words, if it represents a non-intrusive, less politicized and more competent administrative structure, everyone will benefit from it; the problem lies on the fact that internet is too tempting to have the effect of refraining the desire of profit; internet could represent a good opportunity to discover new forms of direct democracy, as Hannah Arendt defended, and to emerge as the echo of the values of the old Greece. The danger lies on the impulsiveness of reactions towards the logics of power and bureaucracy which dominate internet; bureaucratic procedures, instead of solving problems, only contribute to deepen the paradox; bureaucracy confronts the individuals, limiting is sphere of action; every form of prohibition brings forth an excess of pleasure connected with the idea of transgression. The duties which come from business and profit have no moral or ethical grounds; the non-compliance of legal, political and social objectives constitutes a denouncement of the self-reproductive circuit of bureaucratic movement; bureaucracy has moved to internet, giving space to all sorts of sabotage actions; the ones who seek freedom and disquietude are summoned to act; in some cases, the radicalism of their detours diverges to extreme forms of terrorism, perversion and illicit businesses.
Music on the internet is a recent phenomenon, and the consequences of this new reality are still unknown. The increasing number of individuals operating in networks form a kind of collective intelligence, an invisible trend whose comprehensiveness and effects are difficult to anticipate. Music survives within a reticular structure, more horizontal than vertical, devoid of hierarchy or canon, and it generates ideas that flow in space, combined among themselves; what comes out of this are new extensions of sensibility, configurations of the will spread all over the internet. We may qualify these manifestations as aesthetical phenomena, manifested on youth trends (piercings, tattoos, earrings, hair, clothes…); however, there is a dark side to this, because the artistic creation is diverted of its supreme meanings in order to become a mere commercial activity. The easiness of access to the artistic production, the net’s magnitude, the different legislations of the countries, the model of control of the means of production and the liberal or authoritarian policies, allowed lees scrupulous agents to take advantage from the vastness and the unfathomability of the environment.
On behalf of its visibility and survival, artists surrendered to the market, under the illusion that they could differentiate from other crafts; they believed that, through the elaboration of exciting and complex speeches, they would gain autonomy from all the other dimensions of the world, and that such autonomy would justify its existence. Due to this somehow speculative and merely contextual trend, in the last years we have assisted to the emergence of a boring discourse made of facts and arguments in which neither irony, nor sarcasm, nor scorn, nor laughter can camouflage. Nowadays, laughter and human rights, combined in the same endless movement of the market’s games, generate hybrid art, a mix of beauty and fiduciary value. On the one side, the market, based on the need to persuade in order to sell and negotiate, and the artists who let themselves be deceived by the spectre of money, of an easy life where artistic criteria is negligible; on the other side, the well-humoured discourses and the ability of the artist to laugh of himself and of the other as manifestations of courage, and the preoccupation with human rights and it enormous historical impact.
Nobody is interested in learning or knowing because everyone is too busy with their own daily routines; most people are confined to a territory which they cannot abandon; space and time compression, which is one of the main characteristics of globalization, dismisses connections or longstanding pacts between individuals, because nothing is perceived in the long-term. Such insecurity forces the individuals to give up their space of freedom, which suffers the consequences of a world full of poor people and of people to whom certain human rights are denied.
Imagination, a crucial stimulus of the artistic creation, is constantly offended by an avalanche of insignificance; today, our lives are full of insignificant events and minor facts; entertainment and diversion help people relax and forget their lives of slavery to stress, to work, to productivity, allowing them for a short period of time to escape a claustrophobic immobility which tires and depresses them.
All actions hold consequences, and whoever goes against the stream faces extreme difficulties of survival. To be authentic requires transparency; artists must refuse exposing themselves to the power of the mass media, which, on the other hand, are mere promoters of obedience; only through resistance will the artist avoid the veils, the smoke curtains, the fog and the opacity of the informative tabloids. Media games interfere with the relation between art and the observer, making it difficult for the latter to interpret the work of the artist.
In the context of a complex and ever-changing reality, technical upgrades and promotional devices are mutually replaced; in a decade, a lot of things happen, evolving beyond all expectations. The time necessary to listen to a song, to visualize a video or to watch a film or play a game is increasingly shorter; everything is processed at high-speed, and it takes only a few minutes to see a video or to hear a piece of music – to get in touch with something. However, the download of a file is an almost obsolete practice, since the level of technological sophistication have cause the displacement of musical production to a cloud where everything coexists. In each process there is an element of progress that arouses an almost revolutionary excitement on the consumer; the contact with the abstract and the impersonal texture of intelligent machines brings forth the pleasure of feeling a marginal and independent competence, which is then expanded by the capitalist system; the system, on the other hand, tries to integrate every online operations in the market frame, seeking the full satisfaction of the users. To achieve a multiplying and unstoppable level of efficiency is the main goal of any current business; in the past, internet users were few and organized in closed circuits, forming niches of specialists who communicated in chat rooms; nowadays, we use all kinds of computerized devices; technology evolves rapidly and the higher the number of users, the faster the information is processed.
The lack of knowledge about the future of music was based on the impossibility of anticipating, with technological preciseness, what the next step would be. We do not know if music online will still be paid, if the wind of technology will lead musical production to the stage of universal and free dissemination. Right now it is not possible to predict what the future will be. Towards this feeling of uncertainty, it is probably reasonable to admit that technology will radically transform the music business. How? We do not know.
After a century when so many unpredicted events occurred in music, the record industry was able to survive and to preserve a considerable power over musical commercialization. In the past, many people wrote about the evolution of popular music and the way how it evolved to a situation of control by the major labels though a mercantilist process.
The world has ceased to reflect on the ethical consequences of the actions, selling immediate pleasures of a crisis that causes submission and demands discipline. Without thought, alternatives are undermined and humanistic values are replaced by mere legal consensus; the most important thing is to keep the capitalist machine working. Nowadays everything is a commodity, therefore everything is disposable.
The lightness of actions and the levels of egoism and destruction are worrisome; the devastation caused by egocentrism and individualism is not being compensated by a similar capacity of acting collectively. Within an increasingly disaggregated and disperse environment, nobody is responsible for their actions; interests circulate randomly, rapidly, neglecting every good intentions; the movements of the individuals are furtive, irresolvable and opportunistic, exclusively oriented towards immediate pleasure; most people act like if tomorrow did not exist. Consumerism and fashion impose role models, uncritical postures, incongruent attitudes, futile poses, mundane and photogenic styles, ephemeral meetings and parties – the vertigo of pleasure and satisfaction of immediate desires based on false needs. Slowness and reflection are despised, the time of contemplation is now obsolete; artists lack the will and the autonomy to imagine and create with absolute freedom.
However, we cannot deny that, nowadays, the imagination games in music are much more sophisticated in technological terms.
The true work of art is a gift; something that people expect to change their lives; artistsoffer that possibility to the world. In this sense, art is the ultimate guardian of a certain kind of hope, an energy strong enough to generate responses and reactions. Every authentic gift requires sacrifice and is only revealed posthumously, when it is too late to recapture its first moment of impact. Therefore, the relation with art may cause a diffuse feeling of well-being, a moment when consequences are reflected upon the small stages of a path, leaving behind all the obstacles and difficulties.
TRANSLATION: MANUEL NETO