by carl wilson

The Bad, the Crap, the Trash and the Frame

oscar_the_grouch.jpg

Another take from another angle on the bad-band/crap-music approaches raised earlier this week: Trash Aesthetic, a record label that puts out anything submitted to it, but only in editions of three copies.

From the site: "Of these copies, 1 will be given to the artist, and the other 1 or 2 will be sold through the label. The idea of Trash Aesthetic, in part, is to totally short-circuit the collector impulse in experimental music, and to encourage true experimentation on the part of the listener. Many artists featured on Trash Aesthetic will be unknown and possibly unreleased elsewhere, and the idea of this label is to provide a forum for these musicians to make a one-on-one connection with a listener."

I stumbled on it searching for something else (specifically this book; and neither of them should be confused with this 'legit' label) but did find a brief thread about it from 2005 on Bagatellen. Anyone ever heard any of the releases? I wouldn't be surprised if some were quite good. The situation of the project within explicitly "experimental" music builds a comparatively safe container, of course: The savaging that "bad bands" have received in Toronto is, I think, very much related to their framing within the "band" (read-as-rock) world, with its specific tolerances; the "experimental music" and art worlds have their own boundaries, but Bad Bands would've been close enough to fitting inside them that it would have been relatively boring to frame it that way. (Although it'd be fun to see, oh, 123Ten or Pyramid Culture try to play in an avant-garde festival, like Victoriaville, where they'd be roundly attacked for quite another set of reasons.)

Speaking of framing and its almost totalitarian power over artistic reception, there's been a lot of talk about this Washington Post article from Sunday, in which the paper got one of the world's greatest violinists, Joshua Bell, to dress down and busk in a subway station during the morning rush hour, while reporters observed the crowd reactions. It's long but worth reading, though I have a thousand gripes, including the writer's shit-eating grin as he slaps itself on the back for his delightful cleverness, the article's condescending tone that's accompanied by a series of qualifications that show it not even to have the courage of its own condescension, and some really obvious flaws in the design of the experiment. But the results say a great deal, I think: Very little about the taste and discernment of the public, and no more than a smidgen about the state of classical music (though it would've been cool to put a great rock guitarist and a great rapper in the same position and compare), but quite a bit about the dependence of art, no matter how powerful the art, on a comprehensible frame and contextual knowledge. (Not to mention what Washington Post editors think would be funny/profound.) Look particularly for the comments from Mark Leithauser from the National Gallery, who says even an expert might not recognize a modernist masterpiece if he came across it tacked up on a cafeteria wall during breakfast. Bell comes off as a neat cat and a good sport, although part of what the story doesn't tell you (though a Q&A; the paper posted later did) is that the experiment happened at morning rush hour on a Friday in January (a completely self-defeating choice) because that's the only time Bell agreed to do it, and that it was not even in the subway but outside the entrance because that's the only thing the transit people would allow, and that the paper held the story for months so that it would coincide with his receipt of the Avery Fisher Prize, which happened tonight.

Still, holy shit, it's a 7,000-word article more-or-less explicitly about aesthetic theory, with a catchy premise, in a mainstream paper. I don't mean to be a total Grouch snarking from my bad/crap/trash can - they deserve two cheers.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, April 10 at 9:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

COMMENTS

So where does the phrase "shit-eating grin" come from anyway

Posted by martin on April 13, 2007 3:07 PM

 

 

re: Bell's choice of music, I think it is significant that he picked the solo Bach sonatas and partitas, which, in addition to being the greatest works for the instrument, are very often heard in the subway. As highly contrapuntal works for a generally non-contrapuntal instrumental, they are hard for passerby to ignore and resist becoming background music. An aside: the strident echo-y acoustics of the subway make even the greatest violinists sound a bit harsh down there and magnify the slightest imperfections of tone -- in Bathurst station, they play (or used to play) recorded Bach cello suites to drive away the loiterers (who are supposedly averse to classical music), but the sound quality was unpleasant even for us Bach fans (and by "us", I mean me). Maybe all this was said in the article -- it is 1 a.m. and too late to read a 7000-wd. article. Cheers

Posted by marco on April 12, 2007 12:14 AM

 

 

Weingarten is the Post's gadabout features writer, which allowing for the peculiarities of Washington means he gets to make his persona about 40% Jackie Harvey.

The Post's classical (do we say notational yet?) music guy, Tim Page, is just great, by the way.

Posted by Jordan on April 11, 2007 8:34 AM

 

 

I just watched the video clip, and I wouldn't have stopped. I would have thought, "oh, he's good, better-than-average tone & intonation," but that would have been it.

I would've stopped for the opening of the Bach Chaconne. Or Ave Maria. But not for more than 20 seconds on my way to work. And not the tune on the video clip. (Is it the Gavotte?)

Busking is rough, and canned music has terribly cheapened the value of live performance. But we've known that for 80 or 90 years now.

Good for Bell for giving it a whirl, and good for him for asking that they wait to release the story until he got his award. Makes the award more piquant.

Did anybody else see Bell in Tuesday's Dennis the Menace?

Posted by john on April 11, 2007 12:22 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson