Monday, June 30, 2008

I spent the past weekend taking in the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. It was one half inspiring to one half dispiriting. The issue comes in with the use of the word "experimental" and then seeing a lot of noise, or improv, or something with a visual score.

There was a woman performing under the name Knot Pine Box, who it seemed like a lot of people didn't like, but I enjoyed how her first song ended with the refrain "What if it's already been done?" because that seemed like a question not everyone else was asking. Not like it should be, necessarily, I can see it being a hindrance, if you were really concerned about not repeating anyone so much you never attempted anything.

Anyway: At its best, it seemed like people were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. At its worst, it was like people were doing what was expected of them after a lifetime of being told they were unique and special. The experimental film showing was pretty bad about this kind of thing too. There's this thing that happens where the avant-garde gets absorbed into the academy, and then it's no longer the future, it's just this sad and dead little tributary. I have started to hear talk of "noise conferences" and noise as a course of study at art schools. I went to a school that had its writing programs largely concerned with language poetry and its film program concerned with autobiographical documentaries. I can imagine people being really psyched on going to noise school, but I can't help but see the spectre of grim death in the offing.

I can imagine the same thing happening with art comics as well, sort of concurrent with any kind of comics studies. The latter is totally a valid thing, a way of teaching the visual language. But I can also definitely imagine weird self-congratulation happening. You know: I think noise studies is a silly thing, and John Cage disciples are stupid, but the idea of teaching music theory is super-valid, and with that knowledge students should be able to do whatever they wish. (Maybe comics will avoid this academic maundering if, when talking about the school of thought that originates with Gary Panter, the Rozz-Tox manifesto is disseminated widely. But maybe it's the existence of that manifesto that is what leads to Jimbo not being taught as widely as Maus.)

I was saying to people at the experimental film screening that, while I've noticed a lot of students just referring to their work as experimental after it failed at its original intent, the people I'm friends with just refer to actual forward-thinking things as "next-level," rather than experimental. It's hard to view a lot of the stuff at the experimental music festival as "next-level," honestly, but at least a lot of it was sincere and enjoyable.

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