Monday, March 04, 2013

Music Writing

I have some little music reviews coming out in a print publication later this week. I've tried to do this before, and it's tricky. There is plenty of music-writing being done, all over the internet, and while I would not want to say that a lot of it is terrible, a lot of it does things that I tried specifically to avoid doing.

I did not want to talk about music using the reference point of other bands. In some ways, this is a stupid rule to set for myself. A lot of music being made sounds like other music that has already been made. That is how we, as listeners, are able to understand it as music, for the most part. In many ways, the music that already exists is better, more historically important, and so is deserving of having attention directed towards it. But- and here's my rationale- maybe if we didn't do this so much, if we didn't play this game, we would be less likely to write about music with such obvious reference points. If a writer likes a band because they sound like Nirvana, but can't mention Nirvana, maybe they will not write about that band, and music with less obvious forebears will be discussed instead. I don't know. This is probably a stupid rule.

I should make it clear that the magazine is about art more generally than it is about music. This is why I chose to write about music that can be discussed more as an art project, more as an articulation of an idea or a practice than a historical lineage. Obviously in the art world historical referents are still huge, but this was just my way of attempting to engage an art audience.

I just saw today a little thing on Twitter where the music writer Marc Masters- he writes for Pitchfork about the more interesting or avant garde music that gets reviewed on Pitchfork these days- was mentioning how he would like to see less comparing of female artists to other female artists, more comparison between the work of people of separate genders. I think this is a good idea, a good constraint to set for oneself- Sort of similar to the one I employed, but to different ends. But what's funny is that my approach, of trying to write, essentially, about the implied personality of an artist, their concerns as reflective of where they're individually coming from- would in many ways call attention to an artist's gender, as that identity is a fairly large shaper of identity. I guess the logic, then, would be to bring up if an artist is male or not. Which, actually, rereading my reviews, I did do, for the two releases attributed to a male solo act. Although I didn't mention gender in my reviews of groups consisting of couples, one of which is gay, one of which is straight.

Another thing I tried to avoid using was adjectives, of the vague sort that generally show up in music criticism: Gauzy, ethereal, angular, etc.

I also didn't want to talk about myself and my own experiences.

My point with all of this is that music writing is such a weird and fucked up animal of a thing that I recommend using Oulipo-style constraints of some kind or another to avoid the weird patterns of received wisdom, and to try to get at original thought. I hope that I get more chances to try to develop this critical practice, as a way of expanding the scope of what I'm discussing without developing any bad habits. I didn't write any negative reviews, which could be a rule, and is certainly one other people I know have set for themselves, but I think I'm actually interested in doing that with a set of constraints, without just going to the well of mocking the signifiers a band employs, or my imagining of their fanbase. It seems inevitable that these rules would in time become a hindrance, or in other ways unproductive. (I was also writing about only a small group of releases, and trying for diversity while also not just talking about high-profile work. In retrospect I wish I had talked about more obscure work, but hopefully that will come in time, if I get more chances to do this writing, and expand my scope.)

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