The world is so full of a number of things,
I ‘m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
The title of this post will raise some hackles, as there are gobs of composers who style themselves postmodernists as a cover for lazy composing. But the practitioners of every style, every genre of music throughout history, are mostly hacks, so we shouldn’t be surprised if the rule holds true for this one.
Lazy composing, post-postmodern-style, can mean slapping borrowed ideas together randomly, without purpose, to cover up an inability to devise ones own thoughts, or to cover up the inability to investigate the potentials of a given thought.
Lazy composing, post-postmodern-style, can also mean license to revel in old techniques, to hang onto compositional habits derived from ways of viewing the world that are inappropriate for our times.
Postmodernism has been defined as “the violent adjacency…of pure expressivity and pure accessibility,”* a definition that carries equal parts truth and vitriol. Classic Postmodernists (to coin, tongue-in-cheek), overwhelmed by the sheer velocity of civilization, resorted to the shock of clashing ideologies: a wallop of Beethoven with a smack of Beatles. The world is so incoherent — they seemed to say — that coherent art is a lie. To the postmodernists, art had to be chaotic, a chaos comprised of coherent parts combined in ways that subverted their meaning. The postmodernists had been born into the certainty of modernist aims and felt assaulted by, among other things, the rise of pop culture, which called those aims into question.
The children of postmodernism, on the other hand, were not raised in the purity of modernist pursuits. We were born into a multicultural world, a world of parallel, powerful (yet distinct) value systems. Rather than railing at the lack of uniformity, we rather enjoyed having a multiplicity of options. Rather than bashing the heads of opposing viewpoints against one another, we sought common denominators for distant equations.
It’s taken me an awfully long time to comprehend the meaning of the postmodern inheritance in my work, but an awfully long time is a wonderful thing to have when it comes to meaning. At this point, with 30+ years of compositional adventures behind me, so much more is clear. I was, from early on, powerfully drawn to postmodern impulses, yet strangely distant as well. From my current vantage point, I can see I was taking postmodern techniques and applying them in a way that reflected my time: I have lived in an era of muchness, an era when all of history is part of our present, all of our world cultures mingle in our living rooms. This plenitude is its own form of chaos, and its own form of coherence.
The artists I admire are the ones who can find agreement where previous generations found conflict, rhymes where history has taught us we should find randomness.
I’ve found myself, and many others of my generation, drawn to a pursuit that seems both timely and easily disdained in these days of shattered focus. We have wanted to create works that try to resolve possibly unresolveable tensions, hoping that at least the effort might prove of value.
Some broad generalizations in all of this, but the broad view is helpful from time to time. As Popeye knew, and all children must discover, we yam what we yam: conveyers of a legacy and challengers of that legacy. We don’t have a name for the artists who grew up in post-postmodern times, but they’ve grown up, and are having their say.
*Charles Newman, The Post-Modern Aura (1985)