Recently perusing a Brooklyn newsleaf (actually, no other than the wonderful L Magazine, an illustrated listing of goings-on in New York, which I still cannot find in my Manhattan downtown neighborhood), I noticed on the cover something about the death of the ‘avant-garde’ in New York. Intrigued, I looked at the article inside went through a list of the names that would constitute the avant-garde in all different art forms (literature, art, music, theater, etc.) but in a ‘dude’ kind of style that makes everything appear cool and of-the-now. The article was a misnomer, as obviously the old avant-garde is not dead and remains a culture of interest even for the blasé new gen-X, Y and Zs.

Striving for a definition of avant-garde, I would tend to think it is a matter of spirit, and attitude, rather than an esthetic per se that defines avant-garde – I am aware that many of us hate the expression “avant-garde” as a synonym of old and stuffy. I can’t help recalling Stefania de Kennessey’s “derrière garde” festival a few years back: the funny thought was to replace “arrière” — which would be the opposite of “avant”— by “derrière” which means both behind and the corresponding body part.

But there is something deeper in this expression, which points to how the avant transforms into the arrière very quickly. Creative attitudes easily change. I don’t see young composers being even interested in being revolutionary. Maybe that is something from the past. Maybe there are just too many possible forms of expression and technological miracles, and it is now unnecessary to be revolutionary in art. And that’s all been done before. Even being original seems pointless or can even be a deterrent to audiences, funders or even performers – if your music does not identify itself as part of a style or trend by some element of commonality, if it is not readily understandable, it will easily be dismissed.

Avant-post synchronicity is basically the creative cycle that occurs when an idea is broken in by someone, and it may first come as a shock, and possibly be ignored or under-rated or even criticized for a while, until years later other creators recycle the idea more successfully that the initiator. The “avant” is an outburst but the “post” is what hits the target. I have on occasion been a victim of this avant-post phenomenon – and most true creators probably have. Coming up with a new idea, but doing too early for it to be a viable vehicle – until someone else picks it up and makes it into that award-winning film soundtrack. When the “post” hits, what are the original creators to do? Laugh or cry… but most of all not look back.

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