Mp3 Blog #29: PoMo, ReMo, NeoMo, and “Visage”

Luciano Berio:
”Visage” (1962)
For voice and tape

Available on this out-of-print compact disc featuring Berio’s three electroacoustic works featuring voice

* * * * *

I’ve never really understood Postmodernism and, although I’ve spent some time researching and learning on the subject, I don’t really care to. It may be that living in Montréal (supposedly one of the most Postmodern cities) that the little bit of a punk in me feels the need to rebel and express my own independent identity. On the other hand, I simply cannot agree with how I understand that Postmodernism dismisses grand theories and ideologies to favor of viewing one solely as a culmination of external influences. Although I am by nature skeptical, I believe that art and expression speak to and come from something far greater and more objective and universal than that which Postmodern proposes.

I’ve often found that I agree far more with Modernist philosophies; however, I obviously cannot agree with the “Zero Hour” European Post-WWII ideology that produced some of Boulez’s, Stockhausen’s, and others’ failed experiments. For me there is simply something exciting and effervescent in an artwork that seeks to create an eternally new object. Of course – as Postmodernism claims – art is bound to one’s own influences, but to primarily focus on this or deny art’s fundamental power try and find the means to supersede these mundane concerns seems, to me, a grave error.

In lines with these thoughts, I was really happy when I first read about the new art trends Remodernism and Neomodernism a few weeks ago. (I found the two Wikipedia articles when researching the Cinema of Transgression and No Wave art and music.) Both the Remodernist manifesto, co-written by ”punk” Billy Childish, and the Neomodernist manifesto claim that Modernism lost its way and criticize how Postmodernism, by focusing on the esoteric issues, wrongfully limits its audience to the specialized critic. Furthermore, in making these claims, both Remodernism and Neomodernism hope to return the personal spiritual experience to the center of art.

To finally come around to the featured composer and mp3 of this entry, although this may be a slightly flawed view, I’ve always seen Luciano Berio as the first and most important Postmodern composer. Despite this, or possibly in spite of this, I’ve always wanted to love Berio’s music. For example, I’ve tried so hard to really appreciate and enjoy “Circles,” “Coro,” “Oh King,” “Recital for Cathy,” the Chemins and Corale, “Points on a Curve to Find,” “A Ronne,” the Sequenzas but – after dozens of listens – I find that Sequenza 21 is the only one that I regularly go back to. Currently, besides “Folk Songs” (which I have studied intensely and always love to listen to) the only pieces of Berio that I still like (albeit, mostly on a Platonic level) are “Sinfonia” (only for the ground-breaking “sampling” in the third movement), “Thema (Ommagio for Joyce)” (particularly for the Bloo-bloo-bloo-bloom-bloom-oom-oom-ooming-ing-ing and how the words finally drown in sound), and the ever-disturbing “Visage.”

The Montréal composer Justin Mariner brought up a good argument once about Berio –the reason his music may seem to “remain new” (or have aged that well) is possibly because he has had so many imitators and – while his music may have sounded revolutionary at one time – the ever-expanding line (and this is my mildly naïve addition to the argument) of “Postmodern composers” like Osvaldo Golijov, Louis Andriessen, Gorecki, John Adams, and even John Zorn have only weakened Berio’s initial impact.

Despite this, I continually turn back to “Visage.” Although this work seems to take a Postmodernism approach by seeming to focus on the language’s historical development, there is some almost primordial in the drama and emotions that the work conjures up. Truthfully I’ve only listened to “Visage” twice, but each listening is firmly etched in my memory. I’m not much an expert in criticism, but if that doesn’t speak of a work’s power I don’t know what does.

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