Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cross-Over



In a fractuous and specialized world, having a foot in several musical orientations is a complicated game. I spend my days somewhere between classical and contemporary music.(that orientation being further splintered by a fondness for many divergent streams of contemporary music) I’ve started adding free-improvisation to this mix and even imagined for a short while that I could add jazz as well, until I had to admit to myself that I’m indelibly imprinted by my early pianistic training and will never lose the «accent» of a «BachMozartBeethovenSchubertSchumannChopinLiszt- BrahmsDebussy-centric» education.
I’ve recently been disturbed by how little cross-fertilization there is between my colleagues who play standard repertoire and those who play new music, not to mention the jazzers I know who aren’t into the new music people or the classical people. Several decades ago, the Grateful Dead was listening to Stockhausen, Miles Davis (through Teo Macero) was into Varese, Yoko Ono was into Cage, Bill Evans was into Debussy, Ligeti was into African drumming, Eric Dolphy into Jimi Hendrix, Horowitz was into Art Tatum and invited him to dinner (although legend has it that his butler opened the door, saw an unkempt black man and closed it immediately).
People are saying that the Internet culture (through MySpace, Itunes, and YouTube) is eradicating stylistic boundaries between different types of music. This may be true in a passively receptive arena, in which listeners are starting to be more open to experiencing a wider range of music, but I’m not convinced that it’s making a big difference in musicians’ openness to exploring and participating in various streams of music. The exceptions to this are usually heavily marketed « cross-over » projects, in which a certain famous opera singer warbles their way through the American Songbook, or a certain pop-hunk gives Italian arias a go.
« Cross-over » projects are usually a pure marketing endeavour, hoping to appeal to admirers of two different stylistic genres, thereby doubling the income for the venture. Usually, the outcome is painfully lesser than the sum of its parts, as its aim is not to find a connection point between the genres that would expand the concept and meaning of each part, but to appeal equally to listeners who’s allegiance is firmly entrenched in a given direction, hoping that these listeners will, through an ephemeral attempt at adventurousness, be swayed into purchasing something that will most certainly disappoint them in their expectations. It’s usually an insult to the kind of intellectual and musical curiosity that led people like Miles Davis to embrace Woodstock culture, Menuhin to be enriched by Ravi Shankar, the oud player Ravi Abou Khalil to mesh with jazz music, and the perennial cross-over guru Charles Ives to ride a wave of perfect symbiosis between the most divergent musical elements ; ragtime, folk, classical, band, church, orchestral, and purely cacophonous.

I’m looking for contemporary Ivesian figures who in the post-racial, post-femisist, post-modern era aren’t encumbered by old musical ghettos, but yet seek out a meaningful and earnestly-intentioned approach to artistic osmosis.