A 365-Day Project

"We Are All Mozart"

A project to create
new works and change
the perception of the
music of our time.

Mantra Canon score pages Dennis

previous   November 1, 2006   next

It's remarkable what can change in two days. Start with last night. Last night was good. Stevie had the opportunity to speak about childbirth at the University of Vermont, and it was a great success. If you need a good speaker, she's the one. Longtime midwife, nurse, researcher, and fully able to express the joys of humanity and the failures of medicalization. Gender has me out of the loop on this, but we can't go grocery shopping without her being surrounded by mothers whose births she's attended. There's a book in progress, too. Get in touch.

* * *

Now to plumbing. Slowly it crept up, the water pump coming on more often than it should. Maybe it was the garden hose leaking, or the toilet dripping. But then the power went out and the prime was lost. A quart of water and it was back, but... yes, you could hear it. The check valve was leaking. After just twenty years? Don't make 'em like they used to. A hardware store trek, the opportunity to exercise my language inappropriate for other forums while trying to loosen the old valve, the requisite gumming up of parts & hands & clothes & periphery with thread sealant, and the hopeful flipping of the power switch. Success. Under the steady pressure, though, the garden hose started to leak. That's off now. The toilet is dripping. New fixture needed. That's for tomorrow. But for a few minutes I got that good ol boy plumbin-hero feeling. (It's gone now. You're safe.)

* * *

Next is the status of my wayward career. This summer there were meetings to discuss a part-time college residency for me at which my opera would at last see the light of day. Today, the operatic darkness continued. You see -- and to quote -- "a classical music project will not have significant enough appeal." That from an institution of, we euphemize, higher learning.

* * *

And speaking of vocabulary and euphemisms, this arrived in today's email:

Unpop with BoaC

Five years of slowly introducing nonpop and we see the Bangers get on board with their own version, yup, unpop. Now I shouldn't mind this because the Bangers are pretty provincial. I can almost believe that they never heard of nonpop. Or maybe they wanted to be pseudo-rebels against any new meta-genre just a-borning. Well then, it's been a couple of months since the last time this was considered on August 16 and 19. Maybe it's time for a review... heads up, Bangers.

First is the recurring and valid question: With so many terms that already exist for serious music or art music or classical music or just new music, what's the point of using one like nonpop? And isn't it just negative, defining itself in terms of pop?

Second question first. Is nonfiction negative, and does it define itself in terms of fiction? Is nonconformist still wrapped up with conforming, or has the term evolved? Nonpartisan, nonprofit? How about nonstop? In truth, the "non" in nonpop is there to create a functioning meta-genre out of something familiar, with the expectation that it will quickly evolve into a term that trips off the tongue.

First question. Classical music is not only ambiguous but also carries enormous baggage as my quote above ("a classical music project will not have significant enough appeal") reveals. Classical music is unsalvageable. New music is, well, all about new and leaves off the rest of the body of nonpop, including what used to be new. Serious music runs from disrespectful to confrontational, art music is increasingly fanciful in the postmodern era. In using all of them, there is a line that ends up being tagged on: "And then there's jazz." And the piper-uppers will say, "Yeah, what about serious pop? David Byrne, Frank Zappa, Alanis Morissette, Nelly Furtado?" "How about great film music?" And the discussion gets mired in genres, never rising to the character of meta-genre.

Oh, but Dennis, why use it? Why categorize? It's been said there are two types of people, those who categorize and those who don't, a distinction the latter tend to be categorical about. That people as a whole love categories seems to be exposed by their desire to make them, from populations by class or race or religion through Coke-Pepsi arguments to distinguishing No. 2 pencils from No. 2.5 or Eurodance from Eurobeat. Every choice is a categorization, even if it is a category of one.

If you reject categorization, then your answer to "what do you compose" is probably something like "The solid form that might be called me momentarily rearranges the vibrations of the universe in a manner that might be perceived by some being as sound." Otherwise, your response will involve categorization at some level, and the idea of nonpop is invented to offer a term that opens the door to conversation -- as opposed to classical music, which shuts the door (vide supra). I wrote earlier, "It establishes a ying-yang pairing with a term that falls off the tongue easily. It's a word that triggers a general meaning, the idea of a meta-genre. There is gestural usage independent of some sort of etymological analysis or linguistic relationship. Once the word is absorbed as a whole, its state of opposition is lost, and it stands on its own. One forgets that it ever had negative implications to a certain generation. And the reason for using a word related to the other meta-genre is that the two together encompass everything, and the discussion can take place in the gray areas."

The problems are not ones of definition or even usefulness -- but let's get the latter out of the way. Certainly the field should be open to any term that works, because it's certainly suffering as music that will "not have significant enough appeal." So what works? Any empty term fills the arbitrary role of a definition, but a relative one is good. For example, Ms. was invented not out of whole cloth but rather as an analog of Mr. without the relationship stamp. No, nonMr. wasn't a good choice there. But what can be done with the existing term to provide some sort of analog? Pop... plop? pot? slop? Bop is taken, and so is Hop in its Hip pairing. Top's got that elitist sound. So the Bangers' unpop isn't bad, and there's as much precedent for positive uns as for positive nons. For that matter, if it weren't merely a Banger advertising gimmick that they're sure to deep-six as soon as the concert is over, I'd be happy to use it. But unpop is a gimmick, and nonpop is intended a serious contribution to a problematic discussion.

So for the categorizers among us, there is a still an empty place for the category. Now to the practical considerations. Who will use this term, save for a few hundred people who have begun populating their conversations with it? Better, who will have trouble using it? Classical musicians will; they already do, because they treasure their classical identification, the status, the history, the public perception that "not significant enough appeal" is satisfactory to them. Popularity would ruin what they have (and out some of them as frauds, but that's a whole 'nother discussion) and put them in psychological competition with the garage band down the street.

How the nonpop poppers would react is unclear. The classical-wannabe McCartneys would certainly scorn it for containing the "pop" word even as a subsidiary syllable. I'd look to those competent in both worlds already, but Zappa's dead a dozen years now. What would Zappa do? No answers there, and certainly the artists in the jazz spectrum would have trouble. Jazz is a darn good meta-genre meaning nothing but itself, and its only failing is that there are times it diminishes the view of the music from the outside -- people who wouldn't listen to jazz are those who wouldn't listen to classical music, but who in either case might listen to nonpop. And nonpop is a much better description of music by John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Carla Bley, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Anthony Braxton or David Ware than the short-lived "America's classical music" whose terminology minimizes the substantial un-classical and un-conservative contributions of jazz to musical literature. But "America's classical music" was a hard-won appellation, resisting condensation to the unglamorous and generic nonpop.

It's a tough sell. The idea is not to create something hard and opaque, but rather to skim the interior walls of this sphere of sound with colors of location. Pop way over here, nonpop way over there. One can then float questions of commercial and noncommmercial, art and entertainment, for-the-outside and from-the-inside. It's as useful a way of speaking as any complementary pair.

So let's say you think nonpop is a good idea. Now what? At first, using the word will feel wholly unnatural. It will be a struggle and a trip of the pen or keyboard or tongue to use it. People will look questioningly, and you'll have to explain "the music that used to be called classical" -- or something like that. And then, and then, after a few months of awkward awareness will come a moment when it is no longer a conscious choice. You will speak nonpop without thinking. And not long afterward will come a moment when classical music will stick in the throat, when it will feel antiquated and just plain wrong.

The hope for nonpop is that it will act as a check valve against the rushing exit of audiences and radio stations and ensembles. But don't expect entrenched musicians of any genre to understand it or use it. You'll face the dismissive stare, the argumentative logician who'll take you down the same road of negative pop & words already good enough, and you'll get tired of the fight. But if you've made the transition past classical music, there is no going back. Write it, say it. Nonpop will finally feel good. There's nonpop playing on my iPod. Yeah!

Check valve
Check valve claims to hold back 250 lbs. of pressure. Can it survive my handiwork? Tune in again...

Back to the Blog Index
Back to the WAAM Page
Back to my Home Page
Please Write to Me
Previous Day | Next Day

WAAM Info Feed RSS feed for this site