Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

FRANKIE ROSE, GRIMES AND THE BAROQUE SUBLIMITY OF CHAMBER POP


 I've been listening to two records in my care recently- the new Grimes record Visions and Frankie Rose's immaculate and top-selling Interstellar.

 Both records share a baroque sensibility and achieve an impact of sublimity that require comment.

 First, on the baroque sensibility.  Baroque is a neglected period of pre-modern taste, coinciding with the post-Renaissance era in places ranging from Italy, to Spain, to Eastern Europe, to the new world.   In it's initial iteration, Baroque was a description of architectural design, but like other words from architectural criticism (Gothic and Post-Modern to name two), the idea of Baroque style has long transcended the civic and religious Architecture of the 16th and 17th century.

 In recent times Baroque used as a description is often a negative, possessing the same negative connotation that you get when you call an institution "Byzantine."  Like the Byzantine usage in the context of bureaucracy, the modern meaning of "Baroque" i.e. "usually pejorative, describing [art] that has excessive ornamentation or complexity of line."

  That's a shame because I am quite a fan of the Baroque.  Really, who doesn't like excessive ornamentation or complexity in works of art?   I mean like all different types of music, but calling something Baroque is not an insult for me, quite the opposite.

  A key characteristic of Baroque in its original manifestation- the Architecture of the 16th and 17th century- Baroque was a truly international style, with examples all over the world.  This is a characteristic that it shares with the Modern style- not limited to specific places.

  To listen to Grimes Visions and Frankie Rose Interstellar is to hear the Baroque style manifested in popular music.   The Baroque sensibility is inherited separately by each Artist from different sources.  In the case of Visions, the proximate inspiration appears to be the Aphex Twin/WARP records canon from the last decade- including Autechre and Boards of Canada as important stylistic reference points.

  In the case of Frankie Rose, the source seems to be shared with the more chamber pop oriented sensibilities of Vivian Girls- of whom Rose was a founding member, as well as the advances on the close harmonies and layered vocals made on the Vivian Girls sound by Dum Dum Girls.

  Regardless of the various influences, the end result is similar in that both records are Baroque pop classics with their own charm, and more importantly, ENDURING REPLAY-ABILITY.   The number one problem I experience with music I buy is that I never want to listen to the record again after hearing it for the first time, and both Visions and Interstellar escape this designation: largely because of the Baroque- interesting- complex- ornamented- nature of the pop music contained.

  Both records are also sublime in the original "beautiful/terrifying" mode that was initially described in the late 17th century.  Today, sublime just means "super fantastic" but back then, to call something sublime was to comment both on it's beauty and fearfulness.  The classic example of the 17th and 18th century meaning of sublime is that expressed by a romantic poet contemplating the Swiss Alps, when he has to cross the Swiss Alps and he's afraid he will die in the crossing.

  Both albums create this sublime effect by pairing the Baroque song craft with a lyrical persona that is slightly cold, distant and removed.   Both Artists use vocal modification to create different layers of lyrics and effects, using their voice like another instrument.  The distance created by the vocal modification works to the benefit of both Artists.

  My sense is that contemporary indie Artists to often try to create intimacy with their Audience instead of inspiring fascination. All the social media work creates that intimacy but works against the inspiration of fascination among potential audience members.






Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GUIDE TO AESTHETICS BY BENEDETTO CROCE

BOOK REVIEW
Guide To Aesthetics
by Benedetto Croce
Translated, with an Introduction by
Patrick Romanell

  Benedetto Croce is an interesting cat- a guy who had a real 20th century Renaissance live, where he both wrote and acted in fields as diverse as philosophy, aesthetics, history and politics.  He lived between 1866 and 1952 and operated in and around Naples.  Luckily, Croce was on the right side of World War II- anti-fascist (even though he was on the WRONG side in World War I- opposing Italy joining the "good" guys in that fight.)

  I'm warming up to Italian themes and Italian thinkers after seeing the response the Italian market has given to some of my Artist friends.  Why, just today I was looking at the listing for the Italian produced Dirty Beaches 7",  TARLABASI at the Rough Trade UK Shop website. (DIRTY BEACHES TARLABASI)

  Croce was already on my reading list before that single came out- and it just so happened I found a copy of the slim Guide To Aesthetics at a library sale at the beginning of last month.   I believe this translation, by Patrick Romanell, is the standard version, but I don't know that.

 Croce's Guide To Aesthetics made it onto my reading list.  I should mention that the corresponding Italian title is "BREVIARIO DI ESTETICA"- according to the introduction in my copy the name was changed to avoid the exclusively Religious meaning that "Breviary" possesses in the English language.   The Italian edition was published in 1912. An important note about the publication history of Guide To Aesthetics is that it was written at the behest of Rice University- in Texas- he was supposed to deliver them in person but couldn't, because he was an Italian Senator and World War I, and things of that nature.

 Since it was consciously written for a bunch of Texas students, it is brief, and to the point.  Guide To Aesthetics possesses "this is the way it is" perspective on the broader boundaries of Aesthetics as a discipline while putting Aesthetics in relation to other disciplines, especially Philosophy and History.

  Croce traces out a century worth of argument (since 1912) in Guide To Aesthetics, beginning with his take on the difference between Romantic and Classic Art:

  [The answer to many questions about aesthetics] emerges as a result of examining the greatest contrast of tendencies that has ever obtained in the field of art...the contrast between romanticism and classicism.  Romanticism requests of art, above all, a spontaneous and unrestrained outpouring of the passioins- love and hate, anguish and joy, despair and elation.  It readily contents itself with, and takes pleasure in, ethereal and indeterminate images, an uneven style and one making allusions to vague suggestions, indefinited phrases, striking and hazy outlines.
  In contrast, classicism adores the tranquil mind, the learned style, figures drawn according to their type and definite in their contours, and is fond of deliberation, balance and clarity.  Classicism has a decided tendency toward representation, while its counterpoint has it toward emotion.  -.p. 23 Lesson One: WHAT IS ART?"

  Within 10 pages he's holding up a lamp to another huge 20th-21st century aesthetic issue- the silent but deadly role the discipline of Rhetoric plays in regard to modern criticism.

   Croce's third lesson lays out his personal theory of how the essential principle of Artistic appreciation is "Intuition."  Croce is best known for being a sponsor of the interpretive, expressionistic style of criticism that is common to readers of 20th century popular critical giants like Greil Marcus or a Lester Bangs.

  Guide To Aesthetics is a bridge between the 18th-19th century discussion of these subjects and the "Modern" approach of critical relativism that is embodied at the heart of every critic who cares about such issues.  BONUS:  THE WHOLE BOOK IS ONLY 80 PAGES.

  This book is a must read for Artist and Writers- buy it on your portable reading device- WORTH IT.

   

Monday, February 27, 2012

THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

BOOK REVIEW
The Master of Ballantrae
by Robert Louis Stevenson
originally published 1889
this edition Dover Thrift Editions p. 2003

  Oh man do I hate the Dover Thrift Edition- you know it's a minor classic when you are reading a Dover Thrift Edition of a classic novel.    Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae,  like Kidnapped, is a novel written about mid 18th century Scotland, written in the late 19th century.   Truly, the Scotland of the mid 18th century, with it's themes of Jacobite rebellion and civil war, was THE romantic setting of the novel from Sir Walter Scott's novels of the 18th century all the way through to Stevensons work a century later.

 Despite the constancy of Scotland in the mid 18th century as a stalwart locale for novelistic machinations, the novel itself underwent a notable transformation between the time of Walter Scotts work and Stevenson.    First of all, the novel established itself as a the dominant form of literature.

   Second of all, the form of the novel became both more self-conscious and more self-consciously stylistic.  18th century novels are anything but stylish- they all read like they were written by someone getting paid by the word and working without an editor- and those are the classics that are still read.

  Third- in between the 18th and 19th century the audience for the novel expanded along with the growth of literacy and the decline in costs associated with book publishing.

 Thus, in 1889 we get Stevensons The Master of Ballantrae- a theoretically "historical" novel which is actually both thematically complex, adventurous and entertaining in the manner that a contemporary reader expects a novel to be.  Only 160 page- The Master of Ballantrae moves between time and place: Scotland, pirates on the Atlantic Ocean, India and New York, with alacrity- the pacing is perfect, and the story is gripping.

 Like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, The Master of Ballantrae deals with the familiar literary theme of doubling- a theme I am happy to revisit in whatever form it takes within a classic novel.  Truly Stevenson, was a master of the form.

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