AMN Reviews: FIMAV 2017 – Sunday Performances

By Irwin Block

VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – It started with a French musician exploring the sonic potential of a church organ and ended with the madcap avant rock of a Quebec guitarist: a day in the life of this town’s festival of new and improvised music festival which ended its four-day run Sunday.

And in between these concerts, the Festival International de Musique Actuelle here on Sunday also presented what were clear highlights among the 21 concerts – outstanding collaborative work by guitarist Nels Cline’s quartet and a pristine solo show by saxophonist Anthony Braxton.

In the early afternoon, avant saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet at the console of the mid-sized organ at the beautifully renovated Saint Christophe Roman Catholic Church and used it as a sound lab. From hypnotic long tones, he grew the aural palate, building density and intensity and then showcased a variety of sonic artifices. He dabbled with chords, but ended with spare and lean sounds, contrasting with the church’s lush frescos and gilded columns, and respecting its sacred mission.

The mid-afternoon show featured two contemporary classical compositions by Montreal-based electric guitarist Tim Brady. He first played as soloist in Désir, a concerto for electric guitar and 13-member ensemble, an evocative work on the various emotional states in passionate love. Brady then took over to direct 8 Songs about Symphony #7, a reflection, with script and song, featuring on the historic performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony on August 9, 1942. It was an act of defiance, some said of madness, as thousands were starving to death in the midst of the 900-day siege by the German army. Brady has recreated this period and the essence of Shostakovich’s music in this eight-segment quasi-operatic treatment, with the baritone Vincent Ranallo and soprano Sara Albu reciting or singing about this horrific moment in history. The music was dramatic and compelling, the orchestra and soloists succeeding in shining an artistic light on a period of great darkness, with stunning impact. This work deserves repeat performances!

In the early evening, electric guitarist Nels Cline thrilled a packed and enthusiastic hall with his latest quartet, featuring his brilliant guitar buddy Julian Lage – they have been performing for several years in a duo – with journeymen drummer Tom Rainy and master bassist Scott Colley. They offered a mix – pieces by Carla Bley, Paul Motion, and several originals – of tunes that they then developed with often dazzling improv. There was not a single cliché that I could detect, but plenty of sustained effort to carry the music forward, without any ego tripping solos. Everything played was crafted to fit into the big picture.

For creative music pioneer Anthony Braxton, playing a solo concert on alto sax at age 71 must have presented a challenge, but he accepted the invitation. It was his 10th gig at this festival over a 35-year span and he was wearing his trademark blue cardigan, unbuttoned. He played nine pieces in about an hour, referencing in most the standard repertoire, but developing the music with the techniques he has honed over a busy creative life. Though parts were familiar, each piece had the thrust and contours of an original. It was a satisfying exposé, a reminder to a rapt audience of his role as a performer and teacher in advancing the creative music scene.

The final show showcased a new quintet led by Quebec electric guitarist René Lussier, with two drummers, a tuba player, and accordion player. The music had a wild, off-the- wall feel, raw and rough-hewn, and featuring unexpected musical twists and turns. We hope to hear more from this group as it develops.

The festival musical director reported that this year’s edition had met attendance targets. Without being specific, he said ticket sales had recovered from the 10-15 percent dip experienced last year.

irblock@hotmail.com

AMN Reviews: Thomas DeLio – Selected Compositions II 1972-2015 [Neuma 450-116]

Selected Compositions II is the second installment in Neuma’s Composers Series of works by composer Thomas DeLio (1951). As with the first installment, Selected Compositions II contains compositions for solo instruments and small ensembles, some for electronics, and one relatively large-scale work for soprano and orchestra. DeLio, who has a background in mathematics and visual art as well as in music, frequently works with disjunctive forms and an expanded palette of sound; the pieces presented here are representative of the composer’s aesthetic on both counts. He also creates what he calls “deconstructions”—electronically manipulated recordings of previous performances of his work, one of which is included in the set.

DeLio’s rhetoric of discontinuity and rupture is particularly on display in two versions of inents (2015), an electronically-processed setting of P. Inman’s poem aengus for six voices. Inman’s fragmentary text lends itself well to DeLio’s treatment, which proceeds over a broken surface of silences, electronic sounds, and spoken words. The brief – en/l’espace de…(2007) for soprano and orchestra draws a minimum of sound from a maximal surrounding of silence; the pleasure of the piece consists in its paradoxical leveraging of the greatest instrumental resources to produce a microeconomy of sound.

The deconstruction included here is thoughtfully juxtaposed with the performance it takes as its source. The source, 1990’s anti-paysage for flute, piano, percussion and electronics, anchors isolated sound events in an ocean of silence; its deconstruction, anti-paysage II (2013), reduces the original recording’s already reduced surfaces to a glittering, second-order abstraction.

http://www.neuma-music.com/neuma_home.htm

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: FIMAV 2017 – Saturday Performances

By Irwin Block

VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – A saxophone quartet, Mongolian folk singers, and the return of a near-iconic pianist and his son were among the highlights Saturday at this 33 rd edition of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle, a 21-concert showcase of new and improvised music.

It began in the early afternoon in a beautifully renovated and fresco-rich Roman Catholic Church where the American group Battle Trance demonstrated an original approach to the sax quartet. They’ve labelling it Indie-classical. While such groups as the World Saxophone Quartet combined three or four different sized saxophones in performance and recording, all four players in Battle Trance played tenor sax.

And rather than paying tribute to jazz tradition, leader Travis Laplante, with Patrick Breiner, Matthew Nelson, and Canadian Anna Webber (subbing for Jeremy Viner) played an original program, a carefully prepared and beautifully executive 50-minute suite. Standing silently in a semi-circle, they started in unison with a drone-like sound, slowly developing harmonies, with an edge of dissonance, then shifted into polyphonic territory.

With only subtle gestures from Laplante, the group ranged over a program that including a rollicking segment of Americana, simulated a raging windstorm, replicated the sound of foghorns, engaged musically with each other in various combinations, and offered repeated motifs that underscored a sense of urgency. They ended in total and extended silence.

The mid-afternoon show featured 19 mainly American musicians, led by trumpeter Nate Wooley, playing his Seven Story Mountain cycle, using taped recordings of sounds made in and around his house. It began with a mood-setting “confession” monologue and brass octet fanfare, then came the electronic soundscape, a softly textured trumpet entry, bell-like chimes from two vibraphones, and slowly growing musical intensity, density, and a range of sounds that grew the tension until it becomes almost visceral. The volume arc receded toward the end. In sum, a thrilling musical experience.

They handed out ear plugs at the door for the late-afternoon performance of the audiovisual piece called International Internal Catastrophes, by Greek sound artist Thanasis Kaproulias, who uses the NOVI_SAD moniker. The visuals and sounds were recorded and filmed in Iceland and the sometimes thundering intensity of what is reproduced enhances or contrasts with the visuals of waterfalls, ice chunks in the sea pounded by waves, and rushing rivers. We are supposed to question our perceptions. Some of the aphorisms flashed on the screen, such as Everything Alive Deserves Mercy, were borderline trite.

Combining three Mongolian female singers – sisters, one of whom is classically trained – with German improvisers Gunda Gottschalk (violin) and Ute Völker in a performance capacity may sound like a novelist’s invention, but it happened. The Germans discovered them on a field trip in Mongolia and “struck a chord” with Badamkhorol Sandandamba, a leading exponent of the Mongolian love song. The German improvisers recorded a CD with the three sisters and began performing Sky and Grassland.

Gottschalk and Völker played mainly background, underscored and enhanced the vocals, and while it seemed like an unlikely juxtaposition of the traditional and ultra-modern, there was a good vibe on stage. No cultural appropriation here. The Mongolian sisters, dressed in elaborate indigenous costumes, exuded warmth, and charm, and communicated with humour and sincerity in their native tongue. Of course, when the Germans played without the singers, they displayed great skill and polished technique in the world of free improv.

The biggest audience of the first three days turned out to welcome American pianist Terry Riley in concert with his son, the classically trained guitarist Gyan Riley. It was the senior Riley’s first gig here since 1988, and at 81 was in fine form at the piano and as a vocalist. His repertoire included Hindustani ragas with chords, and Arabic music, with an edge of blues – among his passions, He alternated on the melodica and the music he produced was joyful and energetic, clear and defined, a fine listening experience. The concert was more an homage to a musical pioneer than a chance to witness anything spectacular.

The show at midnight featured Maja Osojnik, the Slovenian-born vocalist, composer, sampler and sextet leader. Wild and off the wall are terms that come to mind in describing All.The.Terms.We.Are – rock, progressive rock, noise, and cabaret fit much of the content. Each segment featured a spoken-word script, often echoed by cellist Audrey Chen, with such lines as “I had a dream that I was dead” and “I became a frozen lake so you could skate on me.” Osojnik eventually screams, “Tell me what the fuck you want me to be!” With all musicians eventually playing with maximum volume and intensity, it sounded like a shout against insanity, only to end in total silence.

The festival concludes tonight with a solo performance by saxophonist Anthony Braxton.

irblock@hotmail.com

AMN Reviews: FIMAV 2017 – The First Nine Concerts

By Irwin Block

VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – They came from across North America to this four-day festival and in the first nine of 21 concerts were treated to an eclectic offering demonstrating how wide the range and depth can be in the world of new and creative music.

For its 33rd season in this quiet town off the beaten track, 100 miles northeast of Montreal, Michel Levasseur, the veteran curator and musical director of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle, welcomed visitors, saying the arts constitute sustainable development that can succeed when properly supported.

The festival is regarded as a showcase for both established name artists and younger musicians seeking recognition. As expected, the first gigs were a mixed bag, with audiences divided as to artistic merit. The after-concert banter is a big part of the fun.

Thursday’s all-Canadian lineup began with dancer and performance artist Bill Coleman stumbling creatively over a stage filled with common objects, accompanied by the electronica and sound effects of composer Gordon Monahan. Coleman awakened slowly on stage, his hands unfolding as he stumbled over pieces of plastic. As he falls, plastic fragments emerge from under his clothes. Monahan attached sensors to the dancer’s muscles, his movements triggering various electronic sounds, while other sounds emerged from such common objects as cooking pots. When water drops from a horizontal pipe soaking the dancer, we wonder, is he drowning in the clutter? While visually arresting, musically it lacked an equally powerful impact.

In the next concert Montreal-based Colin Stetson displayed his virtuosity on the bass saxophone with a solo where, hyperventilating, he emitted parallel lines and textures by amplifying both the mouthpiece and his throat. He then led a 12-piece ensemble in a re-arrangement of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony #3, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. He gave that 1976 composition a post-rock flavouring with the addition of a rhythm section and there were some beautiful sections, especially when mezzo-soprano Megan Stetson, the leader’s sister, gave the melodies an operatic grandeur with her powerful projection and warm intonation. And yet, there were few musical surprises during its 100-minute duration.

The midnight show featured two experimental films – cityscapes with sound textures, the audiovisual material gathered by Swedish experimental field recordist Benny Jonas Nilsen and processed with Quebec resident Karl Lemieux. Unearthed depicts the devastation of a highly polluted area on the Russian-Norwegian border, while Yujiapu focuses on abandoned concrete high-rises in a Chinese city where shortage of funds created a modern ghost town. The soundtracks accentuated the obvious.

Friday was a more exciting day, and in the first afternoon concert the audience rose to its feet in rapturous applause after a superb concert by a string trio of American cellist Tristan Honsinger, and two Canadians – violinist Joshua Zubot and bassist Nicolas Caloia. They performed In the Sea from the alter of beautifully renovated Sainte-Christophe d’Arthabaska church. It’s in an older part of town, where the late Canadian prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier lived and prayed.

Working from a book of tune fragments, the trio improvised in an expansive and joyful collaboration, varying the tempi, textures, and volumes. Occasionally, Honsinger launched into a chant, or uttered a few words, injecting a comic element to the performance, as if to say, let’s have some fun here, and not take ourselves too seriously. The music ranged from sunshine Americana to segments that resembled some of the darker works of Shostakovich. This trio is well worth checking out on its current 19-stop North American tour.

Electronica and dance were the combined art forms for French artists Kasper T. Toeplitz and his partner, Myriam Gourfink. Toeplitz presented composed noise music from his laptop as Gourfink, in a simple black dress and black boots, in slow motion danced her way onto a table in various shades of light and darkness, with the music growing in intensity. She slowly returned to her starting position in tandem with the music. It was well-planned and programmed, easy to watch and absorb, though predictable.

There was something sad about the 8 p.m. concert that combined ailing vocalist Linda Sharrock, her partner, German saxophonist Mario Rechtern, and Austrian violinist Mia Zabelka. Sharrock, who has worked with Pharoah Sanders and her ex, the late jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, survived a severe stroke in 2009, which left her partially paralyzed and aphasic. She was helped on stage, where she sat during the concert and uttered what sounded like extended moans and groans. The other musicians offered sonically adventurous material, but sadly, Sharrock’s vocals detracted from her partners’ creative outpouring.

The follow-up concert by the Indonesian duo called Senyawa was a revelation. With a great voice – power, clarity, versatility and a warm sound – Rully Shabara was accompanied by Wukir Suryadi, playing two remarkable home-made string instruments made from bamboo, string, and bits of metal. With pedals and loops, Suryadi was able to sound almost orchestral. They gave the music, based on the varied musical traditions of Indonesia, a foot-tapping, finger-snapping urgency. It was exciting, vibrant, varied, and meaningful – simultaneously accessible, challenging, and dramatic.

The second part of what was a double bill featured the post-rock ensemble known as Ex Eye, led by Montreal saxophonist Colin Stetson, with American electric guitarist Toby Summerfield, drummer Greg Fox, and Shahzad Ismaily on Moog synthesizer. The music is loud, powerful, and urgent, much appreciated by an audience that had its share of doom metal freaks, but to my ears, every piece ended up with the same overwhelming and pounding sound and texture. Their new CD on Relapse Records drops in June.

The big surprise of a long day was the Boston-based art-rock sextet known as Bent Knee, featuring vocalist Courtney Swain. It has the look and feel of a garage band, propelled by the powerful and varied drumming of Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth, and although I could barely make out the words of the vocals it didn’t seem to matter: The group’s sound was fresh and refreshing, its unpolished nature part of its charm. When I heard the line, In God We Trust, I could feel the sound of protest from a generation engulfed by uncertainty. The music is the narrative – raw, authentic, and innocent. Their wildly applauded, 95-minute show that started at midnight was breathtaking. Land Animal, their fourth album, drops in June.

irblock@hotmail.com

AMN Reviews: Nathan Hubbard and Vinny Golia – Hunter’s Moon (2017; Castor & Pollux Music)

Percussionist Nathan Hubbard teams up for the first time with wind-instrumentalist Vinny Golia for a 70-minute duet. Hubbard’s 2016 release, Furiously Dreaming, was a favorite, and Golia is no stranger to anyone who follows west coast creative music. Hunter’s Moon is a full set recorded live in San Diego late last year. Consisting of one long track entitled What Are You Looking For? Oh, Two Doors Down…, the album is essentially a free-improv workout from two who are adept at that style.

Hubbard applies his usual rattling, unconventional technique, playing kit drums and controlling field recordings and samples along the way. His contributions eschew anything resembling a steady rhythm, as he uses his drums and associated objects as a co-lead to Golia.

Golia begins on flute, alternating between clean blowing and dissonance. At about the seven-minute mark, he switches to sax. Here, he shows Steve Lacy influences as he lays down flowing, melodic lines that gradually become more frantic. Around 39 minutes, he switches over to bass instruments and takes a more ponderous approach. He finishes up on soprano.

Throughout, Hunter’s Moon explores numerous tempos, textures, and styles. Hubbard and Golia alternative between playing off of each other and forging their own paths in parallel. As percussion / wind duet albums go, you can’t do much better.

AMN Reviews: Ben Richter – Panthalassa: Dream Music of the Once and Future Ocean (2017; Infrequent Seams)

On this album coming out June 2nd, accordionist Ben Richter provides six pieces mostly based on accordion drones. Of course accordions drone – that’s what they do. But Richter’s approach involves a prepared instrument and use of microtones to evoke haunting soundscapes. He creates slowly undulating, overlapping walls of sound. While drones are all the rage these days, using the accordion in this fashion is novel and compelling.

The title piece, Panthalassa, is broken up over three tracks totaling about 45 minutes. Therein, Richter explores his instrument’s range of timbres and dynamics. While Part I of the suite focuses on the aforementioned unconventional drones, Part II  features almost subliminal threads of sharp, high-frequency textures, building in amplitude into an alien-sounding amalgam. Part III adds oscillating layers to a multi-voice mix, each voice carving out its own frequency range.

The fourth track, Farther Reaches, is an orchestral piece that operates as a slowly building movement. Both musical and thematic analogies to John Luther Adams‘ recent Become Ocean would not be out of place. Horns provide drones that are consistent with the album’s approach, while the accordion is layered in between and strings provide glissandi moments with sporadic crackling percussion.

The fifth track, Cryptobiosis (Uncanny Sines), is the odd man out, being an electronic piece rather than relying on the accordion. With a self-explanatory title (the sine waves are clearly present in the audio), this is perhaps the most minimal effort on the album. Richter finishes up with I am the Wind, using the accordion once again to simulate a windswept soundscape.  At just over five minutes, this is the album’s shortest offering by far.

This is not your grandparents’ accordion music. No polkas or folk elements. Instead, Richter continues a line of work originating with modern classicists, such as Milhaud, Antheil, Norgard, Berio, and Gubaidulina, utilizing the instrument in a broader sense. Along the way, he contributes an absorbing album to the contemporary drone oeuvre.

AMN Reviews: Tim Rutherford-Johnson – Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 [U of California Press: 2017]

Certain years take on a talismanic significance. To conjure them is to call up a world—to provide a condensed description of an epochal shift in social arrangements, political structures, or cultural sensibilities. 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell, is one such year, being shorthand for the end of the bipolar, Cold War order that held since 1945 (itself an epochal year). For music critic Tim Rutherford-Johnson, 1989 is a threshold year for music as well as for geopolitics; as he argues in Music After the Fall, his stimulatingly broad and broad-minded survey of new music, the period since then has brought a wave of globalization, liberalization and market economics as well as a revolutionary ubiquity of digital information and communication technologies, all of which have had significant impacts on the production and reception of new music.

The new music Rutherford-Johnson surveys is contemporary Western art music. The designation “Western art music” is a not always entirely accurate description of a music that has become internationalized both as a source of and a recipient of influence across borders, and has become hybridized through the influence of musical forms, techniques and technologies of other genres and traditions. But as Rutherford-Johnson notes, for historical reasons the label is still meaningful in that it usefully picks out music situated within a “tradition originating in the West [and which] maintains certain continuities with that tradition.” This is music generally taking the form of a notated score written by a composer and intended for presentation in a concert setting.

As becomes apparent in light of the many examples of recent work that Rutherford-Johnson deftly describes throughout the book, “Western art music” is a consummately porous category whose members are heterogeneous in style, form, materials and methods of realization. The work he surveys inhabits an epic range of difference. It can concern itself with large-scale harmonic movement or the timbral properties of a single, static chord; it can be conventionally notated or communicated through graphic symbols; it may embrace spectral analysis, generative processes, extended performance techniques, just intonation, metered rhythms, no rhythms, and silence. At its borders, it shades off into noise and performance art.

Western art music’s porousness and openness to outside influences isn’t a new development. American composers of the last century imported references to jazz, popular tunes and hymns; Eastern European composers drew on the modal materials and microtonal inflections of native folk idioms; French composers’ choices of scales and emphasis on timbres were inspired by gamelan and other Asian music. But the porousness of contemporary composed music seems qualitatively different from what came before. Rutherford-Johnson is right to suggest that music post-1989 appears to have reached a point where the external influences are stronger, more thorough-going, and as likely to change art music conventions as to be changed by them. The integration of elements of other musics to Western art music now seems more complex—in some cases less a matter of assimilation or absorption than a matter of co-adaptation or co-evolution.

This altered relationship between Western art music and musics outside of its tradition may partly be an effect of what might be called the subculturization of Western art music. Once a clearly dominant source of cultural capital that could define the main current of Western music, it now seems to be one musical subculture among many. Why this should be is an interesting question; what in effect is Western art music’s change in cultural status makes sense when seen against the background of the larger cultural changes Rutherford-Johnson describes.

Two of the most important of these changes are globalization and the ascendency of market economics. Both have been instrumental in influencing the shape of recent art music.  Partly this is because of the opportunities for cross-fertilization they have afforded, and partly because they have helped bring about changes in audience makeup and expectations.

Globalization has made possible what amounts to the internationalization of Western art music and the reciprocal Westernization of other forms of music not native to the West. Under these conditions categories and boundaries that, for historical and other reasons, were regarded as relatively fixed have overlapped, become transmuted or been effaced. In practical terms, this means an opening up of Western art music to new possibilities rooted in or influenced by once-foreign musical forms, materials and so forth, while at the same time altering their native Western counterparts. At the same time, through globalization the culture and status-defining values of Western elites are disseminated throughout the world and made into transnational standards. One of these status-defining values may be an acknowledgment of the importance of an art music continuing, in some recognizable way, the traditions established by music composed in the West since the late seventeenth century. In describing the state of contemporary music and culture, Rutherford-Johnson invokes Zygmunt Bauman’s idea that the condition of postmodernity is a “liquid” one–essentially a state of uprootedness and constant flux in which identities are unstable and/or profoundly malleable; nowhere is liquidity more apparent than in the exchanges of information, norms and human and other resources afforded, if not demanded, by globalization.

The turn away from government arts funding and toward the market economy made demands of its own on new music. In practical terms, it meant that new music would have to find an audience and thus, as Rutherford-Johnson remarks, would have to incorporate “more accessible, populist forms.” He offers as examples the “spiritual minimalists” Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt, and John Tavener, whose music attained popularity not only because of its spiritual program, but because its simpler forms and graspable harmonic structures were more easily assimilable to listeners than the complex, tonally decentered forms of modernism and its inheritors. For those same reasons it was also particularly well-adapted to use in television and film soundtracks—potentially lucrative markets that would virtually guarantee widespread dissemination of these composers’ work.

Technology, too, has had a hand in shaping the new music. Digital means of composing, producing and reproducing music of course have had a significant impact on contemporary music, but Rutherford-Johnson suggests that changes in listening habits have had a crucial influence as well. He points to the ubiquitous use of mp3 players under conditions that would favor shorter works or music without a good deal of surface complexity or nuance—either of which would be likely to be lost amid the encroaching wash of ambient noise, especially in urban environments. (36-37)

Not all of the new music is short, simple and direct, though. Post-experimental music with a strong conceptual dimension, or music engaged with innovative compositional methods and calling  for challenging instrumental techniques, as well as music based on and extending the High Modernist use of complex precompositional structures, all have a place in the new music, and provide Rutherford-Johnson with some of the book’s more thought-provoking examples.

If anything unites these quite disparate kinds of works, it is that they were created in an environment Rutherford-Johnson characterizes as “permissive.” Just as Cage’s music and aesthetic philosophy gave composers permission to experiment regardless of reigning orthodoxies, contemporary music has been given permission to draw on forms and materials covering the entire range from the non-musical to the intricately complex to “the simple and naively musical.” As a result, Rutherford-Johnson locates current musical practices within a “guiding ethic [of] choice rather than innovation” in which choice encompasses all available possibilities and precedents, be they formal, material, expressive, etc. Whereas Cage—and musical modernism generally–granted composers permission to innovate, the contemporary atmosphere has granted a type of permission just as important: The permission not to innovate. Consequently, it is the composer’s prerogative to choose from anything from within the history of Western art music as well as from musical traditions outside of that history. The legacy of Western art music is something ready-to-hand, an instrument among other instruments there for the attainment of present projects. But some pasts would appear to be more present than others. Rutherford-Johnson suggests that the most relevant past consists of the near past as embodied in “the musical legacies of the 1960s and ‘70s.”

It is this use of the past as a point of reference that underlies what Rutherford-Johnson argues is the common sensibility underlying much contemporary art music. He terms this sensibility “afterness.” It is comparable to the feeling of belatedness or of living and working after one’s time, often remarked on among postmodern theorists. To that extent, it is a sensibility that can be expected to permeate a music aware of its having come after the epochal developments of the past century, and consequently as being concerned with absorbing, assimilating and transfiguring the legacy of those precedents in order to make something of its own. (This is similar to the situation of painting and architecture in the 1980s, when a self-consciously postmodern sensibility pervaded works that appropriated or alluded to art-historical and pop-cultural conventions and images.) An additional factor to consider is that contemporary music is being made in an environment in which digital technologies have preserved and made widely accessible virtually the entire history of recorded music—time has in a sense collapsed into an encompassing contemporaneity in which all music coexists in this moment, now.

But whereas belatedness per se may lead to despair in the face of a present suffocating under the weight of the past—a sense that everything that can be done has already been done–afterness, at least in the sense that Rutherford-Johnson intends it, seems to mean something else. Afterness may just be a moment, albeit a necessary one, within any tradition. Consider that a tradition is a temporally extended, reciprocal negotiation of continuity and change—an interwoven set of historically contingent practices and understandings–developing as it forges a future through an ongoing dialogue of its present with its past. Its situation at any given time reflects the current state of its argument with itself—a self-conscious argument about materials, methods, meanings and forms, about who will create and consume it and to what uses it will be put once created. If “the Fall” is an image of the fall from innocence into self-consciousness, then I would suggest that this ongoing dialogue is indeed the situation of music after the fall—and that there never was a time before the fall. In that sense, music has always been after itself.

http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520283152

Daniel Barbiero