Friday, 5 May 2017

Music, Affect and Old Fogeyness (Part 2)

Click here for part 1.

I have always been interested in aesthetics and taste in regard to music, and have noticed my own attraction to the style of music that tends to remind me of the that I liked when young. One example would be my love of Britpop and Indie in the 90s - a lot of it being influenced by psychedelia, for instance the more obvious music of Kula Shaker, but also early Blur’s There’s No Other Way (1991). Actually, this is one of the theories that I had assumed applied to our decline in regards to interest in contemporary popular music: that we were always pretty much going to like what influenced us most in our formative years. So the next two examples I am going to provide (both very current) relate to my (un-worked-through) theory above – we like the music that influenced us most when we were growing up – and the theory presented by Wallace in part 1 of the blog, what I have called the nothing-new-under-the-sun phenomenon.

After a sleepless early morning about a week ago, I turned on Radio 2 to the Phil Gayle 3.00-5.00am slot and heard the opening bars of a song that, in my half sleep, sounded familiar. Yet I was aware I didn’t actually know the song. I remember thinking: “This sounds like it might come from the early 1970s, but if it does how do I recognise it and yet not know it?”. Then I thought: “It sounds like Fleetwood Mac”. It turns out that it’s a new song by Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie: In My World (2017). Now, I’m not a big Fleetwood Mac fan, although I do own Rumours on vinyl (who doesn’t – right?) and love the ending of The Chain. I’m also not a big fan of female singers. So, I am making an assumption that there is something nostalgic about it that I am attracted to. Well, it now seems to be on the Radio 2 playlist, but I have also downloaded it. I really like it. I only download about 1 new single a year – so that’s testament to how much I like it, I guess.

My other example is a bit more unconventional, and also reflects Wallace’s discussion on newness. I was watching BBC2’s Later With Jools Holland last night (2nd May). The second song was by a band I had never heard of before: Future Islands, with the song Cave (I’ve included this link here to their official video, but try and watch the performance, which is key to my experience of it, on the Jools Holland link above if it is still available – the song starts at about 4.20). When their set appeared, I thought it looked reminiscent of The Pet Shop Boys, and certainly the opening synthpop bars were. But then the song starts and the lead singer, Samuel T. Herring, starts moving about the stage in a very peculiar way, singing in a voice that sounds like it might have been adopted by an actor playing a pirate in a 1930s black and white film! He growls, he punches his chest, he hits himself on the side of his head and he cries – this is really a passionate performance and is absolutely entrancing! It definitely fits Wallace’s description of the experiences of newness that are much more commonplace in our youth, as I have never seen anything like this before. So, maybe I’m not quite the old fogey I thought I was…
“All those unapologetic old fogeys willing to take a stand and denounce the music of today have a lot more in common with the youth than someone like me. At least the fogeys are willing to trust their instincts, finding their kicks where they find them, and never minding the places they don’t.” (Lary Wallace)

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Music, Affect and Old Fogeyness (Part 1)

There was an interesting article in Aeon in April about how our music tastes change as we age: ‘Now That Was Music’ by Lary Wallace. He says: “One grim day (when youth is over) you find that new music gets on your nerves. But why do our musical tastes freeze over?” It is something I’ve often thought of and, actually, I think I did quite well to last till I was 42. I remember it was then because it coincided with the time I left London, although I think geography was only a tangential connection. The author also lasted till he was 40 years old, which is interesting and may reflect the fact he is a music writer and, therefore, engaged in music (like the musicians he mentions who he says seem to be “immune”). Wallace actually thinks the decline of interest tends to begin in one’s thirties.

In this two-part post I will be providing two past musical experiences in order to work through my own affective responses in this regard, and two contemporary examples.

One of the key points the above article makes is that “our inability to appreciate new music” is connected to our ability to “experience surprise” and therefore a “sense of wonder”. As we age, we encounter less new experiences. I would describe it as the nothing-new-under-the-sun phenomenon. So, firstly I’d like to provide a couple of examples of the sense of wonder in regards to music from my youth. The fact I can remember them still today – and they both go back to the 1970s – means they must have had a major musical impact. Both involve me seeing these musicians on Top of the Pops for the first time.

The first was the Electric Light Orchestra’s 10538 Orchestra (1972). ELO looked, and sounded, like a rather strange and magical orchestra. I had never seen anything like this on Top of the Pops before. Although, it probably wasn’t a surprise that I would like the music, being a The Move fan previously. It wasn’t just how they looked that captivated me in that moment (although I do remember that well), but how they sounded – like an orchestra (hence the band and song title name). One of the comments under the video on Youtube echoes my own experience: “This is the track (1971 I think) off the original Electric Light Orchestra album that totally hooked me on ELO all those years ago....and I'm still playing that original old worn out vinyl...and here we are in 2015, and I'm in my sixties and still hooked...oh god that's good music....” (cogidubnus1953).

The other example is seeing Ian Dury and the Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (1978) for the first time. It wasn’t just Dury in his tight white T-shirt, stretched over his thin chest, with his impractical sunglasses – although that all added to the mystique. Nor was it just his unusual way of singing-speaking, with his strong undisguised Essex accent. It was also that brilliant intro with the discordant piano riff. I really hadn’t seen anything like that before.

Also, I particularly liked the way Dury moved, which was strange and yet compelling (remember Ian Curtis from Joy Division and his strange dancing). Dury was particularly un-self-conscious. It seemed to me that he was totally absorbed in the music and, if it was a performance, it came across as something much more natural than that. He seemed blasé about his appearance and unconventional movements. He also made guttural noises that couldn’t be described as singing at all (I’ll return to this in part 2). This was probably the strangest and most captivating performance I had seen on Top of the Pops, ever!

Part 2 will look at some contemporary affective musical responses.