Hey, I know you listen to a lot of "arty" music, and I hoped you could answer this for me. Where do you draw the line between artists who are redefining traditional notions of what music is (ie, noise rock, drone, those guitarists who tell stories while playing seemingly random notes and tone clusters, etc) and people who are crazy, idiotic, or liars trying to sell nonsense as artistic vision? I guess this applies to visual arts too, but I'm more interest in music, as it's a lot more abstract.
This is an awesome question! But! Truthfully! I might not be the best person to answer it. Those guitarists who tell stories while playing seemingly random notes and tone clusters are amongst my favorite musicians, period. My base level tolerance for “nonsense” is really rather high. I find Eleh really interesting and beautiful, and I own that one Harry Pussy record where Bill Orcutt stretched a minuscule vocal sample over four sides of a record.
I cannot think of one particular thing I’ve heard recently that I identified as someone trying to sell the brand of nonsense you described as artistic vision. Maybe thats my own naiveté, and I’m taking things too much on their word? I’m sure lots of people would call Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescaleet’s Photographs or Florian Hecker’s IT ISO 161975 nonsense but I genuinely enjoy them.
The thing have no interest in is not crazy, idiotic liars trying to sell me on their artistic vision but rather when artists try to sell recycled ideas as new. I tend to distinguish between “drone” and “droney bullshit”, “free improve” and “improvisatory bullshit”, “ambient” and “ambient bullshit” and so on. The former are trying to have a conversation with their genre–to push against it, escape it, shape it, move it forward–while the latter are just wearing it like a costume. For me, good musical work struggles to find it place in the world because it doesn’t fit neatly into any one spot; great musical work succeeds at that.
The brand of nonsense I feel as though I am constantly sold as artistic vision is boring nonsense. When a band or musician becomes comfortable in their practice (or starts off comfortable), they get (or are) boring. Being boring, at least as far as the performance of music is concerned, is worse than being artistically dishonest (as described in your ask). E.g. do we need another Metallica record? No. Do we need another Radiohead record? Mmmmmaaaaaaaybe? Do we need more major key, 120bpm 4/4 techno made with fruity loops and that one Alesis drum machine? We could probably do without. More singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars? Less and less every day, I think. More dark, genre-busting hip hop? Yes. Absolutely. More records of weird noises interspersed with long bits of silence? It could really go either way.
I will gladly stand in a room and listen to two sine waves interfere with one another for an extended amount of time because I know (and feel as though) the people who make that work are trying to accomplish something with and beyond that work, and it’s A Something™ that I like.
I will never again willingly listen to an entire Ed Sheeran record. I like music to tell me things I don’t already know; he seems like a nice guy but I think I’ve heard everything Ed has to say with his music before, from someone else. Maybe that’s really harsh? I don’t know… but music like that is “noise” to me in the strictest sense: it contains no signal, no ideas or information, only nonsense.
Maybe my brain is broken?
Sociologist Michael Bull has written extensively about what he calls “iPod culture”. He might just as well have called it Walkman culture – or, indeed, Pono culture. The device and its format are not the point. As Bull notes, the iPod is just one of the latest stages in “an acoustic history of increasingly mobile privatised sound.” It is just that the iconic status of the iPod, its enormous popularity, have rendered it practically synecdochal for “a culture in which we increasingly use communication technologies to control and manage our experience of the urban environment.”
Because the mp3 knows you are not really listening. It knew in advance that you were too busy to pay it much attention. The assumption is built into its codec.