Over at Counter-Critic

To call post-war atonality “the Dark Ages” is so entirely retarded, I’m beside myself. If anything, post-war serialism… exposed more light on what music was, is and can be, and was nothing short of a cultural revelation. Post-war atonality made today’s taste for oblique tonality possible. It’s like women today who disparage the hard-core feminists of the 60s and 70s, even though today’s women are reaping the benefits that those unsightly, nail-spitting bull-dykes risked social derision to gain.

Counter-Critic (emphasis added)

Few feminists I knew in the ’70s were nail-spitting bull-dykes (and those who were were lovely people), but I do like the analogy. It is certainly the case that most postminimalist composers know the serialist literature inside and out and are enthusiastic about much of it. And that a lot of serialism’s structural concerns got picked up by postminimalism, as, I would speculate, serialism’s textural mercuriality enlivened the New Romanticism. I think we could definitely develop the New Tonality’s inheritance from serialism into a meme. 


  1. says

    Someone said dyke and I was warped here, only to find out you were referring to the nail biting ones. Sheesh.
    I thought we were in the midst of the neo-serio-romanticon movement. APRIL FOOLS!

  2. mclaren says

    Such debates posit a teleology for which no objective evidence exists, as Isaiah Berlin’s 1954 essay “Historical Inevitability” reminds us. 19th century music criticism, with its unhealthy fetishism for causality, stands in stark contrast to 20th century studies of evolution — which find transformations like the extinction of the dinosaurs entirely dependent on contingent random happenstance, viz., a large asteroid colliding with the earth.
    Granted that minimalism followed atonal serialism, what credible objective evidence compels us to believe in causation rather than correlation? Pythagorean-tuned monophonic plainchant followed Greek heterophonic declamation in just-tuned Greek genera…did the former cause the latter?
    Such debates also presuppose as fact a model of music history wholly speculative and now outdated: the paradigm of Western music history as a tree with a single large main trunk and minor braches. If instead we view Western music history using another model, say, a cycad with many radiating fronds, the causality claim collapses.
    Too much of this sort of argument depends on selectively ignoring some musical trends while disingenuously emphasizing others. For example, while minimalism followed atonal serialism, so did computer music. And so did tape musique concrete. Minimalism represented a major musical trend in New York city and environs; elsewhere in America in the 70s, computer music or tape music represented the major trend, depending on the compositional community. Homebuilt instruments, microtonality, and many other musical tributaries arguably exerted as strong a gravitational influence among young composers as minimalism in the 60s and 70s, albeit in different parts of the country, and among different communities of composers and listeners.
    Gann slyly avoids taking a stand by referring to the causal hypothesis of atonality -> minimalism as “a meme.” Memes are not necessarily facts, as snopes.com reminds us, and as Gann doubtless means to suggest. Instead of “meme,” granfalloon?
    KG replies: The hypothesis is one I’ve written about frequently, and I present it not merely on circumstantial evidence found in the scores, but on what I know of the composers, their educations, their enthusiasms, writings, and stated intentions. If Eve Beglarian studies Babbitt’s time-point structures and then uses them in her postminimalist music, or Bill Duckworth applies Messian’s self-retrograding rhythms to the Time Curve Preludes and tells me about it, I don’t need to posit a teleology.

  3. says

    Can I be the first person to call “Duh” on this discussion? It seems completely inarguable to me that all contemporary musics are descendants of all previous musics.
    As eager as I may be to agree that Bernard Holland is “entirely retarded,” there is nothing about calling post-war serialism “The Dark Ages” that denies its legacy in a more palatable contemporary music. To continue the genetic inheritance metaphor, one can validly say, “Wow, your mom is really ugly, but you sure are hot.” Like most of you here, I dig lots of crunchy serial music, so I actually don’t think the metaphorical mom is ugly (a MILF, perhaps?).
    If we want to go back to the hackneyed Dark Ages metaphor one can point to Isaac Newton, who was profoundly influenced by “Dark Ages” philosophical and alchemical ideas. But he took some of those ideas, hybridized them with those of Descartes and Bacon and Leibniz, just in the same way that Eve Beglarian and other postminimalists have taken up time-point structure.
    Andrea, could you email me the URL for that other forum?