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PostPosted: Sun May 25, 2008 7:29 am 
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Joined: Wed May 07, 2008 7:49 pm
Posts: 25
I'm transferring old posts on the old PRG blog over to this dazzling, new, interactive philosophy 2.0 environment so that they can be better unpacked and cracked open— given over to scrutiny.

Brandon Joyce writes:
So far, the topics under the knife have been relatively uncontroversial, almost neutral selections— at least as far as our little enclave is concerned. But I really want to hear some strong opinions and weigh-ins on the topic of Shows— musical performances, that is, of the variety that dominate Philadelphian social life. I want a kind of pro/con philosophical rundown of both their loftiest purposes as well as their worst maladaptations and drawbacks, even if its singes friends around the collar. This will be healthy for the Institute in many ways, I think, because it will give form to hunches, and help us figure out how to approach this cultural form in general... and maybe improve where possible.

Slightly exasperated Thesis: Philadelphia— and perhaps the greater United States— is in a state of hypersaturation with Shows. I won't say oversaturated, yet, and reveal my prejudices, merely hyper-saturated.

A young, outgoing Philadelphian could probably go to, on average, one Show for every night of the week. In real terms, a young, outgoing Philadelphian, of the type and caliber we might know, probably does manage around three shows per week. This is the mark of a thriving musical culture, certainly; which Philadelphia can proudly claim. There are plenty of bands and musicians; some even good. But goodness and badness aside, I think Shows completely monopolize Philadelphian, and American, culture. Spaces are organized around Music. Culture is mostly spread on the caravans of Traveling Musicians. And Music has become the king paradigm and criterion of all other culture, to the degree that weird, unrecognizable sapling forms can find little purchase.

Music is what lends legitimacy here, culturally. You can make a faster, stronger grab-and-stab for legitimacy and acclaim with Music than with any other form, even in an ad hoc, horrendously embarassing band (which I sometimes prefer). You get this cool, new totemic association, your band and bandname, as well the chance to follow out its model of horizontal cultural production: stickers, shirts, posters and various propaganda, tours and appearances, interviews and praise, and of course the albums themselves. So all this hubbub creates a non-musical motivation to become a musician, and to book Shows— if for nothing else, than to give all this press and production a center, a backbone. Note: we all feel this, in the desire to start fake bands, with fake band names like The Cryptic Tonsils or The Sharpies or The New Aesthetics. This process intrigues us. It creates desire. And nicely melds together the two dominant forms of young American Culture, Performance and Production.

Nothing above was meant to be a criticism, or even really critical; I love the openness, the amateurism, the flux of culture.
However, because of these perks and pressures, you end up having more performers— and more aspiring, uninspired performers— than proportionate audience...Hence, hypersaturation. So, it is not that Music has done something wrong; only that little else gets a turn... After a stint of calls and messages about bands "wanting to play," and my first inward response is sometimes "go ahead, play... no one will stop you. Why do you need me?" This is of course a little facetious, but it underscores something: that shows are more often for the satisfaction of the performer. Which is fine, great in fact— Culture should spring from desire. However we treat it as though musicians are giving us a commodity, tireless workers playing to meet our needs. Performance assumes the form of a commodity.


My grumbling rumbles much wider than just with musical performance, though. I think that Performance in general, along with Production, monopolizes American culture far too much. A monopoly that we should consider overturning, for the breathing room of other paradigms (oh, maybe, like Action and Dialogue, just to name my darling two favorites— or Rhizome and Hobby, to name another two paradigms).

Me personally, I'm particularly allergic to Performance-gluts because, as an audience-member, a spectator, I have nothing to do. They are monological. Spectation. Two, three, four, five hours of pure perception and zero agency. If I do this every night of the week, I've accomplished nothing with my week. There are plenty possible cultural landscapes in which Culture gives us all something to do, in a happier division of labor. And not just in limelight-sharing and syncopated turn-taking, but all of us, simultaneously. A motto I often return to is that "Culture is just a particularly fervid and memorable form of Freeplay." One reason I return to this is that Freeplay escapes many, if not most, of the traps I want to avoid. Even the Freeplay we associate with childhood: playgrounds, neighborhood adventures, the interlocking imaginations of Make-Believe. There is no fixed center to these activities, nor periphery. They accommodate multi-sided Action; many nodes of interests and many points of departure. There is no stage to command attention and divide esteemed space from everyday space, audience from performer.

Another strain for Shows is that, because Performance is framed by the visual, we are forced to ask "What exactly are we looking at?" or "Why do I have to look at the musicians when they play?" What does this accomplish? Why can't we listen to the music and do other things? The only acceptable substitute is to watch visuals. Or, worse yet, be forced into some kind of "audience participation" which is anything but participatory— because we are acting on cues and commands, rather than a refreshing wellspring of personal agency. Spectatorship, and the perceptive mode by which it spectates, is beneficial sometimes. Attention. Absorption. Listening. Ingestion. Occasionally with cutting, sublime results. I've enjoyed Shows; walked away nourished many times. But there comes a time for other modes. This spiel is distinct from the critique of Entertainment; which is a critique of the object of attention, rather than the mode of attention itself. More importantly, is that this is the heat death of a form in routine. Shows have been routinized, absorbed, lost their Weberian charisma— because we wore them out, after years of seven-days-a-week.

What this indicates, this decay cycle setting in, is that New Forms will emerge with a kind of cultural pressure, a backlash, the Owl of Minerva after many years of gray-on-gray. But because Being is often so habitual, the new forms will have to create just enough routine to gain currency.... I do not think I'm alone on this, this sense of being "showed-out," but I know that I'm hyperactive and idiosyncratic in my preference for recorded music....As a whole, I'm just curious what others might think and offer as remedy...


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PostPosted: Fri May 30, 2008 1:47 am 
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Joined: Fri May 16, 2008 9:23 pm
Posts: 2
i apoligize for any especially egregious errors in this post, since i
am writing from an argentinian keyboard which is apt to insert ç after
everything...
anyway, brandon, i think the questions you ask about the monopolizing of Space
by travelling musicians, and the subsequent issues of performance in
general as a source of cultural power, are both engaging and apparent
in our "social sphere." one of the first things i thought of after
reading it was adorno´s remark that "the maximum must be extracted
from leisure." if this, as included in minima moralia, is indeed a
posit of capitalistic society, then america ought to be the breeding
ground for this instinct of extraction.

what could be better proof of this than the public presentation of a
(tongue in cheek or earnest) "self" as evidence of a certain mastery
of one´s leisure, the aquisition of persona for performances´ sake.
this is truly the instinct behind the myriad formation of bands,
exhibitions of skill and selfhood via a mastery of chosen form, be it
pure data or ironic guitar chords. in america as opposed to many other
countries, ´the artist´is still regarded as the perpetual adolescent
of the financial family dynamic, particularly that artist who is most
in the public eye, the musician.

in america and much of the "developed world" the musician is
constantly surveyed as a possible marketable product, or at least, an
indicator of the cultural current. according to guy debord, this
position warrants one participation in "the spectacle." Debord states,
"In the spectacle — the visual reflection of the ruling economic order
— goals are nothing, development is everything. It is nothing other
than the economy developing for itself."

while most musicians brandon might refer to in his previous post would
shy away from any such association ("economic order?? i barely make
rent"), lebords theory of the spectacle also states that "Its sole
message is: "What appears is good; what is good appears." Thusly, to
appear is good. To respond to the spectacle is inevitable, thus
overtly seizing control of ones particiption by entering the
performance of self is the ultimate engagement with the spectacle.

i find myself left with the question of whether this "engagement"
through performance is appropriately described as a rebellion or a
tribute.


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