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2005-05-09 - 11:12 p.m.

Someone has given me some feedback that suggests that I ought to do a bit of a recap.

There s a lot of evidence that ‘identity’ is an important concept - say for the last 35 years (maybe longer) in explaining both what artists put in and audiences get out of art in various media.

Gender and ethnicity have become important aspects of why artists do the art they do. Artists see themselves as doing gender or ethnicity based art. They feel the need to do this because the immediately preceding ‘big ideas’ about what art is were secretly biased along gender and ethnicity lines. The art pretended to be universal and wasn’t - so it had to be exposed.

You can find a lot of evidence that there was an explosion in this way of thinking at the end of the 60s - the protest against the Vietnam War and in favour of black civil rights in the USA in the 60s built up the pressure that resolved itself in this way.
Just look at the work of Cindy Sherman (who emerged at the end of the 70s) to see how gender-identity has formed a massive theme is a highly influential artistic career - one where the material itself is very accessible.

Can we see any of this in songwriting? Yes - its easily visible in the work of songwriters like Tori Amos and Courtney Love.

And what are the antecedents - was anything going on in the formation of songs between 1960 and 1970?

Yes - a lot. Old song forms were collapsing and new ones emerging. The Miles Davis 5tet of 64-70 did a lot stretch the existing Broadway song form to the limit - some of the recordings which charted this - in live performance - are considered to be the greatest live jazz recordings ever.

Not only that - some others - in the same recording company - Columbia - in the same city - NYC - are considered to shape how song unfolds from that point - cf Marcus in the Observer this weekend on Like A Rolling Stone.

(For Marucs on Dylan see http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050425&s=yaffe )

Where did BD get a revised idea of what a song can be ? Well Weil was an important influence. Did Miles tangle with Weil at all ? Yes with Gil Evans on Miles Ahead. (Remember the Doors and Weil on their first album).


Can we find a general theory of how to link identity into art? Yes - I have found one such and I have made it into a theory of songwriting - whereas in fact it is theory of how to write poetry.

How does that theory work? One way of looking at it is in terms of the ‘interaction theory of metaphor.’ This is a theory of how metaphors work to restructure our thinking by positing an identity between entities or an entity and an activity.

Man is a wolf

The ship ploughed through the waves.

In this model an identity is asserted which is literally false but makes sense through associations.
This model can be extended - where an identity is posited between systems - and the implications worked out to create new insights.

You can carry aspects of one system over into another (eg song structure) and get more powerful songs.

This kind of system-metaphor appeared in an important way in the thinking of one of the founding fathers of sociology - Durkheim . One of his big ideas was that the way that people think about all sorts of issues reflects a basic model they carry around in their minds about how society works. This is particularly true in primitive societies although you can find aspects in modern society too. For example he thought that people were much more likely to commit suicide when they became disconnected from society - effectively the disconnection meant that the flow of meaning into their lives atrophied - to such an extent that life lost meaning.

This style of thought was taken further by Adorno - an important left wing social and aesthetic theorist who studied composition with Alban Berg. He thought that musical form in the best music of the 20th century reflected the composer’s social position - at the margin of late capitalist society.

More recently Nicholas Genhardt (who I think teaches Management Science at Lancaster University) has published ‘Going For Jazz’ where he analyses the most innovative jazz groups - those led by Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman - in social terms. The way that leading edge jazz groups ‘go for jazz’ - commit themselves to making music in new ways - reflects new aspects in the way society is evolving.

So in the manifesto of songwriting I constructed - by changing ‘poem’ to ‘song’ in the original, I also changed ‘university’ to ‘jazz’. But of course by simply switching terms in a text the basic form remains unchanged.

We should also remember that the innovative songs of Kurt Weill in the 20s were also about the state of society - particularly the contrast between the superficial aspects and the characters’ deeper motives.

More to come.

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