this past saturday night i went with friends and my brother to see kronos quartet and the bang on a can all stars. the former we had intended to see, and the latter left us in a bit of a conundrum: if the audience hates it, is it still really art?
kronos played some wonderful pieces, including the suite from "requiem for a dream", music from the soundtrack of "the fountain," and a beautifully rearranged traditional swedish piece that all of us loved. so why did they have to go and make us angry with their self-indulgent banging on broken radiators (literally.)?
twentieth century music has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. and for many people, i think. it is hard to enjoy music that is deliberately conceptual and designed to break sound conventions we have spent centuries accustomed to enjoying. while i get the theory of this, one has to ask when leaning away from the stage in the hopes of getting away from the screeching, how far is too far?
the performance began with the bang on a can all stars, featuring iva bittova. bittova began on the stage lone, with an unusual pairing of wailing vocals mixed with violin, which she played while singing, if one could call it singing. her vocal ability is extremely impressive and technically superb, but when used to screech, ululate, and make tick-tock clicking noises with her tongue, it obscures what she might be able to do with another piece of music. two of my party are trained musicians; my brother and i are not. all of us were irritated at the end. and so this begs the question we kept asking, if the audience thinks it's just a stroke fest, is it just a stroke fest?
if we return to my earlier whining about post-modernism, i think it has a point here. according to the theory, everyone's point of view is equally valid: we can think it is a stroke fest; the performers can claim it is genius. but if that is really how our culture thinks, then why do we still have critics?
and what is the point of art, anyway? while we like to think of artists as geniuses, delivered a unique path to the Truth we may try to follow by looking at their work, (and we do still think this, even this far along in time), how do we handle work that seems to be solely for the artist's own gratification- "because they can" if you will?
all of us agreed that we loved about 15% of the show- all of which was contained within kronos's set- were indifferent to about half or 60%, and hated the rest. is this an acceptable ratio for a professional concert? what are we looking for when out seeing this kind of thing. while a performance on ucla's campus is probably composed of audience members looking for something more challenging than basic "entertainment," how much is it simply a transference of different values of what entertainment is if we simply apply a larger cultural reference vocabulary to what is considered "entertainment." (although intellectuals rarely want to admit to a desire for simple entertainment- perhaps this is what would make many of them, to our shock and dismay, jump up in a frenzy of clapping after one of kronos's pieces that involved banging on hunks of metal, a radiator, broken chair and taking a power saw to a non-specific metal box.) the relationship between entertainment and the artist is nothing if not complex.
in many ways this dialog began with duchamp, around this time last century, when he submitted a urinal for consideration in a salon show. it was, of course, rejected- but, strangely enough, was accepted after he revealed himself as the artist. he was disgusted at this turn of events and went on to make a series of "ready mades" or pieces of art made out of found objects.
duchamp's position was, in many ways, a protest against the excess of restrictions on what was considered art. we have certainly gotten his message and now i would argue that, if anything, there are too few restrictions on the concept of "art." i say we need to revisit the issue and get that pendulum swinging back towards the mid-line, if only because i am sick of screaming being mixed with string chamber music and feeling nauseated by the teeter-tottering and click -clacking of contemporary violinists tongues.
who is with me?