The New Poly-Stylistic Scene—Style as Material, Not as Reference
The 21st century is different than anything before—as was the 20th century before. The rapid rate of communication has changed the world and the arts. Information is now freely available on command, any time of the day. This plurality and accessibility of information creates music(s) of pluralities. No longer are we just influenced by one kind of music, art, and culture, practically we are all poly-stylistic—at least in our daily practice. Even if you think you are not—which I would contest, because you grew up before the internet, I guarantee you, your children will be poly-stylistic and you will be the last mono-influenced generation.
So how could an approach that uses a variety of styles, or at least deals with them in a way, look like? Style as reference, as quote, isn’t very interesting for me because it is rarely intellectually challenging or authentic. Poly-stylistic as an arbitrary supermarket collage is a difficult, consumerist, pro-capitalist, and artistically mostly boring approach—post-modern-hipster-consumer-crap. In order to use style authentically as material, you have to know and study it inherently, not just copy-paste it.
I personally do not like to mix styles myself, but have no problems when others do it, if it is done well and—yes, again the a-word—: authentic. I like to do a rock and a chamber music projects parallel rather than mixing them. There will be an overlap of approaches and sounds anyway and always. Cross-influences happen more satisfactory on an aesthetical, intellectual, philosophical level, and not by quoting material or post-modern half-assed cultural appropriation.
Poly-stylistic as the authentic, legitimate, artistic expression of a generation, which—like myself—grew up with rock music, pop, jazz, classical and new music, is something else. It has to come out of the very personal realm of experience, life and urges, it has to be the composer’s unique expression. As a teenager, I spent many afternoons listening to music: Stockhausen, Velvet Underground, Gustav Mahler, Ornette Coleman—there were no contradictions for me. I had quality criteria for each style, and the most important of these criteria for any style was genre-immanent innovation and the search for new, radical, contemporary, meaningful ways of expression.
I am stressing genre-immanent evaluation and innovation because we can’t compare apples with oranges. Rock and popular music have their own standards and values. They have a commercial side and an avant-garde side—as does new music. Yes, let’s be clear here, new music has a commercial side too, at least today, maybe always had it. The side of pieces written towards competitions, written to fit the aesthetic of a certain ensemble or jury in order to receive a commission, pieces written to please a teacher, etc.—and often today even pieces written to please an audience.
I like to use language here as a metaphor (—although language-music comparisons are wrong. Music is not a language and especially not an universal language, otherwise everyone would understand Nono and Ferneyhough). Many people are multi-lingual, and this is highly valued in our society. If I would compare my composing and playing with language, I would say that I grew up multi-lingual. I speak new music as well as a variety of rock dialects and a bit of jazz.
I know that I have a new music-accent in rock (although rock was my first music), but this is something I know and consciously cultivate. Not because I believe that rock needs this influence to be “better,” but because, first, I am me, it is my formative background, and second, because it constitutes for me, personally, a way to continue and resurrect the amazing, innovative 1940s and 50s tradition of rhythm ‘n’ blues saxophone in a different, modern way. The main goal of these r ‘n’ b honkers was not finger-virtuosity or beautiful melodies, their intend was strong expression. They used four octaves, microtones, color changes, multiphonics, slaps, etc.—which 40 years later were dubbed extended or new techniques in new music.
My classical playing also has a new music accent and that is also intended—in this case it is my continuation of German expressionism and a personal disapproval of classical concert practice since the 1950s.
I speak English, German, Italian and French, but I do not mix these languages in a conversation, I normally stick to one. I write chamber music and rock music, do I need to mix them? No. Can I mix them? Yes, if you have the draw, the background, the knowledge, the skill—and the vision! No, if you do not feel the draw or you do not have adequate familiarity with a style. It is so simple and at the same time difficult, a big artistic responsibility.
The new reality is a poly-stylistic, poly-cultural one. What we need is a new—eventually poly-stylistic or even better transcending poly-stylistic—music, beyond recent post-modern, late-capitalist consumerist arbitrariness, beyond lame-ass clichés of old, conservative new music pseudo-avant-garde, beyond happy-hippie-holding-hands-world-music, beyond hipster-what-everism and other industrial-commercial and/or pseudo-intellectual-conservative-art standards. There is a responsibility of the composer and there needs to be an authenticity of the composer and the work. Style as material needs to be used responsibly and there should be no stylistic discrimination based on material. This is the end of 20th century material fetishism. We need to look forward into the 21st century, not back.
What we need are new ideas, not ideologies. We need contemporary expression, not refined mannerisms that die of jaundice. The domesticated, self-centered bourgeois culture revolving around itself leads to absolutely nothing—it is static, not progressive. Sensibility and refinement have become empty fronts.
We need pure, untamed, wild art, because only pure art can make an independent expression. Decades ago Boulez wrote: “Burn down the opera houses”—for the same reason and rightfully so. So let’s open the gates and dismantle the cages of the new music zoo. “Just say No!”
For a new, really contemporary, daring, forward-looking music for the 21st century.
Art has to be radical
Art needs to explore new things without fear of extremes
Art needs to move ahead