Friday, 16 December 2011

Stockhausen vs Rothko - Fight!

In ‘Fear Of Music’ David Stubbs takes 137 pages to tell us ‘Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get Stockhausen’. I can do it in 6 words: ‘One involves music, the other painting’. That’s that sorted out. 

Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get William Burroughs: one involves painting, the other words. Words in themselves should not be hard to ‘get’ but with Bill, as Art Blakey said when someone accused Wayne Shorter of sounding ‘like scrambled eggs’, it’s the way he scrambles them.

Painting vs music, painting vs literature. A painting will win every time if the colours are pleasing, especially if there aren’t too many colours involved. It’s easy on the eye.

Crucially, and I don’t know if Stubbs mentions this because I haven’t read the book yet, a painting can be looked at it 10 seconds. Stockhausen’s music takes a little longer, although that may be the average time it takes people to decide it’s rubbish.

Stubbs suggests that there must be ‘a genuine desire on the part of a great many of them (Tate Modern punters) to come and see some avant garde visual art’, ‘to give up their precious afternoons’. Call me a cynic, but I think he’s wrong there. For starters, Tate Modern is on the tourist itinerary, up there with The London Eye, Tower Of London and Amy’s wine house (which is just ‘round the corner from me and I see tourists having themselves photographed outside her gate every day. Funny how she never popped ‘round for tea...I guess she didn’t know I was so close).  

Secondly, I don’t buy the idea that the masses have grown to love avant garde art, but that the big names have been implanted into the mass consciousness via posters and postcards. This has been going on for decades. Today’s cultural iconographic images and slogans take hold as fads promoted by producers who know how to market their product. Besides that, if Kate Moss was photographed wearing a Stockhausen t-shirt you just know that it would also be worn by fashionistas across the world within a month.

Tate Modern has done a great PR job on the back of Pop Britannica and all that. It satisfies a need to believe that London is still Swinging. It’s still officially ‘cool’. And it’s so easy to walk around until you’re knackered, at which time you can go get some food and drink. Some of the works may theoretically demand as much effort as ‘Mikrophonie’, but unlike the music they’re easily passed over with a glance.

Avant garde music simply cannot be packaged in the same way as art, although, thinking about it, wouldn’t sound cards be a great idea? They could sell them in galleries and bookshops.  A postcard, with a Rothko on the front, which you can hold to your ear and listen to ‘Telemusik’.  

What I’d really like to see is a sound gallery dedicated to Stockhausen, Schaeffer, Sun Ra, Varese etc. A sexy pavilion, all modern and Cool, with great food. Oh, and in each room dedicated to an artist, along with their music, all the original albums on the walls, manuscripts, photos etc. Yes.

Perhaps London isn’t quite as hip as that, and neither are the masses who flock to see Rothko.

1 comment:

  1. London is a big business but pockets of cool do seem to survive - pity it's so full of people.


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