The Future Starts Here – John Higgs’ Latest Cultural Exploration

This is the third and latest of Higgs’ works on cultural criticism to enter my library, following The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century and is surely his most exhaustive to date, dedicating nearly 400 pages to examining the first 18 years of the new millennium. 

I discovered the book by chance while hungrily searching for cultural examinations of post-postmodernism / metamodernism and media culture. Higgs’ previous works are some of the most insightful and contextual writings on contemporary culture I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, so the news of a new book was an absolute thrill.

Acquiring this text was a challenge amid the COVID-19 outbreak as at the time the book was only available from UK distributors in its first hardcover run, but thankfully I was able to secure a copy internationally from The Book Depository.

While his KLF book primarily examined culture through the lens of the band, Stranger Than We Can Imagine provided greater insight into global culture as a whole, so the announcement of this new book inspired immediate action on my part. I’d found my eagerness increasing with each successive chapter of Stranger Than We Can Imagine, while Higgs ushered his readers from one decade to the next. By the time I reached postmodernism (expertly described in the context of Super Mario Bros) and the pivotal transition from the hierarchical absolutist worldview to the communal network culture of the millennials, I was on the edge of my socio-cultural seat. It was a brilliant read, and just as satisfying and informative as his book on The KLF.

Eager for information on his latest book, I found that Greg Wilson published a review of it on his blog and noted that Higgs counters “the dystopian narrative that’s generally thrust upon our thoughts of the future by the various media we encounter, in favour of a much more hopeful and holistic tomorrow that makes better sense of the metamodern world in which we reside.”

The first few pages of the introduction outline how, in the 1930s, all visions of the future, like the World’s Fair, depicted a marvelous utopia where mankind is free from work and want. That dream, Higgs explains, ended in the 1980s. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is cited as the last attempt at a utopian vision in mainstream culture. Back to the Future Part 2, The Walking Dead, and Children of Men painted a far more bleak image of what was to come. Higgs notes that films no longer had to preface the audience as to why the world had fallen into disarray, as it became increasingly more believable. Higgs writes:

As the American writer Adam Sternbergh has noted, ‘the biggest problem with imagining dystopia seems to be coming up with some future world that’s worse than what’s happening right now.’

And prophetically, Higgs then states:

If we judge by the stories we’re fed by film and television, then our current civilization can feel like a crime novel with the last page ripped out. We don’t know exactly the identity of the murderer, but we do know that the story is about to come to an end. Perhaps a new antibiotic-resistant disease will erupt into a global pandemic and wipe us from the face of the Earth.

That last sentence was all the more alarming as the book was published just a few months before COVID-19 shook the planet.

Each chapter of The Future Starts Here examines a facet of rapidly-changing culture and technology and frames their impact on psychology and sociology and the human race as a whole. Most of these chapters could stand well on their own as essays on their respective topics, but Higgs is an expert at demonstrating the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate subjects to paint a contextual image of cultural influence.

Much of the text examines the nature of artificial intelligence, but Higgs also dedicates a potent and impactful chapter to a comparative analysis of generational culture. I was fascinated by how he demonstrated the origins of the contrasting value sets of Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Generation Z. This was what I was most looking forward to from his latest book after enjoying the author’s prior comprehensive critique of twentieth-century culture. Higgs effectively outlines the causes and effects of these generational value sets, perhaps best-demonstrated by depicting Gen Z’s reaction to the John Hughes film, The Breakfast Club.

A later chapter surveys both fictional and factual phenomena of space exploration and the conflicting characteristics of various Star Trek series and films, specifically differentiating those sanctioned by and contested by Gene Roddenberry. This chapter also highlights the technological impact of Elon Musk before emphasizing the importance of the universes yet to be explored right here on Earth.

The subject matter is deeply explorative. A chapter beginning with the technological advances in virtual reality quickly reframes the potential consequences of the technology, both positive and negative, and examines it comparatively to phenomena like Skinner boxes, ‘redpilling,’ Gamergate, Russian troll bots, cultural Marxism, tribalism, and other psychological influencers of social imprinting, while also touching upon its potential for medical benefits and its usefulness as a proponent of social empathy. The chapter goes on to reference VR in contemporary cinema, (e.g. WALL-E and Ready Player One), as well as the Oculus VR company and its acquisition by Facebook. The chapter concludes with an examination of augmented reality, Pokemon Go, and Google Glass, and looks ahead to the potential of virtual pets and personal AI assistants, as well as the moral and ethical implications this technology would bear. As always, Higgs’ writing is richly contextual.

Another chapter, fittingly titled, “Psychic Pollution,” cautions against the dire consequences of our collective addiction to social media and the disinformation it so often spreads. Higgs parallels Facebook algorithms to the history of psychologically predatory advertising and twenty four hour alarmist and sensationalist news networks. He outlines the nature of our biological addiction to dopamine and how these phenomena prey on our need for a neurochemical hit.

But not all of the twenty-first century is so dismal and worrisome. The penultimate chapter, “Fixing Things” poses the potential benefits of the American biologist E. O. Wilson’s Half Earth initiative and of implementing Universal Basic Income. Higgs is certainly not without hope. From James Surwillo’s feature on the book:  

Higgs calls for a new pragmatic optimism because history has shown that there is always a new story in the “circumambient mythos” as he calls it, which is different than the one that those of us who grew up in the prior era are able to interpret. That potential is a very real phenomenon of the world of the 21st century. It is the idea that we have matured to the point that it is possible to become “meta”, or to psychically remove ourselves from a time and place and review a new and pragmatic position. This potential frees up post-millennials to introduce a more mature version of meaning itself.

The closing chapter, “More Than Individual” explores American anarchist author Peter Lamborn Wilson’s Immediatism and Brian Eno’s scenius as examples of the interconnectedness of the twenty-first century culture. Higgs concludes his examination of the early years of this new millennium with hope and optimism. He notes that, for much of the twentieth-century, “the job of advancing what it meant to be human fell to the avant-garde and the counterculture.” Contrastingly however, “since the emergence of the internet in the mid-90s,” “…the work of evolving and improving the human experience falls to everyone.”

The Future Starts Here is an engaging and exploratory venture into the culture and mindset of the new millennium. It’s an inspiring, informative, and contextual perspective I’m grateful to have read.

Enography: The Collected Writings of (and about) Brian Eno

I’ve been reading texts on artist, producer, and self-proclaimed “non-musician” Brian Eno for years, and thought it might be a good idea to start tracking all of the books examining his work in my library. I extracted a list of all Eno-related texts from moredarkthanshark.org and added a few other rare titles from my own archive. Referencing data from my Goodreads account I built a spreadsheet to catalog which texts I’ve read, which I have in physical form, as well as the ones I have as ebooks. I then used an aggregate book search engine to secure physical copies of most of the texts I was missing to build as complete a library as I was able. There are three titles I’ve yet to claim, but they command higher prices than I was ready to import to the States for this first stage of the project.

Pictured below are thirteen of my favorite titles on the subjects of Eno’s work, and ambient and generative music in general. There was a week delay in the project after book #13 was lost in the post and I had to order another copy, but at last I have them all.

I was particularly excited to secure a copy of Sound Unbound published by MIT Press, which compiles essays on sample/mashup/remix culture collected by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), and which features a Forward by Cory Doctorow, my favorite essayist on the subjects of digital rights activism and copyleftism. And like the Moondog book I recently ordered, it is packaged with a companion compact disc of the works discussed.

Pictured are the following:

Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports by John T. Lysaker
Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music by Christoph Cox
Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds by David Toop
A Year With Swollen Appendices by Brian Eno
Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond by Michael Nyman
Brian Eno: His Music And The Vertical Color Of Sound by Eric Tamm
The Ambient Century by Mark Prendergast
Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture by Paul D. Miller
On Some Faraway Beach: The Life And Times Of Brian Eno by David Sheppard
Another Green World (33 1/3 Series) by Geeta Dayal
Brian Eno: Visual Music by Christopher Scoates
Brian Eno: Oblique Music by Sean Albiez
Music For Installations (companion book to the ltd ed. 2018 9LP vinyl box set) by Brian Eno

as well as the official Oblique Strategies deck Eno produced with artist, Peter Schmidt.

Also read but not pictured: 

Music Beyond Airports – Appraising Ambient Music by Monty Adkins

I really look forward to diving into the yet-unread titles from this indispensable collection. These books will be wonderful company through the chills of winter and shall serve as an intellectually stimulating start to 2020!

02 Brian Eno Book Collection (sm for web)

How Record Collectors Find Lost Music And Preserve Our Cultural Heritage – A TED Talk By Alexis Charpentier (2018)

Ted Talk FB Note Image.png

This is a wonderful 14-minute talk about my most impassioned life’s work.

Charpentier shares a fascinating tale about a record digger discovering an unknown independent artist’s music in a dusty flea market – an artist who had never experienced fame in his time. This discovery and the determination and passion of the digger directly led to the artist’s music being reissued by a major label and inspiring the artist to begin performing again for the first time in decades. This is the magic that can come of crate digging and cultural curatorship.

And he describes how our collections become an autobiographical legacy meant to be passed on to future listeners.

He says, “Beautiful art deserves to be cherished, shared, and rediscovered.”

“We are alternative voices to the mainstream music channels, digital or otherwise. Go beyond the algorithm.”

“This music will change your life.”

Watch this short segment and understand my motives and my passions just a little better. ❤

Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Will Pop Eat Itself? – A Contextual Examination of The Golden Age of Sample Culture

Every once in a while, a book finds its reader, in a strange and inexplicable fashion. I happened upon Will Pop Eat Itself? while visiting a massive three-story used bookshop in Niagara Falls with a friend. I wandered to the basement after requesting the lights be switched on by the proprietor, and quickly found myself in the music section where the title practically leapt off the shelf insisting that I pick it up.

A quick scan of the back cover seized my attention as The KLF were mentioned repeatedly, and leafing through the pages I beheld countless references to their work. And no fewer than three paragraphs into the first chapter I found the author drawing comparative parallels between postmodern music and Finnegans Wake. I absolutely needed this book in my life. I read it voraciously in the days ahead, pacing myself to take careful notes.

What made my discovery particularly serendipitous was that I was at the very same time exploring other historical examinations of sample culture, most notably Benjamin Franzen’s 2009 documentary film, Copyright Criminals which tells the story of the golden age of sampling – precisely the period about which the book was written.

Jeremy J Beadle - Will Pop Eat Itself

In the introduction, Beadle states that “If you really want to know what’s going on in a society look at its popular culture” and that pop had invariably always been eating itself. He cites Elvis’ covers of other musicians and how “Rock Around the Clock” was just a rework of the earlier hit “Shake Rattle & Roll” as early examples. Beadle presents one of his main points here:

‘Pop’ as we understand it was – whether you date it from Haley, Presley or some other more recondite marker of your own devising – born around 1955 or 1956, and reached a point where it seemed exhausted about thirty years later. The digital sampler proved the ideal tool for pop to take itself apart, thus arriving at modernism and postmodernism simultaneously.

He asks, “is there any future in this autocannibalism? Or is this idea that pop will eat itself a much older one than we realize?”

1. Things Fall Apart

The first chapter wastes no time in diving into the history of artistic self-consumption. Finnegans Wake is offered as an early example of how popular culture can be enlightening and how every artefact somehow reeks of the period of its creation. Other significant works cited include the cultural escapism of Gone With the Wind and The Sound of Music.

Beadle begins to examine the temporal nature of cultural phenomena, describing the disintegration of cultural hegemony – the Soviet Union lasting fewer than 75 years and America’s economy being mortgaged to the Chinese. He notes how the sixteenth century established forms of tonality were rejected by the composers of the Second Viennese School and explores medieval allegorical writings segueing to staples of modernist literature to contextualize the evolution of the arts. Henry James’ In the Cage and The Golden Bowl, Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Joyce’s Ulysses are visited to frame the deconstruction of literary tradition and cultural ideals.

And with the birth of the gramophone record, the teenager, disposable income, and the consumer came the concept of the pop star. Beadle explains:

The pop-star business was the child of two particularly twentieth-century phenomena – the technology of recording and mass marketing.

And succinctly describes the dilemma of pop thusly:

Pop music is after all a necessarily limited form – a simple, memorable melody, which requires a relatively simple tonality and series of tonal relations, usually over a regular four-in-a-bar beat. There is only a limited number of permutations through which these basic requirements can be met. And when forms are exhausted the tendency is to turn inwards.

Beadle closes the chapter demonstrating that, with the advent of the sampler, pop music endeavored to rip it all up and start again, just like The Waste Land, Schoenberg, and cubism – examples he explores in greater depth in subsequent chapters.

2. Bricks in the Wall of Sound

The second chapter explores milestone events which shaped the nature and influence of the gramophone record. At the outset Beadle explains that the sampler empowered the producer to emerge as the artist themselves and cites several pivotal moments of recording history. The first example he offers is Caruso’s 1902 performance of ‘Veste la giubba’ where the recording offered listeners the closest thing to the real experience of a live performance. He goes on to describe Walter Legge’s notorious recording of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – likely the first known example of ‘dishonest dubbing’ wherein the voice of Legge’s wife was substituted for the credited performer in order to hit the highest notes of the piece. And with Culshaw’s recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle for Decca, Beadle explains, the studio became an art form itself rather than merely a tool, as studio effects rendered a produced recording arguably superior to that of the concert hall experience. The production wizardry of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, and George Martin are discussed, as well as Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland, (each of Motown fame) and a host of others.

3. Stars on 45

Pressing on through history, Beadle describes how punk briefly revitalized the concept of the single in the uncertain marketability of the post-Beatle age. Anti-racist sentiment helped usher in the reggae revival and the rise of ska with 2-Tone Records. The Jam similarly spearheaded the mod revival.

The chapter explores the Stars session musician medley phenomena in parallel to the birth of the political soundbite era of Margaret Thatcher, before moving onto the image-focused pop icons of Michael Jackson and Madonna. He closes with a summary of other aspects of the mid-80s musical landscape, from Christmas novelties to dance pop, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Wham!, and the academic wave of British art-school neo-minimalists.

4. Scratching Where It Itches examines the emergence of the scratch-mixing DJ, the birth of rap, and Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s visionary sampladelic work as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. A brief history of black music is chronicled, from early spirituals to jazz to blues, then onto reggae and ‘toasting’, funk, and eventually to DJ and rap culture.

5. Kick Out the JAMs dives into the anti-song anti-instrument philosophy of Drummond and Cauty’s first album, 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?). Their outright cynicism and straightforward purloining of other artists’ work was a direct challenge to copyright and Beadle notes that “for all its cynicism about much contemporary pop music and public attitudes, [was] a deeply serious social and political statement.” Only 500 copies of their debut single, “All You Need is Love” were produced, and all were court ordered to be seized and destroyed elevating the cult iconic status of the duo. The chapter analyzes the raw and subversive nature of The JAMs’ 1987 and gives the record the detailed examination warranted by such a surreally iconic moment in contemporary music history. Beadle observes, “The point about this chaotic collage – chaotic in the sense that no apparently consistent frame of reference is maintained – is precisely that the listener is left without an objective correlative.” The epitome of postmodernism.

6. Hitting the High-tech Groove (Not Entirely Legally) provides a history of the sampler and examples of its execution from the author’s own experience in the studio. Beadle touches upon “The Singing Dogs (Medley)” novelty recordings, early synths, the Mellotron, and the Fairlight before describing the studio production process of his own experiments using an Apple Macintosh and an Akai S100 sampler with an 8MB board for the sample bank. (This was, after all, 1990.) It’s amazing to reflect on what was achieved with such minimal computing power at the dawn of the digital age.

7. Pump Up the Volume considers the single of the same name that Beadle argues marked pop music’s advance into modernism. He parallels its revolutionary impact to that of Schoenberg’s aforementioned chromaticism and to Picasso’s post-impressionist creations in that each of these artists purified their respective artistic landscape by reducing visual and auditory objects to their constituent elemental parts, abandoning conventions, and starting anew. Beadle critically examines the studio perfection and the artistic merit of this watershed recording. He concludes the chapter posing questions to the reader about the artistic merit of sampling, noting that any critic claiming that samplers merely reuse prior materials would have to say the same of Eliot’s The Wasteland or Joyce’s Ulysses, and that the very same could be said of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler, Beckett, and countless others.

The remaining chapters further contextualize the then-emerging story of sampling. 8. Dirty Cash outlines the flood of sampler cash-in records that followed the release of “Pump Up the Volume.” 9. Mix-omatosis examines the decline of the pop single around 1989 and the nostalgia-soaked commercialism of the era’s advertising, and the hollowness of the Jive Bunny phenomenon. 10. And The Law Won (But the Jury is Still Out) presents several examples of sampled music in the courtroom, including the Biz Markie case and the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner.” But it is the book’s finale which properly and most thoroughly addresses the question of the title.

The final chapter, 11. Justifiable or Just Ancient? is a fantastically analytical framing of The KLF’s later catalog. Here Beadle approaches the exhaustive and intricate cultural contextualization later perfected by John Higgs in his book, The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. Beadle notes that “As The KLF they have managed to create a myth which is self-propagating, self-sufficient, self-consuming, and self-referencing,” which is precisely what makes the duo’s zenarchistic career so fascinating to critique and to curate.

Beadle concludes touching upon other artists who at the time were employing the sampler more as a natural production tool than a novelty and appropriately discusses the gritty, anti-consumerist recordings of the band Pop Will Eat Itself. He surmises that the sampler will find greater acceptance into the rock ethos in the years ahead and closes the text re-examining the question of the book’s title. Beadle successfully reinforces the twin points of his primary theme – that the sampler is a viable tool for composition, and that pop inevitably MUST eat itself by its very nature. Thus, Beadle demonstrates that the sampler is the most important creative innovation of the postmodern age and a principal figure in the future of music.

Will Pop Eat Itself? stands as a fitting historical document of the events and philosophies of the golden age of sampling, and is a wonderful addition to The Innerspace Labs’ library.

2016: A Music Odyssey – DISCOVERY ONE: Explorations of the Innerspace Archives

I had a nice afternoon to myself today so I got comfortable in bed with great tunes on the Hi-Fi and started revisiting my copy of Simon Reynolds’ RETROMANIA: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past.
 
I was grabbed, yet again by a chapter on collector culture, addressing vinyl fetishism, and the impact of the internet on collectability. Reynolds explored the psyche of the collector. First, how collectors identify themselves as somehow more noble than common mall zombies in that they are discerning and well-informed consumers. Their collections serve not their own interest, but act as professional research material to enrich their understanding of music history.
 
Then comes the pivotal moment when the collector realizes his/her collection may have exceeded the actual capacity they have to consume it in their limited life time. “Those potential pleasures stacked on the shelf stop representing delight and start to feel like harbingers of death,” Reynolds writes.
 
He goes on to identify the collectors’ need for constant craving, and that the one elusive missing album is always the most important, (until it is inevitably replaced with the next of holy grails).  This sort of niche activity was a fringe interest for decades, but at the turn of the millennium advancements in distribution technology made budding collectors of us all.
 
Still, a burn-out was inevitable at this rapid pace, and it came with the iPod. The chapter addressed the digital hording that takes place for so many users who discover that they can have all the world’s music for free, and the failure of such a model to satisfy the psychological anxieties previously fulfilled by the physical incarnation of collector culture.
 
The little white box, Reynolds notes, is a remarkably anti-social device. No matter how much music you pack into it, there is no personal memory attached to newly-acquired recordings. And earbuds isolate your musical experience, shutting out a world of potential participants.
 
And with no investment attached, the music is stripped of any potential significance. Hundreds of thousands of tracks might sit dormant on a player, unlistened or deleted entirely, with little to no consequence to the consumer.
 
Perhaps that very burn-out – the inconsequence of the music I compile has led me to start investing in exceptional works, like the several limited edition deluxe box sets I’ve ordered in the past month. After throwing a hundred dollars at a special collection, you’re damn right I’m going to set aside some time and actually LISTEN to the thing.
 
By the chapter’s end, I found myself back in my office taking notes on large collections I’d compiled but never explored after the initial acquisition. Given my own hording tendencies and the looming mortality such a collection bears, I made a personal resolution  this afternoon to set aside dedicated listening sessions with a checklist of works to survey in the weeks ahead.
 
It would be like “the old days” when I’d saved up $16 for a CD and played that one disc a hundred times until I knew every note by heart.
 
I’m reclaiming my music.
dis1_jp
Published in: on March 13, 2016 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What will be generation Z’s musical, artistic, and cultural movement/identity?

Generation Z includes children born 1995-2009 (though these dates are not universally accepted as of yet.)  With what movement in art, theater, dance, and music do they identify?  What cultural value set inspires its growth and evolution?  I am speaking of the “Belieber” generation.  (For perspective, Justin Bieber was born in 1994 and released his first album in 2010 at age 16.)

Justin BieberExhibit “A”

With my general understanding of the development of Western and world culture, I have a basic awareness the socio-musical climates which inspired the blues, big band, the birth of jazz, its many changes, the punk scene, art music, the renaissance of classical influence in progressive rock, the musical impact of the 7” single, the LP, the shift to FM radio, and the academic New Music movement in New York in the 1960s.

I understand the blurring and vanishing of the difference between so-called “high” and “low” art as the democratization of recording technology facilitated independent production and a cultural move away from the dependence on record labels and producers to record, market, and distribute one’s work in the digital age.

Why pay Universal for a studio when you've got ProTools at home?ProTools.  Bandcamp.  Social Media.
Who needs a record label?

I have fundamental knowledge of music and the arts up until and including the end of the rock era and the paradigm shift in the way listeners discover and consume music at the end of the 20th century from Napster-forward.  FM and television have plummeted in popularity and neither bares any relevance to the generation who experience music through streaming networks and social media.

The last movements I encountered directly were the  Icelandic-influenced popularization of post-rock and its inspirations lifted from neo-classical sound.  I remember the rise of the indie-rock scene as a cultural reaction to the corporatization of music at the end of the rock era and the dominance of top 40 pop.  Programs like American Idol and the interminable NOW! That’s What I Call Music! series worked to re-enforce the prevailing position of Clear Channel / Warner Music’s stranglehold on the emerging youth culture, effectively raising a generation to consume their product.

 NOW! That's What I Call Bullshit!
And so I posed the question to Quora.com – a forum of user-generated question-and-answer content.

Q: What self-identifying art and music will emerge from a generation raised on a billboard chart of manufactured acts with no concrete musical ability (in the classical sense) and in an era where arts and music funding and education are at an all-time low?

I feared that an entire culture was being bred with no concept of the centuries of great works from which they can build upon, reshape and re-purpose to serve the values and needs of their own generation.  What is next?

Symphonics
The first answer I received was not promising.  In jest, a user offered:

“Hipsters.  Banjos.  Pocket camera art.”

…he left out “selfies.”

But the next answer I received completely shattered my preconceived notion that Gen-Z-ers were nothing more than “Belieber” simpletons.  (And shame on me for oversimplifying the demographic.)

The response was offered by Quora user and future rockstar, Will Tuckwell.  Will studied Music at University of Birmingham and offered a great deal of insight into the promise of his generation.  He said:

Speaking as a musician and a member of ‘Generation Z’ (I was born in 1994), I feel optimistic about the future of the arts. I would disagree that American Idol et al have a stranglehold on youth culture. Young people have more of an opportunity than ever before to access great art of the past. (IMSLP and Naxos Music Library cover the vast majority of classical music scores and recordings, for example.) Generation Z can often instantly find a piece of music on the internet, which their parents, at their age, would have had to visit a library to access. The existence of large companies pushing generic music via mass media is not new to this generation – it has existed in one form or another since the popularisation of recorded music in the early 20th century. While their influence is not trivial, it is very easily avoidable most of the time (at least for me.)

Clear Channel

Here are some of the areas of music and art which I will be interested to see develop in the future:

  • Electronic music software. Digital Audio Workstations which are now commonplace have the ability to emulate the methods of Musique Concrete and Electroacoustic composers, as well as the mixing and production techniques which evolved in recording studios. Also, programs are being developed specifically for the needs of experimental computer musicians, such as Max/MSP, Audiomulch and Supercollider. I would be very interested to see what kind of artistic conventions a generation of creative minds can establish with these new tools.

Pure Data (showing a netpd session)Pure Data (showing a netpd session)

  • Creative pop culture references, in particular sampling. Musical quotations are nothing new, although the invention of the digital sampler (not quite from Generation Z I know, but of increased popularity and accessibility in recent years) allows an artist to quote specific ‘moments’ in order to make a cultural point – for example, a composition which samples not just a guitar note, but a particular note or section of melody which Jimi Hendrix played in his Woodstock performance of Star Spangled Banner, comes loaded with countless cultural connotations in less than a second, in a way which no other form of composition could achieve.

“Dab” from John Oswald’s notorious
Plunderphonics EP  (1988)

And the bizarre fad of Youtube Poop –

  • Increased intercultural reference in the arts in general. Our generation has it easier than ever before to instantly look up information, which allows lyricists to make increasingly sophisticated references.

“If you don’t get it, get a computer and Google it
If you find out all the reasons we the shit,
then you the shit”

Even if arts and music education funding are at an all-time low, access to the internet (and therefore culture) is widespread, development of a craft is mostly a self-led activity, and ideas and inspiration are free. I have no doubts that this generation will create vast amounts of great art.

As you can imagine, this response was entirely unexpected and has really given me hope about the future of the arts and music.

I pressed on, looking for other sources of Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha inspiration.  This lead me to an article on 21st century composers (because apparently, THAT IS A THING.)  A Wikipedia entry for 21st century classical offered a list of composers I could arrange by birth date.  At the end of the list I found a name – Alma Deutscher, who was born in 2005.

2005.

Alma Deutscher
I had to look her up.  Youtube thankfully offered a video of her appearance on Ellen from October of last year.  The eight-year-old has composed operas in her sleep, arisen and written the notation for each instrument entirely from memory.

And here is her own Quartet Movement in A Major, composed in 2012.

Suddenly the future is looking a lot brighter.