A Didactic Lesson on Musical Aesthetics

The first aesthetic element (A) originally appeared here, on the Flying Lizards first album (the first album I ever bought, back in 1980):

The Flying Lizards – The Window (1979) (youtube.com)

The Window always unnerved me. It is presented here as (A) forms the ground for a drastic recontextualisation by producer David Cunningham which originally appeared on the B side to the 7″ version of Lovers & Other Strangers:

Wind (youtube.com)

This music hypnotised me, sent me places, taught me things, and it did this through the aesthetic. I still remember the moment listening to it aged 15 when I suddenly realised ‘this is postmodern’. Note the ‘religious’ use of electric organ and the strikingly original aesthetic. Here now we have an enhanced (A), (A’), where the sounds of Vivien Goldman’s voice, and the switched-off Dolby adding sibilance to the tape, and the hieratic music played on electric organ, are all of a piece. For me it’s a previously undiscovered beauty that transcends mere notions, including those of postmodern philosophy, and indeed is a great example of something inherent in music that’s capable of transcendence, even in a culture that denies transcendence. Music is magical like that.

We turn now to a Second Element (B), also of the voice, found on a release by Wim Mertens from the 80s:

A Visiting Card (youtube.com)

Between 1982 and around 1987 or so Mertens released a smallish amount of music that influenced me profoundly, for the rest of my life it would appear, particularly in terms of a primal importance of compression of information (as featured earlier on this blog) and how ‘less is more’ can gain an intensity and depth of meaning not possible through other means of transmission. I was studying at Surrey around this time and made strenuous efforts by composing and recording my own music to emulate Mertens’ ways of so powerfully minimising the notes while maximising their depth of impact, and completely failed. It was like successfully getting a few steps up the Mount Parnassus of composition using a portable stepladder, then looking up and realising there was a vast stone ziggurat looming above me that I lacked creative power to ever climb. I still wonder at how Mertens did it. Literally no other composer has written anything at this level of aesthetic minimal purity, intensity – and of course beauty. A Visiting Card teaches through a gnomic modal beauty of a restrained aesthetic perfection that gains its power through its saturatedly intense restraint. The outplaying of the musical story here often happens through keeping certain top notes held (quite briefly) and letting chord changes thus appear and move on in an interlocking interplay within the notes beneath them. (It’s not fugal though.) Aesthetic element (B) here appears perhaps most clearly around 5:50 in the multitracked female vocals. (As an aside, this composition is a rare example of music written for bass flute – it isn’t exactly prominent in the mix but it is there if you listen on headphones.)

The conclusion of this lesson features Fine Place, a ‘group’ name given to a collaboration between (the immensely brilliant) Frankie Rose (a gifted drummer who solo recorded a whole string of properly brilliant albums) and Matthew Hord from post-punk band Brandy. They recorded one album ‘This New Heaven’ around the time of the great lockdown of 2020, replete with that curious vibe of emptiness, of bright sunshine on deserted cities, of the world suddenly pausing, no idea of what was to come next, all days of the week the same, weeks thus turning into an endless succession of days. The two best tracks on it are an eerie cover version of Belgian band Adult Fantasies’ track ‘The Party Is Over’ from 1989, and this original number:

It’s Your House (youtube.com)

Here we find a new aesthetic (C) coming from a synthesis of (A’) with (B) to create something new, something very 2020 lockdown, all effected through musical aesthetics. (I’ve no idea if Fine Place had ever heard the Flying Lizards or Wim Mertens tracks but whether they did or not, living art has a curious way of appearing and reappearing across time, of the same inner ideas evincing iterations of the same spirit discovered independently by different artists.) This is how a new aesthetic is creatively born of pre-existing aesthetics, and living new music works its magic, yet the new music far from suddenly appearing from nowhere is in truth is a further growth along the ever-burgeoning vine of the art that is in time yet not of time.

Thank you.

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