Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Age-Old Struggle

One of my friends from recently posted this on her facebook, and there was a minor uproar of response: 7 likes and 15+ people discussing it.
This opinion didn't really surprise me - from what I know as a friend of Melissa she's particularly into singer-songwriters (no matter how well-known or obscure).  There were a lot of comments, some agreeing with her, and some disagreeing.  I'm a Skrillex fan myself, and I said so.  It doesn't bother me that some people don't find certain styles pleasing or interesting, so none of the comments for or against really bothered me, either.  But later that day Melissa's brother posted a comment that actually irritated me.
Maybe it seems pretty innocuous, but this comment really made me mad.  A little backstory: Michael Jones is in his mid- to late-20s and a math teacher at a high school near Austin.  He's also a talented musician, and he plays regularly at a local bar.  He sings solo and accompanies with acoustic guitar; he does covers of his favorite artists.  I've seen him - he's good.  I don't know this for a fact, but my guess is he doesn't write any original music, and if he does, it's nothing special.  Would I ever call him out on this?  No, it's in bad taste.

Until you make an ignorant comment like this one.  At first I had no idea what would compel him to say something like this about someone else in the world of music.  Don't artists have each other's backs most of the time?  But thinking about it some more, the whole comment reeks with jealousy.  It's practically drowning in it.  Evidently, Michael Jones fancies himself a prodigious musical talent.  He thus believes that someone like Skrillex - who makes music that sounds bizarre and computer generated to him - doesn't deserve the fame he has gained.  He wants to be in Skrillex's place on stage at huge music festivals, by virtue of his perceived talent, and he thinks he deserves to be.

Saying that an artist who uses a computer to generate music has no talent is the most enragingly closed-minded statement I've heard in a long time.  Regardless of whether you like his music, denying that Skrillex is a musical innovator is the height of ignorance.  Since before Brian Eno, a certain brand of musicians has been expanding the scope of music using computer-generated sounds.  Progressive Rock bands used Moog synthesizers in the 70s; Daft Punk led a host of DJs creating electronic house music; rap and hip-hop have used similar tools to create backing music and beats.  Like it or not, the computer is an integral part of music today.

Apparently Michael doesn't like it.  There's one essential point that is lost on Mr. Jones.  Skrillex goes through the same process any "normal" musician would in creating his songs.  In place of physical instruments, however, he uses the vast catalog of sounds afforded him by computer generation.  The intricacy and detail in his songs makes it evident that no computer could, on its own, create these tracks.  They can only aid an artist in the production.

This is really nothing new, though.  Innovative musicians have always face resistance.  If you can believe the basic premise of the movie Amadeus, people liked what Mozart was doing in general, but thought he used too many notes.  Jazz as an art form has come under criticism because of its lack of structure, yet it was among the most influential musical styles of the 20th century.  The other Beach Boys pushed back when Brian Wilson brought them Pet Sounds.  Some people still maintain rap is not music because they don't outright sing.  Skrillex is just another artist in this long line of musicians pushing sonic boundaries.  He'll meet resistance from those who don't recognize his genius.  But luckily that'll never stop him from creating.

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