Friday, October 19, 2012

It's Dubstep Week!

Just the other day I had a post up about a new piano/dubstep collaboration and today Norman Lebrecht tells us about a "dubstep violinist" who is climbing the US charts. Her name is Lindsey Stirling and here is what she does:

A couple of the comments from Norman's blog were interesting:
1. How did I know, before I clicked on it, that she would be playing something in dorian mode? That could be played by a second year violin student. The drum track…oh…the drum track…please make it stop…
2. But what’s wrong with the basic nature of it? This is a pop act, not a classical violinist. Most pop songs could be played by a second year guitar or drum student, too; that’s no reason to dismiss them out of hand.
3. If this were dumbed down Mozart, with drum track, I would be the first to compain. But it isn’t. It’s pop, as Anon says. The classical world does not own the violin, and does not have the sacred right to dismiss anyone who plays one. I dislike inverted snobbery, having been on the receiving end on many occasions, but some of the snotty remarks on this page make me think that some people in the classical world really are the most appalling, narcissistic snobs. 
Those are comments from three different people.  The first one I think we can agree with: apart from the supposed 'dubstep' style dancing, this is pretty much warmed-over sequences. Now the drum track has a few different things that sound to me like easy-listening dubstep, but I'm sure no expert! Here is a Wikipedia article on dubstep.

UPDATE: Here is an example of the rhythmic texture of dubstep from the Wikipedia article:

Click to enlarge

But what I want to talk about is that comment #2 above. Yes, it's a pop act, but it didn't used to be the case that most pop songs could be played by a second year guitar or drum student. Well, let me qualify that a bit: the good pop stuff was a whole lot more difficult than it sounded. Beatles songs, for example, can be extremely difficult to figure out, let alone play. And how many second year students can sing good pop convincingly? James Brown and Whitney Houston are virtuosos in their realm. So this idea that pop is some kind of rudimentary kind of music is really mistaken. Good pop, like any other good music, demands real expertise. The fact that there is a whole lot of pop floating around nowadays that is pretty rudimentary just means that the aesthetic quality has fallen.

But this, pseudo-classical-crossover-dubstep stuff, is typical of what is acceptable these days. I've been told that people like this kind of stuff because it is soothing--a bit like the musical equivalent to Xanax or Prozac. It is not supposed to be interesting, it is supposed to be calming. The fact that this kind of music just makes me want to jump up and turn it off is obviously my personal problem!

Now that last comment is interesting in a different way. The classical world does not own the violin, true, and does not have the sacred right to dismiss anyone who plays one. But do you see what a straw man this is? I am a musician, mostly in the classical world, and like anyone else, I do have the right, if not sacred right, to express my critical opinion about anything. If I think that this music is crap, crap, crap, then I have complete freedom to say so. If I want anyone to take me seriously, then I had better give some good reasons, though. That "inverted snobbery" remark has me puzzled, though. It is this commentor that is exhibiting 'inverted' snobbery: as Wiktionary says,  "A form of snobbery where the practitioner deprecates the target for attributes that would normally be considered desirable." Normally aesthetic quality is considered desirable, right? So I'm the snob and this commentor is the inverted snob.

But I do insist that I'm not a narcissist: no, indeed, I don't think things are true because I say them, rather I say things because they are true. I normally argue for traditional aesthetic values, adapted though they must be to the music of our time.

Shall we hear something else to clear our aural palates? Here is the young Russian/English violinist Alina Ibragimova with some Franck:


Rickard Dahl said...

Oh the title of the article you linked... Classical chart... I wonder who decided to call it classical, probably someone who doesn't know much about classical music.

Dubstep is just another of those trend things in pop music. Soon something else will replace it as mainstream.

I'm a bit allergic to people calling music that isn't sung as "song" and especially calling it "epic song" as one top commentator does. It's neither a song or epic.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh Rickard, now you are getting as snobby as me!

I'm actually kind of interested in all attempts to categorize music. I think it is an interesting exercise. The problem with pop music is often that the people labeling the categories are so inarticulate that they can't give very good descriptions. And a lot of the categories are just marketing labels anyway...