Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Rule of the Kinetic

From Merriam-Webster:

Full Definition of kinetic

  1. 1:  of or relating to the motion of material bodies and the forces and energy associated therewith
  2. 2a :  activelivelyb :  dynamicenergizing <a kinetic performer>
  3. 3:  of or relating to kinetic art

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had an article fulsomely praising--well, who do you think? It's the Wall Street Journal after all, the repository of everything conservative and reactionary, right? Actually, it was praising Kanye West: "The Case for Kanye." It is hard to summarize with a quote, though the subhead calls him "the most important mainstream rapper of the millennium." You really should go read the whole thing which makes the five assertions that:

  1. He brought emotional honesty to rap.
  2. He’s a rarity in today’s music business: An old-fashioned “album artist” who’s huge on social media.
  3. His winning streak over the last 15 years—six straight hit albums—is one for the record books.
  4. His influence extends to art and fashion.
  5. He’s one of the few pop stars willing and able to be anti-commercial.
The editors at the WSJ probably thought that this was just the kind of "edgy" piece that would show how cool they are. Judging from the comments, the readers disagreed:
Rap is rhythmic ebonics that has destroyed the minds, morals, and the real music industry.
It, like an addictive narcotic, has generated tons of money at the perilous cost of a lost generation. It's content is all fluff with no substance as each rap star is burned in effigy with the winds of a new generation. This clown "Kreepy Pest" will get bald, fat, and continue to be ugly as he soon will be humbled with the pangs old age! His once beloved minions will be more concerned with hemorrhoid relief as our ears are burning from relief of his nonsensical overrated gibberish doled out to the mindless masses!
Heh! This is to set the scene for another of my theories about where music and the culture is going these days. If you go and look at the videos (sorry, but there is no way around it) and listen to the music, you will notice one recurring strategy (apart from the foul-mouthed excrescences): the relentless kineticism. The visuals, the words, the music, are a constant stream of kinetic assertions: music as blitzkrieg. The repeated hammering blows of the jump-cuts, the drum machine, the beating over and over of the nasty aggression of the words most certainly have an effect. A very powerful effect that has generated a very cash-positive return!

But I can't listen to it. Even small doses of it leave me wanting to flee or shut it off. It is not relentless positive energy like we find in Steve Reich or Philip Glass, no it is brutal egoism fused to a mechanical beat. This kind of soulless kineticism seems to be the common element in much popular music. And now that we see it praised in the Wall Street Journal we see that its conquest of popular music is complete. It is the establishment. Which means, I think, that the kind of music I like, the opposite of soulless kineticism, is now the counter-culture. If the Wall Street Journal wanted to be "edgy" then they should do something in praise of Joseph Haydn. Now there is something edgy for you.

Pop music these days is in an endgame of decadence, as bad in its own way as the absurd excessiveness of late-18th century French opera.

Merriam-Webster: Simple Definition of decadence
: behavior that shows low morals and a great love of pleasure, money, fame, etc.
The interesting thing is that you can have kinetic music that is not soul-destroying.


Marc Puckett said...

I'll wait to view his video work until he actually begins his campaign for the US presidency. Sometimes I wonder whose side WSJ management is on.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh!