Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tilted Axes

Alan Kozinn, an outstanding writer and music critic, has a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘Tilted Axes‘ and ‘Rushing Past Willow’: Classical, Jazz or Rock? Here is a sample:
On a drizzly December night in 2011, the composer and guitarist Patrick Grant and about 20 of his colleagues gathered on East Fourth Street at Second Avenue in New York; strapped on electric guitars and plugged them into the small, battery-powered Danelectro amplifiers clipped to their belts; and marched through the streets for nearly 90 minutes, playing “Tilted Axes,” a piece Mr. Grant composed for the occasion, the first Make Music Winter, an annual celebration of the Winter Solstice.
At the time, “Tilted Axes” was essentially just a cheerful chord progression and a rising, four-note figure, played over and over for a continuously replenishing audience of passersby. Since then, Mr. Grant has expanded the work into a 17-movement score for massed guitars, Chapman Stick, bass and drums, and he has just released a recording, “Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars” (Peppergreen Media).
Kozinn goes on to ask the perennial question: is this classical music, jazz, or rock? He ends by concluding:
In a sense, both composers are reframing that old debate about the stylistic labels that listeners find helpful but that composers have long found irksome. It doesn’t matter whether this music is post-Minimalist, indie classical, or not classical at all, they seem to be saying. Style and even genre are increasingly meaningless now, so abandon the categorizing impulse and just listen.
Ok, so lets. The article contains no links to any musical clips, but we can certainly find a number of partial performances of Tilted Axes on YouTube. Here are a few:

Uh-huh. Well my categorizing, or at least, describing impulse just kicked in. First of all, this is basically rock music. It doesn't matter if you walk down the street with a portable amp or not, if it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If you listen to around the 2 minute mark of the first clip, for example, there is every feature of blues-based rock music: the bent-note bluesy solos, the backbeat drumming and the whole feel of it. Other times it sounds a bit like In C by Terry Riley or uninspired minimalism, but the basic elements are rock based. The most salient feature of this kind of performance is that it has to be deeply annoying to many of the passers-by. There is a kind of arrogant assumption by these folks that everyone in a public space is really going to delight in a chaotic, under-rehearsed, warmed-over collection of rock clichés. The only thing missing is bad vocals.

When the Beatles decided to invade public space and do a concert from the roof of their London office building, the bobbies shut them down after forty minutes. I guess public nuisance laws have been repealed since then.


Unknown said...

Bryan Townsend said...

By all means check out the newly released version and weigh in in the comments.

Marc Puckett said...

'The only thing missing is bad vocals.' Ha; don't give 'em any ideas. I would listen vaguely as I was walking by and wonder (as you wrote) who they imagine their audience is, as I kept walking. But that sort of spectacle here in Eugene would draw a crowd, sure.