Saturday, January 7, 2017


I choose the neutral tag "contemporary music" as it seems to fit. I'm reading a review by someone I highly respect: Allan Kozinn writing in San Francisco Classical Voice. The artist is Sxip Shirey who has a new album out called A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees. Here is a cut from the album, and, as it weirdly does from time to time, Blogger refuses to embed, so just follow the link:

Allan remarks:
Sxip Shirey has become a poster boy of this ultra-eclectic approach, and his freewheeling new recording, A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees [VisionIntoArt] is something of a manifesto for it. Shirey’s works embrace improvisation, a quirky strain of humor and an unusual palette that often includes blends of disparate timbres (harmonicas and a sousaphone, for example) or electronic sounds cobbled together from the sampled sounds of things like frying chicken, squeaking chairs, and ice cubes clinking in wine glasses.
So chameleon-like is Shirey’s style that if you were to walk into a room midway through several of the pieces on the album – for example, I Got a Man, a gentle, guitar-accompanied narrative about a gay relationship in which one partner is deeply closeted, or the irresistibly riffy Cinnamon Stick, both sung by the pop singer and rapper Xavier – you would unquestionably identify them as pop songs.
Well, maybe they are pop songs, just more creative than the usual. Much as I respect Kozinn, I think he has gone astray here. He talks a lot about the eclectic nature of this kind of thing, but what I hear is a lot of posturing firmly anchored on the aesthetic values of post-WWII popular music. Take the phrase structure: it is relentlessly based on four-bar patterns. One of the most creative and memorable aspects is the video which is solidly in the music video tradition: it is all about costuming, quick cuts, dance and above all, posturing for the camera. I think it is the posturing that disqualifies this from serious consideration as art-music.

This is something that I have just recently focussed on, even though it has been around for as along as music videos have. At some point the "look at me!" aspect came to overwhelm everything else. Xavier's dreads are way more important than the harmonic scheme--just look at how he presents them to us.

I've come to see that it is the complete lack of posturing (along with which we might associate such similar elements as marketing, branding, fake "charisma", and suchlike) that is an inherent trait of the real artists. An actual artist sits down and works through the best performance he can. He (or she) does not spend energy or concentration on things like costume, hair-tossing, cool dance moves, squeezing in eclectic and diverse but irrelevant sounds and so on.

Honestly, can you go back and listen to the just the soundtrack of Cinnamon Stick and not be bored? Here is another song from the album, this in an impromptu performance:

Now there is nothing wrong with that, but it is really nothing more than a simple blues song without much depth. Hey, if you want depth, go for a recent Leonard Cohen track:

I find Sxip Shirey's music to be interesting and creative pop music, but not much to my taste, as I said, because of the posturing. But what I don't find any indication of at all is why anyone would want to call this art-music?

Kozinn's piece goes on to talk about several other releases on the same label and I will probably do another post after I have a chance to listen to them.

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