FOR RADIO: "Is not beauty in music too often confused with something which lets the ears lie back in an easy chair? Many sounds that we are used to do not bother us, and for that reason are we not too inclined to call them beautiful? ...Possibly the fondness for personal expression- the kind in which self indulgence dresses up and miscalls itself freedom- may throw out a skin deep arrangement, which is readily accepted at first as beautiful- formulae that weaken rather than toughen the musical-muscles. If a composer's conception of his art, its functions and ideals, even if sincere, coincides to such an extent with these groove-colored permutations of tried out progressions in expediency so that he can arrange them over and over again to his delight- has he or has he not been drugged with an overdose of habit forming sounds? And as a result do not the muscles of his clientele become flabbier and flabbier until they give way altogether and find refuge only in exciting platitudes-" * * * I begin with a quote from Charles Ives, either from Postface to 114 Songs (1922), or, Essays Before a Sonata (1920). Of course Ives was discussing the tendency in music to skew toward consonance, the act of resolution in diatonic music, or maybe in a general sense, that artists and patrons alike, can fall victim to the familiar. Nostalgia. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is my intention to prove today that not only are you all philistines, mucking about in your own puddles of misguided longing, but that you're not entirely at fault. Your honor, whether it displeases the court or not, I put the entire system on trial! ENTIRE COURTROOM (riotous shouting) JUDGE Order! Order in this court! My my this is most unorthodox Mr. Prosecutor. But I checked my judge books, and there's no law against it. You may proceed. ACT I PROSECUTOR I call for my first witness, the defendant. An artist. The defendant, an artist, takes the stand. PROSECUTOR (CONT'D) Now Mr. Artist, is it true that you're not only responsible for composing music that sounds strikingly similar to 80's new wave, but also a movie remake based on another early 90's film, and a television show that is almost entirely reliant on scenes and motifs reminiscent of film and television of the 1980's? DEFENDING ATTORNEY Objection your honor. What relevance is this? PROSECUTOR Your honor I assure you this question is very relevant. JUDGE Overruled, please Mr. Defendant answer the question. ARTIST Yes, it's true. My career has brought me many successes. I have many adoring fans and the children I cast in my shows appear on many popular late night talk shows and viral internet videos. PROSECUTOR (scoffs) Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen of the court. A confession! ENTIRE COURTROOM (sounds of shock and surprise) JUDGE Order! Order in this court! Mr. Prosecutor, the only thing you've proven this artist guilty of is "bringing the hits" ENTIRE COURTROOM (applauds) DEFENDING ATTORNEY Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the court. The only thing my client is guilty of, is bringing the hits. Bringing the hits to you, the fine people who demand the hits. ENTIRE COURTROOM (continued applause) DEFENDING ATTORNEY Thank you, thank you. PROSECUTOR Your honor, "the hits?" This artist's success is based entirely off of some deep seeded misguided adoration of the past! This idea that people just want to see what they've already seen? The idea that things shouldn't be moving forward, that we shouldn't always be adapting and learning from new thoughts and ideas, imagine that this low level of critical thought permeated other areas of our life? The government, or heck this here courtroom and our fine judiciary system! What then your honor? JUDGE Actually historically speaking, most court cases see rulings based on other past rulings, it's called legal precedence. PROSECUTOR I OBJECT! JUDGE Overruled. ACT II PROSECUTOR Fine, fine, Mr. Artist you may step down down. I call for my second witness... The art consuming public! PEOPLE OF THE COURTOOM (muffled confusion) PROSECUTOR Who, for the purposes of this trial, will be represented by none other than... the jury! PEOPLE OF THE COURTOOM (extreme outrage) JUDGE Order! Order in this court! Mr. Prosecutor this is highly irregular, but for the purposes of this narrative, I'll allow it. You may proceed. PROSECUTOR Thank you your honor. Now ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I won't ask that you take the stand one by one, to be questioned individually, that would take too much of these fine people's time. Also I won't ask that you all take the stand together, collectively, on account of that there box ain't big enough. I will ask however, that you remain seated in the jury box, but while there that you remember you're being questioned here, and I kindly ask that you don't do any juring, or jurying for that matter. No, no, all I ask is that you sit quietly while I shout at you. And answer a few simple questions. Is that alright with you? JURY (muffled discussion) FOREPERSON I'm the "foreperson." That's one of the possible names given to the juror who delivers the verdict and generally preside over the jury discussions. I'll do the talking for the jury from this point on. PROSECUTOR Thank you, Mrs. Foreperson. FOREPERSON (blushes) My mother was Mrs. Foreperson. You may call me Ms. Foreperson. PROSECUTOR Really now? Well well. Is there a "Mr. Foreperson?" FOREPERSON I err... uhh... No. I'm a "Ms." JUDGE Mr. Prosecutor we're not here to watch you flail and dance around asking this woman out. Just get on with it! ENTIRE COURTROOM Ask her already!! PROSECUTOR Ms. Foreperson, in the brief time I've known you, you've challenged me. You've taken me to new heights, and made me see the whole world anew. I feel as though I'm continuing to uncover new layers of you every day, and even, new sides of myself. ENTIRE COURTROOM (sounds of "awww"ing) PROSECUTOR What I mean to say is, Ms. Foreperson, will you make me, Mr. Foreperson? ENTIRE COURTROOM (excited whispers) FOREPERSON I uhh... No, what? Of course not, I've only just met you and to be quite frank you've done a good job of creeping me out. JUDGE Order! Order! Mr. Prosecutor can you PLEASE get to the point? PROSECUTOR The point your honor? The point is that even in love, we need someone who stirs the heart. Someone who shakes things up and challenges you! Someone who doesn't simply let the lake lie still, but crashes the waves on the shores of your heart! ENTIRE COURTROOM (cheering) JUDGE Order! Order! But Mr. Prosecutor, she said "no." PROSECUTOR Exactly! Exhibit A! The people have bad taste! ENTIRE COURTROOM (rolls eyes) PROSECUTOR Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, who decides what art you consume? JURY (hushed whispers) FOREPERSON Well, we decide what art we want to consume. PROSECUTOR Ahh, do you? From what source do you get art? FOREPERSON From all over. PROSECUTOR Well sure, all over, but you would have to agree that you don't get to pick from all art, do you? FOREPERSON What? PROSECUTOR When you go to listen to a song, what do you choose from? Do you have all music ever made at your disposal to choose from, readily available? FOREPERSON Well, the Internet... Social media, streaming services... PROSECUTOR Ahh, you mean the collection of of programs based on ALGORITHMS that are designed to secretly bring you certain content based on how the programmers decide it should be brought to you?? DEFENDING ATTORNEY Objection your honor! The people still have access to other music, outside of what they hear on streaming services or are exposed to through promoted advertising. And anyway what does this have to do with critical analysis in art? JUDGE Sustained. Mr. Prosecutor get to the point. PROSECUTOR I'm getting there. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do you have access to all music? FOREPERSON Well, mostly. Yes I'd say so. All recorded music. PROSECUTOR Ha! All "recorded" music! I call to the stand, the Music Industry! ENTIRE COURTROOM (shocked gasps) ACT III PROSECUTOR Mr. Music Industry, would you tell the fine people of this court what it is you do for a living? For money? MR. MUSIC INDUSTRY We produce and record music. PROSECUTOR Ha! So you admit it! MR. MUSIC INDUSTRY Admit what? PROSECUTOR Admit that you're a business! And therefore your motivation is to make profit! Therefore do you not decide what to produce based on whether or not you can sell it! MR. MUSIC INDUSTRY Uhh, somewhat, sure that might be the case. We just know what our audience wants. And we bring them it. ENTIRE COURTROOM (hushed whispers) PROSECUTOR What the audience wants? I call again to the stand, the art consuming public! Who for the purposes of this narrative, will be played by the Jury. ENTIRE COURTROOM (actually just one person yawns) PROSECUTOR Ms. Foreperson, how do you find out about new music, movies, or television? FOREPERSON Usually friends. Or the Internet. Review websites. PROSECUTOR AHA! Review websites! I call to the stand, review websites! ENTIRE COURTROOM (mostly sleeping) ACT IV PROSECUTOR Now, Mrs. Review website, please state for the court what it is you do for money. MRS. REVIEW WEBSITE We curate. PROSECUTOR You mean you tell people if art is good or bad! DEFENDING ATTORNEY Objection your honor! Leading the witness! MRS. REVIEW WEBSITE No he's right, we tell people what is good and what is bad and in exchange we make money from the website ad revenues. Also sometimes we get money from PR firms to cover certain movies music or television. Certain music review websites even hold their own music festivals and sell tickets. It's fucked up but we have nothing to hide. We're not on trial here. PROSECUTOR Yes you are! I said I was putting everyone on trial! JUDGE Yes, he did say that. MRS. REVIEW WEBSITE Oh... Uhhhhh... ENTIRE COURTROOM (woken up now, shocked gasps) PROSECUTOR Mrs. Review Website, when you review music why don't you discuss music theory? MRS. REVIEW WEBSITE Excuse me? PROSECUTOR Why don't you discuss music on its actual terms?! Why don't you talk about specific rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic principles? MRS. REVIEW WEBSITE Well we uhh, well, the average person doesn't know about the intricacies of music, it wouldn't be interesting for them to read. PROSECUTOR Really? You think it's more interesting for the reader to hear about how close on a scale of one to ten every band sounds like Joy Division? And that's another thing, you think you can attach a number rating to something as complex as art? It's absurd! What are you hiding?! DEFENDING ATTORNEY Objection your honor! I think we've endured quite enough of the prosecutor's bullying and grandstanding. I push for closing statements and an end to this debacle. JUDGE Sustained. Mr. Prosecutor, you had quite enough time to make your case. It's time for you to get to the point. PROSECUTOR The point your honor, and fair people of this court, is nostalgia. As has been stated in every testimony, art is now fully engaged in the business world. The goal of a business is profit. What sells the best? Nostalgia. We all hold an affection for our past. Collectively, as a society we love it. And that's okay. It's okay to like something because it reminds us of what we've liked before. What we've grown comfortable with. It's just human nature. But there's more to music, film, literature, art in general, than what we've seen before. There are miles more to art, than what we've seen. We've only scratched the surface. But the more importance we place on the familiar the more we trap ourselves in the past. The more we allow the people bringing us this art, and the people critiquing it to fall back on our understanding and adoration of the past, the weaker we all are for it. To quote the early 20th century composer Charles Ives, "Is not beauty in music too often confused with something which lets the ears lie back in an easy chair? Many sounds that we are used to do not bother us, and for that reason are we not too inclined to call them beautiful? ...Possibly the fondness for personal expression- the kind in which self indulgence dresses up and miscalls itself freedom- may throw out a skin deep arrangement, which is readily accepted at first as beautiful- formulae that weaken rather than toughen the musical muscles. If a composer's conception of his art, its functions and ideals, even if sincere, coincides to such an extent with these groove colored permutations of tried out progressions in expediency so that he can arrange them over and over again to his delight- has he or has he not been drugged with an overdose of habit forming sounds? And as a result do not the muscles of his clientele become flabbier and flabbier until they give way altogether and find refuge only in exciting platitudes." JUDGE (rolls eyes) Jury, have you reached a verdict? FOREPERSON Yes your honor, we have. We the jury find all of society guilty of feeling nostalgic. Feeling nostalgic for a time before this trial began. JUDGE Here here. For wasting all of our time, I sentence the Prosecutor to twelve long months in the forced memory camps. As for the rest of us, if you'll look under your seats, you'll find two tickets to an all expense paid four week vacation at Camp Voluntary Memory! ENTIRE COURTROOM (cheering) JUDGE Court adjourned! (slams gavel) THE END.
[return to "DROWNING IN NOSTALGIA"]