Pop Music, limiting or liberating

In an article posted by The Herald, James MacMillan, a Scottish composer is quoted as saying, "The main casualty is the innate curiosity of the young. They are discouraged from making discoveries in music and much else. All they get is what is flung at them through the usual, sanctioned, and controlling media.

"Popular culture, in spite of its protestations of the opposite, seems to curtail and limit natural curiosity, and can lead to uniformity, conformity and narrowness, the very things that pop culture claims to be against."

According to an article by Martin Beckford of The Telegraph suggests MacMillan "...accused pop culture of inhibiting musical curiosity in the young and leading to greater conformity." These comments came when MacMillan spoke at the Royal Institute of British Architects to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Sandford St Martin Trust last night.

James MacMillan

I was not at the talk last night so it is difficult to discern (from the various articles posted on his talk) whether MacMillan was railing against the atheistic attitudes in Pop Culture, or whether he is suggesting the music limits the way composers think about music. If he thinks pop music limits the way composers think (as pop music is often condemned for using primarily only 3 chords), I must disagree. What many new composers are doing in terms of their exploration of sound with the use of effects, samples and electronics is anything but limiting.

Yes, many pop songs may only use 3 chords, but the way the sounds are layered are new, innovative and in many ways cutting edge. Young musicians are being encouraged to explore the sound world in ways we could never imagine before the advent of the new technologies, so in many respects, they are freer than ever before to create new sonic worlds. Imogen Heap and Laurie Anderson have taken folk and fused it with technology to create a whole new sound. Nelly Furtado and James Morrison work together to blend pop and crooner in a new release. Producers like Timbaland are raking up hit after hit, not by just duplicating the same sound, but by continually re-inventing what can be done with sound in new and imaginative ways. These are just a few examples of emerging music, all in the pop genre.

If MacMillan is railing against the atheistic attitudes of pop music, well... I'm not sure I can really comment. While I am personally religious, and I see many examples of pop deva's who have come from soul and gospel backgrounds (and therefore I assume they have some spiritual belief as well), I am not noticing a trend of atheistic encroachment in the music world.

Yesterday I posted a bit about a new film/opera coming in November, "Repo - the Genetic Opera." The sound isn't necessarily new in terms of music, but the concept of putting in a fully musical film is bold (if not wholly original). This is a good thing. Is the film atheistic? I can't comment, as I've not seen it. However, from what I have seen it certainly espouses moral conduct - or at least condemns immoral behavior, actions motivated by profit.


Eddie Louise said…
So MacMillan say that the non-arbitrary limit of 3 chords in pop music is bad... what would he say about the arbitrary limit of 12 tones in Serialism?

Really... this sort of generalism has no place in true dis-course about the arts!

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