Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Text, Graphics, Machines, Music

Nate recently posted on this blog about charting the influences of various styles of music, and has in fact supplied us with his own influence map that connects a variety of popular styles from Jelly Roll Morton to Justin Bieber (albeit with several degrees of separation between these two artists). His chart reminded me of the work of artist and music critic Andrew Kuo. Kuo’s love of text, graphics, and music in turn brings to mind some passages from Hewett’s chapter, “Text, Body, Machines.” Kuo’s work is frequently published in The New York Times. His “reviews” consist of highly complex diagrams and flow charts that express his moment-by-moment experience of a concert, or, most recently, a retrospective of early 1990s punk music. For those who are curious, here are some links:

“Reassessing the Year that Punk Broke” http://nyti.ms/sMu4LG

Archive of Andrew Kuo’s New York Times work: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/author/andrew-kuo/

Kuo’s charts are not particularly serious works. While the opinions represented are (presumably) true to Kuo’s own experiences, he makes no claims to authority. The language accompanying the charts is usually tongue-in-cheek. For example, in “Reassessing the Year that Punk Broke,” one segment of the chart is labeled “Wait, Did Punk Ruin My Life?” Beyond the language, the mind-numbing complexity of these graphics is in itself a joke. For all the information that Kuo supplies, much of it is incomprehensible, and ultimately meaningless (I still can’t figure out how to read the “Did Punk Ruin My Life?” section of the graphic). Complexity, Kuo reminds us, does not necessarily make for better analysis. While it may not be intentional, this seems like an appropriate skewering of both Schenkerian analysis and the Billboard music charts.

Kuo’s comedic use of complexity is reminiscent of what Hewitt sees as Ligeti’s unintentional comedy in his Cello Concerto. “The increasing complication of texture and detail goes hand-in-hand with an ever-increasing specificity of instruction to the performer, often expressed verbally. The tendency reaches an almost comic hypertrophy on the last page of Ligeti’s Cello Concerto, where there are more words than notes on the page.” (2003: 129) Hewitt uses this comic over-description of the music to suggest the slippage in the equation of “artistic quality” with “technical sophistication.” (Hewitt 2003: 122) Similarly, Kuo undermines the equation of technical sophistication with the proper reception and analysis of music. However, as Hewitt points out, rejecting modernist complexity leads in a variety of directions that are still rife with contradictions.

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