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Saturday morning quote #3: Old, new & retro

June 4, 2011

Today’s quote is actually a sequence of three quotes.  Inspired by our return to the music of Dowland’s Pilgrimes Solace, the first is by John Dowland from his remarks TO THE READER in the introduction to A Pilgrimes Solace, 1612:

…[Y]et I must tell you, as I haue been a stranger; so haue I againe found strange entertainment since my returne; especially by the opposition of two sorts of people that shroude themselues vnder the title of Musitians.  The first are some simple Cantors, or vocall singers, who though they seeme excellent in their blinde Diuision-making, are meerely ignorant, euen in the first elements of Musicke, and also in the true order of the mutation of the Hexachord in the Systeme, (which hath been approued by all the learned and skillful men of Christendome, this 800 yeers,) yet doe these fellowes giue their verdict of me behinde my backe, and and say, what I doe is after the old manner…

Lest you think that Dowland was just being stodgy, you should know that he was one of the more innovative composers of his time, incorporating dramatic Italianate recitativo passages neatly and effectively into his work, and composing some of the most enduring songs in the English language.  The old manner he feels the need to mention and justify has less to do with style, but everything to do with using the wisdom handed down from earlier times to create something forward-looking, yet formed with a deep understanding of how one might bend the rules.

Previously, it was well understood by younger generations that, in order for art and music to appear new and exciting, artists must openly reject what has come before.  Apparently, that is no longer the case.  What seems to have evolved, at least in pop music, is an art form that consciously recasts old songs using a stylistic language that is almost wholly electronic.  So the new style is called Retro.

From the article Total recall: why retromania is all the rage, by Simon Reynolds from The Guardian, Thursday 2 June 2011:

What seems to have happened is that the place that The Future once occupied in the imagination of young music-makers has been displaced by The Past: that’s where the romance now lies, with the idea of things that have been lost. The accent, today, is not on discovery but on recovery. All through the noughties, the game of hip involved competing to find fresher things to remake: it was about being differently derivative, original in your unoriginality.

An interesting corollary is proposed in a review of Reynolds’ book by Sukhdev Sandhu from The Observer, Sunday 29 May 2011:

Retromania is a book about the poverty of abundance. At malls, on mobile-phone ads, in the background as we work at our computers: pop, usually in the form of anorexically thin MP3 sound, is everywhere these days. Perhaps that ubiquity puts a brake on its ability to astound or shape-shift. Perhaps the process of circulating and accessing music has become more exciting than the practice of listening to it.

We certainly hope not.

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