Free Music Now!

In the sixties jazz musicians attempted to 'free' jazz. To unburden improvisation from the shackles of key, rhythm, tempo, notes etc.

What they did do influenced music somewhat but they did not achieve their goal. Melody, Harmony and Rhythm all persisted. Music carried on as it had before.

But what is this thing called Jazz that they were trying to free?

Jazz was the most important music form of twentieth century.
It was created in the unique pressure cooker of the USA at the turn of that century.
It positioned three factors at the centre of music making;
1) Improvisation  2) Groove and 3) The Individual Voice.

Those factors emerged in a world where recording had just been invented. In classical music the recording process is the score. Audio recording allowed you to store and build upon these three factors in a way classical music forms could not. Jazz developed the code of how you utilise those three factors compositionally.
And the recording was integral to this which meant the recording itself developed a value. (It is not always mentioned that the first jazz recording, 'Livery Blues' by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band sold 1 million copies)

Of course this value was seized upon by the commercial world and the recording industry was born. This created popular music a we know it today.
In the sixties with the emergence of post modern ideas of the self, free expression became another important commodity and wound itself into the commercial framework of popular music.

Free jazz musicians were trying to move trying move the idea of improvisation from the 'modern' idea of the the musician as a cog in the machine to the musician as the self actualising self at the centre of their own universe.

Since that time two huge things have happened.
1) The development of machine made music
2) The loss of value of physical music products.

If you step back and now examine modern music making within the frameworks we can see there has been a seismic shift. This has affected greatly the importance of these factors...

1) Improvisation

The machine does not improvise. It is programmed in the same way the classical composer meticulously recorded their ideas on manuscript.

2) Groove

The machine can groove. In fact it is surprising that the mainstream audience seems to prefer the machine made groove over the human groove. This is perhaps the the lineage of 20th century popular music to 21st Century popular music forms

3) Individual Voice.

The machine allows you to manipulate the individual voice and our modern aesthetic has driven us to use the machine to homogenise both human and instrumental voices

And lastly from the sixties...

4) Self Expression

As a species we are living in a world where it apparent that we need to draw ourselves in both politically and from an environmental point of view. How important is the expression of the self in the modern world? Aesthetically self expression can seem ugly in a world where everyone is shouting so loudly and ignoring the fact that our wants will probably end in the annihilation of our species.

So where have we ended up?

We are at a point where the ideas of improvisation, the individual voice and self expression are not as important as it once was in popular music at a time where the development of the internet has diminished the value of music in it's physical form. In other words, a drawing in or reversal of what jazz created about one hundred years ago.

But we are at a stage where the echo of the past is still resounding in the present. Most musicians my age still have our fundamental aesthetic framework rooted in these values of old.
Perhaps music makers need to free music of the shackles of improvisation, the individual voice and self expression within a physical form that has a value? (in other words, the belief that our self expression should be reward financially through the medium of the album)

What would this mean in reality? I have argued elsewhere that improvisation is the bedrock of creativity. This is so, every classical music piece and dance track starts in improvisation. But perhaps we need to use the machine to reign in the improvisation. (In other words less solos?)

Self expression as an aesthetic (eg. Hendrix doing a ten minute feedback solo then setting fire to his guitar) does seem completely at odds with with modern world. Do artists need to draw themselves in? Work with the confines of the natural world and stop trying to express themselves as an all powerful god at the centre of a universe they own?

The dimishment of the individual voice is harder for me to swallow. I can see that if you go back even twenty years and their is a greater variety of 'voices' in popular music than today. But the use of the machine to perfectionise the voice into a bland average so everything sounds like everything else is actually one of the echoes of self expression. We want to sound like the 'greats'; to ape self expression but cheating and sounding like an icon of self expression. (Jimi, Aretha or 'Trane etc)

In a world where music no longer has an intrinsic value, where music's only value is to be used as a hook to draw an audience in to sell them things, perhaps the real freeing of music is to stop acting like all this stuff still applies.  Stop talking about the 'music industry', about how we can still make money online if we only know how to 'monetise'it. (This means we all become Tshirt sellers or 'content creators')
It will not happen. We are musicians!

If music is now freely available and there is no 'recording' industry anymore let's try and truly free the music from these shackles.
This would of course be truly free music.


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