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Pop belongs to the last century, classical is more relevant - the Observer


Morwenna Brett
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Apologies if you've already seen this, but I know there are very mixed opinions on this forum as to the point or relevance of popular music, so I thought you might find this article by Paul Morley in the Observer a couple of weeks ago as interesting as I did.

 

Paul Morley has been a pop and rock critic all his life, but now is getting tired of it. He says " For me, pop music is now a form of skilfully engineered product design, the performers little but entertainment goods, and that is how they should be reviewed and categorised. The current pop singers are geniuses of self-promotion, but not, as such, musicians expressing glamorous ideas." He goes on to say that " when it comes to thinking about music as a metaphor for life itself, what tends to be described as classical music seems more relevant to the future."

 

Here's the full article:

 

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/sep/21/pop-belongs-last-century-classical-music-relevant-future-paul-morley

 

Best wishes to all

Morwenna

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One aspect which is sometimes lost sight of is that most 'classical' recordings only exist because they are, in effect, bankrolled by the pop music industry. They are hugely expensive to produce (imagine the cost of an orchestra and possibly soloists and chorus for several days' worth of takes when recording an opera or something like The Dream of Gerontius) plus the engineers' time, but they sell in far lower quantities than to the pop market. Thus the major record companies would not exist were it not for pop, and so they would not be able to make 'classical' recordings. I realise there are a few specialist recording companies to whom this does not apply, as they service a niche market such as smaller-scale organ and some choral recordings. But I haven't so far noticed them selling orchestral recordings of the sort alluded to above - unless I've blinked and missed it.

 

So should we start to like pop? Or simply be thankful that it's there to subsidise our more specialist listening habits?

 

In reply to Morwenna's question, yes, I have seen Morley's article. When reading it, I got the impression that, like so many others, he's simply getting older and his values have changed. Other examples include the late Malcolm Muggeridge, a pretty militant agnostic if not atheist for much of his life, yet he converted to Christianity as he matured. I saw his debate with a Christian prelate in St Clement Danes church while he still adhered to agnosticism, and it was so fiery that I'm afraid I never took him very seriously after he suddenly switched. I suppose others might conclude that a late conversion, Saul-like, is better than none. Others are ministers/priests who lose their faith in mid-career, which is tragic to behold. Some of the things Justin Welby has said recently about his own doubts and fears have made me wonder whether this is happening to him, in which case he's arguably in the wrong job. Or the reverse - those who embrace a career in the church later in life after doing other things. So I'm not sure Morley is saying much more than that he, also, has had some sort of 'conversion' in later years. It's a common phenomenon.

 

CEP

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Actually, pop music has changed dramatically over the last half century or so, mainly owing to changes in music technology. In the 1960s there was no music technology as such available to producers and recording companies beyond microphones and analogue tape - performers had to learn to play instruments reasonably well, to do it in real time, and to read music to some extent. Edits could only be made by physically cutting and splicing the tape, thus performers who couldn't get it right first or second time rapidly fell out of favour with the recording barons. Even for the 'backing' tracks, recordings had to be made using skilled session musicians playing 'proper' instruments because there were no synthesisers beyond those with the most rudimentary capabilities, and digital music was unknown. There were a few exceptions, such as the purely electronic music used for Dr Who and the like, and such noises sometimes appeared as part of pop music numbers, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

 

Today, as everybody knows, this scenario has undergone a polarity reversal. Almost every pop music track is largely or fully synthetic, consisting of digitally-contrived sounds using digital synths, editing is trivially easy (a typical CD, either pop or classical, can contain upwards of 1000 edits), thus for these reasons pop 'musicians' do not require the same level of skill any longer. Therefore, if pop music ever required a basic level of skill and training on the part of its executants, that has almost vanished today.

 

Perhaps this has contributed to Paul Morley's disenchantment. Maybe he can only find the satisfaction he used to derive from early pop music in 'classical' music nowadays, because that has not changed in the the same way. It still requires enormous skill on the part of the performers just as it always did, even if they are called upon to play garbage (which some 'classical' composers did indeed churn out).

 

CEP

 

 

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I'm glad you said that Colin, because I was thinking the same thing - listening to some old cassette tapes (!) of music I loved in the 70s, I was struck by the excellence of the backing musicians. They were the best London (or Los Angeles) could offer and they are masters of their instruments, whatever you might think of the actual music. I ordered remastered CDs from Amazon and appreciated them even more.

 

Morwenna

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