Music as Symbol Music as Simulacrum Postmodern Pre

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Popular Music 1995 Volume 1412 Copyright 1995 Cambridge University Press. Music as symbol music as,simulacrum postmodern,pre modern and modern. aesthetics in subcultural,popular musics,PETER MANUEL. Postmodern aesthetics has come to be recognised as a salient feature of much. popular culture including music Urban subcultures and especially migrant sub. cultures may have inherent inclinations toward postmodern aesthetics while at. the same time retaining ties to modern and even pre modern cultural discourses. The syncretic popular musics created by such subcultures may reflect these mul. tiple cultural orientations by combining postmodern and more traditional charac. teristics Thus for example punk rock and rap music can be seen to combine. postmodern techniques of pastiche bricolage and blank irony with modernist. socio political protest Similar eclecticisms can also be found in the musics of some. urban migrant subcultures whose syncretic musics like their senses of social. identity often self consciously juxtapose or combine ancestral homeland traditions. with the most contemporary cosmopolitan styles and attitudes Interpretations of. such musics may call for a particularly nuanced appreciation of the distinct aes. thetic modes which may coexist in the same work, Most of the analytical literature on music and on contemporary aesthetics. however has tended to fall into one of two discrete categories in such a way. that the expressive eclecticism of such forms of popular music is not adequately. illuminated One body of discussion would comprise the literature on postmodern. ism in general stressing the ahistoricity playful depthlessness and ironic detach. ment of contemporary art and in some cases portraying postmodernism as an. all pervasive condition at least in the developed world which effectively nullifies. all senses of pre modern and modern identity tradition meaning and meta. narrative much of the work of Baudrillard and Lyotard is paradigmatic in this. category A disparate category of analysis comprising most musicological and. ethnomusicological literature has explored more traditional forms of musical. meaning including the expressive qualities of abstract melodies metres and the. like and the ways in which music functions as a vehicle for and expression of. social identity Whether these distinct analytical approaches are seen as contradict. ory or complementary I suggest that each in its own manner has tended to neglect. the complex ways in which postmodern and modernlpre modern forms of. 228 Peter Manuel, meaning interact and coexist in several forms of contemporary urban popular. music In this article I suggest some of the complexities that are involved in the. study of such musics focusing on one particular parameter musical borrowing. in the context of two subcultures hiphop and South Asian diaspora communities. A relevant and significant work in this study is Paul Gilroy s recent book The. Black Atlantic 1993 which offers a particularly original interpretation of the notion. of modernity and the role of black diaspora culture within it Modernity has often. been identified with the Enlightenment and Euro American bourgeois culture. in which scheme Afro American culture would be regarded as marginal or as a. pre modern relic But as Gilroy insightfully argues black Atlantic culture. comprising everything from slave society to Jamaican immigrant communities in. Birmingham has constituted a central aspect of modernity Just as Enlightenment. ideology was used to legitimise slavery and the great European parliament houses. were subsidised by colonial oppression so did African diaspora culture evolve as. a distinctly modern entity Western hybrid and creolised Black diaspora arts. especially music emerged as a kind of flip side to Enlightenment modernity. critiquing its hypocrisies from without and within and using pre modern as well. as original and borrowed Western elements to create a new and dynamic express. ive culture, Gilroy s analysis is devoted primarily to a reassessment of the notion of mod.
ernity rather than postmodernity However several of his themes and arguments. are of direct relevance to the subject of this article First Gilroy stresses the interac. tion and overlap of modern and pre modern aesthetics in black diaspora music. showing how this overlap and the concomitant oft noted racial doubleness are. sources of unique expressive power and vitality Further Gilroy offers a nuanced. exploration of the sense of dislocation both of diaspora communities and of music. genres like reggae that constitutes a precondition for the flowering of contempor. ary subcultural expressive culture in Britain and elsewhere Gilroy also extends. his discussion however parenthetically to the interaction of South Asian and. West Indian diaspora communities in Great Britain and their syncretic musics In. this article I wish to further extend such lines of analysis emphasising the presence. and interaction of postmodern as well as modern and pre modern aesthetics as. illustrated by subcultural musical appropriation and rearticulation. One catalyst of the flowering of postmodernist influenced popular musics. has been the spread of the mass media and the concurrent proliferation of media. codes in recent decades While this has extended the reach of hegemonic main. stream media discourses it has at the same time enabled local lower class and. marginal peoples to make their voices heard as never before Media consumers. worldwide are now exposed to a bewildering array of musics from all manner of. diverse cultures subcultures and epochs Concurrent with this development has. been the growth of migrant and diaspora communities and their own recogni. tion by themselves popular culture and the academy e g Clifford 1992 Cham. bers 1990 as significant subcultures in their own right with their own art forms. distinct senses of identity and in some cases economic and political clout Related. to these phenomena are the emergence of crisscrossing economic demographic. and media networks the tendency for individuals and groups to form fragmented. multiple identities and an unprecedented degree of cultural borrowing appropri. ation and syncretic cross fertilisation As I shall argue the appropriations and. resignifications of musics by urban subcultures themselves embody their own com. Aesthetics in subcultural popular musics 229, plex and often internally contradictory senses of symbol and simulacrum These. expressive works at once celebrate meaning and meaninglessness play and nostal. gia pathos and jouissance in a synthesis that goes much deeper than the paradig. matic dualities of tradition and innovation or commercialism and authenticity. The essential features of postmodernism have been discussed in so many. publications that there is no need to reiterate them at length here We may briefly. note that as a historical condition postmodernism is related to such features as. the penetration of capital commodification and the mass media to all aspects of. public and private life the undermining of faith in religious or historical meta. narratives teleological Marxist Leninism bourgeois positivism and a new sense. of the subjectivity of all human experience engendering among other things a. crisis of representation in scholarship Postmodern art reflects these epistemolo. gical and material changes by its celebration of difference its exaltation of images. surfaces and simulacra its eclectic mixing of high and low and its denial of histor. icity moral judgmentalism and sentimentality More specifically these features. are expressed through certain typical aesthetic devices which have already become. cliches particularly pastiche especially involving the combination and juxtaposi. tion of elements from disparate discourses and subjectivities self referentiality and. intertextuality calling attention to the artificiality of the medium and blank. parody subjecting all discourse to an alternately deadpan or grotesque irony and. negating unlike modern or pre modern parody any implicit perspective of. healthy normality, As mentioned above some writers have tended to portray postmodernism. as an all encompassing condition and worldview while others more accurately. have recognised how it coexists and interacts with other cultural attitudinal stances. aside from Gilroy 1993 see e g Eagleton 1990 pp 466ff Accordingly much. of contemporary musical activity and taste can be seen as a deliberate nostalgic. rejection of the postmodern condition by means of preferences for or attempted. flight into earlier and perceivedly pre commercial styles from Mozart to Irish folk. music Postmodernism in this sense is best understood as a condition which in. some way informs the developed world and as an aesthetic mode which is by. now familiar enough to be widely exploited, While American postmodernism has been described as a condition archetyp. ically characteristic of bourgeois baby boomers idiosyncratic forms of postmodern. aesthetics also characterise the popular music of certain lower class urban subcul. tures Such musics generally do not exhibit the rarefied and relatively pure forms. of postmodernism found in the works of artists like Godard Warhol or Cage. Accordingly the very presence of postmodernist attitudes in subcultural expres. sions is in some respects paradoxical Urban lower classes generally have little. access to or interest in the elite avant garde not to mention poststructuralist liter. ary criticism they do not have the same easy familiarity with classical and popular. culture that characterises today s well rounded yuppie culture consumer and that. constitutes a precondition for so much postmodern art and humour Nor do urban. proletariats and lumpenproletariats exist in a world of post scarcity bourgeois com. fort free to regard all historical teleologies e g religion political causes as. archaic and implausible Rather subcultures are often born into struggles against. poverty and discrimination in which the reconstitution of a sense of personal or. collective subjectivity is not a casual pursuit but rather an urgent task crucial to. psychic survival Moreover subcultures including the two discussed in this. 230 Peter Manuel, article often retain close ideological genealogical and geographical ties to pre. modern cultures whether in the form of links to third world homelands or recent. histories of poverty and rural marginalisation Accordingly as Gilroy has illus. trated diasporic subcultures may be inclined to retreat into pre modern traditions. and attitudes because of their association of European modernity and by exten. sion postmodernity with discrimination and oppression. In other respects however urban diaspora subcultures can have marked. inclinations towards postmodern attitudes and aesthetics Some aspects of such. inclinations have been explored in greater depth elsewhere e g Chambers 1987. 1990 here we may note a few salient factors Urban subculture members like. all modern city dwellers are surrounded by mass media images most of which. represent the hegemonic discourse of the dominant culture The alienation of the. poor and marginal from mainstream society and its discourse naturally enhances. the tendency for such individuals to regard such media content be it advertise. ments news features or melodramas aimed at bourgeois audiences as so much. duplicitous and meaningless junk Such media discourse often can acquire subcul. tural significance only if scrambled and recycled in creative bricolage as subcul. tures construct their own gerrymandered sense of identity out of imagerial objets. trouvkes be they dress codes or musical styles Punk rock subculture as described. by Hebdige 1979 and Chambers 1987 represents one classic example of this. form of subcultural resignification However the search for and construction of. social identity is not necessarily a postmodern pursuit but rather may be a basic. strategy in psychological adaptation Uses of postmodernist aesthetics can be seen. as strategies and ingredients in the construction and rearticulation of new sorts. of meanings and identities rather than as totalising ends in themselves Such. contradictions emerge more clearly in looking at specific features of subcultural. Modern and pre modern forms of musical borrowing, The postmodernity of much contemporary musical creation and re creation stands.
out most clearly in contrast to modern and pre modern approaches to musical. appropriation As I will discuss below postmodern elements in music can also. coexist with modern and traditional elements even within the same song invol. ving complex processes of code switching on the part of the listener Thus while. modern and pre modern modes of making and hearing music are obviousIy reIated. to particular modes of production and stages of socio historical development they. are best understood in this context as representing attitudes which can and do. coexist and interact just as a typical baby boomer s record collection might include. Madonna Bach Philip Glass Ravi Shankar and Voices of the New Guinean. Rainforest, Within the realm of modern and pre modern musics it is useful to distin. guish between two types of meaning which although never wholly discrete. differ significantly Leonard Meyer 1956 pp 1 3 has categorised musical mean. music Postmodernism in this sense is best understood as a condition which in some way informs the developed world and as an aesthetic mode which is by now familiar enough to be widely exploited While American postmodernism has been described as a condition archetyp

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