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Pop Pop Pop (New)Music Daryl Chin THE PROLIFERATION OF POP CULTURE has become so ubiquitous that there is little in contemporary culture which has not become grist for the commercial mill. What is surprising is the fact that the traditional arts have become repositories for the detritus of pop culture. The desperation inherent in the ascendancy of pop culture can be seen in many ways. The recent wave of appropriation as an aesthetic strategy was proclaimed as a means of reclaiming the philosophical import of mass produced objects through a deliberate ironization. However, when the objects appropriated included photographs by acknowledged "masters," was the appropriation an indication of debasement of works to commercial commodity, or was it simply a way of debasing the artist, of turning individual expression into mass produced commodity? If it can be argued that the process of debasement had already occurred through the spate of photography books, postcards, and reproduced photographs, was the artist-appropriator calling this commercialism into question, or was the artist-appropriator simply another cynical manipulator? A few years ago, I was taken to task for suggesting (in PAJ 26/27) that the precincts of the "avant garde" were rapidly acceding to show business. Since that time, many denizens of "the avant garde" have become involved in show business, having appeared on The DavidLettermanShow, or signed contracts with major show business concerns. The era when "perfor137 mance art" was a species of anti-theatrical performance work created by "artists" (painters, sculptors, composers, some filmmakers) has long since vanished; anything is now "performance art," even if it's the same old show business shtick. When Woody Allen and Yvonne Rainer can both be called "performance artists turned filmmakers," what the hell is the difference ? (Performing a stand-up comedy routine at The Village Gate and creating a dance work presented at The Judson Church sdem to me to be two very different activities, but what the hell do I know?) Now, everything is show business, as is mordantly clear in the recent "Image World" exhibition at The Whitney Museum. For the opening night of New Music America 1989, the tenth anniversary of that festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music presented three music-theatre events of unusual diversity. But the underlying thematic of the three events was the ascendancy of pop as the prevailing aesthetic. The three events in the round-robin evening were: Kip Hanrahan's Look, the Moon . . ., David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti's IndustrialSymphony #1, and Lester Bowie's 23 Factsin 2 Acts. To begin with the last-named: Lester Bowie's 23 Facts in 2 Acts was almost shockingly perfunctory. Instead of a new composition, Bowie's piece strung together a number of tunes, jazz standards and pop songs, all arranged in a way which homogenized everything into the same showtune /pop range. This was perhaps the most depressing aspect of the evening : the uninspired arrangements, the bland consistency of the beat, the utter sameness of the pop arrangements. The music was devoid of complexity, which was devastating considering the subtlety and the wit Bowie has revealed in his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. To augment the arrangements of the songs for Brass Fantasy, there were dramatic segments, which seemed to be improvisational exercises for the young actors. The amateurishness of the segments mitigated any perspective supposedly opened up by the references to muggings, teen-age runaways, drug addiction . The music was unrelenting in its simplicity: the scoring for the brass ensemble was reminiscent of the stock arrangements for polka accordion orchestras , with their incessant regulated thumping. The interaction between stage imagery and the music was so obvious as to be laughable. When a song which Bowie claimed as associated with Billie Holliday was played, and an actress stood to strike a soignee pose, the paltriness of the effort was stupefying. The question of why the piece was so obvious is not as simple as it seems. It's not just a failure of imagination: it's why that failure of imagination occurred . The concept behind the piece was, as the notes in the program said, to explore "the often bizarre relationship between jazz musicians, . . . the 138 cultural...


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