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Altermodernism in music

posted Jun 17, 2015, 5:01 PM by Slavko Zagorac   [ updated Jun 18, 2015, 10:54 AM ]
Altermodernism in music - binding foundation or marketing label?

So, Postmodernism is dead. At least Nicolas Bourriaud says so. One might conclude that his invention Altermodernism suffered similar fate as it has not been mentioned a great deal since its 2009 inaugural Tate exhibition. However, it might be premature to bury it underground as it does identify a number of current social trends which inevitably impact art and music of today.  

I have always found catch-all definition of postmodernism in music uncomfortably vague. Apart from its reactionary relationship with failings of modernism, there was not a lot else to bind its multitude of directions. In the world of music it led to a meandering delta of musical styles and cross-overs which struggled to find firm intellectual foundation. This caused fragmentation of audience, ideas and dissipation of collective energy. 

Out of this maze of many overlapping directions how do we discover new modernity?  Bourriaud thinks that artists, in order to explain our post-postmodern world, are already creating it. Unlike 20th century modernism which dictated self-conscious elitist search for New, altermodernism proposes that New is created as a product of various global processes.  Despite heavy criticism for the amount of vapourware, Altermodernism manifesto does mention several phenomenons which strongly resonate in todays world: mass migration, creolisation of cultures, globalisation of art, reaction to consumerism, standardisation and commercialism.

Mass migration and creolisation of cultures are inherently linked. Postmodern multiculturalism, where many cultures coexisted at the same time and space, has been superseded by creolisation where different cultures merge to produce a new unique culture. Artists, composers, musicians are more mobile and interconnected then ever before. This enables multidirectional flow of ideas and influences and results in genuine creative change, rather then postmodern artificial creation of genre crossovers. Globalisation is not a new concept but it has rapidly progressed with world wide adoption of Internet in the last couple of decades. Music is now instantly deliverable globally and the audience is primed to listen to global content. Composers and musicians can collaborate seamlessly over long distance and even perform real-time from different locations. 

Consumerism has become a weapon of choice of large corporations and political establishment in their effort to maintain stable society. An illusion of individuality is sold to consumers through endless product customisation and marketing techniques. Although artist have always instinctively rebelled against control and standardisation, this time the battle is against consumer art, branded and packaged to be sold to a certain consumer segment. Dreaded word 'securitisation' can be borrowed from the financial industry and applied to processes currently exercised by the major record labels. Composers today try to find true individual voice which transcends marketing led consumer profiling.

Although Bourriaud does not mention technology explicitly, I believe that it is a major factor in social processes today. Globalisation is facilitated by Internet and creolisation can be applied to merging of traditional and computer aided music composition and performance. Real-time notation, networked event-driven performance with heterogenous sound sources, integrated motion sensor event triggering, haptic controllers, common representation of notation, audio and video data, portable mobile technology etc. will all, I believe, eventually lead to a new aesthetics in music.  

In order to justify its title, contemporary music should reflect society, culture and politics of its age. Altermodernism, in my opinion, correctly identifies a number of current social trends so it could be used as a starting point when thinking about what music of today should represent. Furthermore, it could provide a binding force for heterogenous individual voices, crystallise thinking and send consistent message to external audience. Providing that it is not used just as a mere marketing label it could become a common foundation which facilitates and channels exchange of creative ideas aimed at discovering new modernity in music.  
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