Tuesday, June 24, 2008

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU: Gabriel Prokofiev and Nonclassical

Sergei Prokofiev wrote Neoclassical, and his grandson, Gabriel, writes Nonclassical. The elder was and is still a huge figure in instrumental music, and the younger will certainly be hailed as one of the most important figures in updating the classical tradition.

Gabriel Prokofiev has set up concerts in clubs that include chamber works and remixes, as well as a record label that puts out albums with an instrumental work and a series of remixes. The upcoming release, Cortical Songs, includes mixes by Thom Yorke and others:

Prokofiev describes his frustration with classical music in an interview at timesonline:
I got very frustrated because I knew that at least 50 per cent of the people who came to hear my music had white hair and the other 50 per cent would all be composers or academics themselves...I wanted my friends to hear my music. Classical music has kept itself isolated in a lot of ways. It’s time to loosen up and take a look around and stop being afraid to embrace other genres.
Another producer of 'club classical' talks about his path towards this type of concert setting in the same article:
When Matt Fretton set up This Isn’t For You, he realised he was in uncharted territory. “I felt it needed to be done,” he says. “Someone had to take the initiative and look at the way classical music was being presented. I hated the fact that people were not allowed to clap or make any noise during concerts. And I don’t like the ridiculous waiters’ outfits. Musicians are not there to serve people; they are artists and should be respected.”
So Britain has its counterpart to what Mason Bates and company are doing on the U.S. West Coast. Prokofiev wrote a Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra recently (video below); the orchestra makes vocal noises and plays motives as DJ Yoda scratches similar sounds on his tables. Violinist/composer Daniel Bernard-Roumain has made a lot of music with DJ Scientific, including a piece for turntables and orchestra (performed by Scientific and the ACO) in 2006. Hip things are happening...
again, like nonpop, in nonclassical, we have a term of negation rather than a new word in itself, but I think in this case, it's an important first statement in the postgenre era - the stuff is an embrace of classical music, but a conscious rejection of the entire culture that still surrounds it.


Henry Holland said...

Hi, found your blog via On an Overgrown Path.

I hated the fact that people were not allowed to clap

It's not about *you*, it's a convention that's very simple, if he's talking about clapping between movements: the music isn't done yet! How is it that people don't clap between every verse of a Radiohead song, but it becomes his huge thing in a concert hall with Mahler being played?

If he means "while the music is playing", then that's a non-starter. The typical orchestral piece has too many dynamic shifts and it'd be really farking annoying if people clapped after a flute solo with only harp accompaniment or after a clarinet solo that melted away to strings playing harmonics at ppp.

or make any noise during concerts.

Again, a non-starter. It's not a club in Southwark, for f's sake, a concert hall is a place where people (like me) go to concentrate on the music and the nuances of that particular performance. Having people even whisper is bloody annoying and they're rightly taken to task for it. Unless you're in the middle of a grand mal seizure or a major heart attack and are calling for help, NOTHING you have to say is so important that it ruins the experience for those of us who are there to focus on the music and the performance.

I don't like being in a club hearing a band and having the guy next to me yammering on his cellphone or the drunks at a bar yelling at each other during a quiet bit, but hey, that's the way it is and I accept it.

And I don’t like the ridiculous waiters’ outfits.

I don't like DJ Yoda's stupid green shirt, so there! :-)

As for Mr. Prokofiev, the self-congratulation and hubris surrounding his project are laughable. He's not doing anything --ANYTHING-- that wasn't done 25 years ago at IRCAM with electronics or 50 years ago in various German radio stations with tape, yet he and his cohorts are acting like they're breaking new ground. I guess every new generation tends to think they're the cutting edge, but this stuff? Hahahaha, NO.

No, you're doing exactly what every other classical-pop music fusion has ever done: use the classical bits as a gloss over the pop music and to, hypocritically enough, give it a bit of panache and class it wouldn't otherwise have.

Mr. Bacon said...

(I don't know Prokofiev personally, and I'm only speaking for myself and many of my close musical collaborators and intellectual peers when I use the first person plural here; however, I imagine Mr. P. agrees with most of my below sentiments.)

I'm glad you've shared your opinions, Henry--actually, these are exactly the types of attitudes that musicians like Prokofiev, and myself, have been frustrated by. Do I detect a tone of disdain towards pop music?

We're talking about two different worlds here. One is the concert hall, the same venue where symphonies play Mozart's 40th and Tchaik 6. It's been a relatively accepted venue for the newest instrumental music as well for a while now. But some of us don't want our music presented in that environment any more. Just because I've studied Bach and Beethoven and all the rest doesn't mean I want to be part of their musical culture. We want our music presented in venues in which we feel at home, with background noise, spilt beer, amplification, electronics, young people like ourselves--venues that will attract the audiences we're writing for. Concert halls pose a direct threat to our publicity. [The reverse is happening with jazz (transition from club to concert hall), which is highly disconcerting to people like me, who, again, are turned away by the concert hall. This shift has also contributed to stifling clapping during tunes, which I enjoy because it can often serve to encourage the musicians and certainly contributes to a more lively, and I think warm, environment.] We're willing to sacrifice a little sound quality for a fun space and good company during, not before and after, the music. We're also into amplifying effects so they can be heard. We're not purists; we like pop music; we like beats; we like to dance; we like sneakers and boots and t-shirts.

Clapping between movements was standard until the 18th century, when classical music ceased to be part of social events and became an event in itself. I'd like people to clap between my movements, even if it breaks their concentration. I want the return of the concert-as-social-event.

Generation has a lot to do with it; Gabriel is about 33; Mason Bates is around 30; I'm 24; you're 48. Younger folks have grown up in a different time, and we want something different. That's not at all to say that people above a certain age can't share our views, or we can't share theirs; only that those above a certain age have a harder time identifying with more recent trends--it's just a fact of a rapidly changing society. If IRCAM was presenting live, pulse-driven remixes alongside original chamber music premiers 25 years ago, I'd be thrilled - any examples? (Techno barely existed 25 years ago, and IDM, breakcore, etc. had certainly never been created, so I can't see how you can make this claim. Also, splicing tape is entirely different from digital sound manipulation...Annnd, the first regularly cited and successful use of record scratching as a unique instrument was from Grandmixer DST in Herbie Hancock's Rockit, 1983. Check the documentary Scratch for more on DJ culture.)