Deaf to the Backbeat
Composers who close themselves off from a particular sonic possibility—especially a “new” or “popular” one—are doing themselves and their music a disservice.
Every year around this time, the New York City subway system is deluged with posters advertising Ultra Dance—a two-CD set released annually containing “the year’s hottest dance tracks.” The ads always feature the seemingly requisite ultra-slutty looking girl wearing minimal clothing and a shortlist of artists featured on the compilation. Years ago, Frank came into work very confused about the Ultra Dance 06 advert, bemoaning the fact that he had never even heard of a single name listed as supposed selling points for the album. Well, at least this year Frank’s recognition factor is showing some sign of improvement: He somehow knew the name Nelly Furtado, and when asked about her gender, he did guess correctly, but he’s almost certain that he’s never heard any of her music.
Although I’m not a follower of the scene, I usually recognize at least half of the recording artists featured on the compilation’s tacky posters. How could I not? Just walking around Manhattan you’re bound to hear the ubiquitous tunes featured on Ultra Dance 09 in restaurants, bars, clubs, at a friend’s party, blaring from car radios stopped at traffic signals, and even at a post-concert reception after a new music performance. I just don’t understand how Frank manages to avoid hearing this music, especially without the use of mediating tools such as an MP3 player or earplugs.
Truth be told, I bet this music actually does reach Frank’s ears, and given the fact that he’s one of the most genuinely curious people I know—especially when it comes to music—he’d probably try to learn everything about the artists on Ultra Dance 09 if something piqued his interest and he had the time to do the research. But I know a few colleagues who would scoff at wasting a single brain cell on anything by Rihanna or Daft Punk. Pardon me for oversimplifying, but given the fact that classical music wasn’t totally “unpopular” in its heyday, I can’t fathom any reason why a composer, no matter what genre(s) they work in, would tune out today’s music-cultural zeitgeist—especially those who purport that their work is an extension of classical music’s lineage. I’m not suggesting that we all get a subscription to Billboard, but I do think that composers who close themselves off from a particular sonic possibility—especially a “new” or “popular” one—are doing themselves and their music a disservice.