Perfect Sound Forever

Between a Rock and an Experimental Place

David Grubbs

The convergence of rock and avant music since the 1990's
interviews by Jason Gross

THE FUTURE- Will this continue at this pace?
Will there be purist backlashes in each genre?

Chris Cutler (drummer/writer/author/teacher)

There will be a convergence or an emergence. Then new entrants will be in the new language. So speaking of collaborations between old languages will not be necessary. The old languages will be historical not current.

Kenny Goldsmith (writer/author/DJ/archivist)

Yes. And much more. Shreds and shards will splinter into millions more shreds and shards; the whole world is a sound catalog to be sampled and pasted back together. New generes will increases, new styles will become available; but what's really new is distruibution- in a time of reampant pluralism, every style is acceptable and happening at the same time (it's always been that way anyway), so what's new is how things make their way into the world.

David Grubbs (guitarist/singer/composer)

Not to be rude, but who cares about purist backlashes?

Malcolm Humes (writer)

The music industry stands at an interesting point in history. We're flooded with more choices and options than ever. The avant-garde and experimental music of the 60's through 80's was a scarcity that was cherished partly because of the work it took to seek out. It was a statement of elitism to some, or like searching for gold to others. Now it's more like panning for gold - there's so much crap out there that it requires much more discrimination on the part of listeners to find the unique and experimental music today and much of what's lumped into experimental genres is throw-away bedroom experiments by hobbyists. My personal opinion is that the glut of music is what's killing the music business, as is the attitude that it is an industry and that music is a commodity. For years the industry has inflated itself by repackaging old releases into new packages and formats. It has reached a critical mass of saturation where the same people don't want or need to buy the same products again and much like the computer industry there is less need to buy a PC once you already have one, and less incentive to upgrade if you're happy with what you have.

Bart Plantenga (author/DJ)

Maybe there should be more discussion about what is worst about these 3 or so genres - jams, aimless improv sessions of intellectualized noodling, and self-indulgent wanking that needs the help of the "painted word" [tom wolfe's phrase for words needing to justify and explain painting] - i am inundated with the "sound word", endless intellectualized liner notes explaining the purpose of particular sound strategies / pieces. i am not opposed to this but i am suspicious of some of them because it certainly means to color our 'way' of listening. these kinds of texts insist on rationalizing the abstractions so that we are being told HOW to listen. This is often because if one did not know the particular strategy or source or effect one would be fairly clueless... i am, BTW, often more intrigued by the process [as written] or the goal than by the actual sounds on CD. i DO like liner notes - sometimes there's not enough info [Gas] sometimes there's way too much [empreintes digitales discs]... but this may be an issue that needs addressing in all of this.

Ben Ratliff (writer, New York Times, author)

I think people will lose interest and move on to other things. I really believe it when I say that there's no reason why the crossover between free jazz and rock or dance music couldn't create something something completely beautiful and perfect that lots and lots of people would want to buy. I just don't see it happening. As far a trend, I just think it's one of those trends that's not going to stick around very long. They'll just keep following their own ends rather than try to follow a common end. Because I think that ultimately people are really, really committed to playing in a free jazz idiom are interested in THAT. Same kinds for the other kinds of music. They're not quite so interested in creating the crossover. I think crossovers happen and take off and create great artistic meaning when there's a sort of organic reason why it should happen, like a cultural reason why it should happen.

I think the fact that one set of bohemians likes music made by another set of bohemians isn't a good enough reason. It just does not that there's going to be a long life to this whole thing. It's perfectly valid, it's perfectly good and I do believe that some really great work can come from it. Or at least I don't see why it can't happen. But as far as a real meaningful crossover that's going to have a life of it's own, I don't totally believe in it.

It's just not grassroots enough of a movement for me to believe in it. We're talking about people who all have huge record collections. It's in their nature to diversify and confuse people and try something new and often times, for the sake of doing something new. I just don't think it's ever going to get to the level of El Grand Silencio mixing Cumbia and hip-hop and reggae, which to me sounds like completely sensible and radical mixture. It's like a mixture that actually happens in real life, rather than in somebody's record collection.

Again, I really do feel that this whole isn't doomed and that nothing good is going to come of it. I just haven't been that impressed by the examples that I've heard. I love the fact that musicians are experimenting and getting outside of their areas. That's all fine and interesting. But the reason why we listen to music is to have a really meaningful experience. I think a lot of these things we've been talking about are more like diversions.

Matthew Shipp (pianist/writer)

the merging and fusion of different musics will always go on-there will always be purist backlashes and there will always be periods of resolution where the experiments of merging 2 or more musics will create its own sucessful idiom for a certain period of time.

David Toop (musician/author)

This is a bit like asking whether house prices will continue to rise. The movement of people across the globe has stimulated cultural and political change throughout history and that movement (physically and electronically) now happens at greater speed, frequency and volume. The issue of political asylum is very heated in Europe right now because people perceive it as an agent of socialo and cultural change. In many cases they don't want any more change but I can only see it as inevitable. Every new hybrid - Iraqi Kurds forming a rock band, maybe - suggests new musical possibilities as much as it demands social justice. In the end, the future is too unpredictable to predict: social change and technological change are too dramatic, too fast, to be able to anticipate their ramifications. Who, in all the orgies of futurist speculation of the early 1990s for example, predicted the use of the laptop computer as a performance musical instrument? Absolutely nobody.

I would hope there are always purist backlashes, but the purist backlashes I like are not the Wynton Marsalis type. I prefer the current fashion for near-silent music, which is a backlash against information overload, an excess of music and mediocrity, a desire to start from a different place. This doesn't mix everything up, all at once, in a rainbow coalition model of all voices at once. It begins from silence, instead, moves slowly and listens intently. This seems very positive to me.

Other interview subjects:

Rock/avant convergences in 1990's
Pros/cons of convergence
Maintaing the integrity/identity of music styles

Also see the original Between Rock and an Experimental Place essay
and a partial listing of rock/avant collaborations since the 1990's.

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER