Ses albums Heliocentric Worlds (1965) et Blue Delight (1989) méritent particulièrement votre attention. D’autres pièces super expérimentales, à l’image de “Shadow World“, méritent également d’être mentionnées. On trouve, dans la musique de Sun Ra, les premières traces de ce que la structure d’un marché est un concept qu’il faut absolument abattre. Le caractère mélodique d’une chanson, s’il est parfois assuré, n’est jamais son guide. La volonté de transcender l’idée de musique apparaît très précisément. Le projet était prétentieux, mais il est la condition sine qua non qui aura fait de l’œuvre de Sun Ra celle d’un génie. J’y reviendrai plus longuement, un jour.
Plea for “experimentalism”
Where has experimentation gone? It’s been a while since I got the idea to write a plea for “getting rock’n’roll dirty”. It’s an idea I have already outlined in my article about Dead Ghosts. But I still lacked a central element that 6 hours of listening to Sun Ra have finally brought me.
I’m worried about the future and the memory of our independent scenes, and the reason is quite simple: we’re not trying enough anymore. Here is the progressive story of a young old fart who is always looking for more. The temptation for experimentation has always expressed itself in all the main music styles. Far be it from me to pretend to redraw an exhaustive history of this will, it’s a Herculean task, but still, let’s try to look closer at the big names of the genre.
Classical music has known its first experimentations with dissonant music. The arrival of Prokofiev (1891-1953) has been a true game changer. His war Sonatas (Sonatas n°6, 7 and 8) will never cease to show the best that a disruptive will can do in music. Prokofiev has enabled the advent of the whole modern scene, Boulez and such. In his work, we can find a true willingness to catch the listener off-guard, emulated by his desire to create a music we couldn’t entirely. The New York Times has written an excellent article about dissonance in classical music, noticing instability as a basis of this movement.
Then, experimental music came to the jazz scene (see The Shape of Jazz to Come). There lays a particularity that should be noted. Unlike classical music, jazz finds its roots in the lower depths of improvisation, where experimentation is also hidden. The link between experimentation and jazz seems more natural, and some of the great names in the history of jazz, such as Coltrane (1926-1967) and Mingus (1922-1979) have initiated the movement. This only highlights Sun Ra’s performance, that American artist who has changed everything. The artist, who pretended to be an embodiment of “cosmic philosophy”, has released some of the most beautiful jazz tracks ever composed.
His albums Heliocentric Worlds (1965) and Blue Delight (1989) especially deserve your attention. Other experimental pieces, like “Shadow World” should also be mentioned. We can find, in Sun Ra’s music, the first marks of how the structure of a market is a concept that must absolutely be shot down. The melodic aspect of a song, while sometimes handled, is never the guide. The will to overcome the idea of music comes out very clearly. The project was pretentious but is the sine qua non condition that made Sun Ra’s work the one of a genius. I’ll come back to it more thoroughly, someday.
As far as rock’n’roll is concerned, experimental music has surfaced with the early-60s psychedelic scene. While we often refer to The 13th Floor Elevator as the first psychedelic band in History, I note that it’s far from being the most disruptive one. Question Mark and the Mysterians, for instance, has explored way more distant lands than the average of the time. The Beatles have also composed some masterpieces of this style, which, let’s note, has never prevented them from being the most famous music band in History.
And then, psychedelic music has left room for a more experimental music, in the first sense of the word. Alexander “Skip” Spence is one of the first artists who took up the genre, Twink followed quickly, then The Jesus and Mary Chain arrived with some other 80s bands. Everything changed in 1990 with a truly experimental scene. There was a desire to completely blow up the music industry. Polvo and Slint must be honored, but Sonic Youth wins the prize of the best experimental band in history. Their discography is a must-have that everyone on Earth should get the chance to hear.
However, it has gone unheeded ever since. It must be noted that not a single band has taken over. There are some bands here and there that are seemingly trying to take this label, but none seems inhabited by an avant-gardist drive. Even worse, the psychedelic revival gives a wrong idea that the rock’n’roll youth would be on the way to novelty. We are labelling bands as psychedelic those who only try solos with a kind of noisy background music. No need to list them, we all have in mind those pop formations which, on the pretext of having two tambourines and Woodstock-style clothes, are labelled as the successors of Syd Barrett or Lovin’ Spoonful. Once and for all, the sixties music revival will never be experimental, it is antinomic. So let’s stop with this.
In truth, I see a clear reason for that: the televised scene, the coming back of ego and superego in a world where social networks rule the music industry. Everybody scan their popularity on a blue page, the need to be loved and idolized has never been that big. The amount of Facebook likes of each band is scrutinized by tour organizers and music venues, creating a system in which experimentation is not rewarded anymore. And they are not the ones to blame, after all they have to earn a living, but the bands who don’t have the audacity to free themselves from this. How would all these people react if dozens of bands freed themselves from this? Meanwhile, we’re questioning. Where are the albums that don’t overflow with pop? Where are the artists who can create a new sound, who can start a movement? Where are the rock artists who listen to jazz until losing their hearing, those constantly looking for African and Asian ceremonials, transcendence experiences? And, how could bands simply acknowledge the idea of “following the footsteps of”?
There is still some hope. The Internet can, and must be the conveyor of risk-taking. The albums going against the flow can, and must emerge. The death of the “scenes” is a reality, Mike Sniper is right to underline it. The Internet has killed the idea of a music movement, and that’s probably alright. No need to conform to an ideology to prosper. Some artists have suffered too much from the 90s Grunge invasion to dare to release a single track. Those artists have lived the last “great suffocation”, now the bands have to get convinced that there is still room for 20-minute tracks that wouldn’t start a countless shoegaze revival. They have to dare to try concept-albums, fanciful ideas, importing new music instruments, playing with dissonance and deliver meaningful texts. Be unstable like Prokofiev was, be infamous and don’t respect anything, especially the big names of music. And never mind if it fails. Perhaps none of the readers of this article will ever become big music stars, so why not trying?!
Prokofiev, Sun Ra, Sonic Youth… Must we only count on Deerhunter and a handful of other bands to ensure continuity? Experimentation must hit rock’n’roll with full force, otherwise, we will be describing a generation beguiled by the romanticism of the past. Not a single name will stand out, we will be forgotten.