Music, Art, Society, Authenticity

I’m having a difficult day of communicating, no question. Here goes:

What I’m trying to do is recognize that when we talk about music in the context of authenticity, institutionalization and in its role as part of popular culture in general, (at least) two primary conceptions of music are at work: music “as art” and music “as society.” Music as art is seen as an artist’s (or hegemonic productive force: producer, company, audience, etc.) expressive product; when we say, “music should be judged for its aesthetic value rather than who’s producing it; music has no nationality,” that is music as art. Music as society highlights the aspect of music that serves as the center of certain social interactions for various groups; when Ryoji Ikeda says that his music is a reflection of the audience, he seems to be extolling the primacy of social consumption of music and the secondary nature of its “material” content.

It seems to me that there is a real heterogeneous push from many different sides of this discourse to confine music into the artistic mode, to the exclusion of the social. On one hand, this artistic conception of music “untethers” it from its original social or national context of origin — allowing us to escape questions of authenticity by positing that individual accomplishment in music (i.e. “talent”), rather than the social identity or conditions of the artist and production, should be the basis of musical valuation. Conversely, this step is also instrumental in producing reified and commodified culture that _is_ identifiably “national”; working on the contestable assumption that artists anywhere have license to imitate or work in another’s aesthetic (authentically or not) the artistic product can and has been separated from the processes of imitation and attempts may be made to identify the irreducible artistic product with irreducible artistic actors occupying a national space. In this way, a new sense of authenticity is constructed that similarly sidesteps accusations or inauthenticity by positing that plural and autheticities exist and that they are inherently exchangeable.

I would argue that both of these essentialized concepts of “music as art” do ideological violence to the lived reality of musical production and consumption — “music as society.” It seems to me that the transnational processes of borrowing, imitation, remixing, pastiche, as well as reinvention all have a relational connection to a static concept of “authenticity,” but it also seems obvious that “inauthentic” music exists and is consumed in complicated social settings by people for whom “authenticity” has little direct influence. That is to say, “music as art” infers the equatabilty of “authenticity” and “realness,” at the same time that direct observation proves the real nature of “inauthentic” music. On the one hand, we need to acknowledge that people actively appropriate foreign forms of music and construct unique relationships with that music; on the other, to deny social processes of exchange and their embeddedness in the resulting music is ludicrous.

This relates to the question of race in Hip-Hop Japan and the methodology of that particular ethnographic project. To say that the (approximate) application of black-face _is_ only a expression of respect and solidarity, is to ignore the social and historical processes of which the “ganguro” phenomenon is part. It may seem like an obvious question (it shouldn’t), but what works to build the abstract idea of “giving respect to African American culture” the direct representation of blackened faces, dread locks, and all the other forms of fashion that go along with it? And what are fetishizing or normative effects on Japanese perceptions of blacks in/out of Japan? How does it affect and how is it affected by domestic race and status relationships with people of darker and lighter skin (I’m specifically thinking of Ainu Japanese)? That is to say, in paying homage to an abstracted “black culture,” they reify a very real and applied conception of what “black culture” is. To lead back to the last paragraph, the relationships characterized by the transitive verb statements “pay homage to”, “imitate”, “perceive”, “reinterpret”, etc. constitute what ganguro _is_, not goals or any materially static identity assigned to the action.

Why can’t music _be_ appropriated, real, possessed, disdained, prideful, attacked, authentic, inauthentic, violent, cathartic, harmful, produced, consumed, ignored, interpreted nine ways to Sunday, artistic and social all at once? It seems foolish to delve too deeply into the question of what is “truth” in this situation without first defining what “truth” is (if that makes sense). We can identify divergent ideas of what makes up the “authentic,” their histories and social contexts, but that doesn’t need to change the relational historical and social processes that go into making the music what it _is_ constitutively.

If we view music in this way, as socially constructed, itself as a “genba” of social interaction, what is the relationship of music to social institutionalization and to the social construction of “Pop” Japan? Japanese Pop music has an equally long history of appropriation and social manipulation of the “artistic” side of the music to Jazz, Classical, and Hip-Hop styles — are the social interactions cheapened by the nature of the music (the artistic or aesthetic inferiority of it)? How does our answer to this question problematize our impending ethnographic project at the anime convention? That is, how does our valuative judgement of otaku influence our attempt to describe their community?

I’m going to stop writing here, but other ideas floating in my notes:

1) Sexual androgyny as a normative discourse (embracing the “feminine” reifies what constitutes the “feminine”)

2) Related: if in that case appropriation reifies a normative idea of the object, as in the case of reifying national culture, then what, if any, are the normative effects of remixing?

3) Supporting above “thesis”: Rain and BoA (the Korean artists) gained popularity directly as a result of social processes external to their music. Rain through acting in a hit TV Series reversed early perceptions of him as ugly and talentless. BoA (who first debuted in Korea and was critically panned for being too young) made it big in Japan before she was able to become popular in Korea (maybe because by building a good name for Korean culture in Japan she spoke to Korean nationalist sentiments — no joke!) These different social interactions, not exclusively artistic, were instrumental in their relationship to the mass — and became expressed in the mass’ relationship to their music.


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