The Patience of Music Criticism

Åke Pallarp, ​​Grindhal, 1984.
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By HENRY BURNETT*

The actors change, but the formats only gain state-of-the-art technology, always remaining the same

“The critic of culture is not satisfied with culture, but he owes his malaise exclusively to it. He speaks as if he were the representative of an immaculate nature or of a higher historical stage, but he is necessarily of the same essence as what he thinks to be at his feet” (Theodor Adorno, Cultural criticism and society).

71 years separate us from that fulminating blow to criticism dealt by Theodor Adorno, but it seems like yesterday. In the “most musical country in the world” this phrase is very current. What elevates a “controversial” opinion to the status of “musical criticism”? Or, elsewhere, what allows a “critic” to go through life in this condition without ever badmouthing a single record? Simple questions to answer, but difficult to justify. Speed, excitement, audience, “cordiality” and the like.

The door to any subject is opened through an article published in a large and ambiguous newspaper. From anywhere on the internet, comments swarm at the bottom of the page or a reply the next day does not let the subject, which is booming, die. The editor, always attentive, is attracted not by the internal debate of “ideas”, but by the repercussions. Soon, a “critic” is born.

Your task is simple: hold that theme by the halter and take it to the last consequences. Its motto: the prejudice of the intellectual elite against a genre that, despite its almost hegemonic visibility, the almost miraculous multiplication of artists-clones of each other, of feeding a millionaire market, suffers from an evil: the non-recognition of the thinking elite, of the university, which insists on ignoring the genre, giving preference to another canon, less “popular” and more “refined”. There will be weeks talking about the same subject from the same argument, but from different places, after all, it is necessary not to tire the subscriber.

Many readers, less apt than the “critic”, will obviously not be aware of one detail: no text, but none even come close to elaborating a minimal critique of this “disguised” material, not a word about music, lyrics, society, consumption, media, standardization, audition, etc., all revolve around the “prejudice” of intelligentsia. After all, the “critic” seriously asks, why such disregard? The response to this “caste of good taste” should be a presentation of elements that lead intellectuals to think about the reasons for their distance, but nothing is formulated, just the revived discourse on “cultured” and “popular”, which is nothing more than a confusion of the “critic” himself in relation to the essential: these works, which he knows well – who doesn't? – they say nothing to him or have nothing to say about them; it seems then that he is doing a sociology of music, but it is a mistake.

The “controversy” reminded me of an acquaintance boutade by composer Gilberto Mendes: “If you ask a Brazilian intellectual who his favorite artists are, he will answer: Guimarães Rosa, Joyce, Kafka, Volpi, Bergman, Glauber Rocha, Caetano and Chico. Neither Villa-Lobos nor Stravinsky will cross his mind. The classical music of our time does not exist for the Brazilian cultured class”. It is the same thesis, only presented in “scale”, in a mirrored confusion.

For Gilberto Mendes, the musical material consumed by the intellectual elite is a degradation compared to “true composers”; for the journalistic disciple, these same composers are the stuff of the thinking elite. Incompatible, the two theses have, despite this, points in common: there is no musical criticism, elaboration, nothing, pure and simple attacks that gave (as they do) what to talk about, guess what, in the same newspaper. On another level, after a few years, the “critical schema” is repeated, however precisely devoid of criticism.

The conception that drives the “new inclusive critique” is still noble – the sun rises for everyone (is it?) –, but it lacks basic elements that justify the idea that all music has its place and its importance, that “ colloquial simplicity” of the material shows that this is a matter of class, not aesthetics. The popularity criterion is the supreme instance. They are popular, so they don't deserve "intellectual contempt". Little does the “critic” know what some of these so-called intellectuals hear in the shelter of their old cars on the way to the campuses; perhaps he understood better that, in fact, “bad music” yields good moments of solitary catharsis, but that does not mean that it is capable of producing reflection beyond emotion. Arnaldo Antunes teaches about this in “Music to listen to” (t.ly/2JO_).

The blind spot seems to be the lack of academic studies on the “rejected” material. However, this has nothing to do with music, but with acceptance. Even the telenovela Pantanal opened space for a better critique of this so “belittled” music, consumed mostly by the wealthy elite in all places and in an oppressive way. The peons gathered around the campfire make fun of the college sertanejo – they are listening to Almir Sater play –, and he, who does not follow the artists of the moment who work with the “same genre” as him, mocks precisely the umbilical connection between the “concept” sertanejo and university students.

My dear “critic”, who knew, a soap opera scene contains more elements to think about than the thousands of characters spent to feed the “controversy”. How can these two instances be distant if, after all, they are merged and widely consumed precisely because of this merger? What more can a genre aspire to than a perfect union between the “erudite” and the “popular”, not in theory, but in practice?

But beware, this perfect union owes nothing to criticism, much less to the academic elite, rather it is the result of the dynamics of culture itself, which since modernism has been showing signs of autonomy in relation to attempts at regulation and standardization by the “philosopher kings” who, since antiquity, they believed they could define and determine the course of culture, while it followed its path of constant reinvention.

Another taboo is that one cannot say that this merger is a disaster, because after all that would be “prejudiced”. It may be that this (belated) realization, by the way, forces us to another reflection, which is for another time: who changed, the “sertanejo” or the “university student”, perhaps both?

The inglorious task of criticism is another, which is why it is confined to the university and independent blogs and websites, far away from the major newspapers: it must uncover what is not heard, it needs to calmly analyze the advances in language, the connections between music and society, the unheard of, the experiments, the courage of those who produce on the margins of the visible (never mind the audible), to point at the extreme edge of modernity in which we find ourselves, the glorious victory of technique and its effects on the music we hear in television musical programs, where children and adults sing more of the same within a pattern of hypersaturated “auditorium music”, but incredibly alive and recycled, while the “judges” rehearse faces and mouths that must impress the spectator, who believes that everyone is moved and enraptured, dragging himself into the television plot.

Cowboy priests, hundreds of duos, masked singers in an unprecedented imported format (everything can get worse, as we know), a girl with her legs out playing (badly) two pianos while the audience applauds in the middle of the clapperboard, a ballet choreographing “ Bad life” (how is such a deep gap between author and work possible?), children screaming hits from the 1980s, the menu is endless, but has been repeated for at least 70 years; the actors change, but the formats only gain state-of-the-art technology, always remaining the same.

Meanwhile, “criticism” demands academic attention for a by-product that it does not have the courage to dissect, not even politically – after all, if something umbilically unites the absolute majority of these artists and their public, it is their affinity for ultra-rightist arrogance. Thought has no right to withdraw from its anachronism and its internal rhythm, because it seems to have the obligation to allow itself to be invaded by everything that prevents it from fulfilling a function that no one else wants to fulfill, namely reflection.

Perhaps there is not much left for the University to fully subsume, a little more patience, Mr. "critical". Meanwhile, who knows a dose of

Vladimir Maiakóvski – in the translation of Augusto de Campos and Boris Schnaiderman – suits him well:

hymn to the critic

From the passion of a coachman and a laundress
Chatterbox, a rickety offspring was born.
Son is not rubbish, you don't throw yourself in the dump.
The mother wept and baptized him: critical.

[...]

Will it take a lot for him to come out of the diaper?
A piece of cloth, trousers and a scupper.
With a graceful nose with a penny per page
He sniffed the affable sky of the newspaper.

[...]

Writers, there are many. Gather a thousand.
And let us build an asylum for critics in Nice.
Do you think it's easy to live by rinsing
Our white clothes in the articles?

*Henry Burnett is a music critic and professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Musical mirror of the world (Phi publisher).

 

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