It’s just about the first thing you’ll notice on first arriving on the free music ‘scene’, that vast, all consuming ocean of Experimental music which regardless of the counter-trend still manages to make up the bulk of content released. And it’s a majority output which I’ve always been fairly indifferent towards; despite my occasional foray into the realms of abstract ‘music’ and soundscapes I’ve never really managed to latch on to the genre, indifference dictating that I either cast the most cursory of glances towards it in my explorations or even take on a mild degree of irritation at coming across yet another impenetrable sonic structure which can only back up its own existence with essay length validations, concepts and justifications but which sorely lacks the ability to actually be listenable. But that’s just me, I habitually say to myself, obviously there’s a legion of individuals devoted to making such albums so, I assume, there must be at least some appreciative audience for it. A questionable idea I admit given that the only support which the genre has may just be from the self-indulgence of its creators but I’m happy enough to allow it the benefit of the doubt and admit that, occasionally, something of interest does emerge from the vast and often anonymous ranks of Experimental production.
Two things do leave me pause for thought on those rare occasions when I bother to think about it all though. The first being the most obvious, the fact that our scene is largely swamped with these sorts of highly conceptualised efforts and that the vast investment on behalf of individuals in creating and promoting it detracts somewhat from those minority genres which, it must be said, actually hold far more interest to the bulk of listeners. It throws the worlds’ view of what free music is out of balance, it makes sure that the bulk of what the early arrival to the scene will find is the sort of stuff which has only ever proved itself to be of marginal interest to any audience. But then this is a democratic scene, if people want to push a certain genre then that’s what they’ll do, no matter how much it bemuses me in my own tiny little musical ghetto. And if the dominance of a niche genre bothers me, or anyone, that much then we’re all welcome to promote our own alternatives to it, as more and more labels and individuals seem to be doing almost as an overt act against the historically dominant musical trends. Then from there the image which our movement projects to those who’re more used to mainstream commercialism remains a gloriously organic thing, regardless of the pointless pontificating of people like me who point out trends without the intent or the ability to alter them. So, a complaint but purely a personal one.
My second concern though is perhaps more of a real one, or at least one which doesn’t rely on abstract daydreams about what free music is, can be and should hope to achieve (assuming it could even be said to present any kind of coherent whole in the first place). A lot of self confessed ‘Experimentalism’ (and I include the more ‘out there’ branches of Electronic production in that) just isn’t all that good. Of course the balance in music has always seemed to suggest that most of any genres output is going to be average at best but within our movement that mix between the good, the bad and the ugly seems to be most notably out of balance amongst those bedroom producers and conceptualists who form the bulk of our number.
I know that, theoretically, ‘music’ which places itself on the peripharies of the conventional is by its own understanding going to hold limited appeal to a mass audience and that the vanguardist mentality is sometimes there to try as opposed to succeed but that theoretical validation relies on the fact that there is something new or evolving in what’s being done. Experimentalism all too often seems like a term which is robbed of its meaning, a term which is used more as a synonym for ‘unpopular’ as opposed to having a concept or structure which progresses our understanding or appreaciation of music as an art. The genre label sometimes covers a whole wealth of sins and releases which, were they not proclaiming themself as ‘awkward’ would simply be slated as being a bit shit. Endless soundscapes, for example, made up of home recorded fragments and disjointed, cannabalised parts, can certainly have interest to them but they’re a veritable sub-genre of their own which isn’t at the forefront of anything so much as being a self-justifying ghetto. It’s experimentalism as a sub-culture, made up of individuals who’re obviously enthusiastic and devoted to what they’re doing but who don’t seem to look at either their own genre or music as a whole; the assumption seems to be that simply being discordant or ‘anti-music’ is an end unto itself without any concept of venturing into new areas and ideas. Not everything which makes for a difficult listen is worth doing and I do sometimes wish that people placed their ideas in the context of wider musical culture before assuming that there’s a boundary there to be pushed beyond because often enough there really isn’t. If your ‘difficult’ is just mundane to most then why are you actually doing it?
Certainly if the concept is solid enough, or the artistic vision interesting enough then there’s plenty of space for new approaches to emerge but trying to juxtapose yourself to some percieved convention can’t just be a goal unto itself.
My ultimate point? Well, I very rarely have one, incoherent bastard that I am, but as a vague word of advice to those who’re revelling in the jagged end of the music pool, think about the world that you’re placing your music into as well as the world which you want to have it in.