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AUSTRALIAN MUSIC PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

A Review in six parts by DEREK STRAHAN

4. MUSIC AND POLITICS

4. MUSIC AND POLITICS

In my first three articles I offered a review of the role played by musicologists, academics and critics in formulating prescriptive policies for the guidance of composers during the 60's and 70's, in an attempt to provide guidelines to be followed in conceiving and composing music of an inherently Australian character. We noted that many of the guidelines were negative, that is to say, were expressed in terms of prohibition. Composers were given a long list of don'ts to observe, and not many do's. Permitted were "perpetually variable rhythm and non-conformist melody", which, of course, amounted to a discouragement of "repetitive" rhythm and "conformist" melody. In banning these ingredients, proponents of what came to be called "contemporary" music, were in fact banning essential elements, not only of traditional folk music, but also of that other and very important stream of "contemporary" music - popular music. Taking, as one must, a broad view of the music of this century, popular music must be defined as encompassing every kind of pop music which has evolved since the very first manifestation of transcultural fusion. This emerged at the turn of the century in the form of afro-american folk music, otherwise known as jazz.

In my fifth article I will explore exactly what elements are being banned by the exclusion of jazz and pop elements from concert music. The terms of prohibition, as given by musicologists are necessarily evasive, but let me hint at the target by referring to the original social meaning of such terms as "to jass", "to jive", "to rock'n roll" and "jelly-roll". Before they came to be used as generic labels referring to a kind of music, these terms were all employed, definitively, in Negro slang, to mean sexual intercourse. The social condemnation which jazz music provoked in the 1920's is entirely related to its association with those twin social devils, sex and liquor! (And, of course, race!) The prohibition of alcohol, in America, has since been repealed, and "jass" music has become so respectable that it is now taught at Conservatoria. But the instinct to prohibit survives in the minds and spirits of those who seek to formulate and enforce policies and programs which will bind and inhibit the imaginations of composers, and so control and filter the content and impact of music written for the concert hall. Respectability reigns. In my fifth article I will explore the extent to which such fastidiousness involves a monstrous betrayal of the passion of composers of the past. But first we must examine the causes of such contemporary puritanism in our musical culture.

Our search is of a sociological nature, so it is not surprising that our quest for the motives underlying repression takes us into the area of politics. Politics is, after all, the art of social manipulation.

If there is political bias to be found in arts administration policies in Australia, one would expect these to be covert; one would expect the bias to be of a quasi-political nature, and to exist only as hidden agenda. This would be necessary, for the reason that government funding bodies are supposed to appear to be even handed. It must be thus. Covert bias cannot survive public scrutiny and taxpayers money should not be seen to be spent in the service of politically motivated ends, at least not in the arts. However, occasionally, political bias is articulated, and two examples from the Australian film industry will illustrate what I mean.

The Australian feature film "Mad Max" was a privately funded production and, noting this, Melbourne film-maker Tim Burstall, writing in Cinema Papers circa 1980, commented: "it is doubtful that a right-wing vengeance fantasy such as "Mad Max" would have attracted funding from a government film body." Is one to deduce, from this conjecture, the obverse: that persons of left-wing persuasion would consider the expression on film of such an intense, private motivation as "revenge" to be ideologically unsound; and that such persons were, at that time, in control of the disbursement of federal funds available for the support of Australian films?

Another example from my own experience, reveals an even more explicitly expressed bias, and concerns the comment of an (anonymous) assessor of the Australian Film Commission (AFC) on a project of mine (for a film musical in which a computer operator falls in love with the boss's daughter; I committed the error of not portraying the boss as a monster of greed and immorality.). The assessor complained: "How would ''youth' feel about a plot-line where ... the hero is a middle-aged (albeit benevolent) capitalist ?" Predictably the project was not funded. Did the above comment indicate an agenda practised by the Australian Film Commission at that time in its decision-making process, as related to script development funding? An agenda which, in this case, was not as well hidden as it should have been? Normally a rejection is justified on purely aesthetic grounds!

In respect of music funding, both composition and performance, the federal government s equivalent body to the AFC is the Australia Council, and, more I specifically, the Performing Arts Board. If there exists bias of a political nature in funding policies as they relate to composer commissions in the Performing Arts Board analogous to that of which there are indications in the AFC, these are much more difficult to identify because concert music, by its very nature, does not deal in "stories" as do film scripts. However, one can observe a lingering tendency to favour a particular kind of "new music" in terms of the kind of audience to which this music caters.

Generally, despite the advent of minimalism, to which I refer later, one may observe, in the nature of new music funded during the 80s, an absence of music of direct expression of emotion, achieved, specifically by the use of those two vital ingredients of popular music demeaned as "conformist melody and "repetitive" rhythm. We note, in the discouragement of music of direct emotional appeal, a policy similar to that which discourages, in film, the expression of intense personal emotion. Can it be that among a certain sector of the population which comprises the elitist audience which attends concerts of "new music" and "new wave" films, there exists a puritanical distaste for the expression of deeply felt, personal emotion? Is an artist suspect if he/she "indulges" in such expression? Is it sociologically undesirable, is it ideologically unsound, to wear your heart on your sleeve? Is this distrust an expression of left-wing ideology? If so, is this distrust based on the conviction that personal desires are less important than the social good? And that therefore personal desires must be repressed in the cause of the greater good? Has left-wing ideology so permeated the arts that creative individuals, without realising it, are being conditioned to preserve this order of priorities in their personal art work?

Is this the hidden agenda which musicologists, academics and music critics have, for three decades, been fighting to enforce on new Australian music?

Almost certainly the repression has even deeper causes. Emotional repression is only a symptom of a malaise which finds its cause deeply rooted in the Australian psyche. It is possible to identify the anti-emotional elitism which dominates new Australian concert music as a politicised attitude which has its origin in left-wing economic dogma.

Another analogy with the Australian film industry may be helpful in the task of identification. I now refer to a remark made by producer Joan Long (a notably successful applicant for AFC funds! ); a remark made at a recent seminar on film funding (January 1989) held by the Arts Law Centre of New South Wales. Ms. Long was speculating on the effect which new federal funding policies might have on the quality of Australian films, and, in this context, she referred to the "market-driven rubbish" which was produced as a result of the tax incentives initiated by the Liberal Government in 1982 under Section 10BA of the Tax Act. Were we to understand that any film produced with the intention of succeeding in the market place must, by definition be flawed in its conception and categorised as "rubbish"? Perhaps Ms. Long overstated her case in order to serve a deeply held conviction. If so, what was the conviction? In the area of film, there is only one market place, and films are categorised by "genre" according to the type of audience to which their appeal is directed. In music, there are many different market places for many different genres. At opposing ends there are pop music and concert music. Practitioners of pop music regard concert music as, at best, obscure, and, at worst, lacking in soul. Practitioners of concert music regard pop music as "market-driven rubbish". A mutually exclusive gulf separates these two areas of music. Such a gulf did not exist in previous centuries. Given the sophistication of communication by media in this century, there would seem no logical reason for this gulf to exist. Yet it does. There must be a cause, and it must be a cause which did not operate in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The cause is a political one, and it derives from recently evolved political dogma.

Let us assume, for the purpose of argument, that there has existed, in arts administration in Australia, the same political bias in music funding, as we seem to observe in film funding. We would then expect to find a prejudice against the funding of "market-driven rubbish". How might we define this prejudice, this discrimination? It must be elusive, since the discrimination is directed not against the music itself, but against the intention of the music! If it is the intention of the music to be popular it must be suspect, in that its intention is to appeal to the market! Argued thus, it becomes possible to identify an underlying political attitude in the discrimination, and the attitude may be summed up thus: Monetary profit is, by definition, morally suspect, and all those who are motivated by the desire to make profit are also, therefore, morally suspect. In the industrial area, it is possible to make a division between, on the one hand, the (immoral, profiteering) bosses and, on the other hand, the (moral, exploited) workers. in the arts, such a division is less easily made, because the dividing line between bosses and workers is more confused. Therefore, in the case of the creative artist who is psychologically and temperamentally aligned with left-wing philosophy, the only way he/she can square work practises with social conscience is to forgo writing and/or producing works which, through public acclaim, attract sufficient monetary return to provide profit!

We deduce from this that the left-wing artist may risk severe problems of motivation. Normally the creative artist is nourished by public acclaim. If this is not forthcoming, the artist may derive solace and energy from the Intention to create art for posterity. However, the left-wing artist is denied even this option, since to presume to aspire to immortality is to commit the ideologically unsound sin of "monumentalism" (building a monument for oneself). Thus, there is only one possible source of motive-reinforcement, and that is from the approbation of peers, and it becomes a psychological imperative to ensure that such approbation takes an effective form.

Naturally, it is both preferable and essential that this approbation should be conferred in the form of funding, and, naturally, such funding can only be available (for works which are not "market-driven rubbish") if members of an approving elite succeed in being appointed to positions of authority in arts administration where they have control over the administration of public funds.

Thus we observe the paradox that left-wing political thinking has produced an arts oligarchy which is elitist, and which decries art works of a populist nature as being "right-Wing" This is ironic seeing that socialism has its origins in a populist movement and decries laissez-faire liberalism as favouring the elite! In music it is doubly ironic that, in the west, socialism in music should have emerged as a force denying populist elements when, in the east, it had quite the opposite effect, as witness the persecution of Shostakovich by Stalin, because he was too modern!

In my next article, as promised, I will explore how the repression of emotion in concert music has resulted in a suppression of the sexual impulse, and in a betrayal of the heritage of the great composers of the classical and romantic traditions.

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