Just so much 9/11 music. Is it something to do with new music’s need to be connected, to justify and assert its relation to society? There has always been an economy of commemoration in which music has a place, but as music has been perceived to grow apart from the wider world, that economy has grown in importance. At least among certain factions.
Compiling and listening today to a survey of as much 9/11-related music as I can find I wonder: Is it a coincidence that so much of this music is so terribly, terribly conservative? Music that is terrified of its own shadow, of daring even to utter anything. Commemoration is a natural habitat for such music: no offence is welcome, so it doesn’t matter if what you write causes as little disturbance at all. I was struck by how few of these pieces even have anything like a sharp dramatic contour. Among the various possible modes of response to an event like 9/11 (angry, documentary, elegiaic, martial, reflective, etc), dramatic is as valid as any other. And some of the works I listened to went down this path, but they were marked as much by restraint as anything.
Those factions I mentioned – aren’t they also the ones that are most anxious about the future of their art form? Perhaps here is a marker: This is ultra-violence, cotton-wool mediated.
So I’m turning again to Mark Bain’s StartEndTime, a sonification of seismological data collected around the time of the collapse of World Trade Center 1 and 2. “This work stands not as a memorial per se but as an action of affect, where the global terrain becomes a sounding board, a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making.” Data collection, documentation and transcoding: these are how we apprehend the world today. And there’s no hiding behind the numbers.
Image: One of Stephen Vitiello’s contact mics, installed on the 91st floor of WTC 1, in 1999.