Saturday, August 24, 2019

In praise of background music


Background music in restaurants and elsewhere receives a very bad press from the classical cognoscenti. But others have a different view:
We must bring about a music which is like furniture, a music, that is, which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as a melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between friends dining together. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. To make such a noise would respond to need.
Above is the album produced by Brian Jones and posthumously released in 1971 of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Brian Jones discovery of the Master Musicians playing in Brion Gysin's Tangier restaurant 1001 Nights launched them on a global career and seeded the growth of the World Music market. My exploration of the legendary Jajouka musicians, written in collaboration with Rolling Stones biographer and Michael Jackson ghost-autobiographer Stephen Davis, can be read at Revisiting the Master Musicians.

But that quote does not come from anybody with connections to Brian Jones or World Music. Erik Satie influenced John Cage - the silence loving composer quoted the passage above in his mesostic 'James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet'. Satie was also an important influence on the evolution of minimalism. Today's social media homework assignment is to debate the proposition that Erik Satie was wrong about background music*.

* Quote is Erik Satie as quoted by Fernand L├ęger, in Alan M. Gillmor, Erik Satie (Boston: Twayne,1988),  232. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

2 comments:

Pliable said...

Or perhaps the proposition for debate should be that classical fashionistas talk the John Cage talk, but don't walk the John Cage walk.

And isn't the much-defended applause between movements just background music by another name?

John said...

Dear Pliable
Whenever I see references to JC's 4'33" (and I have form, if you recall: https://www.overgrownpath.com/2012/11/sample-john-cages-famous-4ft-3in-piece.html) I am reminded of the Fast Show's take on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrjKYX3Cs7c
Best wishes, John