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27 May 2008

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Matthew
1.

I think there's also a lot of fanservice that's in the eye of the beholder, as it were. I was getting a pretty heady buzz from Babbitt's music long before I had near the expertise he prescribes. And covers, cover bands, etc., deliver only as much fanservice as the listener puts in—there's plenty of covers I'll listen to with pleasure even having little or no interest in the original. It's a two-way street in a lot of aspects.

What's fun to try and figure out are the "Iron Man"-movie equivalents of musical fanservice—the works that successfully translate the fanboy obsessions into something a general audience can pick up on without offending either. John Adams is a possibility—although I know at least a few hardcore minimalists (practitioners and fans) who regard him much as a dedicated "Dark Knight" fan must shudder at those Joel Schumacher "Batman" sequels.

DJA
2.

Hi Matthew,

I was getting a pretty heady buzz from Babbitt's music long before I had near the expertise he prescribes.

Yeah, but you are also probably one of the (predicted) 200 people in the world who enjoy "The Most Unwanted Song," too. Come on, admit it.

Also, my point was more that Milton Babbitt does not give a shit whether plebeians like his music, so the mere fact that you got a charge out of his music before you had the theoretical chops to dissect it in no way makes you worthy of consideration for his club.

It's maybe also worth noting that most of Babbitt's fanservice takes the form of his writings about the theoretical underpinnings of his works -- you know as well as I do that there are lots of people who love the ideas behind Babbitt's music more than the actual sound of it.

And covers, cover bands, etc., deliver only as much fanservice as the listener puts in—there's plenty of covers I'll listen to with pleasure even having little or no interest in the original.

I wasn't saying all covers are fanservice! I meant, specifically, single-gimmick cover bands (bluegrass+AC/DC) or records (reggae+Dylan), wherein the joke tends to wear pretty thin pretty fast even for people who know and love the originals.

What's fun to try and figure out are the "Iron Man"-movie equivalents of musical fanservice—the works that successfully translate the fanboy obsessions into something a general audience can pick up on without offending either.

John Adams, definitely. I'd add Music for 18 Musicians and probably the Glass operas. But the heavyweight champion of this is, of course, Miles Davis.

andrea
3.

the works that successfully translate the fanboy obsessions into something a general audience can pick up on without offending either.

but i'd actually simply consider that good writing: multiple layers of complexity that reward the novice and the experienced. it's like what people say about decent kids' movies or books; that there's a bone thrown to the adults who have to sit through them (although i think dreamworks does this to a fault).

so: james joyce. great writing or fanservice?

Chris Becker
4.

I think there's a lot of value in the culture of collecting comics if you are a young person. And I think this might be an elephant in the room here, i.e. that a lot of comics are written for people under the age of 18. When adults try to impose their own sense of order on adolescent culture...well, it doesn't work does it? But instead of feeling alienated, I take a certain pleasure in hearing about comics or music from younger people that is completely outside of my experience as an (ahem) middle aged adult.

When I collected comics as a kid (Master of Kung Fu and believe it or not The Micronauts were my favorites...) I was fascinated by the artwork and the medium - although at the time I didn't have the language to explain my obsession. I and my friends just amassed the damn things without much thought.

Comics have since changed. But what an pre-adolescent or adolescent kid needs as they are coming of age and creating a sense of self hasn't.

Matthew
5.

I guess my point was that musical fanservice is always going to be a more slippery issue, because music can always be appreciated without it. I relate to total serialism just fine without turning on the technical listening that Babbitt insists is necessary to relate to it—very unlike the last time I picked up a "Superman" comic and had no idea what on Bryak was going on. (Wait a minute, he died again?) And I don't know any of the cover bands you listed, but I could easily imagine someone enjoying them without knowing the source material (which I guess would be another layer of fanservice in itself). Someone who knows their Dylan would likely grow weary of a reggae-Dylan band, but someone who just knows reggae is going to respond based on the quality of the playing, not the novelty of the repertoire.

Joyce, I think, is one of those artists who are busy creating fanservice for their own personal audience of one. I think it actually works in his case—it's fun because you end up temporarily taking on all of Joyce's own obsessions reflexively in your attempt to make sense of the book. (You don't identify with the characters—you identify with Joyce identifying with the characters.)

By the way, I was reading a Babbitt essay last night in which he spends the first 300 or so words proclaiming the uselessness of composers analyzing their own pieces, and then goes on to analyze his own piece with deliberate exhaustiveness. It's like he's a truant showing up on the last day of school to ace the final out of cocky spite. Hilarious. (I swear, sometimes I like to read Babbitt just for the entertainment of watching him come up with thirty different clever ways of flipping somebody off.)

DJA
6.
but i'd actually simply consider that good writing

Well, yeah, so would I. The goal should be to express your ideas, however thorny or complex or unfamiliar they may be, in the simplest, clearest possible form, right?

I know some people do not feel that way, but those people are seriously deluded.

so: james joyce. great writing or fanservice?

Finnegans Wake is like the ne plus ultra of literary fanservice.

DJA
7.
And I think this might be an elephant in the room here, i.e. that a lot of comics are written for people under the age of 18.

It's been a long time since that was true. The median age of a superhero comics reader is 29.

Kids read manga, not superhero comics.

DJA
8.
And I don't know any of the cover bands you listed, but I could easily imagine someone enjoying them without knowing the source material.

Having listened to these bands/albums, I have a much harder time imagining that... but okay, for the sake of argument, let's say someone who is, improbably, wholly unfamiliar with the collected works of Messrs. Young, Young, Williams, Rudd, and Scott (or Johnson) encounters a Hayseed Dixie record and enjoys it simply as an enjoyable representation of hillbilly music. This person is having a very different experience than the intended one, which is pretty clearly meant to be: "Ha ha, isn't it a gas to hear 'Thunderstruck' done all bluegrass-style."

Chris Becker
9.

Hold on, fanboy...your survey also says:

"Statistics:

Customers buy an average of nearly 50 comic books a month."

"DC’s single-issue audience was more than 5.2 million. (I believe this incorporated a significant pass-along multiplier of at least three people assumed to read each comic.)"

"92% of DC readers were male."

"80% of them were ages 18-39, with a median age of almost 29."

"Just over 70% attended college."

"Just over 60% were single (never married)."

No disrespect, but is the contemporary comic book audience actually that narrow? If yes, it seems to me there are other issues here to chew on in besides "fanservice."

Matthew
10.

Well, you've actually heard them, so I concede the hypothetical to the voice of (unfortunate, by the sounds of it) experience.

I'm currently procrastinating by trying to think of an act or style that's the opposite of fanservice, one that's so intent on shutting out any potential fans that the actual shutting out becomes part of the nihilistic point. Punk rock occasionally seemed to be headed down that road, but the number of hardcore bands that I am periodically amazed to hear are still together and gigging would belie that. (Somewhere among my stuff, I have a copy of that Malcolm McLaren "Fans" album: punk impresario does electronic dance versions of opera arias. That is some seriously targeted fanservice.)

DJA
11.
No disrespect, but is the contemporary comic book audience actually that narrow?

It would seem so, which is why I chose superhero comics as a clear example of an insular subculture that is overwhelmingly geared towards catering to the very specific desires of the existing audience, at the expense of bringing in new people.

DJA
12.
I'm currently procrastinating by trying to think of an act or style that's the opposite of fanservice, one that's so intent on shutting out any potential fans that the actual shutting out becomes part of the nihilistic point.

Isn't that just a manifestation of the "hardcorer-than-thou" arms race? That seems like a pretty straightforward and commonplace manifestation of fanservice to me.

As Frank Sinatra told Billy Idol: "Don't do that to the people, they want to like you! That's what killed Dennis Day -- contempt for the audience."

Chris Becker
13.

"...an insular subculture that is overwhelmingly geared towards catering to the very specific desires of the existing audience, at the expense of bringing in new people."

I've been vilified in the past in discussions like this for suggesting that maybe composers here in NYC should be a little more proactive in bringing "new people" into new music programming and to concert events. Most (but not all) musicians get really bent out of shape when you point out how narrow their actual audience (and even the make up of their creative network) is if we're going to consider gender, race, and age. It is an uncomfortable point - but not one any creative individual can't handle and address. There's a real joy in bringing new people to your audience (I'm sure you know this from your shows with your big band).

But I don't think the medium itself i.e. the music (or rituals like no applause between movements of a work) is the issue blocking a more diverse and new audience. I think a small insular culture is often the results of class, real estate, and fear.

Or, I guess, in the case of "superhero) comic books (you mean Archie isn't a "superhero"?) money?

Off to the fortress of solitude now...

Tim
14.
The goal should be to express your ideas, however thorny or complex or unfamiliar they may be, in the simplest, clearest possible form, right?

I know some people do not feel that way, but those people are seriously deluded.

so: james joyce. great writing or fanservice?

Finnegans Wake is like the ne plus ultra of literary fanservice.

I'm going to put myself in the seriously deluded camp in that case. Some ideas simply are complex to express and, even if one strives towards a clarity of expression, the outcome may well be pretty tough, and only immediately understandable to a small audience. That doesn't, in itself, invalidate the original idea. Furthermore, we're talking about art here, in which the line between content and expression is extremely hazy - in music even more so. It simply isn't possible in music to neatly sever the idea from its expression (in the way that it might be in, say, a mathematical formula). If what you want to express is complex, its expression will, necessarily, be complex. (That isn't an excuse however for simple ideas being given a complex sheen.) I think the same might be said about Finnegans Wake - or, at least, we might say that Joyce was pushing literature to the point where the line between form and content dissolved.

Now, we might have situations in which complexity and obscurity of expression become fetishised (perhaps they are in Finnegans Wake), but isn't that a manifestation of the 'hardcore arms race mentality' you've mentioned elsewhere and therefore a whole different issue from fanservice? Fanservice, it seems to me, involves a sort of breaking of the fourth wall - the work invites a wide audience, but then breaks that contract in order to speak to a self-defining subset of that audience. And its the breaking of the contract between work and an open-minded audience that is what is upsetting. I simply don't see that in Babbitt, free improv, new music, etc, in which the contract is tough on the audience but at least internally consistent - no one's being cheated.

DJA
15.

If what you want to express is complex, its expression will, necessarily, be complex.

I do not agree with this. But regardless, I think we do agree that the expression should not be made more complex than necessary. And yeah, the fetishization of surface complexity in many new music/improv circles ("more notes equals better art!") is infuriating.

but isn't that a manifestation of the 'hardcore arms race mentality' you've mentioned elsewhere and therefore a whole different issue from fanservice?

Not at all, the "hardcore arms race" is classic fanservice -- whether it's the trend towards increasingly gruesome on-panel violence to prove that your superhero comic is grimmer and grittier than anyone else's, or the trend towards creating increasingly knotty, dense, disjunct, abrasive music in order to keep up with the prevailing standards for being "edgy" and "progressive."

kac attac
16.

Does this mean that the name of the band will be changing from "Secret Society" to "Open House"?

DJA
17.

Of course, the band was named with tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, if ever I should have some epiphany that Milton Babbitt was right after all, and that "the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world," then I assure you I will take your suggestion under advisement.

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