Thursday, March 27, 2008

Opposite sides of the mountain

"Strauss and I tunnel from opposite sides of the mountain" said Mahler, "one day we shall meet", so writes Alex Ross in "The Rest is Noise." It's a quote that's stuck with me as I've read the first few chapters, and might be one that could be useful food for thought for any artist who is primarily taking a position. Its a reminder that the end result of art should be the same; something of value, something worth returning to, something - I tentatively add - that is new. Though "new" can mean many things; the artistic vision is always personal, so though a "new" Neil Young song might be as traditional as the hills, it will always add something to Young's singular vision. I don't think many musicians, poets or novelists would go through with the hard work, year on year, if they didn't consider it added something to what they'd done before. Ross makes the point that at the time of the premiere of "The Rites of Spring" there was little distance between the expectations of audience and artist - yes, it shocked and appalled some of the more conservative members of the crowd, but a few performances later it was the toast of Paris. Yet, at the same time, a change had come about - the "repertoire" was becoming fixed, the idea of a canon was being solidified. Ironic, really, at the time of great political and artistic change that came about in the first 2 decades of the 20th century, that the one result was a sundering of the relationship between artist and audience to such an extent that the latter would forever cry out for the familiar, whilst the former would increasingly refuse to meet the audience half way. It's the old, old story - yet it seems that before the phonograph, and other methods of "fixing" art, the audience was primarily interested in the new - not the same as they'd seen before. It seems hardly believable in an age of West End musicals, themselves increasingly a rehash of overfamiliar songs and plots, but before mass produced art was a possibility, art had to be "new" to get an audience.

Which brings me back to tunnelling through the mountain.... the first issue of James Davis's avant garde poetry magazine ipthenq dropped through the post yesterday, but despite its loose leaf format, and its concentration on a small group of avant garde-ish poets, its anything but inaccessible. I'm still reading the magazine, but the accompanying CD, with readings by Tom Jenks and Ceri Buck is a delight. Jenks' opener "Brief Lives of the Saints" and Buck's long poem "Permanent Agriculture" in particular are funny, informative, irreverant, and have more to them than more traditionally observational writers. Buck in particular seems a genuine "informationist" - her work part agit-prop, part political-seminar, part art-installation, yet having a cohesiveness and (vitally) a lyrical non-pomposity that belies any sense that this poetry is in any way pretentious. Tom will be reading with two other poets at "The Other Room" a new poetry night run in parallel with the magazine on 9th April at the Old Abbey Inn, just behind the University. With the last issue of the magazine I was once involved with, Lamport Court, due out shortly, I'm reminded that what we'd always wanted to do was have an "open" policy to poetry and fiction, letting the simple, the difficult, the traditional, the avant garde, whatever... sit side by side, as long as the work achieved its aim. Any pot holer will tell you that our mountains are riddled with holes, passages and tunnels; its a rich metaphor, worth exploring.

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