CRITICISM IN SOUND ART

As told by Massimo Ricci to Pedro López (www.modisti.com) in view of a meeting on sound art to be held in Madrid on June 2010.

PEDRO: Do you think that discographic criticism in sound art is necessary? Why?
MASSIMO: I’m probably the worst choice for getting acceptable answers. I always define myself a “musician and music writer”, but I refuse to be called a “critic”. I believe that serious sound art has a legitimate right to exist and only those who are able to really understand the intimate nature of sounds (namely, particularly sensitive persons) should be entitled to write about it. It has become a too-easy-to-join bandwagon, by now. It’s all very trendy – both being an “artist” and a “critic” – so one has to be very careful. But of course correct information is essential. Then again, one perceives phenomena according to a well defined individuality. [Criticism] is useful to know what’s happening around, but not really “necessary”, because – as told above – sound is an individual experience (unless you use it for social reasons, which is another matter altogether – and something I’m not the least interested in).
P: What is your opinion about the evolution of experimental music and sound art on the Internet in recent years?
M: Positive, as far as diffusion of interesting materials and contacts with REAL artists are concerned. Extremely negative in terms of “anyone can be an artist”. A globalization, that’s right. Mixing cheap and excellent – now, that’s really negative. Just check the MySpace phenomenon. Awful.
P: What has improved and what has gotten worse in your opinion?
M: Communication has definitely improved, but “experimental” music at large has globally diminished its overall artistic level, despite the continuing brilliance shown by those gifted individuals who emerge from the stagnant waters of self-professed “artistry” and corporate “criticism”. The reason being the same: too many people who were doing something else until yesterday, and now have found an easy way to make some money and get their much needed doses of ego gratification. What was once “avantgarde/experimental” is now, quite often, just a pretext for posing and “belonging to a faction against another faction”. And if one’s willing to speak his/her mind, it’s very probable that you’re gonna get in trouble (no more promos, people cutting you out of their “channels”). Luckily I’m a lone wolf, and can just smile while observing all of this human sadness leaking even into something that should be a means for improving ourselves. Ultimately, the best thing that happened is that one has finally a chance of getting in direct contact with the person behind the work, without excessive filtering. The worst is that, thanks to a few pioneers’ work, a thousand of others can copy, then sell the copy as an original. This is valid both for music/sound art and for music writing.
P: It is now very common that organizers of concerts, sound technicians, journalists, etc. suddenly, at some point become artists in an instant. In my opinion, many of these people find it easier to manage this environment of self-promotion than what happened in the days of vertical promotion of the record companies. Then it was necessary to create a commercial product and sell it, and the cost of all this was very important. So they were very careful in getting a good result.
M: Of course – once there was a different, deeper consciousness in most people. Now quick money and quick fame is all that counts, with rare exceptions.
P: Now, published on the Internet, it is all virtually free, and in general I noticed some decline in terms of quality control. It produces much more and with less care.
M: Right, anyone can do something nowadays, even those who don’t distinguish between a musical note and a notebook. But, you know, they’re “creative artists”…
P: It is currently more profitable for your career to make contacts than learn or listen to music. On our website, it took a long time to accept (although the statistics showed that), that the musicians were more interested in news about concerts that in the releases page. And not that they want to know what kind of concerts are being heard, but where to sell their own music…
M: That’s pretty normal. Everybody’s desperate for getting famous, as I said. It’s just human nature, a sort of survival of the fittest in the “fame pool”. Mors tua, vita mea – fuck friendship and human values. If you’re not known, then you’re nobody. And when a real nobody becomes famous or at least very well known in a determinate circle (such as many incompetent musicians/writers), it’s difficult to prevent the “average-person-to-shithead” transition from happening relatively soon. Talking about where I (unfortunately) was born, you should read the absurdities that are written (…and read, and trusted!) here in Italy, thanks to the shield given by the fact that most English speaking people can’t understand the bullshit that gets published in Italian. And these “journalists” go around acting like the omniscient Popes of avantgarde and jazz, which is utterly pathetic. Certain magazine editors literally don’t know the Italian grammar, yet they get credit by ignorant people (luckily, limited to Italy!). Let’s not even talk about “musicians” who act as avantgardists until a mafia-financed record production appears, and they sell their mum’s ass to become a part of it. Again, there are exceptions but money is money, you know, especially in these times of crisis, when the actual nature of a human comes out – and it’s often comparable to that of a hyena.
P: How can happen now something that was unthinkable a hundred years ago in the field of music? That a concert promoter can substitute for a musician on stage without an audience to realize about their lack of professionalism and incompetence? What are the aesthetic variables that have created such confusion among the public and the critics?
M: Well, first of all today you don’t have to learn music to make music. It’s that simple. At least one should learn to listen (this is another question that alone would require months to discuss…many people write reviews without actually listening to the records!). On the other hand, famous composers such as Mozart are a part of the establishment’s official history because they were employed by the powers that be in their era. So we have to make a choice. Is it better enjoying the fruits of a great technical and spiritual preparation (and art destined to a selected audience), or allowing total freedom of expression and accepting the consequence (namely: still a lot of excellent music around, but amidst loads of shit hyped by “journalists” who have an interest in doing it?). Personally, I took a halfway stance. I choose what to listen, what to write about, I am free of expressing opinions because I’m not controllable by anyone (and I’m telling this a few days after a negative review of a “sacred cow” of the improvisation that I wrote was “friendly refused” by the website on which it had to be published, so I did it on my own Touching Extremes). I just try to promote the most deserving and serious artists, while discarding the rubbish. Every once in a while, a great artist can produce an undeserving work and I’ll say that. The same if a nobody produces an excellent work – in spite of the fact that he’s still a nobody, if the record is fine I’ll also say it.
(A curator’s comment): The public screening of sound art becomes obsolete the old forms of dissemination-validation of the music or contemporary art, based largely on the critics. This is perfectly normal: Sound Art is part of what we call new artistic practices, whose very nature includes the fact of operating with different materials and different creative fields simultaneously. We talked for a hybrid art definition that can be analyzed both conceptually and formally from multiple viewpoints. Traditional specialists, trained in a strict separation romantic and avant garde art, they may be least equipped to deal with this issue that new professionals, less specialized, and whose scope can have a vocation more general. In turn, these new practices and within the Sound Art, need not present themselves as a small niche only for connoisseurs. Sound Art and the rest of New Practices tend to be offered in an open, always leaving the door ajar to push that any interested party, never closed so that only visit the holders of the key.
M: I’m neither a critic nor a “traditional specialist”. The recent upsurge of “creative democracy” is an unstoppable process – exactly like globalization – and (real) critics are just hopeless idiots if they think that they can still change the world of music and art with their reviews, although I’m sure that there’s someone who really thinks so in the “official” branch of music criticism. You know, sooner or later alcohol, drugs, too many late nights and excessive decibels end up distorting reality in a “specialized” brain. There is an interesting argument somewhere on the web regarding the issue that there are many critics who suffer from tinnitus or other kinds of ear damage, so they hypothetically should not be entitled to review anything. The same should apply to latecoming, untrained, shallow “sound artists” and the likes. But who can really contrast this process? No one can. Based on all of this, distinguishing – or even just discovering – worthy art becomes more and more difficult, so we just remain with our own convictions and data related to our personal experience. That’s all. Ultimately, everyone can do what they want of their life and create their own imaginary reality to avoid psychological crumbling in a difficult era like this we’re living in. Let failures believe they’re artists, let illiterates believe they’re “critics”. No problem with me. Then again, if they find someone willing to give them room on the press and on the web, who are we to say “no” to that? As I told before, I’m just a distant observer and I really don’t care about anything else than finding sounds and artists who enrich MY life. I don’t teach, I learn.