Kyle Gann on “political music”

Filed under Music, Thoughts

Kyle Gann wrote this article about nine years ago, but it’s still an engaging essay on the problematics of marrying “art music” with the “political”.

I’ve been all over the map with politics and music. I once began work on, but never finished, a piece based on texts by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

Other works of mine have not been directly political but have entailed various kinds of critique, as with my evening-length work Machine Languages in which I guess you could say I tried to bring computer music into the world and the world into computer music: kind of a technological critique of technology.

But most of my works have been “pure” sonic explorations without any explicit political or even (in many cases) explicit extra-musical content. Increasingly, I am OK with this, as I feel more and more that art is always-already political and always-already embedded in a network of political and social relations. The choices one makes in the act(s) of creativity always and inescapably situate art within this network of relations. For me, the act of making “art” music and/or experimental music is itself political; for me, it is a refusal of music as entertainment and escape from or avoidance of the corporate and commercial domination of music.

For me, these aspects of music-making tend to be more meaningfully “political” than workers’ songs that glorify the Revolution or whatever. I tend to like when art is politics rather than just being about it in a straightforward way.