Style is Life, Style is Death

Further in Andrew Durkin’s Decomposition: A Music Manifesto, he quotes R. Murray Schafer when discussing how music can be treated “as a sensory anchor and stabilizer against future shock”. Durkin uses the neoclassicism and Early Music movements of the early 20th century as examples of this. Some chose to keep a style, be it adopted from the past or wherever, as a beacon betwixt the rolling fog. Style is life.

Then there is the fog itself; constantly shifting and never rooted. Graphic designer Milton Glaser said that “[w]henever Picasso learned how to do something he abandoned it”. David Byrne mentions this kind of rootlessness as a virtue of Tibor Kalman, a graphic designer who is responsible for the cover of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light: “Tibor and company don’t have a signature style, and that is a worthy ambition in life…. Having a recognizable style relegates you to the status of quotable icon. And while being an icon is flattering, I imagine, once it happens, you become irrelevent”. To stop swimming is to drown in this view. Style is death.

Yet is it ever that clean cut? One can be a classical musician who plays modern repertoire and pieces in the canon interchangeably. One can be a jazz musician who plays old standards yet also writes original tunes to perform. One can be a punk rocker immersed in the history of the genre yet constantly searching for ways to branch it out.

It could be that we are constantly adjusting within certain paradigms. Maybe stylistic life and death make up the existence of a musical life. In between both we stand. Perhaps that is all we got.



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