Ignorance is Bliss: Cézanne, Clams Casino, and Anti-History

There is an early account of Paul Cézanne going outside to paint with a friend. As both set up their easels and prepared paints, his friend asked Cézanne a question: how did he arrange colors on his palette? Cézanne had no answer. Intuition had led him thus far. He had not thought about it.

It is said that Cézanne then and there added this layer to his craft, continuing it throughout the rest of his essential work as an artist.

What if he dismissed what his friend said? What if he remained ignorant, anti-technical in his palette awareness? Would art have changed? His ignorance may have been inconsequential. But where might applying this kind of pressure cause a noticeable rupture?

Music…

“Two years ago I interviewed producer Clams Casino on his beatmaking process. I was geeked at the opportunity to sit with him and discuss Imogen Heap and Bjork—two ethereal female artists who specialize in electronically obscure music sometimes called ‘trip-hop’—because a few of Clams’ beats leaned on their recordings. Clams’ abstract production made rapper Lil B more palatable and A$AP Rocky a nouveau leader of the “designer rap” movement. But when I tried to chop it up with him, I found that Clams didn’t know much at all about the catalogues of the artists he sampled. ‘Oh, nah I just skim their albums and pull what sounds good,’ he said.”

-Kathy Iandoli, “The Lost Art of Cratedigging” (here)

The social critic Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death that “the medium is the metaphor.” Iandoli’s conversation with Clams Casino not only represents a technological shift for her but an ideologic one. Cratedigging is as much about the values of those who scour for vinyl as the artifact. These cratediggers are praised by Iandoli as “scientists dissecting tracks, librarians of musical culture, mathematicians of the BPM, and above all music historians.”

With the rise of the Internet, a new creature takes form: producers like Clams Casino who skim, quickly rip files off of Youtube, and finish songs within an hour for immediate listening. A new beast takes form that contrasts the cratedigger. “Why should Clams Casino be some die-hard connoisseur of electronic music?” Iandoli asks. “I’m 35; he’s not. He has WhoSampled.com, Shazam, and finally YouTube to grab what he needs and run. I had liner notes and a Numark. He’s not from an era where you need that kind of knowledge to succeed.”

Is it the ignorance to the knowledge found in a cratedigger that Iandoli is referring to? Probably. So, if those cards are on the table, then what? How about examining them rather than bemoaning or forcing them aside?

What would happen if, beyond producers, we embraced this ignorance? That is, we explored who we are now: what it is to be in this post-cratedigger world where skimming and jaggedness rule.

How would music education change under such a shift? How might we go about teaching music history courses? Think about it: any knowledge of an era or composer can be found on Wikipedia. Does knowledge a la cratediggers matter then?

Erasing it from the equation, what would a Music Anti-History class look like?

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