“Ordinary Reality So Brightly Lit”

“La Monte Young, whose performances of complex drone sounds interest me as Art art, tells of his boyhood in the North-west when he used to lean his ear against the high-tension electric towers that stretched across the fields; he would enjoy feeling the hum of the wires through his body. I did that as a boy, too, and prefer it to the concerts of Young’s music. It was more impressive visually and less hackneyed in the vastness of its environment that it is in a loft space or a performance hall.”

Allan Kaprow mentions this moment in the first part of his 1971 “Education of the Un-Artist.” It is an example of that age old dichotomy of life and art. For Krapow, art is imitating life. Art, however, does so poorly. “With ordinary reality so brightly lit,” he writes, “those who choose to engage in showcase creativity invite (from this view) hopeless comparisons between what they do and super-vivid counterparts in the environment…”

Cue the La Monte Young story: such a vivid memory in one’s life. Sound is but a part of it. Even so, this experience is diluted into a purely auditory one for a selective audience. Krapow will have none of it: “Relocated by our minds in a global setting rather than in a museum or library or onstage, Art, no matter how it is arrived at, fares very badly indeed.”

Is this futility seen today? Take the technology we have at our grasps. Just to share and receive bits of self-reproducing code that mirror organisms more than numbers is ecstatic. The Internet is our super-vivid environment. It is our ordinary reality so brightly lit. What happens when we ignore this reality and try to focus on the music we received from it? Vividness is subjected to scrutiny. Extraneous parts are taken away to make the music remain. And even if it does, life is missing.

Poet Kenneth Goldsmith once said that “Sometimes I feel that guys sitting in cubicles understand contemporary culture better than most curators and critics do.” Engaged in life, ordinary reality so brightly lit, they do not try to make it art or vice versa. All they do is exist in the light.  Life, then, can be in all its complexity, not be subjected to dissections by any art.

What will that require of us with music? How can we be like those guys sitting in cubicles?


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