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If music be the food of local culture

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It is the most famous of opening lines. “If music be the food of love, play on.” Shakespeare wrote ‘Twelfth Night’ at the turn of the seventeenth century, which explains the questionable usage – questionable now, that is. Music be or music is? But not to matter, as the Bard had come up with a line that has lived for centuries. In English, at any rate.

Orsino wanted the music to play on. To play on until he got sick of it. His reasoning was that an overindulgence of music – the food of love – would finally mean losing his appetite for Olivia. Four centuries ago, this was the stuff of comedy gold, and as with all Shakespeare, each line had its purpose in the grander scheme of the work.

If music is the food of culture, as opposed to food, then it too should have its purpose – the progression of each song in making this song complete and as part of an overall and fulfilling work, an album, for instance. It is ultimately perhaps not possible to come up with perfection. Shakespeare’s work is littered with what critics over the centuries have considered to be turkeys, however hard he tried to make each line matter. Which was part of the problem. He tried too hard and ended up with verbosity.

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Music tries too hard. Think of all those prog-rock epics. Overindulgence? They were. And yes, people grew sick of them before stripping them back to the direct assault of guitar, drums and bass and an unlovely vocalist named Rotten proclaiming himself to be an anti-Christ and an anar-chist.

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But there’s trying hard, incredibly hard, which does work. Mike Love of The Beach Boys once spoke about how Brian Wilson would insist on harmonies being redone over and over. Brian could hear things no one else could. Everything had a purpose, down to the very last and incidental timbre. ‘Pet Sounds’ just about reached perfection. But then came ‘Smiley Smile’, which didn’t. One critic thought it was pointless, an ultimate putdown for the obsessively purposeful Wilson.

For some reason, Shakespeare’s line came into my head when hearing what the Manacor councillor for activities (which includes fairs), Carles Grimalt, had to say about the Music Fair that finished on Monday. Grimalt is unusual for a councillor in that he has got to establish something which clearly means a lot to him. A Podemos councillor, he was pretty well known as a rock musician before joining the ranks of the political class. He studied guitar and piano at the Conservatory in Palma.

The fair was an admirable idea. As well as live acts, there were conferences and workshops. A key aim is to make Manacor a sort of benchmark for music, but it is a fair that can be considered within the broader context of contemporary music in Mallorca and of the cultural and creative industries.

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The Balearic government looks upon these industries as a means of economic diversification. How well they are supporting and promoting them is, however, open to question, albeit of course that they have suffered an almighty and damaging hit over the past 21 months.

The now infamous Los 40 Music Awards, to accept a government explanation for the funding, were partly about giving a boost to businesses operating in the sector. By which the government was referring to the technical side rather than the actual music. Majorca has a whole load of aspiring acts in different genres. There’s no shortage of talent. But do any of them really make a breakthrough?

I’ve listened to a fair amount of Mallorcan rock, pop, indie and what have you. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, even when I’ve anticipated not being. The language you can work round. That’s not the issue. It’s structures. It’s purpose. It’s making it all count. Or as much as possible. And a conclusion I begin to draw has to do with production, not the talent of the musicians.

An example is a duo called Donallop. Their stuff has been described as dream pop, which puts one in mind of a group like The Cocteau Twins, whose songs could meander until gathering to a crescendo which made you realise what the preceding four minutes had all been about. The production finally triumphed, and that is what can seem to be missing with Donallop, and not only them.

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Producers who create purpose. Good producers can mould and add. And it could be that within the island’s music industry there is a shortage. Which may be surprising, given the influence of club music and the DJ producers who proliferate in that genre.

The island’s music isn’t just about the folk acts, the Balearic Symphony Orchestra and a host of classical music collectives. Music in all forms is the food of local culture. Carles Grimalt understands this. Perhaps the government needs to also as part of its cultural and creative industries’ drive, as the technical side of music matters as much as the music itself.

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