Reply To: Music

  • Encyclios

    April 24, 2023 at 9:31 AM

    The 20th century: the nineties

    The development of the means of communication, the fall of ideological barriers, and planetary integration led to a musical language in which distinctions and fences between “high” and “low” genres, between the center and the periphery, between traditions that were geographically and temporally distant, were eliminated. The nineties were an era in which gender distinctions in the cultural sphere made less and less sense. It is the era of the dominant syncretism, of the mixing of languages and styles.

    A phenomenon that finds its ideal terrain of representation in music. If we had to indicate what could be the common tendency of the music of the last decade of the millennium, this would be the synthesis, the use and reuse of materials of the past and of different origins that are made to flow into works that are the result of the encounter of multiple experiences. With the nineties, music lives in the fullness of its fervor the season of “technical reproducibility”: the great technological development offers composers, of any extraction, virtually endless possibilities to retrieve the materials of the past, to rework them, quote them, deform them and at the same time to create new sounds. Even the job of the musician changes, since in many cases the machine replaces man, who is increasingly aware of having in technology the resource that allows him to draw on the entire range of sounds of the world, from the symphony orchestra to the noise of the jungle. The tendency that best expresses in music this propensity to syncretism is the new age, a strand son of a cultural movement that since the seventies has emerged as a real phenomenon that in some ways also has to do with fashion.

    Born together with the neo-ecological movements of California in the seventies, the new age has found its ideal ground of development in an era in which the aspiration towards a new spirituality is very strong. All this in music finds a direct expression in the production of Windham Hill, the American record company that, both for the graphics of the covers and for the contents of the albums remains the symbol of the modern new age. The “Windham Hill style”, also from a graphic point of view, is the result of the work done by the producer Manfred Eicher since the seventies with his ECM (Editions for Contemporary Music) label, whose records are considered an essential model for musicians who follow the path of contamination between jazz and improvised music in general, the classical repertoire and the folkloric heritage. This way of understanding composition is also typical of the neo-minimalism of musicians such as Michael Nyman and Wim Mertens, who have updated and expanded the lesson of Philip Glass and LaMonte Young, achieving considerable popularity thanks to the soundtracks composed for films such as The Belly of the Architect or Piano Lessons.

    Among the novelties of the nineties, for a curious game of contrasts, there is the great rediscovery of the world folk heritage. From a cultural and social point of view, this phenomenon has the same foundations as the success of the new age: however, it remains a fact that never before as in this decade there has been as much attention paid to the ethnic heritage with a considerable diffusion of labels and specialized magazines. On a commercial level, the main contribution to the diffusion of this kind of music was given by Real World, the label founded by Peter Gabriel, the former singer of Genesis who became one of the most advanced and open to contamination musicians of the world rock scene.

    Thanks to Real World, musicians from every part of the world have found international distribution, from Mongolia to Lapland, from Africa to American Indian reservations, from Sardinia (the Tenores di Bitti, the vocal quartet that represents the ancient tradition of “tenores singing”, is so far the only Italian name in the series) to Africa. African music is the focus of unprecedented interest: many groups and soloists, even famous ones, including Gabriel, have incorporated African rhythms and sounds into their music. Following a sort of hierarchy of rediscovery, we cannot forget two other fertile strands: that of the culture of the people of the plains of the United States and that of Indian music. The tragic vicissitudes of the Native Americans and the fascination of their animistic culture did not escape this movement of rediscovery of ethnic heritage and so the sounds and songs of the various tribes, from those of the icy plains of the North to those of the splendid mesas of Arizona, became familiar to an ever wider public, a success that translated into exhibitions, publications and resonated in many albums, both of an ethnic-specialist nature and by artists of international fame such as Robbie Robertson.

    As for Indian music, for its particular structure and for the conception of improvisation based on rāga, it has exercised a deep fascination already on the most advanced jazz musicians of the sixties. An influence that had its peak in the Flower Power season, when oriental philosophies seemed able to change the world and pop stars, starting with the Beatles, had their own guru next to them and played the sitar. At the end of the Nineties, London was the epicenter of a rediscovery of that atmosphere with a musical direction more devoted to marketability. Groups of twenty-somethings like Kula Shaker brought Indian sounds to the international pop charts, but it was the tradition of bangra that became a real trend among the most fashionable disk-jockeys and record producers. As a result, the contamination between bangra and electronic sounds has resulted in the most avant-garde club music of recent years.

    The greater attention paid to the sounds of countries that are usually outside the mainstream has led to the re-emergence and entry into the common musical language of the Arab tradition, especially raï, the new Algerian music that has its most famous exponent in Cheb Khaled, and flamenco. As for the dominant trends of the decade, there is no doubt that one of the phenomena that characterized the nineties was rap and the entire hip hop culture. A real movement born in the eighties in the ghettos of the big American cities that gave a new language to the black people. Rap is the direct expression of the daily life of the black American marginalized, of young people who every day risk their lives in clashes between rival gangs, who end up considering violence as an inevitable ingredient of everyday life. As until now only boxing had been, rap becomes a possible way of escape from that life, an alternative that in a short time can make millionaires.

    Unfortunately, fame and wealth are sometimes not enough to separate oneself from the law of the ghetto as demonstrated by the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorius Big, two of the greatest exponents of rap, both assassinated by gunshots in 1997, a few months apart from each other. However, rap and the entire hip hop movement have brought about a remarkable change in contemporary musical language. The great lesson of what can be considered the natural son of the ghetto, has shown the whole world a new way to express itself, up to cause in countries like Italy or France, the rediscovery of dialect as an expression in music of social marginality. At the beginning rap was little more than a simple rhythm of electronic drums (drum machines) on which rappers – often disk jockeys (DJs) – built their vertiginous verbal acrobatics, daughters of old ritual forms used for street challenges in the ghetto, as well as some formulas of disk-jockeys and certain constructs used by African-American poets. Over time it too has evolved, turning to the tradition of rhythm and blues, soul and jazz.

    So the drum machine was added to the instruments and, especially thanks to samplers (machines controlled by computers that can reproduce any song or sound), the new idols of black music have systematically used extracts of famous themes, drawing heavily in the repertoire of the great, from James Brown to John Coltrane, from Marvin Gaye to Miles Davis, from Sam Cooke to Duke Ellington. This quotation technique, called sampling, ended up changing copyright law. And on the musical artistic level, it paved the way for the great wave of remakes.