Thursday, 29 November 2012

Interesting piece here by Simon on one of his background blogs (they're layered like Russian dolls) regarding the phenomenon of (kind of) contemporary bands remaking "classic" albums of the past. It appears that Beck and The Flaming Lips, two artistes I've always had the utmost suspicion of, are the pioneers of this activity, which as Simon notes, marks a break between art and craft, in that the recreations permit the exercise of skill without the need for inspiration.

Needless to say that Spengler had a term for precisely this kind of process, which he called the descent into patternwork. An archetypal example of this is the Persian carpet, whose complex interwoven motifs were originally intensely meaningful expressions of sacred geometry (our old friend phi and its fractions), but are now churned out merely as decoration by people who have no idea what the designs signify, and if they do, view it as merely anecdotal. What once was high art becomes a kind of autistic self-replicating craft. Much of what we now consider to be ethnic styles of pottery, textiles etc. are simply the endless reproductions of art forms whose meaning has long since withered away.

Which does make me wonder if the Seventies concept album will become our version of the Chinese vase, perhaps still being churned out in 500 years time, in back street recording studios in what will then be the cultural backwater of the West. Nobody will know what "Tales From Topographic Oceans" signifies, but the important thing will be to get it sounding just right, because that's how the rich Mexo-Korean tourists like it. Or perhaps it will be a form that the Mexo-Koreans simply ignore until the spiritual impulse of their own civilisation starts to whither, and, looking for inspiration in the most unlikely climes, one of their leading artists stumbles upon this intoxicatingly exotic form, whose potentials are mostly ignored by its native artisans, and uses it to temporarily reinvigorate a mighty but dying culture.

Most interesting from our perspective is that the lubricant for the passage from art to craft appears to be irony. It's when the replications start to be produced by people who don't get the in-joke, and this will surely happen, that the true inauguration of the long, long era of patternwork begins.

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