Sunday, March 3, 2013

Controversy: What "Rock" Elements Should Be Required of Progressive Rock?

Progressive Rock as a genre of music is a sub-category of Rock'n'Roll, n'est-ce pas? Or is it? Does Progressive Rock have to live up to certain structural or sonic standards, requirements or conditions in order to earn the "rock" half of its name? Groups that do not use a 'standard rock' lineup of instrumentation, i.e. drums, bass, and guitar and maybe keyboard--are they deserving of the rock umbrella? Do they need it? Does Progressive Rock need to be under the Rock'n'Roll umbrella? An all-keyboard operation (Minasian, Wakeman, Jarre) if they use programmed bass & drums counts, right? How do Electronica, RIO, and Post Rock fit in? How about a drumless accappella group (or song?!) or classical chamber quartet/quintet (Karda Estra? After Crying?)

I know that, personally, I love discovering a drum-less group or song; drums, drumming or a drummer are NOT a requirement for me to consider a group as "progressive." But, then, can they be "rock?" (Do all rock groups/songs have drums? Certainly NOT!) Do all "rock" groups/songs have a combo format? Take away the drums and they become folk. Right? Take away the electricity and again they become folk or classical. Right?

Should we have another name which accounts for the musics and groups that choose to produce popular music that fails to satisfy the rigid requirements of the "rock'n'roll" hall of fame? How do Mike Oldfield, David Bedford, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Yanni, Richard Wileman, The Mediaeval Baebes, The Roches, Klaus Schulze, Sheila Chandra, After Crying, Yugen, and so many others who do not use standard rock instrumentation or combos ever deserve your listening ears? And what about all the techno-driven trance, house, chill music out there that rely on sampling, scratching, and keyboard augmentation? Is there no room for these technologies in the halls of Progressive Rock? And where will Bjork's Biophilia fit into history?

In a Venn Diagram, all progressive music does not necessarily have to overlap or fall under the auspices of Rock'n'Roll. Not all Rock is "prog." Can't some prog exist outside of Rock? Of course it can. Some of it even crosses over into the worlds of classical and jazz music. Perhaps Prog is a new form of classical music? By the way, what exactly is "classical" music?

According to our friend Wikipedia, "The most outstanding characteristic of classical music is that the repertoire tends to be written down in musical notation, creating a musical part or score. This score typically determines details of rhythm, pitch, and, where two or more musicians (whether singers or instrumentalists) are involved, how the various parts are coordinated."

Scored structures. Which make such music replicable. Some prog artists write scores for their musical ideas. Others just work it out collaboratively--through repetition and practice. Prog music has a history of becoming replicable through studio and live produced recordings--using tape, vinyl, or computer memory to store the sonic information.

Like "classical" musicians, prog musicians strive to achieve great heights of technical mastery over their instruments. They also attempt to incorporate complexity within their song structures, meters, and sonic weaves similar to that of "classical" music. And they usually strive for the ability to replicate their music--or with the opportunity to experiment with interpretation of their music from the examples or rudimentary structures of the original scores or, in the case of rock n roll, from the versions of their songs as rendered in studio recordings.

OR what if these non-Rock-conforming groups and songs do not cross over into the Classical Music world? What if they are more free-form, structureless, performance driven, improvisational, spontaneous? It sounds like they are crossing over into jazz territory.

What, then, do we call this extra-Rock progressive music? Avant? RIO? Chamber? Neo-classical? Progressive Classical? Neo-Jazz? Fusion? Progressive Jazz? 'Cerebral' and 'Emotional'? 'Human' and 'Alien'? 'Blue Collar' and 'White Collar'? '1%' and '99%'? 'Sophisticated' and 'Simple'?

I like music. To me music is the highest expression of human creativity--the bridge between humanity's illusory physical world and the infinite possibilities of the spiritual source from which we come. Rock music is but a lower-vibrational form of artistic expression, classical and choral music higher. Jazz floats and flows somewhere in between. The space in which rock, jazz, and classical meet is sacred, essential human. Like major seventh chords, the chromatic scale, and the seven chakras.

In my opinion, the "rock" element is but a part of Progressive Rock, neither it's foundation nor its essence; a part of it, an element. The music I like comes from human beings courageous enough to integrate, synthesize, or create styles, sounds, and influences of any musical genre. To me WOMAD and Mickey Hart, Buddha Lounge and Paul Oakenfold, Ry Kooder and John McLaughlin, Don Ellis and Ornette Coleman, Annette Peacock and Thinking Plague, After Crying and Enigma, Kevin Shields and Robert Fripp, Toby Driver and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Mediævel Bæbes and Karda Estra, are all equally creative and equal contributors to the progress of music.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful post Drew - have shared with my KE facebook page. Plus anyone who mentions major seventh chords in a music article quite simply ... understands. All the best, Richard.