Scaling the Pyramid, pt. 1
Over the past few decades, our collective consciousness has exuberantly shifted away from the pursuit of meaningful art in favor of art without sacrifice. The contemporary musician or popular artist benumbed by frivolity and vanity, has fallen victim to the same traps as his lazy consumer counterpart and become slaves to the task of product generation without an inkling of why they’re creating something in the first place. What was once the creative drive has grudgingly yielded to increasingly simpler, less taxing demands where, by an ever widening margin, the decision to make something matters more than what one makes. Contemporary musicians flinch at the sight of challenges that demand more than their scant production tricks and commiserate with their partners in indolence, the easily amused, easily impressed listener, himself so badly diminished by this sorry culture that he’s unable to tell shit from shinola.
Contemporary musicians have learned that if they aim low enough, they’re bound to find an audience whose inverted sense of quality demands they praise credulity. Artists are hailed for their innocence and purity much like a parent would praise an addled child who’s finally managed to put a round block in a round hole: the satisfaction derived has nothing to do with the scale of the achievement, but in witnessing the monkey do what the listener fully expects him to do. Indeed, any expression of surprise is most likely feigned. Lazy artists are unable to aim higher than their lazy minds allow. They find succor in performing basic tasks because they are undoubtedly easily distracted. The middling artist and audience have fused: the demands of each are just enough to keep them happy and stimulated without asking too many questions. What was once termed a guilty pleasure is now the mechanism used to establish the benchmark: guilt arises when one is forced to think, and a sense of the greatest elation arises when thoughts can have their volume reduced to zero. As a result, audiences are conditioned to accept inferior material, artists are conditioned to create inferior music, and somewhere along the way all parties involved ceased to be capable of making difficult decisions.
The artist has allowed himself to be diminished to a wallpaper salesman, providing banal soundtracks to banal lives at fever pace; because the staying power of the product is minimal, the listener will require a steady stream of rubbish to flood his ear space – the Internet has been an unrivaled tool in this process. Although the financial gains of the artist have dwindled, his audience and his heroes preach that work must be done quickly and with a modicum of effort, so anyone wishing to “write a song” will find that he can sit at his computer and within a few minutes, produce something that resembles a finished piece. After this, the creative process actually begins: listeners can scramble to outdo each other in imbuing meaning and quality to a song that by definition must lack both. When audiences long ago lost the ability to judge they replaced it with the dubious talent of rationalization and can generate on command a dazzling list of excuses for half-cocked product X. And because lazy minds all share a vested interest in seeing their kingdom protected, attempts to tarnish their jewels are met with the stiffest resistance.
The modern day musician requires a little bit of free time, the ability to pirate a piece of software, and above else the temerity to call something a song. When a person says they are embracing technology and labels his opponents as technophobes or troglodytes, he does so because he must; he is protecting a thinly veiled secret about the “work” necessary to do what he does. The process on both sides of the curtain will be wholly unimpressive unless the creator makes sure to tell you how impressive it is. Artists starve now by choice; they wear costumes and drop names intended to inform the audience of a struggle about which neither side knows anything. Musicians whose stock-in-trade was their modest upbringing created at a cut rate because they had to; the contemporary artist asks his friends if he thinks his music will be more credible if it sounds cheap enough.