david cain-definition of golden age

"One thing about any definition of a golden age, for me, is that it is the point where the desires of the creator are greater than the technology which is available. There comes a moment when the technology gets closer and closer to the imagination/creativity of the writer. In the end if you're not careful it overtakes and suddenly, serendipity, which before was from your own sweat and blood, comes by and says, "If I press one of these 397 buttons on this synthesizer maybe I'll get something out of it." Now at that moment, the machinery is driving the creativity and the creativity is not driving the machinery. Maybe thats where the golden age stops…."
-David Cain (BBC Radiophonic Composer 1967-73)


ajebec said...

is it possible in our age to have creative desires that actually outstrip the technology available to us?

Blake said...

do you think Cain means that none of our creative desires are truly attainable?

he DID write this a few decades ago.

the first glimpse your mind has of what you want to achieve does not map out your available tools... it is purely and simply the desired expression of a certain attitude. music is not so much an art form when it becomes about the quantity and quality of technology used, that would be a different art form all by itself.

do you agree?

ajebec said...

"the first glimpse your mind has of what you want to achieve does not map out your available tools..."

i don't think that's necessarily true, but i do think that cain is saying that that process will deliver better results.

i think he's just talking about when you have a creative idea, but not the tools to quite do what you want, you end up pushing the tools you do have into new territory to get your desired result. this has the effect of both the idea stage and the manufacturing stage being intrinsically creative. if all the technology is at your fingertips, then only the ideas step is creative or, at worst, even that gets subsumed by the technology.

as a nice example for beatle fanatics - have a listen to 'ticket to ride'. at the time, the band wanted to create a massive wall of sound and they came up with canyons (relative to what they'd ever used before that point) of reverb and achieved something quite grand. with that knowledge, they then went and tried to create another grand reverbed thing. they came up with 'that means a lot' which rightly was never put out until it turned up on the anthology 30 years later, because it's a clear case of the sound of the technology (in this case new reverb techniques) sparking the idea, which isn't actually that great.

not that technology can never inspire something great though.

i've been thinking about my own first question today, and even with all the technology we have available, most of it isn't ACTUALLY available to me, per se. and i've generally made it a principle not to chase gear too much, but to become pretty intimate with the gear that i have. so, i guess the next actual question is whether deliberately limiting yourself when access is technically possible is the same thing as not having technology? if i create something through a painful process pushing my technology, which another person could have done by using a preset on their technology, will my result be better than theirs?

Blake said...

hm. do you think that it is different for each individual?
i find the truest and more 'successful' songs to be results of inhibited creative vision... meaning that i am not so concerned with what i do and don't have to record with and so forth. thinking about those things can distract you... yeh?

"not that technology can never inspire something great though." i agree.

yes. i think that your result will be more authentic... because you have, after much work and consideration, had to make the call that you had completed your work. you know? someone who reaches that 'same' conclusion does not give his song the same substance because someone else has set the parameters for 'his' sound and 'his' song/

in relation... i don't use logic for nearly its full capabilities. but i make full use of the aspects of the program that lend itself to my vision. like you said... for your creative health, its not too great to become an equipment whore but what you do have should be intimate with you and YOUR processes.

ajebec said...

do you mean 'uninhibited' in that first paragraph?

hmmm...'authentic'. it's such a loaded word in both directions that i try to avoid it. isn't the whole point of postmodernism the notion that it doesn't exist but yet we can still make great art? are andy warhol's endless elvises and marilyns worse than a van gogh painting, just because they're less 'authentic'? authenticity just isn't the point in that (and many many subsequent) case(s).

i've been too long tied to technology now to make a proper call on this one, i think, though, in principle, i generally agree with the idea that david cain is presenting.

Blake said...

oh yes... i did mean 'uninhibited'.

so what IS art then? :)

i was under this impression that it may be the result of plain individual expression. is that reasonable?

i don't know too much about postmodernism... the most i have talked about it is in relation to the concept of truth. in Melanie Spencer's english class..

Annelise Holwerda said...

Perhaps Cain’s ‘Golden Age’ is best understood when not limited to a discussion of music technology, but instead considered a matter of attitude and in some ways one of culture. In many fields there is a phenomenon of excess, which seems to corrupt what really is the essential authenticity and inspiration of such material and the life or brilliance that divides it from what is (to those of this particular culture and value-system) inferior and of little artistic worth.

By authenticity I don’t refer to the Van Gogh/Warhol distinction, because there was in Warhol also an originality of thought for expressing particular values and reflections that many would consider first inspired and then brilliantly visually executed, if only in a sometimes different way and from a different social place to the art of Van Gogh. What I do mean is when Warhol is mass-produced so a museum can make a profit, or when his style is dully appropriated constantly and ubiquitously without any artistic participation—according to the distinction between just taking and actually utilising—or when ten thousand art students all find their Pollock impressions truly brilliant and groundbreaking, or when people buy pre-cut stickers for scrapbooking. (That also may be an expression not to be too much stretched, since among those with certain values such consumerism or mindless mass-production might be seen too to be a glorious cultural trend—etc. We may disagree in terms of taste, and there may or may not even be absolute standards of what is good that cause us to disagree with some of those standards concerning society, quality or reaction to the conventional, but in terms of ‘art’ it would still be a valid articulation—the group-communication in a more creative and expressive way than verbal statements and definitions could offer—of that idea. As to Pollock-emulation and other expressions of what is not ‘original’ but is still aesthetically excellent, let us not attack this either: I mean only to illustrate a particular value and distinction within this specific context, and I hope the intuitive sense is located well enough.)

It seems Cain is expressing how only within a work that, in its composition, contains the excitement and diligence of working with a flash of something that is new, springing out as something profoundly effective or good, there is to be found the very breath of the desired Muse (a collective metaphor-name for all that contains that superlunary element, variously understood and experienced, which constitutes the Golden Age). It is in parsimonious, lazy, mercantile, opportunistic or self-advancing attitudes of recycling inspiration that the authenticity and almost worshipful (to extend the metaphor) and self-giving attitude of creative exertion, of such essential worth to those with Cain’s values regarding creativity within his genre of music (not necessarily to ‘art’ as a supposedly broad yet definable entirity), is defiled. The ‘Ticket to Ride’ example captures that perfectly. I can relate to this more in visual arts and writing, where even having dabbled only in a limited and amatuerish way I have felt the flash of creative matter that accesses a kind of rare depth and original succinctness or expression and makes you work with concentration to develop it, leaves you satisfied and somewhat surprised with what you have found and made; and then there is the lust to do it again, the temptation to borrow from what was inspired, to do less work to get the same result (though what is really desired is not ‘the same’ at all), which is of course an entirely different spirit and could only by a rare accident produce work to match the precedent.

This is true not only for individuals but also among cultures: the rise and decline of movements seems sometimes to pattern a peak of ‘authentic’ brilliance followed by a period of exploring (with a vast spectrum of ‘secondary success’ in both furthering the movement and individually creating among those to try) what has been birthed, then a feeling of dryness and then the fortune of another peak—both on a small and large scale, as movements may be divided or clustered within each other as well, and all human creativity is in complex relationship within itself.

So Adrian’s question about limiting your own technology seems to be related to a kind of self-control, just as some people hold ascetic values to cultivate and protect purer motivations and values: it is not in itself the athlete’s desired motion, but it is the method, the exercise and discipline used to fight inertia through constant movement and fitness. The idea of ‘hard work’ also has cultural significance, related to important concepts of virtue and belonging. I am unqualified to comment on music technology, but I would say that a composer with complete access to technological tools who was regardless able to maintain their focus and work in a non-‘pre-cut’ way where creativity still drives the machinery and the 397 buttons are sensitively and selectively utilised may create original work—almost regardless of the technology, and maybe particularly original because of the added opportunity not only to be possibly overwhelmed by the gadgetry but also to have a wider field to possibly do new things upon in new and fascinating ways.

So really it is a question of attitude. And that is also a matter of cultural agreement: among musicians of this field it is something they have in common, and if you choose to love it then you are sharing in that value, in the spirit embodied by that era. You are not finding the elusive ‘good art’; you are declaring art ‘good’* and thus sharing in the communication, the value, of that expression—and art has fulfilled its purpose not of some deified, specifically-defined field but as creativity that allows us to comprehend people and their values and movements within what is beautiful/valuable/meaningful, and (as is often the result of taking aesthetics and styles into one’s identity) to belong, or not. The importance of belonging and group-definition couples very closely with the deep individual appreciation of a particular creative attitude; when I think of particular decades or styles of composition in all kinds of genres (I am not too aware of music culture, but some of Joel’s old guitar stuff comes especially to my mind), it is very evident that those eras thrived on connectedness and the buzz of discovering and expressing affinity. An attitude of seriousness, passion and solidarity, sometimes at a practically religious level, is not only the source of Golden Age work such as Cain describes, but also its validification and characterisation. If their work tugs at your owns values and appreciation and taste (C. S. Lewis’ discussion of ‘Senschut’ fits well here also I think), only then will you find the Muse in the same ‘Golden Age’ and find artistic inspiration in cultivating the same attitude in your practice.

An interesting question on a more practical and personal level would be how one who is not a part of a particular movement, but is inspired by the remnants of it, can go about creating their own work on that foundation with integrity, originality and the same spark. This is quite a different thing to initiating or belonging to an ‘era’, and yet can obviously be valid if your work contains the spirit of whatever defines ‘goodness’ to your genre and intentions, and fulfills the purposes of your art. And if you do find limiting your sense of need for equipment to be a useful method (or a forced reality…), how will you practically manage that in terms of deciding what to use and where to draw your line? Interesting to think about as you define and redefine (because you are constantly inventing) your work; probably it’s also not a question you need to get to the end of, though. Sometimes thinking about theoretical expressions is most useful in that you absorb them and then just keep on instinctively and exploratively doing what you and the Muse have already been doing, having an increased store of influence and awareness to draw on but not limiting yourself to that resource.

As to postmodernism, it is a word too often thrown around, now with so many connotations that it is difficult to deal with it properly. As to discussions with Mrs. Spencer in English regarding truth, I think that only touches on one corner of it all: the place where current (postmodern) ways of thinking are identified as attacking a notion of our ability to know the absolute and of standards that the individual must bow their own perceptions and will to. It is something that can be considered to have stripped away much of our heritage, and much that is to be deeply valued and relied upon. It is not to be carelessly attacked, though: it is a new way of thinking, in some ways a genuine (and valid!) questioning of old assumptions and in some ways an excuse for selfishness (with overlap between the two); in some ways destructive and senseless, but in others exciting in the opportunities for new ways of thinking in many fields. Even in terms of reliance on the certainty of God, the new questions and paradigms that have been raised provide us not only with a near inability to experience old and very valuable ways of knowing him, but new understanding about who he is and who humanity is and has been in him, new ways of speaking with people about life as a whole that were not available before. The new aspects of our era are complex and should not be rolled together under a single judgement or understanding, but explored in the light of the past and the light of our own direct knowledge of God, and insightfully worked within.

Anyhow. In terms of art and music, I think there is definitional overlap with the above in terms of the postmodern generation’s views on the traditional, the desire to push boundaries and find something new: not only to find new styles or aesthetics or messages but an overhaul of the entire artistic definition/assumption/limitation, a kind of experiment. There is also a prevailing sense of frustration and confusion both in life and in the artistic world when this attitude pulls the foundation from under one’s feet. But in the artistic definition, I think ‘postmodernism’ is not necessarily bound to that discussion: it is simply the name of a period of time, where many unique things have happened in art in the same way that they happen in any other era (and sometimes things do seem to ‘just happen’, related maybe more to an individual and certainly also to chance discovery than simply to wider influences), among artists of varying values, intentions and influences. Adrian is best able to define the characteristics of those movements.

As to the very first question, I think that it is possible even in our age to have creative desires that outstrip the technology available to us, and whenever that happens it will be in such an unexpected direction that it will be exciting and groundbreakingly awesome. I also think that such exciting and groundbreakingly awesome work can be created without having to break barriers of the available creative tools. I don't think Cain is saying that our creative desires are unattainable, but that it is a string of chasing and creating and that this process is the only source of attaining and remaining involved in that desired creativity. If that makes sense.

*This may be mistaken for relativism, but perhaps there is super-cultural validity in rejecting the traditional notion that ‘art’ (as if it contains only one element and aesthetic taste, quality, ideas, culture etc. are inseparable) is one of those things where there is an uncomplicated absolute, instead of being something complex and intricate that we do to communicate within a whole range of spheres and settings, in many different media and for many different purposes. The traditional concept was also biased by certain intellectual and cultural values, and substituting convention for authority is no answer to the current uncertainty regarding absolutes. But when many people, or people who hold a particular taste as a result of what is a truly and absolutely good thing, naturally find something artistically good, then you may say there is something to that. This is an interesting discussion in itself.

ajebec said...

annelise - you've really got to hire an editor!!!


ajebec said...

yet it's all somehow relevant and nicely provocative. where do you pull all this stuff from at such short notice??!!!!

Annelise Holwerda said...

I know, right? It would have taken twice the time to make it a quarter the length, and I'm sure I probably should have done that. Each paragraph takes about two seconds to 'think' if not in words, so I'm sure it can be expressed much better.

I think teaching is sure to help me with being able to express things really a lot better. I hope. If a fifteen year old asks you an interesting question, you won't exactly answer them on the spot with an essay. I hope not anyway, goodness! Am trying to practice but occasionally am rather lazy... :P

Just found your conversation interesting is all.