Eclecticism, postmodernism, subversion : new perspectives on English experimental music
This thesis investigates the use of reference and quotation in English experimental music. Observing that these phenomena are also common in other areas of music, it attempts to make firm distinctions between various manifestations and offer reasons why eclectic compositions emanating from the experimental tradition are the more effective, both in purely musical terms and in the maintaining of a subversive stance. Chapter One explores the extent to which pluralism in the arts is a direct result of postmodernism. The social effects of postmodernism and their influence on the arts are documented, leading to the conclusion that all instances of eclecticism in contemporary art and music could be categorised as postmodernist in some measure. The idea is then introduced that postmodernism is more than an environmental phenomenon and is an artistic aesthetic in its own right. Works which fall into this category are introduced, and ethical criticisms of them discussed. The idea is asserted that music from the experimental tradition is not connected to this problematic aesthetic. Chapter Two seeks to prove the last point by investigating the history of English experimental music and its independence from the modernist and postmodernist mainstream. After demonstrating this detachment it goes on to suggest ways in which its own history may have provided seeds for the later pluralistic tendencies. Chapter Three focuses on attitudes to history which are peculiar to composers of the experimental tradition. The influence of certain romantic composers is demonstrated with regard to the recent prevalence of transcription and arrangement, and eclectic works which stem from the admiration of earlier composers are discussed in detail. Chapter Four deals with ways in which composers from the experimental tradition have referred to source material from popular culture. It demonstrates how Satie and Ives have been important role models and gives details of compositions which utilise idioms from background music and 'muzak'. Chapter Five presents a methodology for the analysis of pluralistic music which rests on the principles of semiotics. It shows how the methodology could be used to reveal the interaction of references within a work, and suggests how conclusions could be interpreted to serve a better critical awareness of pluralistic music.