Some music engages itself overtly with politics, and some less so. I guess everyone can agree on that. Each of us making music has to decide where we fall on that continuum—in itself a political decision. There is not such a thing as not being on the continuum.
When I was an undergraduate in art school, we were in the thick of what we saw as a “culture war”—with one extreme being an art for art’s sake camp and the other advocating that progressive causes were the only valid reason to make art. Two of my favorite teachers were a feminist video/installation artist (Laurie Beth Clark) and a militant “art for art’s sake” master draftsman (Richard Long, RIP). Navigating these two poles was a big part of how I first got some political awareness.
By politics I don’t mean just the question of which person or party to vote for. Any discussion about how we organize as a society to allocate resources, or how we live our lives to leave the world better than we found it, falls under politics for me.
When I make music or buy stuff or make stuff to make music I have to believe that I’m making the world better (or at least not worse? no, better) with these actions, or I couldn’t in good conscience be doing them. Small-scale decisions are kind of guided by my own experiences and voice as a physical human being, and I think there’s something positive, socially, in that, but I don’t think it’s enough. As for the larger context it’s usually decided more these days by trying to engage with people and groups making positive changes.
I think it was Ezra who posted a link to “Stockhausen Serves Imperialism” recently? I enjoyed reading that very much. Cardew’s process of grappling with the issues and courage in laying them out, especially. His music, I’m not so sure about. “If you can’t dance,” etc.
In this hard year, I’ve been focusing more on these issues. The idea of making music that sustains us for all the work that needs to be done is something I’ve been returning to. Here’s some.