Notes on Culture, Hegemony and Music (part one)

Notes on Culture, Hegemony and Music.

With my recent studying in adult education Im seeing more and more the importance of culture being something we create with each other rather than something that’s beamed down on us to be consumed and eaten up.

Being active in the creation of our own cultural (1.) activity solidifies the possibility that we can be active participants in the shaping and forming our world rather than passive observers deterministically sitting back and scratching arses waiting for the next master piece to fall out the sky.

This is generally the conception of culture that has hegemony (2.) at the current time: culture is something created for us, to be passively consumed by us, our only active role within the whole process is that we are given an illusion of choice over what it is we can consume and in what way; prime time TV talent show phone ins being an obvious example here.

Im interested here in the way my own experiences of grassroots musical communities can act as a counter hegemonic device in this respect. The whole concept of the punk rock DIY spirit; anyone can play, pick up an instrument, be in a band, put on a gig is all about people being empowered to create their own culture. Over the past forty years this idea originally promoted by groups like Crass, has proliferated and a wide variety of styles sounds and networks now operate locally and globally working with the tools of DIY. How these networks will continue to evolve and sound over time is an exciting possibility. How much these networks can really help to renegotiate cultural hegemonies or whether they solidify into a subculture dominated by capitalism remains to be seen….(3.)

What ive found fascinating operating within parts of these networks as a musician over the past ten years is how elements of this culture manifest as opaque post post everything hipsterism; an understanding of the surface level of grassroots organisation and why its totally cool, but seemingly no idea of the structural level, the ‘what does it mean?” and “why do we do it?” questions which bubble away insistently in the background in my brain at least. This remains problematic as the danger of being accidentally swallowed by the postmodern beast is always only step away; this process of recuperation; capital chewing up and making palatable that which poses a challenge to it is one of its most successful features. It should be held in mind that pretty much anything except extreme acts of violence against the state can be recuperated. (4.)

The question of improvising within all this is also an important one for the musician. If were looking at a equal and libeartional format for playing, we’d find the majority of song based and composed music’s generally cede to the authority of a single figure, the single most convincing way ive come across to side step this and create a system of equality is to literally do what George Lewis says is going on with free jazz where “everyone can do whatever they like while still remaining part of a collective group moving in the same direction”. (5.) This format for improvising is probably most commonly noted with free jazz and European free improv playing but is present within a wide variety of music’s made at a grassroots DIY level; in terms of noise, drone, rock, electronics, free rock sounds… This approach is something that many musicians ive come across are openly passionate about; that their music retains this freedom of form and structure, again this has ramifications bearing onto ways we make and organise cultural production in on a wider level as it questions the very idea of ownership and marketability through their being no possibility of endless repetition of the same tune only possibilities for exploration.
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1. This activity could be of any form, when im saying culture im talking about whatever it is that humans do socially, creatively, collective so in saying culture we could include many things; conversation, play, music, film, self building houses, growing plants and so on the list is endless. Usually here though I am talking specifically about the cultural activity of creating music.
2. Hegemony is the idea developed by Gramsci classically defined as “a social condition in which all aspects of a social reality are dominated by or supportive of a single social class” This idea is further developed to present hegemony as a fluid concept constantly being renegotiated and in flux. It has to be constantly refixed and reaffirmed to support its continuation.
see
Antonio Gramsci “Selections from the prison notebooks”
Peter Mayo’s “Gramsci, Freire and Adult Education”
3. Hakim Bey’s “Temporary Autonomous Zone” essay is an interesting response to this situation. He argues that a temporary space is the only real possibility now for autonomous cultural actions. The whole free party rave scene is heavily indebted to his ideas, though they didn’t listen to his advice on the oppressive nature of 4/4 beats….
4. For more on this and everything that’s terrifying about late capitalism see:
Guy Debord “Society of the Spectacle”
5. George Lewis “A Power Stronger Than Itself” great book on the history of the AACM in Chicago but he’s covers pretty much everything itself possible to cover.
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