High art, low art

Sorry. I’m going to have to defer to Kyle Gann of the Village Voice. He’s about the only writer really qualified to tell you much about Sonic Youth’s Goodbye 20th Century.

What can the rest of us — who either haven’t heard the original works contained in Goodbye 20th Century or who wouldn’t know otherwise — expect from the latest in SY’s self-released series of experimental music?

It’s probably easier to answer that question with what not to expect.

Don’t expect any rock music — this is Western art music at the sonic frontiers. Textures more akin to a CRI Emergency Music disc take center stage on this 2-CD set.

Don’t expect any melody. Hell, don’t expect any chords either. The alleatoric premise of most of these piece pretty much do away with those concepts anyway. If noise for art’s sake doesn’t target your demographic, then this disc probably wouldn’t fit in your CD collection.

Back in the late 1980s, I read a profile about Sonic Youth, in which the group was portrayed as a bunch of would-be musicians who, lacking any real formal training, turned their amateur technique into noisy art. In the last decade, Sonic Youth has turned that so-called amateur technique into very high art.

If the Kronos Quartet is classical music’s bridge to popular music, Sonic Youth is popular music’s ambassador to the Western avant-garde. Hell, noted composer Pauline Oliveros wrote a piece for them.

Are we witnessing the foundation of high art embracing its low art counterpart? Let’s fucking hope so.