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"Creative Music" ???

Matthew Marth (mmarth@nsca.org)
Wed, 22 Oct 1997 10:10:27 -0500

I have been noticing a new trend among experimental and "new" music
composers and performers. It seems that the old problem of what to call
our music--music that doesn't fit into the other standard
categories--has been imagined to be solved by using the term "creative
music." I don't know much about the genesis and life of this new
distinction, but I feel very skeptical about it. I think that calling
experimental music "creative music" is no improvement and does not
elucidate better than the old terms. In fact, I would argue that it is
even less effective in describing this unruly genre. (I'm not sure it's
even a definable genre.) While it's true that not all music is
especially creative, in the sense of "original," I think it is very
presumptuous to put only unusual or "outside" music in the exclusive set
of music that is creative. Even a hackneyed formulaic pop song has been
created in some respects. I guess what I'm saying is really, "What does
"creative" mean?" Does everybody using this term in the new ontext (to
stand for a genre) feel totally satisfied that they have evaluated what
it is to be creative and what that means? I very much doubt it. This is
going to require a lot of contemplation from all of us.

The only useful function of this term that I can imagine is as a
political tool to establish in the public's awareness a sense that there
is a new, defined genre. I imagine this is useful commercially--if we
have a name, (like they do for rap, jazz, folk, country, ambient, etc.)
we can have a labeled category at the music store, and maybe somebody
will even buy a few of our recordings. Who among experimentally-oriented
musicians hasn't been frustrated looking for interesting new music in
Barnes & Noble, only to realize that even if they did have a cd
compilation of recent free-improvised tuba music, it would probably be
buried in the new age section.

Having a known identifier can be helpful in the crude world of the music
industry, where it becomes necessary to label and categorize things for
labeling's sake, rather than actually listening to a work for the work's
sake, or the artist's sake, trying to understand what it is and what it
is doing and why.

Alas, "creative music" is an ill-conceived term, and I am horrified to
think that this will come into standard use. I don't ever want to be
asked, "What kind of music do you write?" and have to answer: "Creative
Music!" I suggest that we stick with one that has worked, though some
people are afraid of it--maybe they're afraid to commit themselves to
the rigorous approach to art that the word "experimental" invokes. We
need to get over our complacency and stop trying to sugar-coat our
ever-evolving music. "Experimental" is the perfect descriptor for music
that is created to test the bounds of meaning and style, for music that
either asks questions or implies a question or challenge. I propose that
musicians who are devoted to exploring modes of expression and
challenging themselves and others to learn from the act of composition
and performance, who are devoted to peeling off the layers of conformity
to reveal their true, original selves--we musicians should use the term
"experimental" often and with vigor.
Matt Marth