I’ve had conversations recently about ‘Rock Opera’ which made me cringe.
As in, ‘HEY, HOW’S THE ROCK OPERA GOING?’
Hoo boy. It’s not a ‘rock opera’. Detroit is an opera. An opera. An opera. An opera. La la la la la la. I’m not listening to you.
Look, I can’t think of any decent ‘Rock Opera’ with the noticeable exception of Tommy. But c’mon. Right there, Pete broke the mold. It really is a great piece of music. Period. And it really is opera. People forget both those facts, simply because it was the first…and then because the subsequent 9,999 attempts have been such pretentious crap that I can’t hear the term without wanting to barf.
Years ago I saw a Metallica TV show where they played in front of a full orchestra. I can’t say I remember much about it because it felt so much like Spinal Tap I turned it off… but not before it dawned on me how much money -someone- must be making on this thing.
I have never seen a successful integration of rock n’ roll and classical music. The closest to the mark, in my opinion, was ELP’s ‘Pirates’. That’s ten minutes–about proper length for ‘prog’. It seems the longer one goes, the less successful the results.
And no one was more ambitious than Zappa. And his work was some of the least successful modern concert music.. Most of it’s just not very good. There’s a TON of it, for sure. Frank was a talented guy. But his real talent was as impresario. Rock n’ rollers have over-elevated his genius. Where he tries to mix distorted guitars -and- traditional instruments is not his best stuff. I know he wanted to be seen as ‘serious’ and his pieces all have the bona fides of a ‘real’ composer, but for me? Heard one Zappa concert piece? Heard ’em all.
AND NOW A NICE WORD ABOUT MACHINE MUSIC THAT’S ALL NATURAL
On the other side of this sort of, I say, I say, miscegenation we got goin’ on heah (Foghorn Leghorn: Ace Musicologist), I have been even more unimpressed with ‘serious’ music attempts at employing electronics and tape. Pretentious karaoke.
Frankly, the most successful synergy of electronics and music has been (and I cringe to say this) Phillip Glass. Using acoustic instruments in a mind-numbingly repetitive way. He got it. It’s impersonal music made by real people. It has all the roboticism of The Blue Man Group, but without the humour and optimism. But I have to admit that it totally works. It makes a statement about our world. Phil digs the zeitgeist.
THAT DOESN’T BODE WELL
So in short, I can’t think of a decent union of orchestral instruments and electronics. Maybe it’s out there (and if it is, please clue me in!) Right now, I’m feeling like I have no role model. I am so used to working within my self-contained environment–without worrying about ‘execution’. It’s bad enough trying to develop a holistic mix of acoustic and electric instruments on a recording. But how do they fit together ‘live’?
Plato used The Allegory Of The Caves to demonstrate his belief that we are seeing a shadow-play of the real world. Detroit, the city, is an alloy made of some of the most de-humanising aspects of mankind and some of it’s most poignant humanity. As I’ve said, it’s America and Progress, so any art that hopes to capture Detroit has to be able to, like Plato’s shadows, provide a glimpse of that union. And it seems to me that in order to do so, one has to carry forward the man/machine metaphor even further. To successfully represent Detroit, one needs to find a way to get the electro-mechanical and the acoustical to work in harmony (no pun intended) on the same stage. The stage is the factory and the man and the machine must work together to roll ’em off the line.
Except on a Wednesday. Look, just trust me on this. Don’t expect the doors to fit if it came off the line on a Wednesday.