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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Artist Design

Consider the following rhythm pattern: da-da-da-da da-da-da-da. Now consider this pattern slightly altered: da-da-da-da da-da-da-dum. What element of the pattern is bound to draw attention? Is it the nice, smooth flow of the repeated rhythm that creates the effect of an artful design or is it the interruption of the rhythm that pulls the audience away from endless repetition, though perfect in measure, that is bound to bore or distract the listener? The pattern depends upon the "dum." This interruption, or roughness of surface, is required to make the flow something other than just mechanical perfection. This is true in all art forms: unique design is related to such roughness of surface. Slight imperfection, roughness, or interruption-- in music, writing, painting, dance--makes the work believable and pulls people toward understanding beauty in the human condition of fallibility. Havelock Ellis states this concept as such: "The absence of flaw in beauty is itself a flaw." Francis Bacon echoes this thought: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion." For me, this roughness of surface is so evident in artful music. A performer that produces mechanical perfection without the birthmark of its human creation has created a work void of style. And, style is but the refinement of peculiarity. The true musical artists do not use stylistic devices; instead, they inherently produce them. Granted, every great artist employs imitation while emulating influences that have helped define his style, but to "karaoke" copy such style or merely show precision in delivery with tone and range dues nothing to advance musical artistry. Artists expand boundaries within forms such as rock, folk, jazz, blues, Cajun and zydeco, reggae, R&B, ethnic, and international music. And, to the careful listener, they rely upon delivering breathtaking performances with the help of roughness of surface. These artistic performers are not just great musicians. As Chris Standring, jazz artist relates, "They (artists) are those who have a driving desire and need to say something original artistically, to express themselves and to communicate that expression to an audience, be it a small niche market or wider demographic." They have a true desire to express a unique inner-voice whether millions or dozens are willing to listen. Thus, the artists lend credibility to their creations. An artist's technical shortcomings can actually be the very essence of his artistry. For example who does not know the distinct sound of B.B. King's guitar stylings--certainly one not filled with mountains of awesome licks. Or, who, at least at first, has not winced at the vocal intonations of Bob Dylan--loaded with gravel and grit. These artists have both developed and refined their talents to give unique voice to long-standing, often tired, forms of music. Artists first find their given talents and then learn how best to use them. Let's face it, if a musician were able to play an instrument technically perfect, at all speeds, meticulously so every note that came out was totally clean and audible, would this be ultimately interesting to an audience? Chris Standring answers, "Yes it might be very clever and impressive, but for how long could you listen to an album where every phrase felt like you were having your teeth drilled!?" So enters the importance of imperfection and roughness of surface to prevent such sterling but painful repetition. The beauty of an artist's performance relies upon his audience's associations with theme and content but also upon the fact that the audience "gets" the message through the method of humanistic delivery. Most great artists generally have a little mystery about them that seems to propel them above the status of mere entertainers. This mystery is based upon their sincere and dedicated talent with a responsibility to say something profoundly unique. This extra character also helps them develop their career longevity as they age into new, inspiring works. In 2004, Rolling Stone compiled an article,The Immortals, with the aid of a panel of fifty-five top musicians, historians, industry executives and critics, selected by the editors of Rolling Stone. Voters were asked to pick, in order of preference, the twenty artists they deemed to be the most significant and influential of rock's first fifty years, those whose work continues to have an impact today. Here are the first ten picks as presented in the article on April 15, 2004. 1) The Beatles 2) Bob Dylan 3) Elvis Presley 4) The Rolling Stones 5) Chuck Berry 6) Jimi Hendrix 7) James Brown 8) Little Richard 9) Aretha Franklin 10) Ray Charles
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