Music for Thought

This semester, I’m taking a class I truly enjoy and am interested in for once. It’s a communication class in the USC Annenberg School, called Soundclash: Popular Music and American Culture, taught by Professor Josh Kun. The class is all about the history of race and music and how the two intersect, clash and form each other. Professor Kun somehow draws connections between race relations in plantation-era America to Justin Beiber. I swear.

Anyway, today was a particularly thought-provoking class and I wanted to share. Kun showed us this short film, created for Flying Lotus‘ album, Until the Quiet Comes.

To loosely quote Kun on the film: “This is a visualization of Flying Lotus’ track. It’s all about music’s connection to the reanimation of the dead, the bringing back to life of young black male bodies – arrival of light of life/living…And it’s all done through beat and bass driven composition – the low end theory of approaching music becomes aesthetic foundation for creating an abstract experimental piece of music that produces an abstract experimental piece of film that is all about surviving in America, all about the vulnerability and fragility of black life in the projects of LA and, more broadly, the larger question of black survival in the US. What is music role in constantly reminding us of that struggle?”

Basically, we talked about “low end music” — low end meaning bass — and how bass is sort of an invisible power that affects you without you realizing. You go to a club and bass physically affects and captures you, but it’s not part of the mainstream. Low end music is about music as a theory that resists the mainstream/accepted/norms/public space. Low end music says that music is far more than entertainment. It’s pretty crazy to think about this and how music should really be in an era that feels inescapably dominated by mainstream artists like Wacka Flacka Flame and Justin Beiber.

So where does this come from? Well, part of it is bebop’s legacy. Bebop was an underground reaction to the commercialization of swing in the 1940s; a return to the margins of music and the industry to create something new that would resist being turned into bland mainstream music. And its legacy continues today — even in EDM, which is hard to imagine. Kun played this song by Man Parrish — a name I had never heard before, embarrassingly,  because he was a major DJ who helped to create electro in the 1990s. In his song, you can hear bebop, that low end frequency, hip hop, EDM beats, it’s all there…

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