Postmodern music is either simply music of the postmodern era, or music that follows aesthetical and philosophical trends of postmodernism. As the name suggests, the postmodernist movement formed partly in reaction to modernism. Even so, postmodern music still does not primarily define itself in opposition to modernist music; this label is applied instead by critics and theorists.
Postmodern music is not a distinct musical style, but rather refers to music of the postmodern era. The terms “postmodern”, “postmodernism”, “postmodernist”, and “postmodernity” are exasperating terms (Bertens 1995, 3). Indeed, postmodernists question the tight definitions and categories of academic disciplines, which they regard simply as the remnants of modernity (Rosenau 1992, 6–7).
The end of the metanarratives in music
One of the main theorists on postmodernity was Jean-François Lyotard, who argued that postmodernism implies the end of the great meta-narratives of modernity (Lyotard, 1997, 25). In this sense, the metanarratives Christian, rationalist, idealist, capitalist and Marxist, had failed in their attempt at emancipation; legitimized by each of its foundations (the reason for the rationalist, the revolution for the Marxist…). This position (the death of the meta-narratives) led some artists to think about the end of the stories, such as the famous work 4’33 ” by John Cage; where nothing can be said. Of course, as he saysGianni Vattimo (following the idea of Lyotard), the death of the metanarratives, implies the birth of the small stories (subjective interpretations), which in turn implies dialectics for the sake of intersubjective communication.
The postmodernist musical attitude
Postmodernism in music is not a distinct musical style, but rather refers to music of the postmodern era. Postmodernist music, on the other hand, shares characteristics with postmodernist art—that is, art that comes after and reacts against modernism.
Fredric Jameson, a major figure in the thinking on postmodernism and culture, calls postmodernism “the cultural dominant of the logic of late capitalism” (Jameson 1991, 46), meaning that, through globalization, postmodern culture is tied inextricably with capitalism (Mark Fisher, writing 20 years later, goes further, essentially calling it the sole cultural possibility (Fisher 2009, 4)). Drawing from Jameson and other theorists, David Beard and Kenneth Gloag argue that, in music, postmodernism is not just an attitude but also an inevitability in the current cultural climate of fragmentation (Beard and Gloag 2005, 141–45). As early as 1938, Theodor Adorno had already identified a trend toward the dissolution of “a culturally dominant set of values” (Beard and Gloag 2005, 141), citing the commodification of all genres as beginning of the end of genre or value distinctions in music (Adorno 2002, 293–95).
In some respects, Postmodern music could be categorized as simply the music of the postmodern era, or music that follows aesthetic and philosophical trends of postmodernism, but with Jameson in mind, it is clear these definitions are inadequate. As the name suggests, the postmodernist movement formed partly in reaction to the ideals of modernism, but in fact postmodern music is more to do with functionality and the effect of globalization than it is with a specific reaction, movement, or attitude (Beard and Gloag 2005, 142). In the face of capitalism, Jameson says, “It is safest to grasp the concept of the postmodern as an attempt to think the present historically in an age that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place” (Jameson 1991, ix).
Jonathan Kramer posits the idea (following Umberto Eco and Jean-François Lyotard) that postmodernism (including musical postmodernism) is less a surface style or historical period (i.e., condition) than an attitude. Kramer enumerates (arguably subjective) “characteristics of postmodern music, by which I mean music that is understood in a postmodern manner, or that calls forth postmodern listening strategies, or that provides postmodern listening experiences, or that exhibits postmodern compositional practices.” According to Kramer (2002, 16–17), postmodern music:
is not simply a repudiation of modernism or its continuation, but has aspects of both a break and an extension
is, on some level and in some way, ironic
does not respect boundaries between sonorities and procedures of the past and of the present
challenges barriers between ‘high’ and ‘low’ styles
shows disdain for the often unquestioned value of structural unity
questions the mutual exclusivity of elitist and populist values
avoids totalizing forms (e.g., does not want entire pieces to be tonal or serial or cast in a prescribed formal mold)
considers music not as autonomous but as relevant to cultural, social, and political contexts
includes quotations of or references to music of many traditions and cultures
considers technology not only as a way to preserve and transmit music but also as deeply implicated in the production and essence of music
distrusts binary oppositions
includes fragmentations and discontinuities
encompasses pluralism and eclecticism
presents multiple meanings and multiple temporalities
locates meaning and even structure in listeners, more than in scores, performances, or composers
Daniel Albright summarizes the main tendencies of musical postmodernism as (Albright 2004, 12):
Back to the melody
For postmodern composers the return to the melody is a condition of auditory perception, allowing the hierarchy of sound that goes from noise to tonal. With his opera Your Faust Henri Pousseur makes Anton Webern the axis that brings this perception to two opposite directions: “from Webern to tonal, and from Webern to noise” 2.
Two other composers are representative of this return to the melody after a course marked by atonality. Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1970 with Mantra based on a melodic formula that continues to be repeated, according to the composer’s definition, by “extensions in time or space” 3. Arvo Pärt meanwhile returns to the melody through modal music that refers to the systems of writing of medieval monodies, mainly Gregorian chant, and polyphonies of the school of Notre Dame. With Tabula Rasa and Fratres, Pärt’s ascetic approach is close to the Satie of the mystical period (Ogives, Gothic Dances) favoring the stripping, stability and simplicity, which are the basis of Tintinabulism 4.
In the musical postmodernism, the use of repeatability as a composition means one who has sought the most auditory perception 5. Any change or progression becomes audible by focusing on the acoustic sound dimension, producing on the listener a fascination and a state of meditation 6. The minimalist Americans are the main promoters of this composition system, and as important actors of postmodernism, who will break most radically with serialism 5.
For B. Ramaut-Chevassus the approach of repetitive music in the United States is different from Europe. More cosmic among Americans whose inspiration has its roots in non-Western music and philosophy, and more terrestrial in Europe 6, where minimalism combines with the technique of quotation and refers more directly to classical traditions, such as by Michael Nyman, who combines minimalism with a musical writing inherited from the Baroque, as in his music for the film the Draftsman’s Contract, reminiscent of Henry Purcell 7.
Quote and collage
Serialism wanted to make a clean sweep of the past. Postmodernism, in its desire to reconnect with the history of music, will make use of the quotation as a reference to this past. The citation fits as heterogeneous element in the work as a reminder that transmits a specific memory to the listener that identifies 8.
Klaus Huber uses the quote as a message in the affirmation of his faith. Thus, in Senfkorn he quotes an air shot from Cantata 159 Bach for its symbolic value 9.
In musical collage unlike the citation that one identifies in a musical context by its difference, it is the whole work which is a mixing of element of diverse origins. In postmodernity the most representative work of this musical technique is Berio’s Sinfonia, which includes in its third movement, among others, Bach’s first Brandenburg concerto, Schoenberg’s Five Pieces, Mahler’s second and fourth symphonies, Debussy’s Sea, Ravel’s Waltz, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, fold according to Boulez’s fold, GruppenStockhausen 10.
The experimental practices of the music of xx th century such as American composers and John Cage, Michael Smith, André Éric Létourneau, Emmanuel Madan, Robert Ashley, Takehisa Kosugi, Pauline Oliveros, Gordon Mumma and Laurie Anderson are examples of postmodern music. Similarly some hybrid music such as The Residents or Frank Zappa correspond to the qualifiers that distinguish postmodern music. For Beatrice Ramaut Chevassus11, significant work of postmodernity is the Sinfonia of Luciano Berio. Other currents such as theAmerican minimalist, Steve Reich, the early works of Philip Glass, and those of John Adams, and the current of neo-tonal mystical Estonian composers represented by Arvo Pärt or related like Giya Kancheli and Alfred Schnittke are representative of the postmodern attitude.
One author has suggested that the emergence of postmodern music in popular music occurred in the late 1960s, influenced in part by psychedelic rock and one or more of the later Beatles albums (Sullivan 1995, 217). Beard and Gloag support this position, citing Jameson’s theory that “the radical changes of musical styles and languages throughout the 1960s [are] now seen as a reflection of postmodernism” (Beard and Gloag 2005, 142; see also Harvey 1990). Others have placed the beginnings of postmodernism in the arts, with particular reference to music, at around 1930 (Karolyi 1994, 135; Meyer 1994, 331–32).
Musicians cited as important to postmodern music
Western art music (“classical”) composers
John Adams (Carl 1990, 45, 51–54; Kramer 2002, 13)
Thomas Adès (Fox 2004, 53)
Robert Ashley (Gagné 2012, 12, 19)
Luciano Berio (Connor 2001, 477–78; Kramer 2002, 14) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Harrison Birtwistle (Beard and Gloag 2005, 143)
William Bolcom (Carl 1990, 45, 59–63)
Hans-Jürgen von Bose (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Pierre Boulez (Butler 1980, 7; Mankowskaya 1993, 91; Ofenbauer 1995, passim; Petrusëva 2003, 45) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Henry Brant (Gagné 2012, 44–45, 208)
Earle Brown (Born 1995, 56)
John Cage (Born 1995, 56; Pasler 2011) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Cornelius Cardew (Born 1995, 56)
Elliott Carter (Beard and Gloag 2005, 143)
Aldo Clementi (Morris 2009, 559)
John Corigliano (Kramer 2002, 14)
Hans-Christian von Dadelsen (de) (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Miguel del Águila (Cheong 2009,[page needed])
Brian Eno (Gagné 2012, 90–91)
Morton Feldman (Born 1995, 56)
Brian Ferneyhough (Carl 1990, 45–48) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Philip Glass (Beard and Gloag 2005, 144) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Vinko Globokar (Mankowskaya 1993, 91)
Heiner Goebbels (Beard and Gloag 2005, 142)
Michael Gordon (Gagné 2012, 117)
Peter Gordon (Gagné 2012, 117)
Henryk Górecki (Beard and Gloag 2005, 143)
Hans Werner Henze (Butler 1980, 7)
Charles Ives (LeBaron 2002, 59) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Ben Johnston (Carl 1990, 45, 55–59)
Mauricio Kagel (Gagné 2012, 149–50)
Wilhelm Killmayer (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Zygmunt Krauze (Kramer 2002, 13)
David Lang (Gagné 2012, 156)
Anne LeBaron (Gagné 2012, 156–57)
René Leibowitz (Butler 1980, 7)
György Ligeti (Geyh n.d.)
Olivier Messiaen (Butler 1980, 7)
Beata Moon (Gagné 2012, 180)
Detlev Müller-Siemens (de) (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Luigi Nono (Butler 1980, 7)
Michael Nyman (Pasler, 2011)
Pauline Oliveros (Carl 1990, 45, 54–55; Gagné 2012, 193)
John Oswald (Gagné 2012, 199–200)
Harry Partch (Gagné 2012, 202)
Bernard Rands (Kramer 2002, 14)
Steve Reich (Connor 2001, 479–80; Kramer 2002, 14; Mankowskaya 1993, 91) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
Wolfgang Rihm (Beard and Gloag 2005, 142)
Terry Riley (Gagné 2012, 208)
George Rochberg (Kramer 2002, 13)
Alfred Schnittke (Kramer 2002, 13)
Wolfgang von Schweinitz (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Juan María Solare (Cheong 2009,[page needed])
Karlheinz Stockhausen (Butler 1980, 7; Connor 2001, 476–77; Geyh n.d.; Petrusëva 2003, 45) (Also cited as a modernist composer)
John Tavener (Beard and Gloag 2005, 143)
Manfred Trojahn (Kutschke 2010, 582)
Trevor Wishart (Connor 2001, 480–81)
Christian Wolff (Born 1995, 56)
Charles Wuorinen (Carl 1990, 45, 48–51)
Iannis Xenakis (Geyh n.d.)
La Monte Young (Born 1995, 56)
John Zorn (Gagné 2012, 306)
“Popular music” performers
Bad Religion (O’Reilly 1994)
David Bowie (Berger 2003, 8)
Michael Jackson (Berger 2003, 8)
Madonna (Berger 2003, 8)
Talking Heads (Smart 1993, 14)
Frank Zappa (Gagné 2012, 305)
Source from Wikipedia