Monday, October 19, 2009

apollonian versus dionysian

it's true that Nietzche, to whom we owe this binary as a prism for looking at music and art (and we should concede it's one that most academics sniff at--although they're often the ones who also sniff at vitalism/Romanticism for reasons I've never wholly grasped -- you mean, you would rather be dead?) that his line in the Birth of Tragedy is that he greatest art fuses the Dionysian and the Apollonian, it's primal aka cthonic energy given shape and direction by the essentially pictorial

So music terms you might say that this occurs when recorded sound becomes something you can almost see

So even things in rock that tend to be seen as pure Dionysian like The Birthday Party (as per the incomparable reading/advocacy of Barney Hoskyns)if you listen to their records, the primal-ity occurs within music that is actually very arranged and at its height (the Bad Seed/Mutiny EPs)almost cinematic

Junkyward, the most Dionysian and edge-of-chaos is probably my least favourite for this very reason - oh it's great but I prefer Prayers On Fire

That group's great unacknowledged ancestor, The Doors, epitomize this even more -- Jim's preoccupations with Dionysiac are well-known and permeate the lyrics and interview statements -- but the music is Apollonian in its glistening, cinematic production and subtle details. And what could be less primal than Manzarek's arpeggios and the delicate soloing of Robbie Krieger?

Even Jim's singing is quite poised, Sinatra as much the blues wild men

Purely Dionysian music might be the most angular and fracturedly pagan passages in Beefheart. Or power electronics and industrial noise -- Merzbow. Or death metal and grindcore. A blinding amorphousness of traumatized sound, complete with S/M obsessions. The sonic/lyric equivalent perhaps of sparagmos in Dionysian rites, the rending of flesh

But if all great music has some blend of the Dionysian and the Apollonian, I'd have to say Vampire Weekend lean way way to the Apollonian.

They couldn't really be more thought-through and non-primal unless they were Momus (who has written about his loathing of faux-primal: PJ Harvey etc)

Lyrically and emotionally Vampire's domain is almost entirely the rhapsodic, which is the Apollonian register par excellence -- their genius is to have taken attributes like "blithe" and "sprightly" and "debonair", words that would normally have me lunging for the sick bucket, and transfigure them, redeem them.

i should really do a sketch towards or preliminary breakdown of the Appollonian current in pop music -- as I've realized that while I tend to ideologically slant towards the Dionysian, the other side actually figures quite strongly in my listening pleasure

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