Whenever I picture a hypothetical art snob pondering over some piece of art, invariably, the hypothetical art in question is cubist. This is because on the surface, cubism is absurd. How can you tell me that that is what you see when you look at a man playing guitar? Ridiculous. It’s easy not to ‘get it’, and it’s easy to label cubism as pretentious. More often than not when I look at a man’s face, it doesn’t elaborate itself into a landscape of orthogonal geometries.
This weekend I saw the Picasso exhibit at the AGO. There are only a couple visual artists I have ever spent real time with, and Picasso is not one of them. But after getting past the crowd I began to see the pieces at my own pace, and sure enough, I became that hypothetical art snob staring into a cubist face for twenty minutes. I was a stone skipping across water that finally plunged below the surface.
In traditional painting, artists show a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional plane. The illusion of depth is a trick of the eye and the way our brains assemble our worlds; it’s hardwired in us, and artists exploit that fact. That third dimension draws the audience into the focus of the painting, revealing the perspective of the artist.
Cubism attempts to deconstruct the subject and reassemble it from a multitude of perspectives. It is an attempt to show us that more is going on than we think. The three dimensions of cubes offer up interesting possibilities. Disembodied pieces are not necessarily assembled in the same proportions or on the same plane as they should be. This creates new forms and a play of light and dark within what was formerly a solid planar surface. Cubism shows us the dimensions that are possible within. It reminds me of meditation. These dimensions run perpendicular to our ordinary orthogonal reality.
When we are entranced in great art or in meditation, or even performing a manual task intensely, it’s easy to lose track of time. It’s a tough thing to put one’s finger on; time doesn’t work the same in those trances as it does in our normal waking consciousness.
But sometimes we don’t want to lose ourselves in the minutes and seconds of the day. Sometimes we want time to go by faster. So we put on music, right? Background music adds continuity to our day, reinforcing that even though we’re still sitting in the office, time is marching forward. So there’s commercial radio, right?
Actually commercial radio is what it’s called when private corporations broadcast audio as far as their antennae will reach in order to make money. They do this by selling advertising time. That is where almost all of the money comes from. Once that priority is straightened out, they buffer the commercials with music. I hear commercial radio from time to time and a few facts strike me (like a hot bag of waste materials).
There really are an awful lot of commercials. This shouldn’t surprise me, but the amount of time dedicated to selling products and services is pretty astonishing. About twenty minutes of every hour is taken up by commercial breaks. Consider the amount of time the deejays prattle on about nothing, add the time spent on callers, contests, and other special segments, and you’re left with about a 1:1 ratio between commercials and music. Is that what I bargained for?
Of course the radio does have other functions. It tells us about the weather and traffic and gives us brief news updates, plus it plays music that helps us through our day. But pretend I don’t care about the deejays or the commercials and I actually just want music. Why am I giving an hour of my time for every half hour of music I listen to? It’s a bad bargain.
Radio stations are owned by private corporations who are in it to make money. These corporations aren’t trying to give the audience the most enjoyable day possible. That never even crosses their minds. This means from a business perspective, their goal is to get you from commercial to commercial with minimal cost. In the broadcasting world time literally is money, so you can be sure every nanosecond will be crammed full. This has led broadcasters to the belief that Silence = Evil. Illogical programmers assume a corollary: that Noise = Good.
One of the worst offenders here in Toronto is 102.1 The Edge. This popular station claims to play new rock, and obviously leans toward ‘edgier’ material. They play about 40 songs, and they play them several times a day. I assume this is because they save money paying royalties to fewer performers because there has to be some good reason for it. The deejays during the day are Josie Dye and someone who calls himself “Fearless” Fred. As far as I can tell, they have never done or said anything on air that has any social or intellectual value. But once again, they’re only there to get you to the commercials.
Most of the music on The Edge shares a common ideology. As far as I can tell, it goes like this: “You are young and edgy and frustrated at the world. You grind your way through your work week so that you can get drunk on the weekend, which is awesome. Once you’re falling down drunk, puking and disgusting, a ‘true friend’ will carry your body home. That kind of ‘true friendship’ makes your downward spiral worthwhile. Either that or sex makes your shitty life worth while. You’re jaded, and are living in a nightmare that you can’t control.” I could go on. These themes repeat all day, from song to song, and from repeated song to repeated song. They broadcast fantastic commercials about drinking beer, then weird PSAs about drinking and driving. Then, there is a commercial for 1-800-X-COPPER, so that when you are in the drunk tank for DUI, you’ll have a true friend to get you out of a jam and carry your body home. And of course in the tiny spaces between commercials and music, they add all kinds of obnoxious sound-effect segues to make you believe exciting things are happening.
This mentality makes me angry. College and university radio stations are guided by passionate people who consider new music and exploration okay. For instance CIUT 89.5, the University of Toronto radio station, is full of diverse programming that, while it doesn’t always enlighten, at least makes an effort to expose listeners to new ideas. But of course I shouldn’t be angry. Commercial radio exists to sell products and services, so what do I expect?
With music compressed so flat it has no dynamic range, vacuous on-air personalities, and the self-loathing, self-pitying rhetoric put forth by so-called artists like Billy Talent (who I assumed is made up of fifteen year old kids attempting to cash in on the ten-to-thirteen age bracket), commercial music has a flattening out effect on subject. Listeners can be drained of the will for self-exploration as they accept this mentality as their own.
This week’s Battle Of Unrelated Things between cubism and commercial radio is a no-brainer. Cubism is fine. Commercial radio needs to be crushed and scraped away like the husk of some dry beetle carcass. Maybe in the future I’ll make the BOUTs a little more one-sided.
He had decided long ago that no Situation had any objective reality: it only existed in the minds of those who happened to be in on it at any specific moment. Since these several minds tended to form a sum total or complex more mongrel than homogeneous, the Situation must necessarily appear to a single observer much like a diagram in four dimensions to an eye conditioned to seeing its world in only three. Hence the success or failure of any achieved by the team confronting it.
– Thomas Pynchon, V.