Popular Culture and Music by Dan Zambas
The word ‘culture’ holds a variety of meanings within the English language. Depending on its context, the word can be applied to the arts, fashion, sociological studies and nationalism. This makes the interpretation of Popular Culture an abstract term that cannot be defined easily.
For the purposes of this supplement the context in which popular culture will be used will be in a sociological format. This is due to the nature of explaining how music fits into popular culture in a coherent manner and the effect of its place within society. Popular Music itself will be looked into during the next section of this supplement.
As technology innovates and grows the demand for the advancements are always greater. The human species has a voracious appetite and we use resources at a phenomenal rate.
Once a technology has become part of popular culture, for example the mobile phone, society begins to wonder how it communicated before. Once the standard has been established society demands more convenience and quicker access. This can be strongly paralleled with ‘Fast Food Culture’ – by showing the convenience of fast food, society soon caught up as this went hand in hand with their ever changing fast paced lifestyles.
This process has obviously had its effect on the music industry. What was once recorded to Vinyl was then upgraded to CD and now MP3. The average consumer wishes to access new music immediately and does not want to purchase music from a retail outlet, therefore welcoming Internet shopping into their lives. With this powerful tool the access to music is phenomenal and, in theory, provides greater exposure to the wide variety of music the world has to offer.
Bill Gates was quoted stating – ‘Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.’
He understood the concept that you can have all the resources you could possibly want, but without guidance they render themselves useless. This is potentially a problem that is facing popular culture currently, the world is at their finger-tips, but they do not know where to start.
Various industries set benchmarks for popular culture working in tandem with the changes society goes through. For example; the Film industry regularly uses popular music in its soundtracks to encourage interest. The food industry has refined over time its approach to selling products with very tangible results, the application of advertising campaigns as simple as a cartoon character and a catchphrase. This again is easily digestible and instantly recognisable, match this with a melodic theme and potentially an entire generation will know the product.
This can be associated with how music is injected into popular culture. The radio friendly 3 minute pop song meets a specific consumer demand of music on the go. For the consumer who doesn’t intend on contemplating the music they are listening to, only to digest with ease and leave it behind just as quickly. This concept should not be written off as irrelevant to society because it has formed from the reflection of society itself.
‘If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.’ Omar N.Bradley of the US Military is recognised for this quote. It can be surmised from his thoughts that he believed that the lack of philosophical thought and awareness could have a detrimental effect on society. Due to the incredible growth of industry and technology there has been little chance for discussion on a social scale as the individual grows more and more with discontent and wishes for the next shortcut that technology can provide.
This could potentially explain why so many individuals within society hold on to popular culture of a previous time. Early 20th century films, period-drama literature, classical music. This is not just limited to the older generations; younger generations are discovering that past culture holds a relevance to their lives. Even indirectly the effect can be noted, for example; The 1999 blockbuster film ‘The Matrix’ has a strong link to Plato’s ‘The Allegory of the Cave’ in which it describes people chained, facing a cave wall only witnessing the shadows from the fires as their reality.
Although this may not have been a considered influence, the dilution of thought through the ages has obviously infiltrated the social consciousness. Therefore it can be argued that popular culture reinvents itself based on what has come before, rather than what has been invented since.
Music itself can further develop this thought; melodies and progressions are continuously re-invented and interpreted, some to the point of plagiarism. Within Western Music there are 12 notes. This in theory limits the amount of melodies and progressions which are possible. What opens up the potential originality is the rhythm. This is not limited in the same way and can entirely change an influential piece into a new composition of its own merit.
The historically renowned pianist and composer, Franz Liszt, composed variations of the virtuoso violinist Paganini’s 24 Caprices, this action shows that regardless of the capabilities of Franz Liszt – he felt it was relevant for him to reinvent the work of another artist.
This is at the heart of popular culture and it can be surmised that without this freedom of expression, our society would be poorer for it.