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Saturday, July 16, 2011

No Culture

I was in the huge branch of FNAC in Sao Paulo recently, looking for some Brazilian music, and while I was browsing, some kind of anodyne generic pop music was playing over the sound system. It’s the kind of thing you hear all the time – female singer, the sound processed to the Nth degree, some kind of one-size-fits-all beat – and usually I pay little or no attention to it. But there was something about being in Brazil and listening to Brazilian music on the sound post devices they have in FNAC (that allows you to listen to CDs before buying), and juxtaposing that with the aural schlock on the sound system that made me think about this music.

And what I realised was – this is probably the first time in human history that a music has arisen that is derived from no national, or linguistic, or tribal or indigenous culture. It has no geographical centre – apart maybe from being vaguely positioned in the western world. It is something that can be heard anywhere in the world, yet represents no individual part of it. It is not American, though it has American influences, it is not British though though it is sung in English. It is some kind of featureless bland bromide that has its roots in no particular society, that speaks of, or for no particular people. Whose rhythm is not derived from or based on the rhythm of any language. It is a culture-less music – manufactured and spat out for the sole purpose of making money.

The songs do not speak of anything other than anodyne teenage love pangs, the voices are a bizarre electronic soup, compressed and manipulated to the point where they lose any semblence of being a real human voice. If someone sang in your livingroom and produced a sound as bizarre as the sounds that allegedly emanate from the throats of such singers as Madonna or Britney Spears it would be a truly scary experience. To hear that kind of robotic synthesis coming from a real human being would be just bizarre.

Yet it’s the norm in this music – this no tone, no passion, crocodile tears flat-line voice..........

If you go to India and hear the people there speak you can understand how the music links with the culture and the speech patterns of everyday life. The same goes for Brazilian music, Hip Hop, or jazz. The Beatles (possibly the first group whose music became truly global), are clearly British and represent a time and place. Go to Vienna and look at the 18th century buildings and the culture from which they arose and you can get a clearer understanding of classical music. Go to County Clare and listen to Irish Traditional Music in its natural environment and you will again see how music arose from and is aligned with linguistic, cultural and environmental factors – and history. The history, geography and culture of races and peoples are inextricably linked with, and represented by their music.

This other music on the other hand – this sticky treacly manufactured international pop goo, whose sticky effusions have polluted the entire planet, springs from no culture other than money. It represents only the international corporate business behemoth that has taken the name ‘music’ into its title, despite having no interest in the concept of what music really is.

It is unprecedented in human musical history – a music without any culture. A music without any message. And ultimately a music without any true humanity.


  1. Hi Ronan, I enjoyed this, even though I think you're wrong. My take here:

    I continue to enjoy reading your thoughts on music!

  2. Good article. I linked to it from Facebook and a friend commented ironically, "Man complains about globalized music after looking for Brazilian music in 'a huge branch of the FNAC' in San Paolo which looks the same as any interchangeable huge branch of the FNAC anywhere in the world. I suppose all the local Brazilian record shops had closed for lunch." Which I thought was not quite addressing the same issue, since huge, impersonal commerce can nonetheless sell, along with all the pap, music that isn't impersonal and rootless in the way you describe. But it's very hard to avoid being complicit in the globalizing commercial enterprise whose effects we then complain about...

  3. Yes Thomas, I can see the case for irony! But the reality is that although FNAC in SP does look the same as any other FNAC, it does in fact sell mostly Brazilian music (the vast majority of the music for sale there is MPB), so it certainly does differ from going into a FNAC in Paris for example. And I also did go to the local Brazilian stores and got some specialist stuff too.

    It's impossible to avoid globalisation in your everyday life, but that doesn't mean you have to like every aspect of it. And if people don't question things, then where will we end up?

  4. Thanks for your comment Ian - I'll see of I can respond on your own blog