Roots music is shared generally, the unsought soundtrack of our lives. Folksongs, the blues, gospel, hymns, indigenous music of people around the world represent the traditional version of this. In the 20th century, in the westworld, with the advent of radio and recordings, pop music (which would include TV and advertising music) has become a newer (global village) version of this. Roots are formed when the music is present in the environment, rather than sequestered in a particular place (once the church and the concert hall). It is important to remember that what we think of as ethnic music is local (geographic) rather than racial. Muzak and other psycho-manipulative soundscpaes have become rooted in american culture, as have hip-hop, "light classical" and other forms of pop.

One can make a distinction between deep and shallow roots, between what becomes rooted by the choice of participants in a culture (and resonates in the subconscious of all humans) and what is pressed upon them by the forced exposure of commercial (or, in the case of totalitarian states, governmental and/or religious) forces. Roots are still roots, because we cannot forget what we have come to know (much as we’d like to forget catchy bits of drivel we hear waiting in a line while we’re trying to think about something). Violinist Yehudi Menuin tried (unsuccessfully) to sue the purveyors of Muzak for invasion of privacy. Another change brought about by recording is that individuals can create by choice through repetition some of the music they root in their lives, a century ago they could only do that by actually playing the music themselves, travelling to the places the music was made, or, if enormously wealthy, have a group on hand to perform at their command.

There is a distinction to be made between music that reaches its listeners through words and music that reaches its listeners only through sound. Often verbal content and subject will ease the acceptance of newer sounds in its audience.

As musics become rooted in pop culture a process of 'sanitation' occurs slowly removing the personality and individuality from them -rounding off the edges, dumbing down, commercializing, seeking the common denominator.  A lot of eastern music has learned to sound well tempered, a lot of blues now isn't any more challenging from a tonal perspective than advertising jingles. It falls to us to decide what we want to root in our lives, the generality of 'styles' or the oddness of individual expression.

A valuable distinction can be made between populist and the popularist.

Populist music is about its participants. Popularist music is about its consumers.

Music played by specialists for consumption is popularist. Music played by people for their own enjoyment is populist.

There is no limit to the level of engagement or skill populist musicians may bring to bear of the music they make.

Many forms of roots music are blends of both. In less capitalistic or stratified (i.e., fascist) societies a skillful and engaged performer is rewarded out of appreciation for his/her contribution to the society (tribe) and its collectively made music. He/she does not sell and they do not buy. He/she performs because it is his/her way of contributing. The others reward him/her voluntarily because it is their way of contributing. The music belongs to all of them.

more about this

"Thus indigenous music is killed in the interest of poor and second-hand western trash."
Curt Sachs The Wellsprings of Music


Punk was specific to a time and a culture (the time and culture in which I came up), but has come to represent (for me) a general (refusnik) disposition toward pop culture on a visceral, rather than cerebral, level. Rock and Roll had become pop (rooted) by 1980, while punk continued (and continues) to kick against the pricks, seeking different sonorities and subject matter, the way rockers of an earlier generation (Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart, Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, etc.) had done. Punk, in some circles, adopted dogmas and orthodoxies as constrictive as any in pop-rock (while ironically declaring "Punk’s not Dead"), but during its second (Minutemen, Swans, Butthole Surfers, Mission of Burma, Pop Group,etc.) and third (Dog Faced Hermans, Hammerhead, etc.) generations demonstrated a widely diverse creativity. The current generation (Old Time Religion, Iceburn, Flying Luttenbachers, Lightning Bolt) isn’t really "punk" anymore, but it has grown from the same (anti-pop) tradition, which could be considered a desperate, militant, attempt to retain autonomous (bottom-up) control of the musical vocabulary.


Noyz is a catch-all category including any form of aesthetically disposed sound made or derived from non-traditional sources. By this I mean sounds not subject to the limitations of defined pitches and/or other formalisms of the kind one would find in the texts of music theory. These would range from field recordings to "industrial" music to experimental (i.e. non-beat derived) electronica. Noyz is our present future. It’s pioneers include Edgard Varese, the Futurist Luigi Russolo (L'arte dei rumori -The Art of Noises), Schaeffer and Henri (Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrete), Ussachevsky and Luening (Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center), John Cage (who provide the intellectual rationalization that changed common thinking about what music was), AMM ("every noise has a note"), Francis Dhomont (successor to Schaffer and Henri and precursor to Plunderphonics), and the synthetic music pioneer Morton Subotnick (using Buchla's synthesizer). "Industrial" music arose in the 1980’s as a genre not content to be punk (too simplistic, too short an attention span) or new music (too dry). Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubatten, the drum/noise of Crash Worship, Glen Branca (arguably -working backwards from pitch to sound), and others were in the early wave of this movement that drew from an eclectic set of influences emphasizing pure sound and the physics and/or electronics that generate it over traditional music theory. Some electronica (Merzbow, Dissecting Table, some of the work of Yoshihide) evolved from this eventually generating the now burgeoning field of EAI (electro-accoustic improvisation). Circuit bending (Reed Ghazala among others), as opposed to common processing, is a more integrally creative (and unforunately less common) approach to electro-acoustic music than is piling up boxes of store-bought effects and processors. The field recordings of Toshiya Tsunoda explore an experimental dimension, an examination of the intrinsic aspects of sounds, that take the practice beyond the concept of simple documentation.


New Music is the post WWII continuation of the so-called classical tradition, relying on composers (art representing a single mind) and orchestras (or electronic devices). Boulez, Stockhausen, Cage, Berio, etc. represent the first generation developing ideas from Webern and Messiaen, Bartok and early Stravinsky. Ligeti, Penderecki, and Xenackis represent the next phase, David Lang, Annie Gosfield and others the most recent. At it’s popular (i.e. safer) edges are performance art (Meredith Monk), minimalism (Reich), and neo-romanticism (Gorecki).


Free Jazz arose in the late 1950’s in response to the fossilization of mainstream jazz in a way analogous to the response of punk to rock music -a re-affirmation of the individual and populist / collective generation of musical vocabulary. Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra, etc. represent the first generation, The AACM musicians (Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, etc.), the New York Loft players, and various european jazz players represent the next. Contrary to popular belief (Ken Burns is a dipshit!) Free Jazz continues to develop and expand its horizons.

None of these categories is insulated from the others. New Musicians improvise (AAM, NEV. etc.), Free Jazz musicians compose, Xenackis and Penderecki made noyz etc.

Just like the meanings they live between the the lines
Between the borders their real contries hide

-gogol bordello

We live in a time when our ears can be open to anything and as Debussy’s M. Croche said "specialization is the narrowing of my universe". Since the 1980’s mainstream music in all fields has tended toward conservatism, complacency, and conformity. The prevailing concepts of musical vocabulary (whether theoretical or electronic) are widely perceived to originate from single authoritarian sources and to trickle out/down. I suspect this is the result of the consolidation of ownership of record companies and radio stations which has marginalized and tended to suppress any hard-to-define (and difficult to sell) ideas. Undergrounds are alive and well, but tend to be secret in media terms, known to their immediate participant-cultures, but inaccessible to outsiders. Resisting the power of commercial culture to brainwash us and supplant our real roots with manufactured ones has become the most important task of our generations. There is nothing really new in this. Even Bach was marginal in his own lifetime.

These designations are personal and completely arbitrary, convenient rather than meaningful. Obviously I have little interest in most minimalist and ambient music. Pop music as well. I don’t mean to imply that it's bad or beneath anybody’s attention, just that at this time of my life it doesn’t interest me very much. Anything that inspires one to hear, to make music, is a positive force. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, it matters where it goes. I listen to everything, whether I like it or not, and music that annoys me teaches me as much as music I like, though I prefer to be inspired to being annoyed. Minimalist and ambient music tend to annoy me because I sense a closed-universe / flat earth disposition in them and that upsets me in completely subjective (epistemological) way (I distrust answers and prefer questions). The continua of the music seems to collapse into a pre-ordained regularity which I find oppressive rather than liberating (a piece like Terry Riley's In C begins to bore me almost instantly and I have a hard time listening to more than a couple of minutes of it). Because I spend most of my time thinking about organic (physically generated) sounds and I sometimes feel alienated by the non-organic, sequencer-dependent ones, pure commonly processed electronic sounds have the same emotional effect on me (they make me feel lonely, in too sterilized an environment, like being in a musical hospital). I hope to get more knowledgable about electronica (particularly circuit bent and modular synthesizer approaches) at some point. There are brilliant people (such as David Stout who does computer generated audio visual performances) working in the medium and I hope my ignorance doesn’t offend anyone (it often does). For the record I like some Steve Reich (Drumming) very much and (back in the 80s) Brian Eno (particularly My Life in the Bush of Ghosts) had a profound opening effect on my ears (as did Morton Subotnick when I was a wee lad -in many ways I still think he's the best). As to roots, I try to stimulate the growth of those that feel deep to me, those that seem at least to touch upon the fullness of human consciousness, and lop off, or pull up, what I take to be the weeds and genetically engineered hybrids.

All genres eventually collapse into parodies of themselves as innovators are replaced by those who imitate or formulize their ideas.

"It’s all gone music to me." -Charlie Parker



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