I was intrigued when I discovered that Ben Chasny, of Six Organs of Admittance, had used a system of indeterminate composition to write material for his new album, Hexadic, working with the arising materials in the idiom of sprawling, improvisatory psychedelic rock, which evokes parallels with Mainliner, his earlier Comets on Fire freakouts, the grimy ‘tape muck’ of Ashtray Navigations and the distorted, dissonant metal of groups like SunnO))) and Khanate. There are also occasional forays into calmer territories on tracks like the beautiful Hesitant Grand Light and Guild, and the moody, ever-descending Future Verbs.
Although Ben has hitherto spanned a wide-range of styles and genres in his music-making, I still thought it was a brave decision to embrace such approaches so completely: the inevitability is alienating one’s more conservative ‘fans’, while trying to develop as an artist and pursue the aspects of music making that are most vital and interesting to oneself. I still think that the experiments in atonality initiated by composers such as Schoenberg and Hauer in the early 20th century have a lot more mileage in them, and this brilliant article by Philip Clarke really highlights the issues regarding the tensions between established and ‘new tonalities’:
Here’s the challenge. We need to be open to hearing this new tonality. It isn’t going to sound like the old tonality, and that’s fine – too much whining about new music is based on little more than ‘it doesn’t resemble the music I already like’. As mainstream pop, and what continues to pass for ‘New Music’, uses less tonality more cynically, there’s space for a new breed of composer interested in using more tonality, more pointedly to fill that gaping vacuum. Composers today are repeatedly pounced on because – allegedly – they lack relevance to the wider world. And thus a new, noble cause is born – creating an expressively pungent, provocative, culturally subversive tonality that rubs lamestream noses in their own mediocrity. Does that aspiration strike a chord?