If the history of music is the recorded conversation of ideas, then where do we find ourselves in that conversation at the start of the 21st Century? In the past, musical ideas have been fought over, affirmed then challenged again, with each generation adding something new. Ultimately consensus was achieved around an idea, and that idea gained traction with a critical mass of composers.
Now we are in a period when no particular musical idea seems to represent our age, and it appears that for the moment – at least on the surface – that there is no obvious direction music is going. So the question is: what is the next chapter in the historical conversation of musical ideas, and where are the seeds of those ideas planted?
Or: Is it possible that, with traditional cultural structures fragmenting, and the ways people are getting and using culture fundamentally changing, that it is no longer possible for a unifying style to emerge? Is it still possible for a Big Idea to attain the kind of traction needed to energize and acquire a critical mass of composers and performers?
Some of the names are familiar to those who peruse my blogroll: Alex Ross, Kyle Gann, and Greg Sandow. It also involves critics from the New York Times, Newsday, The Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and other newspapers across the country (always big cities, though). Unlike most Arts Journal blogs, this one allows reader comments, which have been as interesting as the critics' posts. I agree with Andrew Druckenbrod that we cannot determine the big idea that will unify music in the coming generation. Composers will decide who to emulate or be influenced by, and society (in the guise of both audiences and the academy) will determine which composers represent our generation, defining the big idea (musical language, really). But I've also blogged about my vision of the future as well, just another smart-ass speculation.
I encourage you to read the posts, and take part in the conversation.