Fusion II: Inevitability & chaos

When first broaching the explicit topic of fusion music, I found it only too easy to talk around the subject, basically letting a variety of misgivings and tangential concerns override any substantive discussion of fusion per se. Having stated emphatically that progress is whatever happens, I can consider tackling the subject with a little more perspective. Fusion is going to occur, fusion is occurring, and in fact some "pure" traditions are going to disappear in its wake. We can call it corrosion by knowledge, if we like, but the fact remains that traditions do change & develop, and knowledge of other traditions has always been a factor in that development. If we equate purity with ignorance, we soon run into some rather ugly contortions. The issue, then, revolves around retaining the crispness & potency of individual traditional elements in fusion music, rather than letting them blur together into the kind of insipid mush which seems to be only too comfortable. Fusion is inevitable, and fusion is irreversible. It is fundamentally an entropy-generating process, one akin to the release of energy and concomitant destruction of older establishments by the Internet itself. Both the Internet and artistic fusion are part of a broader phenomenon, making the world smaller and ultimately reducing its diversity. That reduction reduces musical possibilities in turn, as the endless cycle progresses, and we move out of the previous stage during which we saw those possibilities expand. There is no fighting this process, but one thing we can do is fight to use the released energy in the best possible way, putting the resulting fused forms on the best possible footing. Today we stand in a liminal position with respect to this broader cycle, one where the most imperceptible action could have the most profound implications.

The next inescapable fact, realized first by postmodernism and crystalized on the web is that "material" itself will be redefined; even "medium" itself will be redefined. The idea of collage, of mixing individual elements intact to create a larger composite form, is one immediately suggested. Whereas it provides one outlet against the mush of relativism, allowing a kaleidoscopic mixture of little jewels retaining their original colors, collage is a fundamentally postmodern vision, one abandoning direct literacy, and one which leads irreversibly toward historicism. Indeed it is a vision, after realizing the accompanying redefinition of medium, toward which we are already moving. To make some of these ideas live again, we simply must fuse them at a deeper level and elaborate them with their own passion. They cannot sit in a cage, or at least they cannot sit only in a cage. I confess an affection for the musical museum, but it cannot be the entirety of art, or even the majority, as interpretation must be liberated to give music back its relevance. We have a ready outlet for such liberation in improvisation, and indeed one can perceive the situation as fusing composer with performer, an act of fusion which can actually work toward reestablishing traditional musical roots. The notion that fusion could yield a greater purity of expression is worthy of mention, especially as one considers the more mannered guises into which some traditions mold themselves today, and the possibilities for directness arising from a boundary form such as medieval music used as a basis for incorporating other ideas.

The main issue at present is that one must truly take a view, and elaborate it with passion. There can be no equivocation regarding all the other views one might have taken, but rather a conviction to do something specific. The sheer volume of potential musical knowledge precludes anything broader, as does the need for direct expression. The charged mixture of the smaller world, the singular spark of technological advance serves to make compelling new forms possible, even if there can be no real recipe for creating one. An essentially random and chaotic process as a requirement for establishing fusion idioms does not exactly give cause for optimism. However, that is precisely the circumstance, and history suggests that something significant will occur. Other than the chronological precedence of medieval music as a basis for unifying styles, another obvious creative pole presents itself: Totally unbounded sound complexes, the "noise" phenomenon, a reinvention of form from outside any traditional constraints. The mind finds order in randomness, by its nature, and moreover, such "free" forms usually stabilize on some sort of order (the scale forms of Xenakis come to mind). If subsequently perceived elements are retroactively identified with various world traditions, is such a thing fusion? I will say "No," and retain the idea that fusion is actually combining elements from different styles, and not finding them again through some "inevitable" monkeys-on-typewriters approach. I will call the latter process coalescent, letting it essentially define a stance opposite to fusion. Coalescent music will likely be just as influential in the coming decades, if often less directly enjoyable. Indeed, one can only imagine that the origins of music per se lie in coalescent activity, underlining its significance.

This article is notably lacking in examples of fusion music. In most cases I feel too poorly informed, too close to the endeavor, or simply too underwhelmed to comment. Although I do still hope to treat some individual fusion efforts in detail in this space (or another on this site), this fact should illustrate the generally unstable situation. It is a chaotic situation due to the accidents of apprehension inevitably encountered. If people hear a particular way of combining first, they believe it is right. What they hear first need not even have been done first, since timing for propagation is as variable as anything else. We can be confident that any newly created mainstream forms will involve fusion in some way, but the swirling and mostly unevaluated activity in this area makes it virtually impossible to establish a foundation. Even the delivery medium is undecided, although one can certainly hope that live acoustic performances will remain in the mix somewhere. The present mix is also conditioned by a rush to redefine earlier masterpieces based on revised social priorities, and one danger for fusion in general is the possibility that it will cater primarily to political ends. Such an observation does not yield the idea that art should be divested from politics, but rather that today's political demands for innocuous equality are fundamentally patronizing and a poor basis for passionate combinations. Political caution serves to cast an eerie shadow over experimentation in world music. This suggests that a truly successful fusion effort would need to arise from a real constituency, and not a fabricated eclecticism. Precisely what new constituencies might be amenable to fusion endeavors becomes a sensible question, and one which undoubtedly has at least some preliminary answers.

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Todd M. McComb