Steve Layton on Postmodernism & Avant-Garde

As some of my visitors may know, I have been contemplating the notion of not so much what is current or contemporary, but what is current and contemporary in the minds of scholars and how it is difficult to stay on top of this when just the arguments and rhetoric by themselves have a life of their own indepedent of composers who are actually composing (I would argue if they were relative to the present, but only the future knows if that is true).  Steve Layton, a contemporary amaranth composer (see definition of amaranth in Classical V Classical editorial) addresses a few questions regarding the avant-garde.

Combs: I have was researching terms, once again, regarding “classical genres,” specifically post-modernism and came across this explanation in Wikipidia: “Postmodernism describes movements which both arise from, and react against or reject, trends in modernism.[21] Specific trends of modernism that are generally cited are formal purity, medium specificity, art for art’s sake, authenticity, universality, originality and revolutionary or reactionary tendency, i.e. the avant-garde.”

As I know how you cross genres with exceptional ability, which is why you are a huge influence to myself and many others, what is your take on that explanation? I was curious, if post-modernism reacts against the Avant-Garde, even though elements arise from the Avant-Garde, is post-modern simply just another term for “Avant-Garde?”

Layton: Well, it’s not really avant-garde, except of course that whatever is new is usually called the avant-garde & the old avant-garde isn’t avant-anything anymore… 🙂

It’s a reaction, but not neccesarily against. The idea isn’t to reject anything, but rather to use it. I almost said “embrace”, but it’s more detached; instead it’s just feeling free to use whatever bit of whatever style — maybe all mashed up, maybe not — as your material. You can use it sincerely, or you can use it ironically. In the end, if you’re good, the point is to balance all this stuff to make something that’s its own piece, something different from all the stuff that went into it.

In a way, its the only place that we can go anymore, since just about any and every thing has been touched on already. That doesn’t mean the end of originality; there’s always something new to say. But it does mean the end of that ultra-avant “be the first with something that nobody has ever thought of before” kind of thing that we’ve been in for the last couple hundred years.

Make sense?

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