A Star is Born: A History of the Connection between Contemporary Music and Pop Music
Photo：Resonance: Into the Maze (©LIN Yu-quan)
Written by Yi-Wei KENG
“The reason why Radiohead's songs sound nice is because they borrowed from Igor Stravinsky's fun, asymmetrical musical figures.” Ivan Hewett, who teaches at Royal College of Music, said. Sometimes I feel that the divide between Western classical music and pop music is placed a little too high and we forget that they are both a part of urban life and are bound to have the opportunity to encounter sooner or later. If a designer can go to modern art museums or biennials for inspiration, then a pop musician is naturally able to find inspiration from contemporary music concerts.
In 1974, American composer Steve Reich, one of the pioneers of minimalism, held a concert in London that was attended by Brian Eno. Eno was the keyboard player of the brilliant British rock band Roxy Music and left the band to pursue a solo career in 1973. Afterwards, he became the producer of David Bowie's album Low. As they were in Berlin recording Weeping Wall in October 1976, they also went to Reich's Music for 18 Musicians performance in Berlin. If we were to compare Weeping Wall and Music for 18 Musicians, we'd find high resemblances between the two.
In the 60s, Reich explored recording effects such as looping, phase modulation, and sampling, which had a great impact on later electronic music. In as early as the 70s, minimalist artist Philip Glass believed disco music to be the mainstream version of minimalism. In 1999, Reich Remixed, an album remixed by British, American, and Japanese DJs, was the best evidence of how the electronic music world paid tribute to this master.
While it has received other influences, pop music has never completely cut its connection with contemporary music. John Cale from the band Velvet Underground has a background in classical music. The band's first album, Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), heavily influenced later rock music, with the large amounts of continuous monotones contained within taking inspiration from Cale's collaboration with avant-garde composer La Monte Young.
Before encountering Cale, La Monte Young attended Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music, “the base of contemporary music”, in 1959, during which Karlheinz Stockhausen was a teacher there. The works that Stockhausen's produced at Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln (WDR) starting from the 50s inspired electronic music-inclined, avant-garde rock bands such as Tangerine Dream, whose cold electronic musical effects inspired German electronic music band KRAFTWERK. Kraftwerk's futuristic style then directly influenced Afrik aBambaataa, the godfather of hip-hop, which created an important landscape for the pop music of today.
Eno and Cale later both became producers and helped pass the experimental spirit of contemporary music to the next generation. Eno is a producer of U2 and Coldplay, and Cale was the producer of “the godmother of punk” Patti Smith's stunning first album Horses (1975).
Contemporary music is always pursuing new aural experiences, hoping to find new music that reflects the modern life; pop music, on the other hand, focuses more on human emotions. When pop music is inspired by new music that it is able to resonate with, a new musical genre will be born. A star is born.