Science Fiction Repair Shop: Fixed In The Mix Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-05-12 14:00:00 No comments

From the liner notes to Karlheinz Stockhausen's Hymnen:

What I termed the serial thinking or the general serial form in the fifties, or what I designated as musical through-organisation then, has by no means been forgotten or become superfluous. Rather, it has been integrated into a more comprehensive concept: integrated into the musician's mental armament. It is now applied in such differentiated areas, that it can no longer be identified only in the domain of material (or in the characteristics of the sound). Today such terms as serialist, or through-organisation or general serial form are applied to entire style aggregates. It is possible. for example, to imagine the conception of modulating an African style with a Japanese style, in the process of which the styles would not be eliminated in order to arrive at a supra-style or a uniform international style - which, in my opinion, would be absurd. Rather, during this process, the original, the unique, would actually be strengthened and in addition, transformations of the one into the other, and above all two given factors in relation to a third would be composed. The point is to find compositional processes of confrontations and mixtures of style - of intermodulations - in which styles are not simply mixed together into a hodge podge, but rather in which different characters modulate each other and through this elevate each other and sharpen their originality. In my opinion, that is the problem since circa 1960, not only in the field of music. 

Emphasis mine. Hymnen was composed between 1966 and 1967, which (in my view) was at the tail end of the time when the high arts were still taken seriously by laypeople as a place where genuinely new and interesting things could happen. The problem is of course not the arts themselves, but us, our own stagnancy, but that's its own argument for later.

The point I'm making through this extract, and especially the emphasized line, is to reflect on how simply mashing things up — "adding N to X", as I call it — is by itself only the first stage of real creativity. It's not enough to have the result be "creative" by dint of things not normally in proximity now be in proximity. A story is not made more inherently interesting by setting it in 1899 and decorating it with zeppelins and clock gears — it's made more interesting by looking at the different pieces and asking "Okay, what does their presence together mean?" And on top of that I'd add: what does their presence together mean to me?

This is not what I see happening with SF and fantasy nowadays, both of which seem determined to mash up everything with everything else mostly for the sake of being able to say they did. The whole point of combining things is not to assume that the mere act of combining the two will be fruitful, because it rarely is. The point is to do justice to both the individual ingredients and the resulting combination.

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When Akira Kurosawa reframed Macbeth and especially King Lear (Throne of Blood and Ranrespectively), he was not simply trying to put new (well, old) clothes on a familiar body. He made the combination of the two elements into a starting point for end results that are too ambitious to be encapsulated by just calling them "samurai Shakespeare". Miles Davis fused ragas, funk and electronic music into jazz, and the end result was never anything but Miles Davis. The originals can still be seen / felt / heart under the surface of the finished work, and they are not trivialized by the changes. If anything, they are ennobled by them.

Some of this is happening in SF, and it's heartening to see it happen — that outside of the usual trend-of-the-month publishing there are folks attempting to take what's around them, listen to it with their own ears, and combine them in ways that make the original material that much more original. But those things need to happen more as a direct result of what we are trying to do, and not as an accidental by-product of, or as a reaction to, the core material. They need to become less the exception and more the rule.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop creativity fantasy mashups science fiction