There has always been folk music, the everyday music of ordinary people. This is lower music. Folk music is spontaneous; its structure is informal but often guided by pre-existing traditions that can be quite rigid. In implementation, it often relies on lyrics as much as melody. Its purpose is to communicate sentiment and emotion. Folk music is universally and eternally fixated on the fickle, youthful passions of falling in love, heartbreak, celebration, motivation, and protest. In a previous age, it was just as much about coordinating while laboring or passing an evening before electricity and the distractions of modern “entertainment.” It marks the passage of holidays, wedding days, and funerals.
Its players are typically musicians wedded to one instrument and they tend to play alone or in small bands of no more than 3-4 people with rigidly assigned roles.
For thousands of years there have been those who create higher music. Today, we call them “composers” in the West. These are the people who very deliberately craft works of music just as a skilled painter carefully applies multiple elements with a plan in mind.
There is a science to their art, it is not done on a whim drawing mostly on pre-established conventions. Thus, while the composer’s work has more formal structure, it has far more potential for variation and originality.
Composers might dedicate some works to young love, but it is one small area of experience to which they can apply their talent.
The composer engineers the sound in advance, but is not necessarily one of the musicians nor is he associated with any single instrument. He will write the parts of 100 different instruments if need be, they are artists’ tools, not an attribute of the artist. He transcends the role of a single musician or small band of musicians and looks down on their movements from above, outside of time itself.
Composers are often inspired by folk music traditions. Folk music serves as a deep wellspring of inspiration, it provides vision into the vastness of the cultural subconscious. The composer is the rational neocortex who takes the raw passions of folk culture and uses the science of his craft to make something greater and higher than before.
Since the 1960s or so, there’s been a term thrown around to describe most music: Pop music.
What does this mean?
Pop music seems to be defined by bands and is focused on youthful passions, so it’s clearly folk music, but we have a sense that it’s different from folk music of the past.
A big clue is how successful “pop” musicians are called “stars” or even “idols.”
This word choice shows that people understand on a gut level what the big change is.
Pop music is folk music that has risen above its proper place.
Pop music ceases to be the wellspring and usurps the social role that rightly belongs to higher music. The result is the dilution and degradation of the culture we live in.
Pop music can’t inspire humanity to its heights, it speaks to our base instincts. By its nature, its most successful forms never wander far beyond animal impulses such as “party all night long” and “everybody dance.” It’s confined to the now just as higher music lives in the eternal.
Without the guidance and example of higher music, folk music runs rampant, becoming pop as it breaks down to its most basic elements. The higher folk music rises above its proper place, the lower in form it becomes.
If Pop is Folk that has risen above its station, what happened then to higher music?
The briefest glance at art tells us that the world wars broke the spirit of the West. Some of the high music of the late 19th and early 20th century was among the most sublime ever known. In painting, this impressionism combined the best of abstract and literal representation. You could clearly see a sunny meadow, but could also see the blurring of motion as grasses swayed in the wind. In the shades of golden sun, you could feel the artist’s pleasure in simply being alive.
High music of that period created creeping and colorful impressions, the composers experimented with rhythms and scales taken from other cultures.
This culture reflected eager anticipation of the progress of humanity to greater and more beautiful forms.
The Great War and then World War II brutally crushed this old culture with its worship of beauty.
Art in all its forms was stripped down to its most basic elements robbed of purpose and meaning, and degraded into an obsession with harsh lines, stark contrasts, and jarring primary colors.
The 20th century was the high tide of centralization as the world was reduced to just a few major nation-states, each with just a handful of people who controlled mass media, systems of education, all access to information. Uniform mass culture proliferated, until the greatest cultural success was defined by appeal to the lowest common denominator.
Defeated by the 20th century, high music abdicated its place. Composers toyed with atonal, degraded, nonsensical music and monstrously, inhumanly chose to distance themselves from beauty and meaning. By neglecting their sacred duty to culture, the sages of higher music left a yawning vacuum. With the advent of mass media, this vacuum was rapidly filled by folk music—folk music that was hot-blooded as the new high music was dead and wan. It picked up where the high music left off like it should, adopting the experimentation with new scales and rhythms and trying out new kinds of instruments in new combinations. Without a firm guiding hand from the sages, though, the new folk music degenerated into pop music, joining the now defunct high music in its worship of ugliness and the lowest of instinct.
In the present day, the high music certainly remains underground, or rather in the background. Composers continue to thrive in mediums such as movies and video games but after a time, one begins to realize:
Dramatic movie music is all descended from Wagner’s operas.
Sci-fi music comes straight from Holst’s the Planets.
It innovates and does wonderful and beautiful things, but in its very limited scope. The high tradition lives on here, but like a goldfish, is stunted in growth by its small bowl.
If we are to look for composers who don’t just do music that’s considered “classical” or “orchestral” certain schools of electronic music stand out as possible heirs.
I notice that these kinds of music are composed, not played. Using computers, hundreds of instruments can be used at once if need be, in any combination desired. The science and philosophy of composition that leads to high music lives on here, but exists marginally.
High music won’t displace pop music in a culture that’s become mob rule in every sense.
Re-organizing culture will require re-organizing society itself. To have a correctly aligned culture that effortlessly produces the highest of innovation and beauty at the top, the inherent breeds and strata of humanity must be restored to their rightful places. First, mob rule of culture must end.
Until then, high music will remain mainly as a 18th-19th century style orchestra, a formidable ghost. If folk music were the same way we’d never have seen banjoes replaced by electric guitars.