Sunday, 2 November 2014

Documentary music

This spins out of my interest in documentary things – which I’m going to have to start recording properly – and is really something of an aside, but here goes anyway.I received Electric Counterpoint composed by Steve Reich for my birthday, and on the same CD was a piece called Different Trains which mixed voices an music around the theme of railways.I was interested to see that Reich considers it to be a documentary form, and in this video (at 1:45) he is very clear that he believes the piece works because the documentary reality and the musical reality are one and the same. He uses the same style in a piece about 9/11

It seems to me this has parallel implications for photographic documentary – if the photographic reality and the documentary reality do not coincide there is a loss of integrity. This poses real challenges for documentary photography in the art gallery. In my experience hi-tech surroundings and lush production values do not sit well with narratives of environmental destruction and poverty.

In the cover notes for Different Trains Reich opines that the piece begins a new musical direction. I’m not familiar enough with modern orchestral music to say how true this is but I can certainly see reflections of it in e.g. Autobahn by Kraftwerk.

Not sure where this is going other than that it feeds my tendency to feel that photographic documentary should be about humanity – not simply feature people. If something as abstract as music can convey a documentary narrative, then so can concrete things.

As a footnote I do wonder if Vaughn-William, Grainer and Bartok pre-date Reich as musical documentarists with their interest in collecting and re-setting folk music..

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