Of Ephemera

Dan Albertson

[November 2014.]

[My first contributions to La Folia were ten years ago. I was surprised to be invited and eager to keep up. My output peaked in 2004-05 and again in 2009-10 before declining in recent years. The text below, a reflection instead of a review of any particular event or recording, is an attempt to sum up my current views of the art of criticism.]


Critics and the artists that they cover are allies in having an inflated estimation of their own worth. Perhaps the former have been deluded into thinking that the act of reviewing, reflexive instead of creative, is of inherent heft. They must not have read The Lexicon of Musical Invective.

I concede that criticism is a vital tool, if both the agent and the target are informed and amenable. However, contemporary criticism is too often an irrelevance, offering no party any information or insight that could not be gleaned elsewhere. It has devolved into three taxonomies: insiders writing for insiders; outsiders writing to sidle up to insiders; and braggarts flaunting their knowledge, sometimes with the intention of courting favor with insiders.

The abundance of subgenres has led to the growth of the first group. The reality of an initiate writing only for other initiates, both in the public and on stage, is impossible to avoid.

Most print reporters fall into the second camp. Their columns tend toward purple prose and crossing the line into publicity material.

The third contingent is a minority reserved for specialist publications, whose existence seems to hinge on filigrees and nuances.

Where am I, or where was I, in this phylum? At various points, I have exhibited traits of these three factions, though my work since 2010-11 has been both infrequent and independent – and not by chance. I write only if I think that I have both a judgment worth sharing at any moment and the strength to know that its useful life will be brief, maybe nonexistent. Otherwise, silence is the prudent option.

As my approach matures, I find the prospect of grappling with words, ephemeralities, to describe the stimulation of air as music, other ephemeralities, to be a futile if not impossible task. I try, but I also fail, and on occasion fail to try. My only hope is to achieve a balance between my own creative work and my duty to show acuity, honesty and humility as an observer when handling the works of others. I never think beyond this equation and obligation.

Words and music are the virga of time, doomed by nature to acquiesce into nothingness before making an impact. If fortunate, one will generate a few raindrops in one’s time, all the while knowing that they too shall evaporate.


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