Jarvis Cocker, the former frontman of the Brit-pop band Pulp, recently released his second solo album, Further Complications (Rough Trade; $21.45). In May he spent a week with his band working in an art gallery in Paris, trying to answer the question, What is music? —Christine Smallwood
So: what is music?
That’s a tall order, really. I was investigating what music can be. Now that it’s no longer a supposedly viable commercial venture, would the gallery system be a valid way of disseminating it? That sounds very dry and academic, but it isn’t. We set up in this small gallery space and rehearsed, and every now and again we’d have hours where people would bring an instrument and play along, and then we provided the music to different classes, like a yoga class and a belly-dancing class. What I liked was that there were spontaneous moments–the music happened for ten minutes or however long it took, and then it was gone. So many things in our culture are based around repetition and being relived, and it’s nice to have something that comes out of nowhere and returns to nowhere.
How was it related to your work as a curator, like when you organized the Meltdown festival in London in 2007?
Meltdown was about the fact that culture isn’t something you consume. You can create it yourself; you can participate in it. The gallery residency was a natural progression of that: people were invited to participate through playing with us onstage, or people who couldn’t play an instrument could join one of the classes with our music. People have become spectators in their own life. The consumer ethos has infiltrated not just the way people live their lives but also the way they consume culture. I’m an old person, so I was brought up when punk rock happened, and the message was that you can do it yourself.
Have computer programs like GarageBand made DIY easier?
My son goes on my computer and writes, well, I couldn’t really call them songs, but he makes music on that. It’s weird because for him that’s one of his first introductions to the world of making music, so he probably thinks that music comes ready-made in loop form. It’s like taking bits off a shelf and then combining them in a strange way rather than making it up from scratch. That’s inevitable because popular music has existed for more than fifty years. You can’t start from scratch now. Anything you do in some way will involve recycling. But I do worry a little bit about the fact that instead of things being filtered through the human memory and getting changed–people have always tried to copy other things, but usually the filter of memory adds in discrepancies and sometimes you end up creating something new–now you just get the real thing and loop it, and that doesn’t change it so much.