This wouldn’t be the first time I found myself in a completely different destination then intended with my writing or in life. But here I am. Lashing together the raw facts, the half finished ideas and random thoughts. Dancing between the raindrops again. So if you don’t mind getting your fingers dirty, indulge me as I struggle between two distinct voices in my head; The Marxist Economist and the Music Critic. Both struggling for control as I attempt to dissect and review a brilliant piece of music, Richard Horowitz’s Eros of Arabia.
(We get started with the Music Critic in firm control.) Composer Richard Horowitz was desperate to release his first solo album without the compromise and labels so often associated with the music business. Even going so far as to intentionally attribute Eros of Arabia to Drahcir Ziteoroh upon the album’s very limited release. A rather clumsy attempt at dealing with the commercial marketplace . Previously, Horowitz had been a rising star on the more adventurous end of jazz music in the late seventies. Doing studio sessions and touring with Anthony Braxton and (later) Jon Hassell. Earning a reputation as a skilled musican with the talent to explore, innovate and adapt to whatever improvisational experimental music was before him. With Eros of Arabia, Horowitz would finally have the financal backing to take full control. Combining his love of traditional Middle Eastern music with the rising pulse of electronic and avant-garde jazz that he performed on stage. Horowitz envisioned a suite of music that seamlessly transcened category and continent. An artistically valid idea but also a troubling one for a music industry dependent on labels, categories and manipulation to move those shiny discs into the hands of consumers. However, before we can fully appreciate how the music industry turns music and art into product, let’s look at two very different theories of the market based economy and the effect the system has on society. (OK. Get ready…there’s a Marxist takeover happening.)
Scottish Economist Adam Smith, the Father of Capitalism wrote glowingly about the magical, unseen force of the marketplace in his magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature of the Wealth of Nations (1776). In the book, Smith describes the “invisible hand” of the consumer acting as a (nearly divine) natural force, and the ultimate prognostacator, of supply, demand and the general public good. Smith theorized that is was buyers, not business manipulation, that set the price and availability of all product in the market. Creating the perfect balance between which goods and services are produces and how they are distrbuted in a society. As I’m sure you would expect, the effects of systemic racism or other factors are nonexistent in the study. But let us look towards an opposing point-of-view.
In his study of the industrial working class, Condition of the Working-Class in England (1845), Economist Fredrich Engels describes a very different outcome then Wealth of Nations. Engels describes the harsh inequalities of the marketplace with the result being a unnatural, collective artistic and social “death” of community. That is, a purposful “sozialer mood” or social murder of culture. Engels’ described the marketplace manipulation of the invisible-hand as a poison at the roots of civilization that makes art and culture nearly impossible.
(The Music Critic attempts a comeback. Only to be pushed back! The Marxist continues…) Today terms like Classic Rock, New Age, Urban, and World Music are all designed to identify and create markets based on race, gender and social class to determine who gets a certain product and who doesn’t. In other word, the industry labels and monikers of music represent some intent to manipulate consumer decisions. In his books, Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and Racial Imagination, author Jack Hamilton, Professor of Media at the University of Virgina observed that rock music got very “white” in the late 1960s, just as it began to be taken seriuosly as art. While the black roots of the music were obscured and recategorized. Concurrently, American radio programmers seperated white and black audiences into demographic groups and markets. And advertisers seeking to reach affluent demographic groups paid a premium. This analysis is no revelation or trade secret. The Marketplace simply did to music what the “invisible-hand” always does. As a result, rock music was essentially stripped of its origins and sold to the marketplace. Murdering the art and culture at the most sacred and vulnerable level. And it’s not just rock music that has blood on it’s hands. The music idustry has created multiple subcategories that alienate and disenfranchise.
The former Talking Heads leader David Byrne, is the founder of the New York City based record label, Luaka Bop. A label that has specialized in indepentent Samba and Tropicalica releases. The music is often manipulated and mis-categorized as World Music upon entering the western marketplace. In fact, Luaka Bop had specificly sought to avoid the moniker. In 1999 Bryne spoke bluntly of the western music industry’s attempts to “reassert the hegemony of western pop culture“. A process with which he wanted no association. We begin to see that this manipulation is systemic in the capitalist economy. Resulting in ecomonic inequality but also a war on culture and creativity, as Engels told us. At the most philosphical level, the marketplace is at war with art/music. The relation to Eros of Arabia and market manipulation is somewhat more understandable. If not completely clear. Byrne and Horowitz both struggled against these false monikers.
(Finally, Music Critic regains the upper-hand and pulls theory and music together. Or at least we make an attempt. Just hope for the best.)
Eros of Arabia is simply one of the finest and most accessible experimental albums you are likely to hear from 1981 or 2021. Timeless and beyond categorization. With Eros, Horowitz returns music to it’s rightful place of the communial. Combining the sound of Moroccan drums, acient ney-cane flute and electronics into a hypnotic siren. The repetitious patterns of rhythm swirling together with human vocal-chant creating a lush landscape of liquid greens and textured earthly browns. It’s an enviroment that never straying far from the framework of nature. Unlike most electronic albums, Horowitz uniquely uses the organic instruments to dominate the themes of the album. The openning track, Elephant Dance is a prime example. Exploring a trance-like rhythm of electronic beats coupled with vividly colored tribal drumming. The music communicating always on a spiritual level with the electronics merely enhancing the width of the sound. An inescapable sense of life and (re)birth is projected across the album and a physical, human sexuality connects us to each other and to our collective past.
A final word from the Critic and the Marxist; Eros of Arabia reaffirms that human ritual is at the heart of all real music. Music that functions outside the merely commercial concerns or the manipulation of the market to selling product.There is no freedom in that place. Music simply isn’t product. And music monikers and market manipulations only rob us of the real potiential and purpose of song, sound and culture. Music is our opportunity to communcate with the gods in a language that has long, long been forgotten. It’s a dialogue we should never surrender to the forces of profit and marketplace.
In addition to the three invaluable books mentioned in this article, I would highly recommend Howard Zinn‘s A People’s Histroy of the United States for anyone seeking an alternative view of the, so called, American Dream.