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Related: Puritanism - purism (art movement) - simplicity

Contrast: corrupted - hybrid - eclecticism

"Art is never pure, we should keep it far away from the innocent ignorant. We should never let people approach. Yes, art is dangerous. If it is pure it is not art." --Pablo Picasso


Pure Fusion (2001) - Simon Reynolds

by Simon Reynolds

And perhaps the whole debate over purism versus impurism is based on the mistaken belief that you can map aesthetics onto politics, find a straightforward equivalence or correlation between worth in one realm and the other. Dick Hebdige, the famed subcultural theorist (and contemporary of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy), once described the development of UK pop music as "a phantom history of British race relations". I've long concurred with this view, but now I'm not so sure. The racial narrative--above all, the white romance with black music--is just one of many threads in the tangled tapestry of pop culture, and the picture gets confused by a host of other factors and struggles: class, gender, technology. -- Simon Reynolds, 2001


It's funny when you suddenly become aware of a tic within your own writing. It's a reflex I share with a fair few other popcult commentators: using the word "purist" as an insult. I go further and frequently use the coinage "impurist", which sounds like it ought to be pejorative, as praise. Behind the tic, there's a broader reflex: the impulse to celebrate artists who draw on a wide range of influences, based on the assumption that mixing up genres is intrinsically more progressive than narrow focus on one stylistic path.

Increasingly dissatisfied with this glib assumption, I almost want to perversely defend purism as an aesthetic strategy--if only because so much ostentatiously border-crossing work is actually less impressive than it thinks it is. Think of Bill Laswell, leftfield music's most assiduous networker, continually convening one-off supergroups that unite P-Funk keyboard players with free jazz hornsmen with African guitarists with hip hop turntablists with dub producers with... well, you get the picture. The idea is similar to Jon Hassell's notion of the Fourth World (Western hi-tech modernity meets atavistic ethnic spirituality, to each other's mutual enrichment) but Laswell's panglobal superjams almost invariably end up a horrible mish-mash. Then there's those other perpetrators of lameness in the name of hybridity: the "ethnotechno" school of world music sampling electronic outfits like TransGlobal Underground, Banco De Gaia, Loop Guru (who actually had a few moments, admittedly), Juno Reactor...

Trouble is, most of the music I like is hybrid, and its hybridity is high on the list of reasons why I rate it. This raises the question of why some fusions work and others remain composites of disparate sources without any vital spark. The language for judging success or failure in this realm is entirely metaphorical. Successful hybrids invite the imagery of alchemy or metallurgy (crucibles, amalgams, melding, smelting, and so forth), or the essentially similar language of cooking (bouillabaise, gumbo, melting pots, etc). Bad hybrids, like lumpy purees or unsuccessful cakes, are subject to the ultimate put-down: "the end result is somehow less than the sum of its parts".

[...] -- Simon Reynolds, source: http://members.aol.com/blissout/purefusion.htm (first published in Springerin, early 2001)

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