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Remembering Rocket Network

10/04/2011 – 14:32

Rocket Network was the world’s first platform for online music collaboration available for everyone. It supported audio and MIDI data exchange over Internet and allowed partners to work on a music project together, no matter …

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Studying the British musical underground of the 1960s

09/04/2018 – 17:59

Elena Stepanova

Abstract: The article reviews the concept of “progressive music”, emerged in the British musical culture in the second half of the 1960s — the sociological and musical features of this musical style, experiments with rhythm, arrangement and text, the influence of “fantasy” books on rock poetry. ISBN 978-5-6040201-2-8

Key words: psychedelic rock, psychedelic folk,Tyrannosaurus Rex, fantasy (literary style), rock poetry, hippies, counter-culture, underground music.

In modern musicology that studies popular musical genres of the second half of the 20th century, the term “progressive rock” (“prog rock”) is used widely, as many bands are associated with it, first of all
the British ones — Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Genesis, Yes, ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Gentle Giant, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, etc. However, the meaning of the term gradually transformed during the course of the style development.

In this regard, it would be interesting to return to the sources and find out the original meaning of the term “progressive music” at the time of its inception in the second half of the 1960s. What were the musical, social and other components that defined the style? English sociologist Paul Willis in his book “Profane Culture” gives the following definition: first of all, this is original (authentic) music, radically different from commercial radio hits broadcasted at that time. By the early 1960s, commercial (popular) music entered into a state of stagnation, became just another kind of consumer goods (like soap, chewing gum, etc). A significant part of the youth audience (particularly those who shared the ideals of the hippies) refused to accept musical consumer goods. In their opinion, commercial music was lifeless, predictable and non-authentic — that is, not genuine. This audience preferred to listen to “progressive music “, and the most distinctive features of that music were creativity and authenticity [6, p. 154, 155-157]. As Frank Zappa said:

“If you want to come up a singular, most important trend in this new music, I think it has to be something like: it is original, composed by the people who perform it — even if they have to fight the recording companies to do it. ” [4]

The term “progressive music” also has a synonym — “musical underground”, i.e. non-commercial experimental musical art, an antipode of mainstream music. One should pay attention to the words “non-commercial” and “experimental”, as they are important characteristics not only of the musical style itself, but also of how it was perceived by its audience.

“Non-commercial”: a band does not strive for commercial success, does not dream to end up rich by selling their works. In particular, this implied that a band or solo artist does not release singles (EPs), preferring to record and release concept albums instead.

“Experimental” is an even more important component of the style: in the late 1960s, bands and solo musicians who could not be considered as ones who produced “masterpieces” according to musical criteria, still could find their audience and were automatically given a respect for ‘doing their own thing’ (that is, they created something authentic, original, something that stood out from the others’ works) [6].
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