When, about the end of the last century, Ed started the Billy Webzine, visitors were invited to respond to some of the musician's polemics.

See Vox Pop for a compilation of replies.


by Billy Jenkins

We're so lucky - us musicians.

Our medium, when taken per se, is (unlike you cluttery, obstacle invoking visual artists) invisible. Only when sound is packaged for retail does it offer another inanimate object to deviate round en route to one's inevitable demise.

Does etiquette require you to stop and listen?
We give you the option.
You can listen and move.

But confronted with visual art one must pause, imbibe, ponder, reflect and weigh up whether the object before you is wasting your time or giving rise to inspiration and wholeworldiness. Or maybe I've been subjected to too many dodgy pieces of 'art'.

Perhaps music is instinctively categorised.
We know most music in public thoroughfares is definitely dodgy.
Quite who callously decides that a Bontempi organ-led bossa nova permed hair nylon shirt white sliced bread smooch is just what a shopping mall at 9am needs belongs in Hell.
Unfortunately we are standing in it.

As ludicrous as that same shopping mall pasting up a continuous line of 6' x 4' over inked postcard reproductions of an acknowledged 'great work'. Both scenarios suggest a Valley of Death from which we can walk away from.

But what's this outside?
A virtuoso one handed violinist to your left.
Punch him out.
And what's this to your right?
An eight  foot lump of granite kissed by shotgun pellets and skewered with an RSJ.

Art into the community?
The affrontory of it all.

Suddenly, by chance, the creator of this piece materialises at my side. There is no reason for obvious comment, for criticism invites accusations of ignorance. But there is always the element of 'Why?'

Meanwhile the one handed virtuoso continues to scrape laterally and optimistically in the gutter. No resentment from him. Why? Because he knows he hasn't plonked an eight  foot lump of granite in your path. He also knows his art is invisible.

The composer writes a score.
It exists for those who wish to bring it to life.

The artist paints a picture.
It exists for those who come into contact with it to say 'somebody painted that.....'.
  Visual art is too restricting. It is not malleable. It is not 'passing the ball.'
You know - community spirit, co-operation, sharing...

OK, sharing the inner turmoil or perception of the creative mind. How brave, to expose such rarely glimpsed treasure! But is it not blatant showing off with no allowance for retribution or addendum?   So much contemporary art these days begs the question as to what happened to craftsmanship and why competence is the rationale.
See Punk.

Perhaps the same question must be directed at 'western art music' - as contemporary classical music is now described.   Let us once more literally confront both items.

To the left - a painting mounted in a simple wooden frame.
To the right - a 'rack mount all you ever need state of the art transistorised midi hi-fi DCC Mini-Disc CD available from your nearest stockist if offered cheaper elsewhere we'll refund the difference. Includes super woofer bass, ten channel graphic AND......a free plug'.

So. At first glance the art of the musician is contained on a little bit of plastic within a plethora of consumer nonsense. Hiding, eh!?

The painting, on the other hand, is quite nude by comparison. There you have it, the visualists cry! We confront. We are open, Direct. The purity is apparent. This is unique - a one off.

The battle commences.
Out of the speaker pours an archetypal modern 'serious' work.
Oh no - here comes the doubt.
To our left the picture begs analysis.


1) smash  the equipment to buggery. There's plenty more on the production line. Smashing one employs one to build another.
2) simply  turn the volume down.

As for the painting.......
I can't smash it up - it's a 'work of art'.
It's irreplaceable.


I'm sorry, but sound, like God, is invisible.
The visual artist can make no more than icons.

And we have the last laugh......
As you turn from the visual object it leaves your line of vision.
As you walk away from a sound source it lingers in the air - haunting you till out of earshot.
I never had a painting follow me out of a room.


© 1993 Billy Jenkins 
Originally published in 'Storming Heaven' (Stride Publications 1993)

See Vox Pop for public response

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