“The Homogenization of the timbral pallette”
Ok, so only I have a sorta-kinda inkling about what that phrase actually means. It’s from a pointy-headed study of pop music that concludes, basically, that pop music is literally boring:
We find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels.
The whole thing is here (I’m going to let pass all the jokes that could be made about “growing average loudness levels” and the evergreen complaint about volume in gospel concerts). And though of course the study is about pop music, so much of religious music these days apes trends in mainstream pop music hopelessly. Too often, the result is - secular or sacred - a thin musical gruel, and in the sacred instances, this paltriness requires a lot of religious theatrics, spiritual histrionics, and technological enhancements to distract from how musically malnourished the whole experience really is.
This shallowness has been, it seems to me, one of the underlying themes of the really quite brilliant and rich and deeply civil conversation that’s been going on in this recent thread about trends in vernacular sacred song and worship music. Really, yall, I’m impressed, and a bit proud.
If I had to boil down the hive-mind’s diagnosis of things from that thread into two words, they would be: identity crisis. Whether in southern gospel or P&W, crisis in turn breeds music that is nostalgic and derivative, the two being not at all mutually exclusive, particularly in the case of southern gospel.
This isn’t new, exactly. It’s been happening in southern gospel at least since the post-Civil War birth of the industry as a mass-produced enterprise (the first two chapters of my book are in part about the earliest emergence of this strange dance between nostalgia and modernity going on in southern gospel), even if the precise nature of the derivation and nostalgia always have to evolve to keep up with technology and social trends. But it’s no less annoying for having been around for a while, and it’s probably getting worse, if only because of the proliferation of cheap, sophisticated technological tools for manipulating music and the musical experience. Like so much of pop music, even when most religious music these days is new, you’ve heard it before, an in many cases it wasn’t terribly interesting the first time.Email this Post