What’s the Genre?

People do ask, What’s the genre?  Opera?  Musical?  Cross-over? Comedy?  Tragedy?  Tragi-Comedy?  Satire?  Long puzzled myself, I’m finally ready to say none of the above.  It’s bandes dessinées.

My first sketches, 20++  years ago, were for an Opera—fully supported voices, recitatives, no amplification, etc.  Yet, the conception was vague.  I came to realize that I’d mis-identified my fascinations.  Despite a life-long love for some Broadway songs, the contemporary ‘show’ with crass amplification & misplaced loud speakers*, awkward alternation of speech and song, would hardly be my alternative model.

Not to care what the genre is is not to care what language you speak; children might speak well, though, before they learn that.

Not knowing what else to call it, I’ve been calling it a ‘Show.’  This designation easily encompasses the bouncy numbers that risk turning up some noses—and I have a certain faith that the grittier stuff wouldn’t puzzle show-goers who hear it in context.  That still doesn’t identify the genre.

Just now, on a short trip to Havana, I  bumped into a better answer.

Enjoying a brief pause in a public library, I sampled a few pages of a Spanish language edition of Stephane Huet’s adaptation—a lifetime project for him—of  Marcel Proust’s A la recherche de temp perdu as a huge comic book—but note the French term, bandes dessinées.  It’s not comic!   Ridiculous, yes, necessarily:  ¿Proust’s prose in speech balloons?  but not comic.   Same for Dick Tracy.  Though drawn with music, words in songs not balloons, my Drought would seem aligned in genre with the graphic novel.  Highly formal, artificial, at once ridiculous & serious.  Who ever questioned the credibility and verisimilitude of Superman in the comics?  In a film, of course, that becomes the issue. http://www.stephane-heuet.fr/proust-temps-perdu 

With their multitude of conventions, special symbols, like the light bulbs for Eureka ideas, box forms, lo-tech color, simplified but often exquisite draftsmanship, the comics, a digital art avant la lettre, are a feast of formalisms and audacious artifice.   I  believe Drought in Eden is, also.  Ridiculous throughout, funny at first and tragic later, and compelling.  Surely that is why, for example, I may want to see performers holding microphones (even if we turn them off), why Serpent can own a three-chord polka and a 12-tone soliloquy, why a tiny playing area may serve us best, why God, wailing in deepest grief alongside a rampaging electric guitar does it as a strict da capo aria.  (No! da capo is NOT anti-dramatic! Depends what you do with it.  Ask Handel.)

I don’t suppose my affiliation is original and I should have caught on back in the 80’s.  As late as ’95, I stubbornly wondered (Elements of Semiotics) How can a culture renew a commitment to the formality of classical arts, manners, and grammars unless conformist pressure (prestige) comes top down, as it did from the court of Louis XVI and more recently through post-colonial values?  The answer was staring me in the face.  At York U, we used to go through a rough-hewn, underground tunnel from the Music Dept in the north colleges to the central buildings, library etc.  Students would continually re-paint the off-white walls with gothic and comic book inspired figures.  Here was the answer to the last question, formality surging back, bottom up, in popular art.  (Yes, I see those raised hands, but no, we’re not going to have a discussion on modernism and post-m just now.)   Back then, I saw in the tunnel graffiti only what seemed stale. Alas!  And now?  Where art thou, graffiti artist?  York hath need of thee!   Come.  The second floor of our new, cavernous Fine Arts Warehouse.  Bring spray can!

(Bandes dessinées points to the genre.  But for music, is there maybe a better word?)

*I want to share some thoughts about microphones, amps & speakers soon.


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