Generation Z includes children born 1995-2009 (though these dates are not universally accepted as of yet.) With what movement in art, theater, dance, and music do they identify? What cultural value set inspires its growth and evolution? I am speaking of the “Belieber” generation. (For perspective, Justin Bieber was born in 1994 and released his first album in 2010 at age 16.)
With my general understanding of the development of Western and world culture, I have a basic awareness the socio-musical climates which inspired the blues, big band, the birth of jazz, its many changes, the punk scene, art music, the renaissance of classical influence in progressive rock, the musical impact of the 7” single, the LP, the shift to FM radio, and the academic New Music movement in New York in the 1960s.
I understand the blurring and vanishing of the difference between so-called “high” and “low” art as the democratization of recording technology facilitated independent production and a cultural move away from the dependence on record labels and producers to record, market, and distribute one’s work in the digital age.
ProTools. Bandcamp. Social Media.
Who needs a record label?
I have fundamental knowledge of music and the arts up until and including the end of the rock era and the paradigm shift in the way listeners discover and consume music at the end of the 20th century from Napster-forward. FM and television have plummeted in popularity and neither bares any relevance to the generation who experience music through streaming networks and social media.
The last movements I encountered directly were the Icelandic-influenced popularization of post-rock and its inspirations lifted from neo-classical sound. I remember the rise of the indie-rock scene as a cultural reaction to the corporatization of music at the end of the rock era and the dominance of top 40 pop. Programs like American Idol and the interminable NOW! That’s What I Call Music! series worked to re-enforce the prevailing position of Clear Channel / Warner Music’s stranglehold on the emerging youth culture, effectively raising a generation to consume their product.
Q: What self-identifying art and music will emerge from a generation raised on a billboard chart of manufactured acts with no concrete musical ability (in the classical sense) and in an era where arts and music funding and education are at an all-time low?
I feared that an entire culture was being bred with no concept of the centuries of great works from which they can build upon, reshape and re-purpose to serve the values and needs of their own generation. What is next?
…he left out “selfies.”
But the next answer I received completely shattered my preconceived notion that Gen-Z-ers were nothing more than “Belieber” simpletons. (And shame on me for oversimplifying the demographic.)
The response was offered by Quora user and future rockstar, Will Tuckwell. Will studied Music at University of Birmingham and offered a great deal of insight into the promise of his generation. He said:
Speaking as a musician and a member of ‘Generation Z’ (I was born in 1994), I feel optimistic about the future of the arts. I would disagree that American Idol et al have a stranglehold on youth culture. Young people have more of an opportunity than ever before to access great art of the past. (IMSLP and Naxos Music Library cover the vast majority of classical music scores and recordings, for example.) Generation Z can often instantly find a piece of music on the internet, which their parents, at their age, would have had to visit a library to access. The existence of large companies pushing generic music via mass media is not new to this generation – it has existed in one form or another since the popularisation of recorded music in the early 20th century. While their influence is not trivial, it is very easily avoidable most of the time (at least for me.)
Here are some of the areas of music and art which I will be interested to see develop in the future:
- Electronic music software. Digital Audio Workstations which are now commonplace have the ability to emulate the methods of Musique Concrete and Electroacoustic composers, as well as the mixing and production techniques which evolved in recording studios. Also, programs are being developed specifically for the needs of experimental computer musicians, such as Max/MSP, Audiomulch and Supercollider. I would be very interested to see what kind of artistic conventions a generation of creative minds can establish with these new tools.
- Creative pop culture references, in particular sampling. Musical quotations are nothing new, although the invention of the digital sampler (not quite from Generation Z I know, but of increased popularity and accessibility in recent years) allows an artist to quote specific ‘moments’ in order to make a cultural point – for example, a composition which samples not just a guitar note, but a particular note or section of melody which Jimi Hendrix played in his Woodstock performance of Star Spangled Banner, comes loaded with countless cultural connotations in less than a second, in a way which no other form of composition could achieve.
And the bizarre fad of Youtube Poop -
- Increased intercultural reference in the arts in general. Our generation has it easier than ever before to instantly look up information, which allows lyricists to make increasingly sophisticated references.
As you can imagine, this response was entirely unexpected and has really given me hope about the future of the arts and music.
I pressed on, looking for other sources of Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha inspiration. This lead me to an article on 21st century composers (because apparently, THAT IS A THING.) A Wikipedia entry for 21st century classical offered a list of composers I could arrange by birth date. At the end of the list I found a name – Alma Deutscher, who was born in 2005.
I had to look her up. Youtube thankfully offered a video of her appearance on Ellen from October of last year. The eight-year-old has composed operas in her sleep, arisen and written the notation for each instrument entirely from memory.
And here is her own Quartet Movement in A Major, composed in 2012.
Suddenly the future is looking a lot brighter.