Owen Pallett Discusses the Reaction to His Theory-Based Music Writing
Published Apr 25, 2014Next month, singer/violinist Owen Pallett will release his fourth album, In Conflict, but as is typical for the busy musicians, he also has a handful of other projects on the go. Pallett is currently on tour with Arcade Fire, and he recently published a trio of articles for Slate appreciating pop music using music theory. The reaction, Pallett explains in a new Exclaim! interview, has been divided.
"It's been interesting to kind of pick up on people's reading level. I think most musicians intuitively grasp that the pieces are absurd," he says of his articles, which tackled such subjects as Lady Gaga, Daft Punk and Katy Perry. "Those pieces were meant to send up the notion that those pieces should exist, 'cause it was sort of what Ted Gioia [who wrote this article about the 'degeneration' of music writing] was asking for.
"There were a lot of people who were like, 'Why's he using the word genius to describe this music when obvious these musicians are not genius?' Then on the flipside, there [were people saying], 'Finally, people are writing about music the way it should be written about.' My intention wasn't to create those responses, but those were the responses. That's actually what I hear when I listen to those pop singles. I hear mechanical ingenuities. This is the result of dealing with music in written, scored form. I tend to identify chord changes and melody issues and stuff like that. It wasn't at all a sarcastic exercise, but it was meant to be an absurd one."
Pallett says he doesn't view "any music as being more or less valuable," though he admits he's taking "a bit of a devil's advocate stance" when he argues with friends that Lady Gaga is as much or more of a genius than Mozart was. He adds that "it boggles my mind that people still love music and hate music on the terms that they do."
He continues, "I have incredible frustrations with some of my oldest friends and musicians who are very close to me, where I'm like 'I can't believe you would immediately dismiss Sky Ferreira because she's done heroin,' for example. That makes my head explode. These people would certainly have no problem with their Elliott Smith records."
Initially due out on May 13, In Conflict now arrives May 27 courtesy of Secret City; it's on Domino elsewhere.
For now, you can dig into some of Pallett's music writing here. He also has a string of solo shows coming up, including a few in Canada, and you can see those here.