The Art of Resistance

by Jon Dumont

A fully concentrated and conscious experience of art is
possible only to those whose lives do not put such a strain on them
that in their spare time they want relief from both boredom and effort
simultaneously. The whole sphere of cheap commercial entertainment
reflects this dual desire. It induces relaxation because it is
patterned and pre-digested. Its being patterned and pre-digested serves
within the psychological household of the masses to spare them the
effort of that participation (even in listening or observation) without
which there can be no receptivity to art. On the other hand, the
stimuli they provide permit an escape from the boredom of mechanized


Increasingly in late capitalist USA, and in direct contradiction to an
oft repeated, much revered and hoary old adage, you sure as hell can
account for taste. The people who own most of everything are working
hard to make sure that they have product on the shelf to satisfy every
desire. They work just as hard, if not harder, carefully constructing
and delineating those desires. Little remains that has been left to
chance. Those of us born after the second world war have grown up in
the cultural equivalent of a warm bath. What is truly an unbelievable
barrage of media has disciplined several generations of us now about
what to like, how much to like it, and when to move on to something
One of the reasons that many of us live in intentional
community is to escape the relentless manufacture of desire.
Furthermore, I would venture that, as a group, people living in
intentional community are more media savvy than the general population.
However, I would also posit that we nevertheless reflect the dominant
culture much more often than we oppose it. Who would expect this not to
be so? That millions too young to have viewed the original broadcast
have seen the tape of the Beatles performing on the Ed Sullivan Show so
often that they are sick of it�though interestingly not of the Beatles�
music�has in itself become a clich�. It is a difficult task to
repudiate tastes persistently and precisely drilled into our
consciousnesses before the age of reason.
Cultural critic Theodor Adorno sums up both the motivation and cost of
all of this quite clearly. He insists that aesthetics are inescapably
intertwined with politics, and argues that cultural conformity leads
inevitably to fascism. Recent elections in Europe and post S11 rhetoric
at home suggest that we ignore this at our peril. However, the warm
bath has been dangerously heating up for a long time now, and our
stupor makes it hard to rouse ourselves. Adorno was writing in 1941 in
defense/support of Arnold Schoernberg and twelve-tone serialism as a
music of such rigor and power as to be uncommodifiable, therefore
anti-fascist, and against big band jazz, which, as the popular music of
the day, he felt was pretty weak tea. Since that time, and for the last
forty-five years rock has supplanted jazz as the popular music, and
become increasingly corporate, reactionary (though still successfully
marketed as the soundtrack for rebellion), and moribund. Meanwhile,
Schoernberg, Webern, Berg et al rarely get played by symphonies, but
still sound vital and intense when heard by attentive, passionate
I don�t agree with Adorno about jazz, by the way. To these ears
Ellington and Basie are high water marks of mid- twentieth century
American music in any idiom. Just a few years later the rhythmic,
harmonic and melodic evolution sparked by Parker, Gillespie and Powell,
among others, has led to an outsider, and distinctly American art form
that meets Adorno�s criteria for resisting comodification,
prefabrication, and predigestion. By the mid nineteen-sixties
African-American improvisers such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago,
Anthony Braxton, and Cecil Taylor had absorbed the lessons of
serialism, as well as those of Stockhausen�s momente form, Cage�s
chance procedures, and electronic music, and continued to develop
distinctive non-idiomatic extended techniques while always maintaining
the notions of rhythmic forward motion, harmony and melody that made
jazz music unique in the first place. A few years later, coincident
with these innovations, a similar strain of improvised music began to
appear on small stages, and in the clubs and loft spaces of Europe, a
unique hybrid of free jazz and European concert music. Pioneering
spirits like John Stevens and Derek Bailey in England, Peter Brotzmann
and Wolfgang Fuchs in Germany, and Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg
from the Netherlands took up this powerful music of freedom and
resistance despite noncomprehending critics and nonexistent audiences.
These uncompromising musics continue to thrive and cross
pollinate, marginalized to be sure, sometimes ridiculed as anti-music,
and even as charlatanism, but insistent on asking questions vital to
community about freedom and egalitarianism by way of exploring notions
of open structures, improvisational space, issues of foreground and
background in instrumentation, individualism versus collectivism, and
deep listening.


The Jolly Ranchers had been casting about for a while in search of an
outside project that fit with our politics and inclinations. Happily,
our friends Peggy Sartoris-Belaqua and Henry Hughes (who is not
coincidently a co-founding member of the Ranch, but no longer lives
with us) had in February signed a lease on a small, rundown storefront
sliding off capital hill into the central district, not far from the
Ranch. Their idea was to present improvised music, free jazz,
electronic, new compositions and even some spoken word performances to
an all ages audience in a distraction free listening environment. As
much as possible, commodification and musical compromise would stop at
the door. They set themselves up as a non-profit organization,
committed to an all-volunteer staff (each other, mostly), and began to
try to find out who might be willing to help. Their project met our
criteria and felt exactly right to us: it was anti-capitalist,
community oriented, and committed to presenting vital musics of
resistance in a simple, quiet setting without the interruption of cash
registers or clinking glasses. We committed to pitching in wherever and
whenever we could.
Because they are the kind of people they are, Peggy and Henry chose a
name: Polestar Music Gallery, a logo for their correspondence and
flyers, and began booking musicians even before the room had been
painted or the stage built. The space needed a considerable cosmetic
overhaul, so most of the initial reconstruction was contracted out for
actual money. However, between the Ranchers, we contributed some finish
carpentry, mudding and sanding preparatory to painting, and some of the
painting. We�ve distributed flyers around town, as there is no money
for advertising. Marc built a shelf unit for the bathroom, and devised
an inexpensive way to hang the stage curtain. This writer curated a
series of forty-five quotes of musicians and critics talking about
music, which will be mounted and hung on the walls of the gallery.
Another idea that Peggy and Henry had was to collar any potential
serious patron they knew in town, and ask them each to buy a chair for
Polestar, so that the room could have padded, sturdy, comfortable
seating instead of cheap folding chairs. The Ranch bought three. They
haven�t shown up yet; as of this writing everyone sits on rented
folding chairs. We also donated a stove, a refrigerator, and a couch
for the green room.
Polestar�s gala opening week was a big success. During five
performances over five days excited musicians played to appreciative
audiences. The gallery is only a door gig for the musicians who play
there, which is short money for an improviser who has worked an entire
lifetime on her craft, and possibly traveled from Portland or Vancouver
to Seattle for a one-nighter in front of fifty people, but it is
obvious to everyone who participated that this place is about treating
the musicians, the music, and the listener with respect.
An ongoing commitment that the Ranch has made to the Polestar is to put
musicians up for the night if they are from out of town. During opening
week we hosted the Wolfgang Fuchs Trio. Everyone else had gone to bed,
and Wolfgang was at the window, drinking beer from a bottle. To me on
this night he seemed weary. The man is about sixty, and he looks every
inch the European maestro. His commitment to this under appreciated
music has been lifelong, in both small and large group improvisations.
In Europe he is well known, if not fairly remunerated. Earlier I had
watched him put sixty-seven dollars in his pocket after Henry paid him
his share of that evening�s performance. To his credit, he insists that
the other three musicians on the bill get an equal share of the door,
even though he is the one with an international reputation. It was past
midnight, but cars kept cruising past the window with bass thumping
loud enough to rattle glass. Fuchs turned to me and shook his head.
�Back in Germany my girlfriend just went to buy a new car. She told
them that she did not want a radio. They said that would be alright,
they would take it out, but it would cost more money.�
I laughed, he didn�t. �Music is everywhere all the time, and
people accept that as normal, but they listen to nothing. When people
hear my music, they think �� Wolfgang finished his sentence by circling
his index finger about his temple, the universal sign for scrambled in
the brain.