musical genius chilly gonzales explains the history of pop music

Classical music was the pop music of its day, and Chilly Gonzales wants to reunite that relationship.

by i-D Team and Chilly Gonzales
17 February 2015, 3:05pm

We take it for granted that we have our own taste in music. Our relationship to our favorite songs is intimate. As U2 discovered when they invited themselves into our iTunes libraries, we're sensitive about it because it's our (possibly idealized) identity.

But music began as a soundtrack to public events - it happened in churches, public squares and royal courts. Listeners didn't really think about whether they liked it or not, it was just there. It was chamber music that brought it into our rooms, into our private domain. In other words, without chamber music, there would be no 'big room' at Fabric and no bangers to play in it.

Chamber music arose to fill a need: the burgeoning middle class of the 18th and 19th centuries were intent on aping the aristocracy. They wanted to squint and imagine that they had their own cohort of musicians ready to play them in and out of their gilded chambers. They bought sheet music in droves, pianos were like album streams that took skill to hear.

Singing styles mirrored the change in musical space, as David Byrne details in that otherwise cheesy book, it turns out opera singing sounds like opera singing because those fat ladies had to project to the back of the hall. When chamber music came along, singers could deliver more intimate performances, accompanied by just a piano, and the result was the German 'lied', or art-song. Schubert pretty much OWNED this new genre: a simplified 2-part structure and addictive tunes. The piano parts aimed for "word-painting", creating effects for raindrops, or horses running or whatever. These were putative pop songs. Much later, when recording happened, the smart musicians took advantage, so you had Frank Sinatra pimping through the almost imperceptible crack in his voice on just the right word.

So the story of chamber music is the story of music becoming more accessible, intimate and democratic. Today my 14-year old nephew makes better beats than I did when I was 25, because the space where music happens is so private - his laptop, his headphones, his instananeously-realized ideas - that we're approaching the musical singularity promised to us by chamber music.

On my album Chambers I tried to bring back some of the color of that 19th century music, filtered through a 21st century attitude (and attention-span). I thought of my string quartet (Kaiser Quartett) as a sampler. Chamber music foretold the music of today - it WAS pop music. Couldn't it be again? 

Chambers is due for release 23rd March via Gentle Threat Ltd. 


Text Chilly Gonzales
Photography Natasha Cox

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