The Never-Ending Saga of Terms
Copyright (c) 2007 Jerry Lucky All Rights Reserved
Copyright (c) 2007 Jerry Lucky All Rights Reserved
Over the years Iíve written about the use of terms within the progressive rock community both in my book The Progressive Rock Files and in various magazine and website
articles. Iím not entirely sure about this but Iíd be willing to bet there are few if any other genres out there that have such a struggle defining or categorizing their various musical styles.
Perhaps thatís because progressive rock music more than other musical styles has so many sub-divisions of styles that can be included, but because of the extreme diversity there lies a
need for clarification. You can call something R&B or Country Rock or Electronic or Pop and youíll pretty much know what to expect. But when you put an artistís efforts into the progressive rock
genre it covers a lot of ground. Thatís probably the most obvious reason we have so many different, terms and acronyms within our genre. Theyíre there to help us quickly come to see what will appeal to us.
With that in mind I though Iíd just run through a few of these terms and provide my own take on what they represent; after all some people will hear a certain term and form a judgement about the band and either decide to pursue listening to them or not. All that based on just the term used to describe their musical style. Now setting aside that wonderful experience of listening to something new or experiencing something unique, I think having terms is better than not having them. Like so many things itís not the terms themselves that are bad, but the miss-use of them that gets a person a hot water.
This list will by no means be exhaustive, itís more selective but Iíll try to pick on some of the newer more prominent ones to provide some clarification. Bear in mind this is not an official definition of each term, simply more of an overview and opinion.
Proto-Prog: If Iím not mistaken this is a term that came to prominence in Ed Macanís writing and refers to those bands of the late sixties and very early seventies whose musical style was just coming out of the psychedelic sphere and were still looking at stretching the boundaries of composition and instrumentation. I must admit this was a term I didnít care for at first, but now a few years on and we can see just how many bands there were out there pushing the envelope there certainly seems to be a need to catorgize their musical approach and I freely use the term now. This music usually isnít very complex but itís obvious the bands described as proto-prog were not attempting to write short pop-ditties for radio airplay. It was all about the music and a clear indication of what the progressive rock genre was going to be all about.
Symphonic Prog: A vast majority of the music we all listen to falls into this category. As always it bears pointing out this is music where itís not just about putting a symphony orchestra in the background, this is about taking the traditional rock instruments and writing, performing and arranging the music in the same manner that a classical symphony is constructed. There are multiple lead instruments trading off lead parts and, yes a very orchestrated feel. Thereís much more that could be said but you get the picture.
Fusion: This is a term that came to prominence in the mid-seventies and refers to a blending of Rock and Jazz playing styles: it was called Fusion. I notice there are some who use the term to refer to any style of music that is blended with another, but this I think is a miss-use of the term. When I use the term itís in the traditional manner and will reflect a predominantly rock style with enough jazz influences to make it sound distinctively complex and rhythmic.
Jazz-Rock: Unlike Fusion the music here places more of an emphasis on Jazz rather than rock. Naturally the music is quite busy and is easily recognizable and described as jazzy.
Avant-Prog: This is a term I find myself using a lot and I quite like it. It tells us in a more precise manner where this musical sound style lies in the whole scheme of things. This is the place youíll find the more adventurous music of the progressive rock genre. In fact some of this material borders on the fringes of what might be considered rock period.
R.I.O.: These three letters of course stand for Rock In Opposition and as a term was originally applied to a tour of musicians who were taking a very political stance and wanted to make a point. The fact that the music produced by these musicians bore some similarities helped cement the term as a reference to not only the original performers but others influenced by their adventurous, angular and dissonant music. In many respects this is a very inaccurate term to be used to describe the music when in fact it was coined to describe a political stance. Still the term has stuck and its use is rarely if ever used in a disparaging manner and so I find myself still using it from time to time. Truth is I should probably use the more accurate term Avant-Prog and will no doubt be making that shift over the next short while.
Alt-Prog: This is a term I first encountered in Record Collector magazine back in May of 2004. Itís a catch all term thatís used to describe the new and younger crop of bands thatíve been influenced by both the Alternative music scene and the classic progressive rock of the seventies. Their musical approach takes the alternative style and turns it on its head by stretching it in terms of structure and style. Listening to bands like Radiohead, Muse, Mew, Polyphonic Spree and others like that, itís clear to see there is more going on than initially meets the ear.
Neo-Prog: I couldnít write a piece about terms without getting in a shot against the use of this one. Most of you will know this is a term I quite dislike, mostly because of how itís used in a disparaging fashion by some of the prog-elite. But more than that my own research has clearly demonstrated it is not only a redundant term but its also inaccurate in so many ways. In a nut shell consider that whatever is called Neo-Prog is essentially symphonic prog and thatís a far better description of the music. Anything else I find simply abusive.
So there you have just a quick summary of some of the newer or more flexible terms and what I think of their use. Now what do you think? Let me know.
Jerry Lucky (10/1/07)