Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mixing it up

When I say “mixing it up,” I’m not talking about fighting. I’m talking, literally, about mixing things together—a somewhat recent trend in this culture, and one that’s lead to some unique (and sometimes questionable) pairings.

In food, it’s called “fusion cuisine.” Restaurants have been dabbling in this for a few years that I know of, possibly longer. Mixing flavors and foods from culture to culture, using unexpected spices, grilling items that are normally baked… there’s more, I’m sure, but I haven’t delved too deeply into this movement because I’m not passionate about it. I wouldn’t say I’m a food purist, but I definitely like to keep things simple—and I know, too, that when I have found an unlikely combination that I thought worked well, I’ve almost always discovered afterward that somewhere, in some people group, it wasn’t an unlikely pairing at all. (Spicy, peppered dark chocolate and spicy hot chocolate drinks, for example: how odd! Yet, it works. However—turns out that it’s not so odd in the culture from whence it comes: ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures, from what I’m reading.) The really odd combinations that, frankly, don’t work? They rarely last beyond a season, once the thrill of the unexpected wears off.

Music features lots of fusion, too—not just lately, although the pattern does seem to be expanding these days into uncharted fronts. I suppose you could say that any drastically different cover version of a song is fusion at its best: I’m thinking right now of some hilarious and incredibly rockin’ bluegrass covers of Pink Floyd favorites. The Cardigans did an awesome version of Ozzy’s “Iron Man” in the 90s. But the music hybridization movement goes well beyond merely covering popular songs these days, mostly thanks to PBS. It started with now-recognizable names like Celtic Woman and André Rieu, who took a certain music style and dramatized it, made it more physically attractive and lighter than it had been in its traditional state. The result was huge success for both groups. The way has been paved now for heterogeneous acts like Libera, an amazingly talented boys choir that does a lot of cross-over hits with accompanying modern instruments, and Bowfire, a gathering of manic fiddlers who, I suspect, are mostly classically trained violinists who happen to realize the incredible profitability of appealing to the masses with a mix of rearranged, layered classics, super-fast pieces that are sometimes “rocked out,” and the occasional madly fiddling clogger.

Even bookstores have moved in this direction. Remember the bookstores of yore? No food or drinks permitted. They were often cramped, with a smattering of semi-comfortable chairs, and lots and lots of books, sometimes old books, but mostly real books with more words than pictures… Nowadays? Borders, Barnes and Noble, and the other imitators are slowly putting the old-school bookstores out of business. Crowds gather at these big boxes, slurping sugary coffee drinks, perusing lovely, huge, illustration-heavy books that once purchased, often sit unopened on a coffee table.

Now, the traditionalists among us are probably tsk, tsk-ing as they see their pure, lovely forms of food and music and literary settings become bastardized versions of themselves, all for the sake of a sale. The less stodgy folks are, for the most part, probably supportive of these fused genres; if mixing things up a tad makes them more accessible to a larger group of people, is it so bad? Remember that indescribably horrible synthesized version of Beethoven’s 5th that came out during the disco era? At least it brought about some sort of widespread exposure to the classical composers, right?

I’m honestly not sure where I stand on all this. I don’t want to be a purist and deny people their simplified pleasures, some of which I enjoy as well; in the big picture, hybridization often amounts to increased appreciation for the arts, even kitchen arts. Regardless of my stance, though, I think we’d better get used to more and more of this sort of thing; it seems to be inevitable, and I believe it will eventually saturate our culture. Food, music, books, ethnicities, neighborhoods, relationships, global trade and marketing… the “mix-up” is happening everywhere. It’s all part of our world becoming smaller, less mysterious, easier to touch and feel and experience—both good and bad.

Will it result in the inevitable loss of truly pure states of everything? Perhaps.

Does that frighten you? Or will you embrace the changes?


gail said...

I like the mix up. Especially in book stores. One of my favorite things has always been a hot cup of coffee and a few minutes to sort through books... I don't get that much anymore and miss it.

Mel said...

I'm with you for the most part. A hot cuppa can only enhance any good book. And frankly, some of those lovely big books have lain unopened on my own coffee table, not just b/c I don't have the time,.. The mix-up is definitely bringing new audiences to things. Maybe it's an evolution of sorts--and I mean true evolution, not that stuff Darwin talked about. Thanks for dropping by! : )

Anonymous said...

I like the mix up for the most part. Ever hear the synthesized version of Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring? Its on the 40 yr old virgin soundtrack but its awesome!

Mel said...

hmm. never heard a synthed version of Jesu. will have to check it out!