response 1: The term 'progressive'

Écrit par Eduardo Saluena

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Thanks for developing such an interesting topic! It’s really necessary to clarify the different meanings of the term progressive rock that are used today, very far away from the 70’s perspective, in order to analyze its validity.

The references you point out about the use of progressive in the late 60s (as well as the choice of the word music instead of rock in some of the examples). I would point out the case of jazz pianist & arranger Stan Kenton, who used the term to describe his style (often more close to a big classical orchestra than a dance big band). He released in 1947 an album called A presentation of progressive jazz (Capitol Records). Other titles for his albums were Innovations in modern music (Capitol, 1950), New concepts of artistry in rhythm (Capitol, 1952) or Contemporary concepts (Capitol, 1955), reinforcing his search for new musical directions (especially those ideas concerning to harmony, rhythm or timbre.

In my article “Progressive rock and cultural identities in Spain: the case of Asturcón”, included at Revista de Musicología, Vol. XXXII Nº2, 2009, pp. 591-602, I mention three different categories of the “progressiveness” that coexist together, depending on the perspective we are using:

1)     Progressive as context, linked to a specific cultural and sociopolitical circumstance. Obviously, what is considered progressive in 1969 could be tagged as regressive in 1983, due to a change of mind that involves the aspects mentioned before. Main problem for this is to agree on dates, so I suppose that is more comfortable to indicate a more general reference: second half of the 60s-first half of the 70s would be the most considered, trying to cover a wider range (I’m thinking in Chris Cutler’s ideas about this). So, this would be a temporary application of the term.


2)     Progressive as formal style, trying to fix a model of musical resources that is able to describe the most important parameters of progressive rock. In this case, the most difficult aspect would be the discrimination of particular patterns that are shared with other genres (bearing in mind that syncretism is one of the most significant elements present in this music) and the dangerous establishment of musical hierarchies. This would be a not temporary application, sharing this category bands from the 70s, 80s or 90s (some of them would be considered more regressive attending other categories). The word Prog could be a good representation of this idea among the new audiences (more than musicians), often indicating rhythm changes, syncopation or odd time-signatures.


3)     Progressive as attitude, not necessarily related to a formal aspect. This would be more linked to aesthetic conceptions and methodologies that are not conventional in their own time. Obviously, this would be a not temporary application but with a temporary criterion about what can be considered progressive or not (at the same time, this is the biggest problem of the category). Understanding the term in this way, it’s easier to use it like and adjective with other popular genres like jazz, blues or folk.


And what about Progressive Electronic Dance Music (applied to House, Trance, Drum’n’Bass or Techno)? Are there related to ideas like stretching out in search for a climax (Bill Martin)?