Edge of Insanity: Tony MacAlpine and Black Virtuosity

Author / Artist: 
Publication Date: 
March, 2018

Abstract

"In this essay, I mean to re-examine the notion of virtuosity, which has been characterized as a Romantic reaction to bourgeois rationalism that mobilizes virtuoso musical technique in the service of critiquing bourgeois understandings of art. Furthermore, most critics accuse virtuosos of providing vulgar spectacle in place of sober execution linked to questionable ethics. Pace those assessments, I mean to argue that virtuosity represents, at least in the hands of a black American guitarist such as MacAlpine, a liberatory strategy, that despite being rooted in Romantic notions of autonomous art, challenges a critical stance which views black artistry as merely expressive. I argue that MacAlpine does not simply seek the discursive legitimacy that performing classical music (or in a “classical” style) can give a heavy metal musician but, as a black American guitarist, uses the kind of virtuosity that is linked to the European concert tradition as a means for transcending the stereotypes of black musicians as intuitive talents who draw on reserves of emotional excess, rather than as thoughtful musicians whose abilities have been trained and crafted by diligent study and practice."

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