I had the idea recently to scrub my web presence, withdraw my old work, and start again releasing music only under a pseudonym. I am probably not going to do this. Composers almost never write under pseudonyms, though we’re often asked to use them when submitting work to competitions. Singer-songwriters sometimes do, but usually their real names are roughly as well known as their stage monikers. In both cases a sort of performed authenticity is part of the contract with your listeners (and, for composers, with your performers).
Then there is the hip-hop world, where pseudonyms are widespread, even dominant. While authenticity is still at play, there is an understanding and expectation of sarcasm, exaggeration, role playing, and so on. I would argue that narration in hip-hop is perceived with more degrees of complexity than that in singer-songwriter music, where listeners often resist separating the first person of the song from the subjectivity of the singer. In fact, when the singer-songwriter denies that a song is about them or meaningfully based on autobiographical experience, listeners often refuse to believe it.
The issue is less acute in instrumental music, because when there is no text there is no explicit first person, no explicit narration, and no explicit issue of authenticity. But they’re all below the surface, and we’re still dealing with an expectation of identity construction for an audience. I like that pseudonyms foreground that act of identity construction. I think that could be healthy for the artist and for the listener.
I made up Golconda in 2008, based on the painting by Magritte. It was supposed to be a band name, but I was always moving around and always playing by myself, so it became a singer-songwriter persona. I remember within the first year or two someone telling me that it sounded a bit like my surname.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts