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November 28, 2007

Steve Reich in the Heartland

John Stoehr

I tend to see the breakdown of mainstream media and the continued pace of globalization as part of the general breakdown of cultural divides and geographic monopolies. Thanks to the ubiquity of internet technology, talent, intelligence, and creativity are no longer solely concentrated in the traditional hubs of culture, like LA and New York.

Of course, LA and New York will always be LA and New York, and I wouldn't have them otherwise. But smaller places are also experiencing surges of creativity (like Chucktown, S.C.), as the means of communicating change, as lifestyles change, and as our definitions of creativity itself change.

To put it in more socio-economic terms: The United States continues to de-industrialize its workforce. Media paradigms continue to fragment and diversify. Communities, organizations, and institutions continue to be plural and multicultural. And there is movement away from the idea of mass culture (what might be in retrospect a historical anomaly) and toward one that is more in line with people's real lives.

We were all these things all along. These changes affect the arts and the people making art, too. Now you don't have to pay NYC apartment prices to be an artist. You can live anywhere. And with the country's push over the past 40 years to make art accessible to everyone everywhere, we are now seeing, as critic Doug McLennan puts it, the rise of an arts culture.

In the days before computers, you had to be in New York to get attention for your recording of, say, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians.

But now, Flyover country is benefiting from global communications and "quantum computers" (these are what allow us to buy computers with hundreds of gigabytes for relatively little expense instead of the big bucks for just two or three gigabytes less than a decade ago). Throw in a little bit of luck and pluck and a group like the New Music Ensemble of Grand Valley State University in rural Michigan is able to get the attention of the New York Times.


Cross-posted on Unscripted.

Posted by John Stoehr at November 28, 2007 3:42 PM

COMMENTS

"In the days before computers, you had to be in New York to get attention for your recording of, say, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians.

But now, Flyover country is benefiting from global communications and "quantum computers" (these are what allow us to buy computers with hundreds of gigabytes for relatively little expense instead of the big bucks for just two or three gigabytes less than a decade ago). Throw in a little bit of luck and pluck and a group like the New Music Ensemble of Grand Valley State University in rural Michigan is able to get the attention of the New York Times."

Uh, the NYTimes article that you link to is a promo piece for a record release event taking place in New York City, and most of the article discusses the group's earlier performance of the work at the Bang on a Can festival in New York City.

So tell me again how this is some kind of flyover success story?

Posted by: Herb Levy at November 29, 2007 10:15 AM

While I wholeheartedly agree that creativity is percolating in many places in Flyover country (you mention Charleston...we like to think that even a bit up I-26 in Columbia it's happening too), there is still the knotty problem of artists making a living. Herb's point is well-taken in this context. The bigger point is that academia forms points of oasis in the heartland for the creative arts to contribute to a community. Far too often, music-academia fails its community because its denizens retreat behind the sure comfort of tenured positions that are not dependent on bringing in new audiences and continually revitalizing the music scene in that given community. Occasionally you have gifted and motivated individuals who see the larger picture and try to do something more...this would be the case with the fellow at Grand Valley State who put the Reich project together. Unfortunately I think he's the exception rather than the rule. However, to defend your original post and to answer Herb's question, clearly the buzz that this GVSU project created, getting national attention, etc., can have positive repercussions in the community in which that university is located, perhaps creating greater interest in music in that town, interest in other living composers.

But then again, there is that question of making a living. With the greater competition in academia (made greater by the beginning of a huge influx of DMA students from China in the years ahead), plus the winnowing of orchestras, where outside of large free-lance scenes that can only be supported by major cities can a young musician make a living? John, I'm not sure that the technological changes you mention will really change that reality.

Posted by: Phillip at November 30, 2007 9:01 AM

Mr. Levy,
Mr. Stoehr said "...a group like the New Music Ensemble...is able to get the attention of the New York Times." This is a true statement. The entire article is devoted to this group. Therefore, they DID get the attention of the NY Times.

Only a small portion of the article discusses the "Bang on a Can" festival.

It sure sounds like a flyover success story to me.

Posted by: Sherry Deatrick at November 30, 2007 9:08 AM