A New Year’s Reflection

I finished my doctoral courses at Northwestern in spring of 1981. The summer found me lounging around in my apartment, drinking vodka tonics in the afternoon and taking down phone numbers from truck-driving schools and bartending schools, as advertised during Leave It to Beaver reruns. In the middle of this, the phone rang, and my composition teacher Peter Gena asked, “Do you want a job?” Peter had taken on the temporary directorship (with Alene Valkanas) of the New Music America festival, which moved from city to city. It had started in New … [Read more...]

Coming: A Quieter World

This article by Roy Rivenburg in the LA Times suggests that digital technology is gradually making the world quieter, to an extent that makes movie sound effects engineers rethink the way they give audio cues in soundtracks: Electronic cash registers eliminated the ka-ching of their ancestors; digital cameras erased the traditional shutter-click and advancing-film noises of their predecessors; PowerPoint presentations chased away the clunks and whirs of slide projectors. The lifespan of sounds seems to be shrinking, Valentino said: "We sent … [Read more...]

’80s New Music Resurrected

Merry Christmas: I updated my Postclassic Radio playlist on Christmas Eve - strikes me as kind of a festive activity - for the first time in awhile. Putting new pieces on the station is a cinch, but keeping the playlist current turns out to be the tedious part. I'm streamlining the process to make it easier. Anyway, I recently got access to an old box of cassette tapes that's been in storage for ten months, and it's a cornucopia of new music mostly from the 1980s that never got commercially released: works by Todd Levin, Bunita Marcus, Maria De … [Read more...]

Works Too Beautiful for Radio

Speaking of music in which nothing happens, I got a superb new NAD amplifier yesterday, and today I gave it what may be one of the supreme stereo system tests: I played Eliane Radigue's Adnos I. This tape work from the late '70s by a reclusive French composer of almost mystical reputation (released a couple of years ago on Table of the Elements) is a gorgeous continuum of analogue electronic tones, changing in slow and subtle ways. The texture is extremely rich, with pulsing tones going in and out of tune in the bass and a layer of ringing … [Read more...]

Length Equals Genre

My complaint about people who listen to new music and automatically respond, “I know a rock group sounds just like that!” brought an excellent anecdote from a reader who said that it reminds me of an exchange I heard while auditing [Fred] Frith's composition class at Mills; he'd play examples of various music and ask students whether the music was “rock” or “classical.” He played the beginning of Tony Conrad & Faust's Outside the Dream Syndicate, (monolithic 2/4 bass & drum stomp). Girl instantly says aloud, “rock.” Frith says “what if I told … [Read more...]

Music In and Out of Time

I’ve returned from the dead - the dead of semester-end academia, when one’s life is no longer one’s own. A friend wrote to tell me that my blog fans are near suicide, and while I don’t flatter myself that such is even metaphorically the case, I can take a hint. The last day of class the students played their compositions (it’s a theory class - harmonic correctness is required, creativity isn’t). Then they, not unreasonably, demanded that I play something of my own. So I complied with the one piece of my own I can play on short notice, No. 1 of … [Read more...]

Rarest of the Rare on Postclassic Radio

I've been absent because of school duties and computer problems. (When I moved from a 4GB computer to a 40GB, I laughed at the idea of ever filling it up - now I'm realizing it's too small to play fast and loose with aiff audio files the way I need to.) But I stumbled across a cache of my rare cassettes, and I've put up some recordings on Postclassic Radio that you'd have a hell of a time finding anywhere else. One is the sole work by Conlon Nancarrow that isn't commercially recorded: his Trio No. 2 of 1990, for oboe, bassoon, and piano, close … [Read more...]

Gauging the Importance of Criticism

An article in The Guardian linked from Arts Journal suggests that, since the best-selling albums do not match up to critics' top-ten choices, the public clearly pays no attention to music criticism, which is thereby demonstrated to have become irrelevant. The obvious retort to this was published decades ago by Virgil Thomson, and since Googling it produces no results, it seems advisable to trot it out again here: "Music criticism may be unnecessary. It is certainly inefficient. But it is the only antidote we have to paid publicity." The fact … [Read more...]

Emerson’s Law of Compensation

Hey, it's December, and Postclassic Radio's composer of the month is Mikel Rouse! Tonight at Walter Reade Theater in New York City I'll be receiving my ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for the station, along with Robin Cox of Iridian Radio. I told ASCAP that the station was Robin's idea and I stole it from him, and that he should get the award alone, but they split it between us. It confirms what I've said all my life: you don't get the things you deserve, but you get other things you don't deserve instead, so it evens out. In college I got C's in the … [Read more...]