How to Interpret Conservatives

This post by one E. Fulton on the Salon.com chat pages is making the rounds, and worth it: Conservatives omit several important words in their whining about being oppressed, so in order to understand them you have to add those skipped words back in. For example: Liberals are against people of faith forcing their faith on other people and intruding on the constitutional notion of religious freedom for all people. Conservatives can't say anything openly offensive to minority groups, factually incorrect, and otherwise lacking any substance these … [Read more...]

The Nancarrow of Fargo

I went to Fargo to visit Henry Gwiazda. He used to make sampling pieces in virtual audio, placing sounds in three-dimensional space. He despaired of that, because it only worked with the listener in a certain relation to the loudspeakers, which meant that he could only play his music for one person at a time. (Though the effect, captured in his piece Buzzingreynoldsdreamland, is pretty astonishing. You can experience the piece on an Innova CD, but you have to set up your stereo speakers just right.) He's more recently gotten involved in a … [Read more...]

Roll Me a Cigarette, Pardner, I’m a Postminimalist

Whenever I inveigh against the unfair obstacles Downtown composers face, I sometimes receive a certain kind of question: Isn't the value of Downtown composers that they're rebels, and wouldn't they be ruined if they became part of the establishment? If they won awards and became university professors, wouldn't they lose their authenticity? Wouldn't they become as complacent and authoritarian as Uptowners if they got performed a lot and were financially comfortable, and wouldn't their music weaken? Can't the social conscience that their music … [Read more...]

Not at All Obvious

Last week I visited the University of Virginia at the invitation of composer Judith Shatin. Listening to music by her students, I asked her if she agreed that student composer concerts today are infinitely better than they were in the 1970s when we were in college. She did agree, emphatically, but we came up with different explanations. My memory was that young composers back then were all trying to imitate people like Boulez and Stockhausen and Carter, composers of extremely complex music wildly beyond their technical capacity. Sophomores who … [Read more...]

Suppression of Downtown Music for Dummies

I know a lot of Uptown composers, probably a lot more than most Downtown composers know. (Hell, I had a Grawemeyer Award winner over for dinner last night, have another one coming over soon, and down the road is the house of another friend, one of the country's best-known opera composers. I'm better connected than you think. And by Uptown, for purposes of this entry, I mean Uptown, Midtown, and non-Downtown. It's not a distinction we Downtowners make conversationally, sorry.) As I say, I know a lot of Uptown composers. All of them are lovely … [Read more...]

Similarity Duly Noted

Whenever Democrats accuse the Republicans of sculpting policy to favor the rich, the Republicans respond by yelling "Class war! Class war!" Apparently they think that merely yelling it in derision makes the term seem quaint, Marxist, and discredited, makes the Democrats look like they're living in the past, and haven't caught up with the new realities. There really is a class war, of course, of the rich against the poor, but by pooh-poohing and thus disallowing the term, the Republicans make it look like no such thing is going on. Ever since … [Read more...]

Sources of My Aesthetics

For twenty years I've carried around a quotation from an article in the October 13, 1985 Times Book Review, from an article called "Writers and the Nostalgic Fallacy," by novelist Marilynne Robinson. It's an argument that chaotic times do not necessarily call for chaotic art: The literature of expostulation, of Catastrophe, is taken to be very serious. But among people carried along in a canoe toward a waterfall, the one who stands up and screams is not the one with the keenest sense of the situation. We are in a place so difficult that … [Read more...]

The Crack in the Bell Redux

For the first time I've repeated a work on Postclassic Radio. It's Daniel Lentz's The Crack in the Bell, and I aired it last September, but I listened to it again last night, and it's just too beautiful, and not nearly enough well known. It's a setting of e. e. cummings's classic antiwar poem "next to of course god america i": "next to of course god america i love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh say can you see by the dawn's early my country tis of centuries come and go and are no more what of it we should worry in every language … [Read more...]

Musical Karma, How to Avoid It

Greatly underappreciated though they are, negative comments in reviews are the sparks that illuminate your position with respect to the rest of the world. My Cold Blue recording of Long Night was described over by David Salvage at Sequenza 21 as "a bit Zen for my taste," and it's the best comment I've had since John Rockwell in the Times called my music "naively pictorial" in 1989, which led me to develop an entire aesthetic I call Naive Pictorialism, of which I am to date the sole exponent. Both are the kind of insights that indicate your … [Read more...]

111 Opuses

Lawrence Dillon's official Sequenza 21 list of 111 influential post-1970 musical works is worth taking a look at, as representing a diversity of tastes (including mine, and I appreciate his including it though I'm not a Sequenza 21 contributor). As he notes, there are a lot of celebrated composers that no one claimed as a compositional influence. Henry Cowell, I think it was, used to say there were "two kinds of music in America: the kind people talk about and don't play, and the kind people play and don't talk about." Played or not, here's a … [Read more...]

Gann Dances (but Only Privately)

I just received an excellent CDR recording of a new piece of mine, Private Dances for piano, played exquisitely by Sarah Cahill - in her hands, in fact, a couple of the movements are more beautiful than I imagined they could be. I wrote the piece because for years I've been such a big fan of William Duckworth's multi-movement pieces like The Time Curve Preludes and Imaginary Dances, and they made me want to write a piece as a series of brief movements, something I'd never done. What Duckworth achieves that I didn't was a way to link the pieces … [Read more...]

Extra! Extra! It’s the Same Old Same Old!

Over at New Music Box, Frank Oteri is rather amusingly astonished at the silence greeting the announcement that, after all the talk about the music Pulitzers changing their focus and allowing jazz and film music, this year's prize went to one of the usual suspects, Steven Stucky. Stucky is one of those orchestra-circuit guys who's such an obvious shoo-in for that prize that my immediate reaction was, "Wait, hasn't he won it before?" I guess not, though his reported reaction was aptly blasé, like, "Oh, gee, forgot it was that time of year … [Read more...]