New Guy in Blogtown

My old friend Joshua Kosman, irreverent critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, whom I don’t see often because he’s on the wonderful coast and I’m on the dull one, has succumbed to the tempation to start a blog, titled On a Pacific Aisle. It promises to be entertaining. Joshua is the coiner, among other things, of “Kosman’s Law”: never trust a piece whose title is a plural noun. (Think of all those horrible academic ’70s pieces with titles like Algorithms and Perspectives and Concatenations.)

[UPDATE: The final two sentences of the above entry contain a joke that Joshua and I considered a riot 15 years ago. You may not find it funny, but there’s no reason to get indignant about it. You can’t expect all the jokes to be funny.]


  1. says

    Out of their native habitat those sorts of titles are indeed red flags – but I’d argue that when they first started appearing en masse around 1950 in Darmstadt they had a quite specific and quite meaningful import that is, shall we say, forgivable…

  2. says

    Hm, our friend Samuel Vriezen uses almost exclusively titles consisting of plural nouns, and those are really great pieces! (20 Worlds, 2 Suites, The Peace Talks, The Weather Riots, Possible Worlds, to name but a few). Maybe in doing so he has set a new standard, which would finally put an end to Joshua Kosman’s (formerly all-too-true) paradigm. Hallelujah!
    KG replies: I believe the prohibition only applies to one-word titles (“…whose title is A plural noun”).

  3. says

    Thanks, Kyle. Kosman’s Law (which is of course mostly a rule of thumb, but is named in accordance with the laws of euphony) has obvious exceptions. Contrasts heads the list, natch, although I still think it’s one of the worst titles ever given a great piece; also Berio’s Circles and probably others that aren’t coming to mind right at the moment.
    KG replies: Just as a composer is rarely the best judge of his own music, a lawmaker is rarely the best judge of his own laws. Destroy them all, the Lord will recognize His own.

  4. says

    “…a lawmaker is rarely the best judge of his own laws. Destroy them all, the Lord will recognize His own.”
    hear hear, I suppose…

  5. Samuel Vriezen says

    Cheers y’all and greetings from spain,
    I’ll admit to having one Forbidden Title in the catalogue: Seizoenen, which means Seasons. Now of course, in that particular case, it’s ‘The Four Seasons’ that would have been the title to avoid. On the other hand, I think I probably would go hear a piece called ‘200 seasons’ (dans l’Enfer)
    I think the obvious exceptions to this excellent rule are those early Feldman pieces. BTW I’d suggest that it mostly applies to plural nouns that denote abstractions. If you call a piece, I don’t know, ‘dogs’, that might be interesting. Dogs for orchestra.
    Groupies for three orchestras.
    Such fun.
    KG replies: Actually, in conversation with other composers, I’ve heard Kosman’s Law restricted to abstract nouns, particularly those ending in “-tions.” Although Joshua told me he formulated it after hearing an electronic piece called “Bells.” You can imagine.

  6. Matthew Hammond says

    What about Extensions, Intervals, Durations, Instruments, Numbers; Perspectives, Indices; Edges, Lines; Voicings, Symmetries?
    Doesn’t really seem like a very efficient way of thoughtlessly dismissing ‘horrible academic pieces’.
    KG replies: OK, on second thought, let’s all take this joke real seriously, and pretend that it contains more than a grain of truth.

  7. Gavin Borchert says

    Yes, but it’s not really hardcore Modernism unless that plural noun is followed by a Roman numeral. The 70s also loved ellipses (“. . . and the trumpet sounds. . .”). Color titles were a trend for a while; and of course after Adams and Rouse there was a run of splashy six-minute orchestral concert openers with titles referencing machines–