How to Spot a Composer

M.C. Maguire, Scott Unrein, and Jim Altieri at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (see update below):


Photo by Caroline Mallonée

UPDATE: Corey Dargel sends a photo from an ACA residency a couple of years ago, with Joshua Palay, Eve Beglarian, Paula Matthusen, and himself (same exact spot, I think):



  1. mclaren says

    And yet discussion about new music on the deluded sequenza21 and newmusicbox forums centers ONLY on live acoustic instrumental performances.
    Essentially all composers today compose their music on laptops, test their music on laptops, and many American composers compose only for electronic media…but this can never be mentioned. Like the gulags under Stalin, the millions upon millions of American composers who create and perform music entirely using electronic media do not exist.
    The nytimes covers ONLY live performances of music using acoustic instruments…discussion on “serious” contemporary music blogs ONLY discuss live performances of music using acoustic instruments…and juried contemporary music awards committees typically ONLY accept scores for music using live acoustic instruments.
    The situation is so bizarre, so surreal, so psychotically divorced from observed reality that the mind boggles.
    And yet the madness continues, the massive delusion that a majority or even a significant number of serious contemporary composers compose for live performances of acoustic instruments not only persists, it expands and so the dementia rolls onward to infinity, never-ending, ever-increasing — a hallucinatory musical parallel universe as bizarre as the serial atonal fantasy world or the political fantasies of Rush Limbaugh, a realm intensely imagined yet in each particular opposite to the universe around us, a consensual form of mass insanity with no connection to the reality we can all see and hear and smell and taste and touch.
    How unimaginably weird.

  2. Matthew McBane says

    Mike left his laptop in the car and wore a scarf the entire time we were in Miami. Wrote some damn good poetry there too. : )

  3. says

    aw mclaren, don’t you realize they’re not composing? they’re just checking kyle’s blog to see if they got mentioned there…
    but seriously, you should start your own blog. i mean that in a nice way – you have something to say and you should say it. don’t wait for the regulars and the normals to do the work. d.i.y.

  4. richard says

    I guess I’m not a composer: I write on a desktop 😉 (My wife won’t let me get a laptop until I stop losing my keys, my hats, my cell phones et al)
    KG replies: I’m just relieved that I returned from ACA with my *own* laptop, and not someone else’s.

  5. says

    I don’t have a laptop. Nor a lap dog for that matter.
    Somehow, I manage to compose.
    KG replies: Yeah, and have you gotten a Guggenheim lately? Maybe it’s because people don’t realize you’re a composer!

  6. Arthur Jarvinen says

    “have you gotten a Guggenheim lately?”
    This year I got the swiftest rejection in my application history. Then today, they sent me ANOTHER rejection notice. I’ve been rejected by them twice in one round. I’M ON A ROLL!

  7. Paul H. Muller says

    Maybe what mclaren is suggesting is already here. YouTube just got sued by a big mainstream media company, so the way content is created and received may be changing big time. The YouTube model might be a good fit for new music created on laptops and consumed (performed?) via the internet.
    Are there estimates for how much of the content of PostClassic Radio is strictly electronic and not acoustically performed/recorded?

  8. says

    McLaren — You might notice that the front page of Sequenza21 today previews Elliott Sharp’s new piece which involves live computer processing of the Relache ensembe, and that Colin Holter’s NewMusicBox essay from yesterday was inspired by his performance with a Laptop ensemble.
    Some of your points about the disproportionately low profile of electroacoustic music have a lot of truth to them, and you only undermine your credibility when you paint with such a broad brush. Had you said that S21 and NMBX focus _primarily_ or _heavily_ on live acoustic music you would have been right, and there are a variety of reasons for that fact, some valid and some problematic.
    I actually have a bunch of electroacoustic music that I would love to see programmed on concerts and festivals. If you’ve got some sort of list of such things I would be delighted to see it and I would gladly post it prominently at Sequenza21.

  9. anon says

    ode to laptop
    we arrived too late to sing the thong song,
    too early to join the bong throng,
    wizzle with a sizzle, mizzle drizzle,
    I turned to my homey, realizing,
    just over Miami, was a bad-ass moon rising.

  10. says

    Yeah, come on Mclaren, get it straight on Sequenza21. Besides Galen, Jay Batzner puts out his electro-experiments on podcasts blogged there. Jacob Sudol runs electronics for his little group up in Montréal, Andrea La Rose integrates electroacoustic stuff in her work, Jeff Harrington has made a ton of digital pieces, and I myself haven’t realized a piece for acoustic ensemble in more than 15 years. My regular “click picks” series there has no qualms about featuring people who create with electronic or digital means, and even the CD review section recently spotlighted the work of Michael Fahres.

  11. says

    Body language in the pictures says (and I realize it’s only anecdotal evidence): Gender mixing among the residencies leads to cozier fellowship.

  12. says

    hm. that’s an interesting observation. it sure does look that way from the pictures. in kyle’s defense, his residency is the first composer related event i’ve ever been to where the male/female ratio was 50/50. we did somehow manage to subconsciously separate ourselves out – girls on one side of the table, boys on the other; boys in the front of the car, girls in the back. it was weird.

  13. michael says

    Well, I think most of the composers listed actually write for acoustic instruments. I know at least two of them do — probably on their laptops. And, regardless of the current popularity of mixed live electronic and acoustic ensemble stuff, I have a feeling it is still pretty much the standard thing to do.

  14. says

    i would say that i write music in my head, plot it out on paper — large paper, on which i draw the staff lines myself, so i can see as much as possible — and then struggle with how to get the notation software that is installed on my laptop to make it look right. i haven’t delved into lily pond yet, but i wish finale could deal with independent time signatures more sophisticatedly.
    i prefer writing for acoustic instruments because i like not having to depend on electricity to make music, but i’m certainly thrilled that there are many folks more competent electronically than i making cool music that way. i consider myself something of an electroacoustic dolt. i did buy a drum machine at a stoop sale last summer and hope to start toying with it this summer…see how many 7s i can nest in my 5s….