I suppose it is redundant to alert my readers here to the highly visible blog that the Times is running by an rotating quartet of four composers: Annie Gosfield, Alvin Curran, Michael Gordon, and Glenn Branca. I might note, however, that all of them are what I might have called “Downtowners,” and all thus refreshingly devoted to free-thinking creativity, and unlikely to harangue us about the importance of credentials, knowledge of the European repertoire, and solid education in traditional theory. (I wondered aloud why no composers from the academic establishment or orchestra circuit were represented, and a friend theorized, “Maybe none of them knew what a blog was.”) I also note that Gordon, despite Bang on a Can’s habitual refusal to take sides on the Uptown/Downtown issue, points to a time in his career in which he did take sides:
If I had to choose I would have without question sided with the downtown school. I found the modernists were totalitarian in their belief, misconceived in my opinion, that the point of writing music was to show off how smart you were…. Not only was the downtown school more expansive in its ideas and concepts, they also began to reembrace the misbegotten audience by reintroducing the now forgotten idea that music, in order to be good, needed to actually sound good.
Good for him. Of course, he locates the whole argument to the generation preceding his, thus perhaps obviating the need for any defense of Bang on a Can’s arm’s-length treatment of the Downtown scene during the 1990s.
Far more entertaining is Branca’s wacko tirade (and I mean this in the best possible sense) today about the “secrets of harmony”:
One example of a chord that defies analysis is the “unison cluster.” This is a type of dense cluster in which the tones are placed very close together using small microtonal intervals. The effect is neither of a cluster nor a unison. But the sound is rich with a strange, singing choir-like quality. The clash of harmonics which occurs in a standard cluster does not occur here because the harmonic interaction that creates the harsh sound is so high that it’s outside the range of hearing….
Music is not pure. It cannot be pure. Sound is noise. In the 70s it was popular for studio engineers to try to get the “cleanest” possible sound, a vogue that lasted for years and was a complete failure. The only clean sound is silence.
It’s lovely to see a composer go flying out into the public eye with all the kinds of thoughts we music weirdos usually try to keep people from realizing we have.