I truly wish that it had been my lifelong dream to publish books about music, because it comes all too easily to me and I could have fulfilled my dream in short order. Unfortunately, in the late 1960s it became my passion to write music and get it performed, which 40 years later I still find a more challenging proposition (the getting-performed part, I mean). Writing a book is a solitary occupation that sometimes actually pays for itself; putting out a CD requires tremendous enthusiasm from performers and cooperation from sound engineers, plus a vast financial structure to make sure everyone gets paid, with virtually no money guaranteed to come back in return. Each book I publish feels like a cakewalk compared to the CDs I struggle like hell to put together. Yet had I put out 30 CDs in my life and no books, I would have been tickled pink with my career. Instead, I find myself writing a book now and then just to take up the slack.
In any case, the Cage book is basically finished, and I’m sending it off tomorrow. One of the topics I deal with in the chapter on the aftermath of 4’33” is something I got from electronic composer Paul Rudy at UMKC: the debate between the acousmatic composers and the soundscapers. I knew the word acousmatic, but I hadn’t realized that it was a kind of official term for a certain approach to electronic music. (In fact, it seems to me that composers actually loooooove terms and -isms, except for postminimalism and totalism, because the latter two denote composers who write music that appeals to audiences, so it’s imperative that those groups be marginalized at all costs, and denying that those terms mean anything is the quickest way to effect that.) But Paul tells me – and I’d like more independent verification on this, though I’ve found some scattered around the internet – that the acousmatic composers believe in using everyday acoustic sounds that are divorced from their sound sources and rendered unrecognizable, while the soundscape composers like to record environmental sounds that are evocative of their origins. Paul is one of the composers who finds this an idle academic argument, as indeed it seems to be, and whose music moves back and forth between deliberate evocation and abstraction as a structural element; he’s pointed me to Jonty Harrison as a kindred spirit. This seems to be a particularly big issue in Canada, where the acousmaticians (if that is the proper term) are centered in Montreal, and the soundscapers on the West Coast, led by the indomitable R. Murray Schafer. This is an issue that seems to have mainly been written about in academia if at all, and while I get the point, my understanding of the differences is lacking in nuance. I’d be curious as to my readers’ knowledge of these categories.
UPDATE: You guys are amazing. (See comments.)