Reports of My Misbehavior Greatly Exaggerated

Over at New Music Box, Frank Oteri, back from his world travels, finally weighs in with his own impression of the ISCM festival in Vienna. He emphasizes (and possibly exaggerates) my slender role there, and says very nice things about me, and I’m flattered. He writes, however, that some people “had their feathers ruffled” by me, and I’m a little sensitive these days about getting trapped in the feather-ruffling meta-narrative. I sometimes think people get shocked when I open my mouth because they’re trained to think that’s the proper response. I used to occasionally ruffle some feathers, and I’m proud that I did – much prouder than had I been some high-falutin’ whore for the status quo – but I’d rather emphasize that it’s been many years since I attended an event with any intent of antagonizing anyone. In the ISCM case, several other people equally ruffled feathers, and many people present expressed agreement with even the most radical things I’d said. The scholars who brought me in, Christian Utz and Nina Polaschegg, seemed to intend me to play a certain role, which I played, as did Sandeep Bhagwati, who was likewise calculated to express a non-Eurocentric viewpoint. It would be far more accurate to say that Christian and Nina ruffled some feathers by inviting me and Sandeep (and some other non-Eurocentrics) into this heavily Germanic and conventional context. In addition, a draft of my paper was published, before I arrived, in the accompanying Osterreichische Musik Zeitschrift, so people knew exactly what I was going to say before my flight touched ground in Vienna. Someone on the panel even quoted a line of mine from that publication that I had omitted when I gave the talk. In other words, I pretty much said what my hosts requested I say, and certainly surprised no one.

I just don’t want people thinking I show up at events and start shouting at people and kicking over the potted plants and insulting my hosts and making contradictions for contradiction’s sake. At this point in my life I attend these events for the pleasure of getting a vacation to someplace exotic, or else for money. I am who I am, I’ve had the experiences I’ve had, and I’m through trying to prove anything. Music composition is such a warped world these last few decades, that it’s easy to get some composers all riled up just by telling the simple truth. (Also, I admit, I tend to say things clearly, and without the accustomed obfuscations and academic qualifications – but that’s my journalistic training, and I refuse to lose it. There are a lot of scholars who’d piss you off if you could tell what the hell they were talking about.) So, yes, a lot of composers these days are resentful about what the world has become*, and deeply irritated by the fact that people like me exist, who describe the world as it is – and my presence, genial and mild-spoken as I am, might indeed ruffle their feathers. But the only way I could prevent that would be to stay home.

*Or, more likely, resent that the world never became what their delusional educations taught them it ought to become.

UPDATE: Corey Dargel comments on Frank’s article with a wonderful takedown of what he calls “Damnstadt”: “The opposite of ‘popular’ is not ‘inscrutable,’ and the opposite of ‘muzak’ is not ‘etudes.'” That’s feather-ruffling, if you needed a comparison example, and well done, too.

FURTHER UPDATE: Alex Ross says I was merely making waves. I’m always happy to make waves.