PostClassic: February 2010 Archives

Today I ran across a box of audio cassettes that has been misplaced for years. Among many treasures are my interviews with Boulez, Yoko Ono, Trimpin, Ashley, Branca, Mikel Rouse, and a few others, plus about ten cassettes' worth of Nancarrow. I thought the Boulez interview might be of particular interest. It took place in a hotel room in Chicago on October 27, 1987, when Boulez had come to perform Repons and conduct the Chicago Symphony in his Notations and other works. This was back when I'd only been at the Voice a few months, and I was interviewing him for the Chicago Reader, where I'd been free-lancing for five years. The whole interview is 67 minutes, and some of it is a little dated, talking about the impending possibility of classical music's dying, which of course 22 years later we know is apparently not going to happen. But I'll put up the most interesting snippets, totaling almost half, from the interview here:

On Notations (2:31)

On minimalism and Nancarrow (7:31) (Why haven't French and German music shown any minimalist influence? "If I wanted to be nasty, I would say it's because we have culture.")

What Boulez says here he's doubtless said elsewhere; nevertheless, here's an interview that's never been made public before. Perhaps some of you will find it sufficiently amazing that he and I were ever in the same room. The third voice that sometimes chimes in is my old composer friend Frank Abbinanti, whom I brought with me. Boulez was on his best behavior, the minimalism comment notwithstanding, and so was I. He was absolutely charming, happy to autograph my copy of On Music Today. The best quote I remember, however, seems to have occurred off-mike. Thinking of Boulez's scandalous article "Schoenberg est Mort," I asked him if someone would someday have to write an article titled "Boulez est Mort." He laughed generously, and replied, "Maybe I should write it myself." 

February 28, 2010 12:38 AM | | Comments (3) |
My new book was mentioned today in the New Yorker, and my music in the New York Times. The latter sort of implied that my Disklavier music is "silly." Personally I think classical music should lighten up and indulge a joke now and then, but I'm finding that when you write a humorous piece, people are just disturbed by it. I guess it's back to solemn and portentous for me.

UPDATE: The worst experience I ever had in this respect was the only performance I've ever given in Germany, in Hamburg in 2007. I had somehow willfully forgotten that Germans are not particularly internationally admired for their sense of humor, and with questionable judgment I decided to regale them with my Disklavier piece Petty Larceny, completely composed of quotations from the Beethoven piano sonatas. I think of the piece as something more than a joke: it keeps every quotation in the original key, and pairs lots of early and late sonatas to show, I think, that Beethoven tended to use certain chord progressions in certain keys. But it was certainly humorously intended. (Heck, Stockhausen did a Beethoven-quote piece too, called Opus 1970.) So I played the piece, and as I looked at the audience afterward, every man jack of them wore the exact same expression, one which haunts me to this day. It was an expression you might elicit from a complete stranger you sat next to at the beginning of a transcontinental plane trip, if you introduced yourself by earnestly detailing a plan to end world hunger by eating Jewish babies: a mixture of revulsion and despair, nuanced by a transparent veneer of polite restraint. Intermission followed, and as I returned to perform Custer and Sitting Bull, I saw that fully half the audience had fled. Those who remained were mostly graduate students who had agreed to carry away the electronic equipment afterwards. It was easily the worst performing experience of my post-college life. 

But never mind that. I've now had my music played at BAM. In the music scene I chronicled at the Voice for 19 years, this was the highest possible honor. I have attained the Downtown Valhalla, and can die a happy man.

February 25, 2010 3:36 PM | | Comments (11) |
Tomorrow night, February 20: Relache playing the official world premiere of The PlanetsTrinity Center for Urban Life in Philadelphia, 22nd & Spruce Streets, 8 PM. Maybe a pre-concert talk at 7:15, not sure yet.

Sunday, Feb. 21: Percussionist Andrew Bliss includes my solo vibraphone piece Olana on a solo program he's giving at the University of Tennessee at Martin. It's 3 PM in the Humanities Auditorium, with music by David Lang, Xenakis, Bob Becker, and Ben Wahlund.

February 23, 25, 26, 27:  The Mark Morris Dance Group performs Looky at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, each night at 7:30 at the Howard Gilman Opera House. The only other music on the program is Erik Satie's ethereal Socrate.

February 19, 2010 8:40 AM | | Comments (3) |

Critic Anthony Tommasini's piece in the Times today is headlined, "Dogma No More: Anything Goes." Isn't that a wonderful pronouncement? And the occasion for the article is his realization that young musicians these days are open to all styles, and no longer care about the aesthetic battles of the past. His evidence is a concert by the Ensemble ACJW that included a wild and eclectic mix of composers: Stockhausen, Babbitt, Berio, Davidovsky, Daniel Bjarnason. "Categories be damned!," Tommasini cries. Amen to that, and thank goodness musical politics have ceased to sway us. But wait a minute: I hadn't heard of Bjarnason, but I thought Stockhausen, Babbitt, Berio, and Davidovsky were composers who tended to all be championed by the same people all along. So I looked up Bjarnason, who's a 20-something Icelandic composer whose music is nominally tonal but dramatically virtuosic, and I have noticed, for years, now, that the same young musicians who champion atonal hardliners like Davidovsky and Babbitt also seem eager to find young European composers whose music is dramatically virtuosic. That those who champion complexity, drama, and European values in the old music champion it in the new as well hardly comes as a surprise.

And Tommasini notices a problem too: while today's young musicians are open-minded enough to accept not only Davidovsky but Bjarnason, they seem to avoid composers of a milder, more neoromantic bent, like Barber, Harbison, Christopher Rouse, and so on. Tommasini calls those the "mainstream" composers (young composers in that tradition have insisted to me that I refer to them as "Midtown"), but he also quotes Harbison's self-applied term "notes-and-rhythms composers." Now, this is ironic, because the interview with me that's in the July, 2008, issue of Musicworks magazine is titled "Pitch and Rhythm Guy" because that's how I referred to myself during the interview. The term would apply equally well to dozens of postminimalist and totalist composers I wrote about in the Village Voice during the 1980s and '90s. In fact, I once explicitly made this connection in a book: "If Copland, Harris, Barber, and their ilk represented a first wave of American diatonic consonance, postminimalism is the second." Of course, the postminimalists, Zen-oriented and antivirtuosic, represent an entirely different world than the mainstream neoromantics. And not only did no one in the postminimalist crowd make the ACJW playlist, they didn't even make Tommasini's round-up of the current panoply of styles among which today's young composers no longer discriminate.

Few critics have been as sensitive to the damage done by aesthetic style wars as Tommasini has, and he's scored some valiant points against the intolerance of the high modernists. But if he's going to convince me that the days of dogma are over, and anything truly goes, he's going to have to at least acknowledge that the large milieu of nonmainstream composers I write about exists. Otherwise, his failure to include us - and him of all people - just makes it look like certain doors are as tightly shut as ever.

February 14, 2010 3:05 PM | |
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Gannjkt.jpgTwo boxes of my book No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33" arrived this week, the first time I've had a book and CD come out the same week. (Today I also received an announcement that an Italian edition is under way.) And although Amazon still has the release date as March 23, I've already gotten a nice review from Publishers Weekly. Especially gratifying were these lines:  

Following a biographical summary of Cage's early musical development, Gann considers the various influences that got him thinking about "silence, meditation, and environmental sound," from 20th-century composer Erik Satie back to the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, moving on to a sensible reconstruction of the piece's development--down to telling details like the fact that its length is roughly the same as the temporal space on a 12-inch 78 rpm record. [Thanks to my readers for that latter insight.] Though Gann clearly respects Cage and 4'33", he doesn't worship either blindly, and that critical appreciation makes his argument that this is a radical "act of listening," not a provocative stunt, all the more compelling.

I do take pride in the fact that I disputed some of Cage's ideas when they didn't seem solidly grounded, and I tried to gently hammer home my conviction that Cage was no philosopher, nor even a particularly consistent thinker. What he was was a brilliant writer, whose irresistible literary charm paved the way for the acceptance of his music, and an artist who took much of his inspiration from the fields of religion and philosophy. Such does not a philosopher make.

(I have to admit, the back of the book has blurbs from John Luther Adams, Robert Carl, Bill Duckworth, and Larry Polansky. And I wish they had put a heading above all those quotes: "Four of Gann's best friends couldn't be wrong.")

February 10, 2010 6:11 PM | |
My CD of The Planets has arrived. One friend has already received the copy he ordered directly from Meyer Media. You can hear some excerpts there, and I've left two movements up on my web site as teasers: Venus and Uranus. And I thought I'd brag a little about what I did in Uranus, one of my favorite movements.

Uranus, in astrology, is the planet of individuality and unexpected events. When Uranus hits your chart, strange and unpredicted things happen to you, indicating that your life has become so mired in habit that it no longer reflects who you are, and - uncomfortable as it may be - you're going to have to get out of your ruts. So I wrote a piece rippling with unexpected events, some sudden nonsequitur every few measures, except that these little fragments reappear so often that you start getting used to them. Finally, there's one of the weirdest passages I've ever written (click to hear it in isolation), a collage of one-measure and half-measure fragments from all these ideas making, in itself, no sense whatever:



But by now, I hope, you've heard all these fragments so many times that they don't sound so strange anymore; you've internalized all this absurdity and are ready to live with it. The piece then breaks into the first passage I've written in decades in which the players improvise, a joyous moment of freedom (though over a B-flat sus chord). 

You can hear the whole movement here. If you think it's comical, I completely agree. I laughed my head off writing Uranus. 

February 8, 2010 7:06 PM | |
Thus spake Bob Ashley:  

We have recently - about fifty years ago - come upon a new idea in thinking about music, but I think it is not even approached in theory. This new idea does not use the timeline score.... 

By timeline music I mean music having any number of parts, a piano score or an orchestra score, that are coordinated by bar lines. This music must, by definition, be "linear."... 

Curiously, the most famous proponents - for Europeans and Asians as well as Americans - of a new kind of music among American composers, John Cage and Morton Feldman, could not escape from the timeline practice. They made wild (sometimes seemingly desperate) attempts to make a new kind of music, but their attempts were fundamentally still trapped in the timeline way of thinking. (I don't mean that their music was unsuccessful... I mean that to attribute to these two composers the kind of radical departure that one recognizes in Wolff or Brown, Behrman, Lucier, Amacher, Niblock, my own music and a few younger composers, is wrong.) 

For everybody else who appeared around 1960 and is still around - Babbitt, Wuorinen, Reynolds, and countless others - there is no question that they ignored the message and continued exploring the timeline. 

The first evidence of the non-timeline music came around 1960. (Typically, it was around earlier - especially in Wolff and Brown - but it really began to "flower" after 1960. It is hard to know whether Wolff or Brown realized what they were doing to the history of music. This is not to detract at all from their work - or their intelligence about their work - but, as I have maintained, the manifestation of an idea seems to happen before the idea is recognized and described....) 

Another "historical" fact to be recognized is that the reaction to the practice of non-timeline music, particularly in the form of "minimalism" and "postromanticism," came not more than ten years after a lot of composers started doing non-timeline music. In other words, non-timeline music was very important and, in the case of the reaction to it, something perhaps to be feared. As if some composers were leading us in the wrong direction and things had to be corrected. 

It's true, of course, that "time" passes while music is being played and while it is being listened to. But in non-timeline music (the drone) the time passing is not "attached to" the playing or the hearing. Time passes in the consciousness of the listener according to internal or external markers. 

The feeling of timelessness can be created in a traditional timeline score using an extreme version of the timeline technique. That is, by pushing the timeline technique to an extreme of what can be written in a timeline score, I remember this, without being able to cite examples, from certain Earle Brown scores. The one example I can cite is Somei Satoh's Kyokoku. In this score for voice and orchestra Satoh uses a very slow tempo (twenty beats per minute) and allows that in certain sustained sections the conductor can slow the tempo even more, or can stop the tempo entirely. In these sections the feeling of timelessness is evoked.... 

Non-timeline makes no attempt to keep the attention of the listener. It exists as if apart from the attention of the listener. The listener is free to come and go. When the listener attends to the music, there is only the "sound." The sound is everything. When the listener is away, the music exists anyway. This is certainly a new idea.... 

I have called this new idea the "drone," because there is no better term that is not a neologism - like non-timeline music. I have said that I use the term "drone" to mean any music that seems not to change over time. Or music that changes so slowly that the changes are almost imperceptible. Many composers make this kind of music. The best known to me, offhand, are Behrman, Lucier, Radigue, Tone, Payne, Bischoff, Hamilton, along with others. 

Or music that has so many repetitions of the same melodic-harmonic pattern that the pattern is clearly secondary to another aspect of the form. Philip Glass's early music is a good example. (Glass recently has more and more reverted to the timeline style.) 

The non-timeline concept has permeated my music, though because of my deep involvement with speech rhythms and opera, I have not composed much music that is pure non-tineline. My early music - prior to 1980 - is much more clearly exploring the non-timeline concept. After 1980, when opera became the most important fact of my work, I began using certain aspects of the traditional score to coordinate many performers' actions (musical events) at any moment in the linear time pattern. I am still trying to escape from that constraint, but so far unsuccessfully.... 

What is in the nature of non-timeline music in the operas is the technique of allowing the harmony to continue for so long in a particular aria that harmony loses its traditional meaning.... 

The purpose is to create an intense self-consciousness in the listener, a kind of "meditative" state of mind. Of course, as in meditation, as I understand it, the attention in the listener will change constantly and is the responsibility of the listener. The composition exists "apart from" the listener, a musical fact to be observed and appreciated at the will of the listener.... 

In a simplistic explanation of "non-timeline" music the composer's purpose is dedicated to the sound of the work. The sound is everything. The sound has no temporal dimensions. It exists apart from the listener's participation. In non-timeline music nothing happens. The sound is simply there. [Variations on the "Drone," 2004; pp. 114-124] 

And again, from Ashley's liner notes to Phill Niblock's Disseminate CD (Mode 131): 

Thumbnail image for 131niblock.jpg
The "drone" is one of the special contributions to musical technique in the second half of the 20th century. I use the term "drone" - though most composers who will be named below will resent the term - because I can't invent another term or phrase that is not just musical jargon and that is not more understandable. 

The drone has two pronounced characteristics. The first and most obvious is an unchanging, or barely changing, pitch. This characteristic, notably, is also the rarest among various composers' "signatures." Most composers moved away from the unchanging pitch technique almost as soon as they got involved with the drone.... 

Fundamentally the drone disregards pitch change. And so the musical time seems to stop. This lack of eventfulness is a challenge to the listener that the composer of any form of drone music must live with (and/or "solve" by some other technique).... 

A second characteristic of the drone, but I think part of the same tendency, is a quality of unchanging tonal "color"; that is, an unchanging instrumental sound, regardless of what other elements of musical composition are employed. One could name any number (a large number) of composers who work in this area. These composers have abandoned the "narrative" or "dramatic" notion of the orchestra as a collection of "characters"....

The drone seems peculiarly American. The reasons are probably many. 

No American ensemble would play any living composer's music in the 1950s, and so any new technique that deviated from the performer's conservatory training was discouraged. One could call that situation a form of poverty (for the composer) and a deciding factor in the invention of a new technique. But, of course, historically poverty has produced a lot of changes in music. 

Another reason, I believe, was the American composer's unusual interest in the music of other cultures, particularly (because they were available on records) the various musics of Southeast Asia, the various musics of Africa and the various musics of the marginal black and marginal white isolated cultures in the United States. And all of these musics seemed to have fewer "changes" and a simpler "architecture" than the music we had inherited from the concert stages of Europe. 

But most important, I think, was the advent of electronic music. Prior to the use of electricity the energy source for music was physical (human) and the limitations on that energy source had to be accommodated in the music. The music had to rest, had to be softer for awhile, had occasionally to be texturally less dense. With a new source of energy coming from the local utility company all of that changed. Conceptually, the music could go on at any level of intensity forever.... 

I hope that by excerpting from much longer articles I haven't created a false impression of any of Bob's ideas. Those inclined to criticize might want to consult the complete originals before so doing. We have a paucity of narratives for what's happened in music in the last 60 years, and this one, from one of the era's major players, is particularly valuable. I've written my own narrative, of course, which Bob's conflicts with at several points. Of particular interest is that, having come from the revolutionary, score-rejecting ONCE festival scene of the '60s, he lumps much minimalist music into the conservative reaction against that scene. Coming along myself in the '70s, I think of the '60s, '70s, and early '80s as the great liberal era in music's history, whereas for Bob the '70s were already a turning back towards comforting convention. Not having been there, I can only honor his perspective.

Of particular importance is his concept of the drone, which does indeed draw a sharp line through the group of composers lumped into the generic term minimalism, separating traditional timeline composers like Andriessen and Adams off from the more radical composers like Niblock and Behrman (and Charlemagne Palestine? though Bob never mentions him) who compose unchanging (or slowly changing) sounds. This division is one the Society for Minimalist Music will want to confront at some point. I hope to bring this Ashleyan critique to bear in my contribution to our 2011 conference in Leuven. Whenever someone tells me that someone they know in academia is "sympathetic to minimalism," I always wonder: you mean simply that they've learned to re-accept diatonicism in timeline music? or have they realized that a piece of music need not contain any events? If only the first, I'm not impressed.

(Of course, my own music is less radical than the music Bob champions in these descriptions. After some early forays into Riley-like free repetition, I became rather addicted to the timeline. I've always been more interested in refining our perception of pitch and rhythm within a conventional format than in larger exploration of form and modes of listening. And yet I sometimes - I could cite my pieces Solitaire, Kierkegaard Walking, Implausible Sketches, Time Does Not Exist, Cosmic Boogie-Woogie - use the timeline to create what I think of as a drone-like effect, in which the continuing sound of a melodic complex changes internally but not externally, and the linear succession of sound complexes, if any, is almost arbitrary, as in the old joke "Time is God's way of keeping everything from happening all at once." Bob's categories are different from mine but compelling, and give me a lot of food for thought. I hope they do for you too.)

February 7, 2010 11:30 AM | | Comments (8) |
Being of an age, and begging the indulgence of my seniors among my readers, I'm going to step into professorial mode for a moment and give a little lecture on reading comprehension. I suppressed a few negative responses I received to the recent excerpt I posted from Bob Ashley's new book, both out of respect for Ashley and because they didn't really engage what he said. Perhaps the fact that it was his writing being reacted to and not my own gave me an opportunity for a little more objective view into the reflexes of blog reading.

Two major things struck me about Ashley's passage that I quoted. One was his scathing critique of the attenuated place of art in western society, as seen from an experience of other cultures. Certain Asian and African cultures are more pervaded by music, art, and dance than ours, more informed by frequent social rituals involving entire communities. This phenomenon has been expounded upon for decades now by ethnologists and historians of Third-World art from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy to Ellen Dissanayake and beyond. I myself have written about it repeatedly from my slim experience of Native American performances: at powwows at Hopi, Taos, and elsewhere, every single inhabitant down to the smallest toddler strong enough to lift a drumstick is engaged as a singer, dancer, even composer, only the Whites are mere spectators, yada yada yada. Ashley's point, that the entertainer/consumer paradigm of American society deprives us of this intense social art experience, is hardly unusual or controversial, though it is presented here with striking vividness and in terms that musicians can easily identify with. 

The astonishing thing about the passage I quoted was that Ashley offers this critique, not from the enthomusicologist's conventional standpoint of immersion in Indonesian or Ghanaian culture - but from  the standpoint of the ONCE festivals! The rhetorical trick of the passage is that it focuses on widespread contemporary practice and seems to mention the ONCE festivals only in passing: "The reproach to what had gradually come to be the feeling that music was everywhere, that you were part of it and you were actually in it in your daily life was enforced for some cultural reason I cannot understand." But in reality, the ONCE festivals are the focus. Ashley is telling us that the ONCE festivals in Ann Arbor in the '60s created the same sense of art pervading a community that one gets from living in Bali or Tehran or Lagos, that once you had your worldview conditioned by the ONCE festivals, coming back down into the relative superficiality of American so-called culture was a tremendous let-down. It's an extraordinary claim, and made with disarming rhetorical cleverness. You read someone describing the innocent platitudes with which we are all familiar in such contrarian terms, and you wonder, from what experience did he come that he can afford to take such a jaundiced view of our daily lives? And that leads back to the question: Gosh, what must the ONCE festivals have been like, that afterward one would ever after resent what to the rest of us is mere normality?

Now: did Ashley say recitals were awful, and he never goes to them? No. He says, "Recitals are a curse," and it's an admirably exact formulation. They are a curse because we artists are forced to try to project the potential effects of art through this unequal entertainer/consumer relation, with one hand tied behind our backs, so to speak. Doesn't everyone feel this? I certainly do. Since Ashley disparages entertainment, isn't he just another elitist saying that composers shouldn't be required to entertain? Quite the opposite: he is saying that music should entertain and do much more than entertain, that it should grip and transform us and its effect should last long after the actual experience has ended. Isn't he making fun of world music, which has so enriched American culture? I think he's saying that the reduction of gamelan to a recital performance creates a facile and dangerous false impression, and threatens to destroy something special in other cultures that our music lacks. Isn't he just bitter? Well, I've yet to meet a composer who doesn't have his or her bitter moments, but Ashley's one of the least bitter composers I've ever met, and I read no bitterness in this passage. I see it as an enormous public service to remind us all from time to time that art can have a much higher and more potent role in a society than it currently does in ours. No one, no one is really satisfied with the status of contemporary music in today's world. Shouldn't those who've seen first-hand how things could be better do us the honor of showing us a potential goal toward which we could pragmatically strive?

I can imagine someone reasonably disputing Ashley's argument. For instance: "I was at the ONCE festivals, and they weren't as transformative for the community as Bob thinks." Or maybe, "I've lived in Bali for 30 years, and among locals there's more of a spectator aspect to gamelan performances than Mr. Ashley imagines." Those might be true, might not be true, but at least they would engage the accumulated meaning of the entire passage. I'd even appreciate a broad, well thought-out defense of the Western concept of art that took the ethnological critique into sympathetic account. But the negative comments that came in were reactions to isolated sentences, and I hardly have time to defend every writer I quote (though I'm doing it for Bob now), or my own writings, from potential implications of particular sentences when those implications are nuanced and limited and even subverted by the meaning of the passage taken as a whole. 

This brings to light, perhaps, an important difference in modality between blog reading and book reading. I'm reading the book; if I run into a passage, a sentence, that seems shocking or questionable, I don't put the book down and phone Bob to dispute him; instead, I keep reading. As I do so, further paragraphs put former ones into perspective. The accumulation of new ideas begins changing my mind in ways that make the previous stumbling blocks seem more logical. On a blog, however, I'm beginning to suspect that the tempting proximity of that comment button works against the cohesion of entire passages, as readers scan for sentences that touch on some subject they have a pre-formed experience with or opinion about. The eagerness everyone exhibits to be an active part of an intellectual community is a touching aspect of what the internet has brought out in us all. But I could almost wish there were a function that could sense whether a comment was positive, neutral, or negative, and in the last case, flash a warning question: "Have you reread the entire blog entry to make sure you understand its full argument? Y/N." This is why blogs, and electronic print in general, will never replace books. The stolid unmalleability of a printed book forces you to live for a while with the ideas therein, and give them a chance to transform you. 

This semester for the first time in ten years I'm again sitting in a classroom on the students' side: I'm taking a course called "Kierkegaard: A Writer's Identity" taught by my brilliant friend Nancy Leonard. God bless me, I'm rereading Either/Or for the first time since the 1970s, and having a blast. So I finished "Diary of a Seducer" and, far more mature than I was last time I read it, I accumulate a million objections to Kierkegaard's fevered fantasy - and then I turn to the Or volume, "The Aesthetic Validity of Marriage," and, bing, bing, bing, bing, - Kierkegaard has anticipated my every objection and then some, and then I start to form reservations against that argument as well. Imagine Kierkagaard as a blogger, indulging in wild psychological flights only to contradict them later after his readers had already been fooled into commenting: impossible. And yet he wrote one of the most voluminous journals that's ever been published, and I've been thinking a lot about the extent to which a blog is a public journal. I kept a journal when I was in my 20s, which got replaced by my newspaper writing in my 30s, whose impulse has been transferred to this blog in the last several years. Kierkagaard's journals, of course, weren't published until long after his death. Had his writing of them been conditioned by a consciousness that each one would immediately gather a string of comments, we would doubtless have lost one of the world's great psychological treasures. 

We don't yet know where this blog thing is going, or what new kind of reading modality it's going to lead to. Despite my grumpy resentment of selected new gizmos, I'm really no Luddite at heart, and I have an instinctive faith in mankind's ability to adapt healthfully to new technologies. It would be ridiculous to have a 30-minute timer on the comment button to force each reader into half an hour's reflection before objecting - but it would certainly have a salutary effect in numerous cases. Perhaps I simply create problems by forcing book-style content into a blog format where it doesn't belong. But I think I'm too addicted to book-style content (and too little attracted to the links-of-the-week mode of most blogs) to do otherwise.

February 6, 2010 9:40 AM | | Comments (4) |
About a year ago I wrote that my suite The Planets would receive its full world premiere with the Relache ensemble in May of 2009. By May I was announcing that it would be September, and the performance was postponed to October and then November, and finally to February 6, 2010. Today, due to a threat of a huge two-day blizzard hitting Philadelphia tomorrow, the premiere was once again postponed, to February 20, at the Trinity Center for Urban Life in Philadelphia, 22nd and Spruce Streets, 8 PM. I am told this time the piece will be performed no matter what the conditions. The good news is that the CD is available. There's even a site from which the mp3s can be downloaded.

February 4, 2010 9:59 PM | | Comments (1) |
The immediate future of my blog may well be excerpts from MusikTexte's new volume of Robert Ashley's writings, Outside of Time: Ideas about Music. Damn, he's a great writer. This one's about the conservative reaction that followed the demise of the ONCE festivals in 1968:

Recitals are a curse. Forget for the moment the history of how they came into being. Recitals are a curse. They make the musician into an entertainer, rated, say, on a scale of ten: Ashley = 1; Michael Jackson = 10. They make the audience into a consumer, requiring the equivalent of a restaurant guide: should I go to hear Ives's songs sung by somebody I have never heard of or should I go to hear an Indonesian gamelan, played by people I don't even know about, or should I go to the Philharmonic and hear some turn-of-the-century Austrian music? Dear me.

The political reaction of 1970 was a return to recitals. That the music was called minimalism or the uptown complications of serialism doesn't matter in the least. The reproach to what had gradually come to be the feeling that music was everywhere, that you were part of it and you were actually in it in your daily life was enforced for some cultural reason I cannot understand. The ONCE Group pieces had come more and more to suggest the idea that you were a character in an opera that was bigger than you could understand. That is why we were [physically] attacked at Brandeis and elsewhere. Because we had stopped giving recitals.

Recitals were a perfect format for so-called "world music." Balinese gamelan, no problem. Bong bong bong. How cute. That the gamelan was part of a larger ceremony of cremating the body, drinking the pig's blood and not sleeping for a week didn't enter the picture. Bong bong bong. How cute.

"World music" has been a disaster for America. It doesn't kill people, like AIDS, but it has made us all into consumers, because we are not from Indonesia or South America or China or wherever, and so can only sit there listening to the sounds, wondering where we will eat after the concert, hoping the baby-sitter is behaving and, all in all, wishing we were at home. So we are at the mercy of the "distributor," who makes all things available, but takes the music out of our hands. The distributor, in this case, is the music school and its patrons, who - certainly without understanding what they are doing, what is happening - turn us all into either entertainers or consumers.

That palpable but invisible wall between the entertainer and the audience is a fact of the recital. As a member of the audience you are a consumer and a consumer only. Take your seat. The musicians come on stage. Two or three pieces. Intermission. Two or three pieces. End. You are back out on the street having had an experience, which in most cases lasts only as long as the experience itself. This is a recital. It could have been juggling or a live porno act. Whatever it is, you are not part of it. You have been a watcher. The recitalist hopes that you have been entertained. But you have not been included. You have simply been distracted from what is outside. You do not have more of a musical life. Your life is not more musical.

This is our situation today. And it's not much fun. Because the composer does not have the idea of including the people who come while the music is being enacted. We have lost the idea of the rituals that remind the people who come that what is happening is only a small part, a "surfacing" of the continuing musicality of everyday life.

Actually, those rituals do not exist, except in television and probably in sports events. Everybody plays baseball or football or basketball or soccer or hockey (or wishes they did or thinks they do) so the game is only a "version" of what is part of your life. You are emotionally in it. That is what I mean by ritual. Everybody does not go around singing Mahler or Ives or Feldman or Palestrina. The music is foreign to you. Interesting, maybe, but foreign, like the gamelan. You are not in it. Mostly music students go to recitals. This is true, maybe more so, even if the music is all by living composers. Not that we should expect huge audiences for recitals. But we should expect that the audience is a part of the music, and this is not true, even if the audience is entirely music students. This is the dilemma of contemporary music. The ritual has disappeared. The event is hollow. ["Speech as Music: A Musical Autobiography," pp. 54/56]

February 3, 2010 11:23 AM | | Comments (5) |

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