main: July 2010 Archives
This unparaphraseable self-dialogue from Atalanta illustrates something of what I love so much about Robert Ashley's music:
I said, "Is the struggle with the law manifested in every aspect of the making of music, or are there law-abiding aspects and others that are confrontational only because of indiscretion on the musician's part - because of a transgression?"
He said to me, "Music is the enactment of the manifestation of the struggle with the law on a scale of continuous attempts; that is, where the attempts are related to each other symbolically through a pattern imposed on our memory. Music is a history of our struggle with the law."
I said, "Can music, then, substitute itself for the enactment of the struggle in other parts of our lives?"
He said to me, "That is its most common use."
I said, "The musician, then, becomes socially symbolic, enacting restlessness."
He said to me, "Yes. In order to be law-abiding, there has to be a place where one can rest. One can be law-abiding only in safety from the law."
I said, "Is the listener different from the musician?"
He said to me, "Yes, that is the paradox of music. In listening to music we are observing other persons like ourselves, but the consequences of their actions do not accrue to us actually. Their actions are understood only in retrospect. The consequences may accrue to us as wisdom. May even endanger our relationship to the law, may change our minds, but for the listener the act has already come into existence before the law is recognized. The listener is in safety from the law."
UPDATE: Notice how subtly and beautifully it nuances the tone that he uses "He said to me" rather than simply, "He said." The man's a frickin' poet.
In an interview on Slate, Wikipedia cofounder Larry Sanger (who left the organization) confirms the very reasons I quit having anything to do with the web site:
Q. Why did you feel so strongly about involving experts?
A. Because of the complete disregard for expert opinion among a group of amateurs working on a subject, and in particular because of their tendency to openly express contempt for experts. There was this attitude that experts should be disqualified [from participating] by the very fact that they had published on the subject--that because they had published, they were therefore biased. That frustrated me very much, to see that happening over and over again: experts essentially being driven away by people who didn't have any respect for those who make it their lives' work to know things.
Q. Where do you think that contempt for expertise comes from? It's seems odd to be committed to a project that's all about sharing knowledge, yet dismiss those who've worked so hard to acquire it.
A. There's a whole worldview that's shared by many programmers--although not all of them, of course--and by many young intellectuals that I characterize as "epistemic egalitarianism." They're greatly offended by the idea that anyone might be regarded as more reliable on a given topic than everyone else....
And later, just as accurately:
This is a general problem with Wikipedia: What is praised as consensus decision-making or crowd-sourcing often just means that the person with the loudest voice or the most time on his or her hands is the one who's going to win.
At the opera I am transported to a place and time where there is no disorder. There is disorder on stage, and it is called melodrama. We don't believe it. This is important: that we don't believe it. We do believe... what happens in the movies.... Therefore, opera can have no plot. It is foolish to argue that opera - any opera - can have a plot; that is, that the "characters" and their apparent "actions" and the apparent "consequences" are related in any way. Opera can be story-telling only. That the story-telling happens on stage and that musicians are making music in the pit (to reinforce the story told) is entirely coincidental. The story might as well be told at the kitchen table with a crazy aunt and uncle as the soprano and tenor.
1. Homo agens: man acting, or in conflict (Allegro)
2. Homo sapiens: man thinking (Adagio)
3. Homo ludens: man playing (Scherzo), and
4. Homo communis: man in the community (Allegro)
Homo agens: Improvement: Don Leaves Linda - Linda in conflict and acting to ensure her own safety
Homo sapiens: eL/Aficionado, the Agent looking back and trying to reconcile his experiences
Homo ludens: Foreign Experiences, Don Jr. having wild rides with an Indian guide in his imagination
Homo communis: Now Eleanor's Idea, Now Eleanor finding her destiny within the Lowrider community
It's kind of an amazing five-and-a-half-hour operatic symphony. (I also have to wonder why I spend so much time on really, really long pieces, when I don't write very long pieces myself.)
A dutiful part of my research on Ashley has involved listening to music by his composition teachers, Ross Lee Finney, Leslie Bassett, and Wallingford Riegger. For the most part, it is well-crafted, relentlessly earnest, dour, unpersonable music, much of it for string quartet or quintet. I was glad to get that part over with. And then I run into Ashley's own characterization, in an unpublished but wonderful lecture he gave at UCSD in 2000:
...I like dance music. I like America. I like our innocent people. I am one of them. But I have come to like, as well, another kind of music, which is in conflict, I discover, with the idea of music as something to dance to. I have come to like a new kind of "devotional" music, which has moved out of the churches into some unlocated, secular place. I say "devotional," because I don't know a better word, but it is music to be listened to, not danced to. In the listening it takes you to some place you have never been. It is mental. It doesn't require head-nodding. You just sit there and it flows through you and changes you.
I have brought up this point of the difference between dance music (music to be danced to) and "devotional" music (for want of a better word), because Americans keep trying to arrive at some sort of "compromise." Check out the term, "accessible." It almost invariably means the music has a "beat." I don't think there is any reason music has to have a beat, unless you are going to dance to it. That is a pleasant aspect of some music. I do it myself. But unfamiliar music that doesn't have a beat is being discriminated against. The composer knows this. And so the composer is always trying to compromise....
There was a brief few decades, early in the century, when the better-off went to Europe (Germany, in particular) to catch up with non-dance music. Charles Ives didn't go. But everybody else went. They brought back imitation German music. It was good in Germany, but here it was imitation. Then, in this "serious" music there was a brief flirtation with jazz, which mostly came to nothing, because the black people were better at jazz. And black people could not make "serious" music, because they were oppressed. Then (this is a chronology) there came American-Serious-Music. It was taught in the conservatories. Every music school had a Resident String Quartet (the cheapest form of ensemble), a Graduate Student String Quartet, and numberless Undergraduate String Quartets. They played American-Serious-Music. The string quartet was the university computer-music-studio of the 1940s and 1950s... It is a characteristic of the string quartet to emphasize moving the bow back and forth. The more the better.
Insert: Mr. Arditti, of string quartet fame, complained to Alvin Lucier, in the presence of a large number of people, that he didn't like to play Alvin's String Quartet, because there was very little bow movement, which lack of bow movement made his arm tired. To which Alvin replied, "Why don't you play it with the other arm?"
American-Serious-Music became a matter of moving the bow back and forth as much as possible, with accents here and there. You might call it sawing. One of its foremost practitioners called the style, "motor-rhythmic." It is characterized by a continuous sawing of sixteenth-notes or eighth-notes (depending on the time signature and the tempo). Up-bow, down-bow, up-bow, down-bow, endlessly. You know what i mean. This is where I came in. I went to music school. I hated "motor rhythms." Gradually I came to hate string quartets, when they got into that sawing, because that relentless sawing was simply a senseless update of the circle-dances that those innocent people had brought with them to America.... Everything about "motor rhythms" was just another version of the polka, the hora, and whatever else the dances were called wherever they came from. A circle of mostly poor people holding hands and jumping up and down. A long way from Morton Feldman. And I didn't even know Morton Feldman existed.
I print this here because I think it's wonderful reading, wonderfully put, and an insightful reading of the times. This is not to say I would have said everything he says the way he says it - I have my own thoughts about what "accessibility" means - but, as usual, I can't argue with him. He's a brilliant writer, which has not yet been acknowledged much - so brilliant that even his prose is nearly impossible to paraphrase, so that I end up quoting larger chunks than I'd like to get away with. American-Serious-Music: I know the genre well, and it's a good term for it. We still have a lot of it around.
I keep running into evidence that musicians have never heard of Ashley. (For instance, last night Bill Duckworth told me his interview with Ashley got axed from his Talking Music book because the editor had never heard of him.) This flummoxes me. Ashley has been at the center of my musical focus since I was in high school in the early '70s. When we brought him to New Music America in 1982, he was our number-two celebrity, after only John Cage - and much of his best music hadn't even been written yet. In those days I didn't have a musician friend who wasn't into him. I would have easily said he was as famous as Stockhausen. I can only gather that Stockhausen continues to get taught in music departments, and Ashley doesn't - partly because his insights, such as those above, don't sit well in those music departments. My book will make the strongest attack on that problem that I'm capable of. I am finding that to really get into some of Ashley's works I have to go through the text pretty thoroughly - especially true of Foreign Experiences and Now Eleanor's Idea. It's a lot less work than reading analyses of Gruppen and Le Marteau, and repays the effort.
Sites To See
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Joe Horowitz on music
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary