I’m getting more and more fed up, for I can see clearly that I was not born into my proper period – [but into] a period I can’t accommodate myself to….
Erik Satie to his brother, February 4, 1901
I believe we are in a period, and have been for just over two decades, in which masculine archetypes dominate cultural consciousness. The various musics that occupy musical discourse have masculine qualities. “Kickass,” hard-grinding, “risk-taking” improvisation has its champions at Signal and Noise and Musicworks magazines, and elsewhere. The orchestra circuit is dominated, not so much by John Adams, as by his legion of imitators, both male and female, who focus violently on the percussion section and make the crescendo of repeated brass chords their trademark. Cults surround the obscurantist music of the priests of the New Complexity, music that never apologizes and never explains. Musically as well as politically, the people seem hungry for leaders, for bullies, for heroes, for those who will lift the onus of responsibility from their shoulders and tell them what to do. Of course, Morton Feldman and Steve Reich, those icons of musical femininity, are highly praised, but nostalgically so, as part of the charming past. Thank goodness no one any longer writes music like that now, right? Or if anyone still does, they should be ignored, if not downright discouraged. That music was pretty, but it’s over, and nothing left today but real MAN’s music.
Like most of the current music I’m passionately interested in, my music, I think, derives from feminine archetypes. It is communicative, and goes overboard to be clear. Idiosyncrasy is its structural principle. It is always structured, but the structure is deëmphasized, smoothed over, unarticulated by contrast and not allowed to intrude. Pretty is its default mode, pianissimo its favorite dynamic. Its physicality is neither propulsive nor regular, but grounded in a balance of conflicting tempos, making it difficult to figure sometimes what speed to tap your foot to. Neither kinetically nor intellectually compelling, it bows to”emotionally convincing” as its ultimate criterion. Above all it does not hide anything nor intentionally mystify. Back in the ’70s, as we were escaping from the brutally masculine archetypes of serialism, that seemed like a good idea. We believed, for awhile, in music not as individual self-aggrandizement but as collective communicativity, in a music that could seduce crossover listeners and bring people together. As Reich said at the time, “I don’t know any secrets of structure that can’t be heard.”
And so, with that sense of being alive at the wrong time, of being totally unfashionable, as utterly irrelevant to the early 21st century as Satie was to the 1900s and Cage to the 1940s, I bring to the public one of my seminal and most unfashionable works. One of the ways I get back into composing after a hiatus is to re-edit some of my earlier music, usually entering it into notation software, as a way of reconnecting with my musical roots: and I’ve done that now with Baptism, a 1983 work for two flutes, two drums, glockenspiel, and electric organ or harmonium. A pre-Custer attempt to fuse cultures, the piece is based on two hymns from different churches, the Protestant “Jesus Paid It All” and the Apache hymn “Daxiasee Bizra’a” (Son of Our Father.) The music reminds me that I originally felt that my most basic musical impulse, beyond even multitempo and chromatic voice-leading, was the free profusion of melody, not based in any repeitition of motives or themes, but always generated anew from the music’s harmonic center.
A PDF of the 24-page score is now available here. The piece was actually published in the ’80s by Editions V in Dortmund, Germany, but I’ve re-edited it for tempos, articulation, and dynamics. Everone comments on the strange, anticlimactic ending, but I’m attached to it, and in 23 years have failed to imagine a better one. Unfortunately, as with all my work from that period, the recording, here, is rather lacking, played on a Casio synthesizer as the only electronic keyboard then available. There were only three or four performances, one in Maine and the rest in Chicago. If you want to complain about the synthesizer, the drones, the homespun quotations (reminiscent of Virgil Thomson’s at times), the simple tonality, the lyricism, and even the most peculiar ending from an output bulging with peculiar endings, I anticipate and overrule you. Marking the end of my Eno-influenced ambient period, Baptism was the piece which marked a new phase in my music, faster and marked by a more synchronized tempo complexity. In a certain way it’s a naive piece, yet I’m unaccountably fond of it, and wish I knew how to write something like it again.