A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
Yesterday combined inspiration and exhaustion.
For this project, I distributed in May a productivity survey to about 250 composers who requested it. I expected perfunctory responses from a few folks with extra time on their hands. Instead, 85 composers wrote heartfelt, articulate, passionate and sometimes even cranky responses. I pasted everything into a big file, printed it, and spent the entire day & night with baseball games droning in the background, reading the eloquent pleas sometimes in favor but mostly against the idea of arbitrary productivity, highlighting the most insightful passages, and tagging the pages with Post-its.
By midnight, my head was resting on the notebook, the baseball having given way to shopworn police dramas. Two thousand words. That is the article's limit. In that window, many times the insight would have to be fit.
There is work to be done.
Among the less article-worthy morsels I devoured was that composers and food are fast friends. To the question, "Please add anything else appropriate to the topic," respondents one-lined "add cilantro" and "slivered almonds and a drizzle of chocolate." And in answer to the more serious productivity questions, the need to put food on the table made a frequent appearance. One day an extensive study should be done on the relationship between composers and their food. Peter Shaffer and Milos Forman certainly noticed it enough to mound up the confections in Amadeus., fusing Mozart and Salieri over the exquisite capezzoli di Venere. Concerts without receptions, sometimes bountiful ones, are nigh unknown, and in Europe, concert halls include their own restaurants or pubs. Oh, and pubs, yes, the wine. And composers, sometimes with a great fondness for a dark brew or the odd single malt. Sláinte!
Just so you remember: Feed your local composer.
His Next Aventure
After front-loading my psyche with composers' thoughts, I'm pinballing around some topics today. A subtext yesterday & today is, of course, the death of György Ligeti. Known briefly to the general public for having his music pasted into 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ligeti found his way into my life a few years earlier with his work from the 1960s -- the Aventures set, Lux aeterna and especially Volumina. Composers of our own learning years give us permission to explore what they have explored, but then expect us to brush them away and move on. So it was for me with Ligeti: he gave me permission to create great, vibrating, voluptuous densities. Densities remain part of my genuine vocabulary today, so much so that many of my works can be sliced horizontally like shale, leaving several independent compositions. Köszönöm, György, és istenhozzád.
National Public Rubbish
Very occasionally I'll listen to National Public Radio. It's empty of musical content, but the news is a good underpiddling to washing dishes. Night before last, though, it triggered a serious outburst of slamming plates and splashing water as All Things Considered covered New York's "Iron Artist" competition in the 'Digital Culture' segment. Digital? Not so much. And the idea of creating art to spec in virtually no time was the very premise of Kalvos & Damian's Komposer Kombat in 2005 -- but could we even get a return phone call from ATC for K2? Nope. Rather than merely cute, K2 brought forth forty-one serious creations from three continents, each composed in three hours, and (n.b., audio producers at NPR) we actually used digital culture to do it. The real lesson is that NPR is been consistently and historically hostile to new nonpop, gradually censoring it from their permitted reportage. NPR is a new music bankrupt. Too bad all I had to fling was a plate.
Bark Yer Bruckner
If you ever want to be buried in verbal volcanic ash, pose a "definitional difference" type of question to artists. That's what composer Larry Austin did on the Canadian Electroacoustic Conference list last week. He asked, "I have a simple question for the list: Is 'sound art' music or not?" 170 posts later as of last night, it has unfolded and refolded so many times that the very universe is now in question. From "There's no way of distinguishing between Bruckner's 9th & a dog barking" to "I think these reasons have little if anything to do with the entity itself whose existence cannot be proven," CEC-Conference is a funfest of runaway philosophy and hypersonic deconstruction. In truth, I've learned a lot about how electroacoustic artists have set themselves apart for the past half-century by redefining sound in terms of objects as opposed to form, inventing a world largely outside music and its continuum of listeners, where intention and perception meet in a state of insecure d/r/evolution. It is strange. With music and sound objects simply a wordless state of my hormonic youth, these attempts at description seem more desperate than revelatory. But then, I don't much care about Bruckner or the dog.
Audiences, yes. So now, back to audiences, a thought I didn't finish last week.
Arguments have long abounded about audiences, from Milton Babbitt's legendary 1958 "Who cares if you listen?" and its proclamation of a fall from musical innocence, through audience-trancing multi-hour minimalists who arrived a slight four years after Uncle's manifesto, to emerging composers two-and-a-half generations later whose creations remain once again calculated as inward-appealing and audience-alien.
Disclaimer: I don't believe in any sort of neo-romantic pandering, but on the other hand, an enormous internal industry has been built on justifying hostility or indifference or detachment or aloofness when it comes to audiences. Don't worry. I'm not about to restate all the historical reasons for that development.
I have been thinking about the expansion of nonpop into this golden age, when communication has widened potential audiences, incorporation of worldwide musical influences is commonplace, and cultural cross-sensibilities are simply anticipated in the arts. Postmodernism is the cheap way of describing it. So in this postmodern time, how do audiences fit into the creative process? Especially if every postmodern audience member must carry around a personal reality, perception set, and message processor?
As a postmodernist-only-when-I-feel-like-it, which isn't now, I suggest that there are ten identifiable audiences: (1) the composer; (2) the colleagues; (3) the performers; (4) the buyers; (5) the critics; (6) the students; (7) the captives; (8) the volunteers; (9) the virtuals; and (10) history. Though they vary in importance to the composer, each possible audience plays a different role in forming the music from the moment the concept undertakes its process of realization. Some audiences can be one and the same, as when a composer performs the music or when colleagues join in performance or improvisation. Some can share roles, as do students (analysts and musicologists among them), captives, and improvising colleagues. Despite where they overlap, though, these ten audiences have distinctly important characteristics, reactions, needs, backgrounds, and listening mechanisms. Indeed, "who cares if you listen?" was never the right question. There are no earlids and, despite the good Uncle's suggestion, no professional audiences. So the question becomes simultaneously more complex and less hostile: "how are you listening?"
Composers may or may not believe they consider the audience when they work. Later for that. For now, who are these people, these elusive audiences? How are they different? What do they want? Expect? Settle for? And what are the implications of the composer's relationship to them, by choice or by chance? What matters about them? I've organized these ten audiences from the geographical inside out:
What I've talked about so far is just a surface relationship. On another day, I'll explore how a composer is pulled (wittingly or not) and even tortured by these relationships -- the pitfalls, rewards, panic, and growth that sometimes engender a denial of the audience's role.
Now what have I forgotten? Ah, yes, today's photo! Here is the official obligatory cat Gesualdo, showing his moves on our kitchen porch.
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