A 365-Day Project

"We Are All Mozart"

A project to create
new works and change
the perception of the
music of our time.

Mantra Canon score pages Dennis

previous   October 10, 2006   next

Composers have been writing to me recently about some very compelling topics. Tonight I'm taking some time off to watch baseball, and tomorrow the topics will be either the shift from physical to virtual browsing for new recordings (the disappearance of Tower Records and kin in favor of online catalogs) or the purpose of repetition in new nonpop (in this post-minimal, post-classical era). So if you want to head me off with some thoughts before tomorrow, I'd be delighted to read them.

* * *

The PPDs have settled in -- the uncontrollable post-partum depression after a premiere. One would think that, after so many compositions and a good chunk of premieres, the opening night energy drain would have settled instead into a blasé commonplace. The thing is, the pattern is clear and identically shaped every time. Stage one is the pre-composition restlessness, where no music sounds appealing or challenging or even interesting. The next stage is creation, where the act of making a new piece entirely overwhelms other activities -- that is, though the motions are made, the mental and spiritual commitment is elsewhere. There's a tail on that second stage, which is a mental stutter-step before the music is done, when a preliminary doubt infects the commitment. It's a kind of rot just after the ripeness of the idea come to fruition. It becomes essential to finish the piece before the mind turns into a musical vegetable on the outdated discount rack.

Assuming the piece does get completed, then a deep sense of loss arrives. This is the first and deepest post-partum depression, where the world quite literally loses color -- not a figurative, poetic sense of fading, but an actual in-the-eye greyness that settles over the world around. Depending on the intensity of the piece itself (and to some degree, its internal integrity), unknitting the mind from the composition's fibers is like pulling a sweater down to yarn and winding it back into skeins. That yarn will be used again, but the sweater lives only in memory.

What follows is a long period of dismissal. The music is put aside and consciously forgotten, sometimes by beginning a new creation, sometimes by writing words or gardening or cooking or doing home repairs. At some point, some undefined lost moment like unexpected wakefulness, the shimmer comes back to life in a eye-snap. The composition is forgotten, flushed away in the stream of life.

The composition reappears when it is to be performed. It might be the same afternoon or thirty years later, but a new and different internal tension arises. The flaws loom out like a dream I had as a child, when a huge bone would reach out from behind a maroon-and-cream hassock that sat by the black telephone, the prelude to a serial dream that would not leave the deep nights sweat-free for many years. The bone of performance reaches out terrifyingly as the supression of expectation commences.

Suppressing expectations is essential, because no performance can match the imagined version of the music. The first rehearsal is to be avoided at all costs. But inevitably the excitement rises, tickled into sentience by the calendar. The performance arrives, the composition sweeps by, it's over, white noise sounding like applause happens at fast forward, a chirping swiff, and no recognition has taken place. Gone. Reception, bed, and the next morning nothing changed. The animals still want food, the bills arrive on time, people call with business questions.

Two arches that represent the entrance and exit of being have appeared to be strong, and then blinked out of existence, as the composer cannot support the spirit, cannot discover the buttresses. The world around does not see the water receded before the tsunami of despair.

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Okay, I got some feedback on my "Buy Local" comment yesterday and so I made up the bumper sticker below and you can get it for three bucks at CafePress, item number 80570307, or download and print it yourself. The CafePress one is only 10 inches wide, but you can print a full-size version on 11x17 paper (to create a standard 3.75" x 15" bumper sticker).

Buy Local bumper sticker

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