A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
It's Halloween weekend, and all the vampire specials are on. If you look closely (and quickly) in the credits, you'll see my name in at least three of them. My Erzsébet opera website attracts lots of attention twice a year -- Halloween and International Women's Month (yeah, tell me about that) -- and television production crews call to use photographs or, if I'm lucky, to send me to Slovakia to the Báthory castle for a recounting of the family history. Then it usually turns into some gawdawful gothic story with flickering candles and junk music. But it's fun. Feed me, fly me, and I'll go. What's next?
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Just a few updates tonight. The other day, notes were sent to the folks who have commissioned pieces for the We Are All Mozart project, asking them to pass the info along. So if you're reading, perhaps you too can pass the idea along. Once it breaks over 250 commissions (it's just shy of 70), it's a definite go and maybe then the press will pick it up. It's been tough getting the word out. There's been some skepticism and doubt, irritation at the concept, and certainly lack of a place for this sort of highly unlikely project within the classical music establishment. It can be a real conversation-stopper.
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Don't forget the "Concert Music. Buy Local." bumper sticker. Get a "hire your local composer" meme going. Download a full-size copy and print it on 11x17 and trim it for a genuine 3.75x15 bumper sticker, or if you prefer to have a small & tidy copy, you can buy a 3x10 bumper sticker on real sticky vinyl from CafePress. Even if you hate the idea of the project itself, promote local composition. The musical grassroots isn't found entirely in Vienna or Rome or Paris or New York.
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Hating the gimmick, loving the gimmick: I've been thinking about this. Some time ago, a composer said that this project should never be called a gimmick because, although it was unusual, it was very serious. Maybe. Is a gimmick so negative? The dictionary actually does provide a negative definition first -- inducement through falsehood or trickery. My youth having been lived during in the Madison Avenue years, a gimmick has always meant an intriguing inducement, sometimes a humorous one, or even an attractive gadget for marketing. Advertising itself is full of gimmicks, from Geico geckos or Budweiser Clydesdales to collecting erstwhile Green Stamps or Betty Crocker coupons or Pepsi bottlecaps that spell the product name or crying for Cracker Jack prizes or whatever triffid-of-the-mind is stuck in the bottom of a cereal box.
More recent gimmicks, though, have appeared among artists. These gimmicks strike me as attempts at a play for visibility off technologies, attempts with built-in success and needing little effort beyond organization or even naming. For example, Wired has created its "Very Short Stories" of just six words. Clever though these be, they seem to be filling a hole of desire in postmodern life, a substitution of though or meaning by the brief and the effortless, the aphorism, the om of the new millennium. News of the Weird. The Bulwer-Lytton Contest. Maybe it got its start in poetry -- with poets like Ogden Nash or limericks or the validation of terseness in such collections as Poetry Brief, which graces (so to speak) a small spot in my own library -- devolving through the last generation's email and ending up in the contemporary visual consequence of LOLs and BRBs.
But no, it's more ironic than just-post-Howl poetry, more characteristic of these times and richer than L337-TXT. Another example might be the plethora of compositions for ringtones. There is often a defense of these displays of gimmickry as 'artists exploiting the latest technology', which is certainly true. Discoveries can be made, just as trashing a piece of equipment can yield unexpected and sometimes imaginative results in the hands of circuit benders or rejiggering software to produce sound by formula or just the playing of random information can tear down expectations and offer a fresh start for the mind clogged with only exhausted ideas. But some, like ringtones, are so glaringly obvious as to be trivial before they are realized. One can only think of a video on sale in the late-nite hours called Cage Gone Wild! -- yes, definitely a video to create. (I'll do it! And don't miss my ringtones!)
There are other gimmicks. There have been projects like Vox Novus's 60x60 with sixty composers' sixty-second pieces and the Ohm/Avatar compact disc Ding Dong Deluxe, an anthology of 99 compositions--the longest just fifty seconds. The point of the latter was cleverness closing on pure gimmickry, but 60x60 is far more considered -- concert packages ready-made for presentation. These short musical forms, however, may be more iconic -- such as John Zorn plundering the ideas of Carl Stalling or John Oswald plundering the Grateful Dead, Oswald giving rise to plunderphonics as a concept -- and these forms can be shaped into large structures or left to live alone as sonic icons, which affords them more than dismissable gimmickry (which I spoke about in some detail in Thoughts on the Small Form in 2004).
A gimmick that's increasing is found in calls for compositions or competitions that are specific in format, such as the recent call for music in 5.1 surround sound. One might lump these together with the competitions for trombone ensemble or percussion trio or twelve female voices or even Handel-inspired chamber organ music. Holiday theme music. Patriotic music. Serialism was a gimmick. New Romanticism a bigger gimmick. The American commission -- ten minutes, limited resources, two rehearsals, audience-friendly -- is a wretched gimmick. Even the oh-so-serious avant-garde had its Big Box-o-Gimix throwing chickens and smearing chocolate on genitalia in An! Attempt! To! Shock!
Where does that leave us, aside from awash in the corrosive brine of Dennis's cynical Sunday evening?
Probably where we've been since the dawn of music, pleasing the gods, cheering up the king, keeping the emperor from boredom, entertaining the audiences. Holding attention is itself an exercise in cleverness. Music is a freaking gimmick machine, isn't it? Who invented the hook, babe? You bet we did. Yes, there is some point beyond which artistry falls into gimmickry -- depending, of course, on who's doing the looking or listening. My mom just adores that talking gecko. Me, I like the guy who says, "We give the directions around here." And you?
(One bit of good news: Most gimmicks are short.)
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