A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
Not long ago I was talking about geography, as well as before that (Transformation by the Commonplace, June 12, 2006, and A Nowhere Composer and The Geographical Cure, May 18 and 19 of this year). On NewMusicBox I mentioned this during the topic of "truth and beauty" and invited others to comment. Mark Winges was the only composer to respond. (Mark's work is remarkable and diverse, and I enjoy it enormously.) I thought his comments were very important, and he is allowing me to reprint them here.
It seems that the point -- how as a composer geography affects us -- is a little buried by the eighth paragraph, but nonetheless the surround makes a lot of sense. I'll come back at the end with a few comments of my own.
As I said at the beginning, it seems to me the point is buried a little, so I'll reiterate: "different stuff into my ears, different stuff out on the page."
Where I find Mark's approach does not precisely match mine is with respect to what comes in and where one finds that input. Certainly the opportunity to cross paths with performers is worthwhile, and there is the unlikelihood of a string quartet rehearsing online (at least today). But my own development was from a distance. I did not go to concerts often (even if I presented a lot of them), and both my initial and subsequent contacts with most music was via recording and in later years online. Unlike Mark, I would be much more likely to listen to Messiaen's St. Francis on CD or DVD than go to a concert, free tickets notwithstanding. It's just too much of a big dollop of commitment. I have been reprimanded before about this (by, among others, composer Matt Fields) for having a kind of anti-social stance in what they feel to be a deeply social medium of music. But I just squirm at concerts. One piece is enough, then let me out; unless I really really really have to stay for politeness reasons, I'm gone. (This reaction, of course, is neither urban nor rural. But it applies if one is expected to be present at myriad concerts, and ply one's visibility. The infrequency of concerts in the countryside removes that pressure.)
My involvement with rehearsals has been mixed. Where my notation is specific enough, it doesn't need me around. Where it isn't, that's deliberate and I shouldn't even be around. There have been occasions when something is simply wrong or the conductor has highly limited rehearsal time and has not picked up important moments in the score, or when there's an impending disaster (such as this one with New Granite) that calls for my presence. But I believe performers have a much better handle on performing than I do, and if they bring something unexpected or unintended to the performance, so much the better. Their interpretive role should not be limited by (or intimidated by) the composer's presence. Believe me, I have seen those composers who eat up rehearsal time on subtleties that would be better sculpted by the instrumentalists or singers.
Maybe I just don't like music enough. That occurs to me because of Daniel Wolf, whose blog I mentioned recently and who eloquently responded shortly thereafter. I feel a bit Cheney-esque in my reaction, thinking: "So?" And I certainly stand by my comment that music is easy, because it is supremely arbitrary. As with the Henck analysis of Klavierstuck X, any aspect can find its justification. I follow a formel; I depart from the formel. I follow the physics of sound; I reject the physics of sound. I follow history or expectation or theory or practice; I reject history or expectation or theory or practice. I incorporate my culture; I incorporate other cultures. It may or may not take detailed training to make music; it may or may not take education or information to grasp music; it may or may not be anything one chooses to call it. Daniel calls it plural, which to me is synonymous with easy because of its deeply arbitrary nature. No suspension bridge will collapse nor reuben sandwich be destroyed because of having taken the wrong path. And there is no more succinct example than the Musikalisches Würfelspiel attributed to Mozart, a little game of dice that builds a minuet, a piece which some years ago Michael Arnowitt performed with me as a funway-inspired dice thrower. It has rules, but the rules could also be altered arbitrarily. There were canon games before that. Oh, yes, it's "hard" in the sense that it is tricky to accomplish some tasks, like creating a good crossword puzzle, and certain combinations have sensory triggers, but when the grand summary is done, one discovers how the music could have gone in any number of directions (composed variations are enough evidence of that) without ever having followed the wrong path. A half-dozen composers finished Mozart's Requiem, all of them different. Another half-dozen finished the orchestration of Mahler's Tenth Symphony. Were any really wrong? Wuorinen made modern orchestrations from the Glogauer Liederbuch. Hard or easy? How can you tell? Cage later takes dice much further, and here in postmodern times, there is no longer a difficulty -- unless it is simply self-inflicted compositional pain -- to music. Technically, yes, it's a lot of stuff to learn, but heck, I don't even need the performers anymore, do I?
Where was I? Ah, geography. Yes, my patience for music is low because here in the rural world, nature abides -- a truth that it takes many years to assimilate. What comes in may be through the ears, as Mark suggests, but it is also smell and color and contour (all of them with urban counterparts) and -- here it is very significant to my point -- long cycles of events. The city is a place without seasons, where nature is tamed (except in disaster), where cycles are manufactured and short: the auto engine rpm, the bus schedule, the subway rhythm, the workaday events, the minute and the hour and the day. Lights come on to eradicate darkness, darkness may rule inside to eradicate light. It is Tralfamadore in full artifice.
One may attempt to have a similar experience in the countryside, but inevitably the seasons come under the door. And beyond that, we come into them, for there is no protective shroud when the home is but a thin shell. Resistance is futile.
The futility of resistance to these long cycles and natural shrouds inevitably informs the music -- I believe as deeply as living in the presence of a swarm of performers or performing spaces ... though Mark is wrong about such forces not existing outside the cities. They do. Their gathering is simply less convenient, a lack of convenience breeding a high level of dedication. For example, I sang in a performance of Bartók's Elmúlt időkből, rarely heard even in the city. Choirs and instrumental soloists are rampant in Vermont -- musicians who commission new works -- though new music chamber ensembles and orchestras less so. As for spaces, the acoustics of Old West Church in Maple Corner may not have a nine-second reverberation, but they are enviable -- and quiet, because Old West has no electricity. And should a large space with pipe organ be needed, there are great stone churches in the concentrations of population that we call cities and that would appear little more than sprouts of population to the large city dweller. These are the experiences that do not have a mass effect, which accounts for their invisibility to the cities that generate their own climates.
I am loving (to use the present progressive so popular these days) this conversation. Now if I only had evidence, clear musical examples, to support this thesis.
Something I Want to Think About
There's a interesting concept that used to be called the in-joke: Fanservice. Darcy James Argue has given us a wonderful redefinition of this concept, and it has created a well-deserved buzz in the new music world (such as Tim Rutherford-Johnson's blog).
Three Minor Gripes
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