I’m sure there are at least a thousand holes to poke in what follows, but I’d much rather hear about them than let this post sit, unposted, with all the others until this issue has blown over. And that’s exactly what would happen if I didn’t press the publish button now, so here goes.
A recent post over at NewMusicBox has caused some stir. The article and particularly the comments stir up at least four layers of polarization that I’ve found to be problematic for some years now, and no doubt were around long before I was alert to them.
reductionism vs exploration, or, the canon vs what’s actually happening now
The musicologist’s request for “up to three scores that would adequately represent the musical innovations of the past 10-15 years” seems, from a musicologist’s point of view, like a suddenly generous show of interest. From a composer’s point of view, it could hardly be more discouraging. If three short pieces can on any level represent the last 15 years of innovation, we might as well all stop writing now and hope for that one flash of genius to hit before 2027. For what? So a bored freshman can see a page or two in an anthology and forget it the following week (unless it’s on the exam)? I recognize there are practical limitations. But then again, I always disliked textbooks, and I’m not at all sure they’re the way of the future.
America vs Europe
If it were simply a matter of personal taste that the composers in Rob Deemer’s list were all American, it might be seen as odd. But when that choice reflects a trend already encountered in dozens of other circumstances, reactions range from anger to discouragement. What’s the cause of this battle in our little new music universe? Isolationism? Nationalism? Localism? A lack of interest in the work being done outside of our own immediate social/professional network? All of these things are possible, in some complex combination. But it cannot be a lack of access to information. Live experience, interaction, and reflection, yes. But there is plenty of material anyone with an interest can find online on any of the composers in, for example, Alex Mincek’s list in the comments. Just to complicate things further, there is quite a list that I could rattle off of American composers who are only performed in humble operations in their own country, but are featured on a fairly grand scale in European festivals. Which brings us to…
experimental vs traditional/non-experimental
Clearly my interests in this blog are in experimental music, but it’s not the only kind of music I write, and people are generally capable of respecting more than one type of thing. It’s the tendency towards dismissiveness that I find most troubling, especially when I engage in it myself. But the single most prevalent reason for it is not, so far as I can tell, some contemporary form of tribalism, but overstimulation. How much attention do we have to give in a day, and how does that compare to the demands for it? And then how do the real world demands of earning money and keeping ourselves more or less put together fit in with the somewhat abstracted ideal of knowing what our colleagues are up to?
young vs old, women vs men…
“Thanks for including women in your lists,” wrote one commenter. I like to think that this is becoming an old issue. I’d be hard pressed to exclude women from any list of interesting, living composers, however short. Ultimately it’s about the quality of the work, and it can be accepted or rejected on its own merits. The same commenter later said, “the slant towards younger composers, also makes one pause.” What does it matter, if the work is good? Can we go back to the impossibility of the premise? Older composers need to be heard, and so do younger ones. Women and men. Quality should be the primary issue, and it’s a subjective one.
One more question among the many, in case anyone wants to chime in. Where does the consumer come in to play? I’m not thinking about money, but about opportunities for people who are not already educated as composers or new music performers to find the work that interests them. Here I’m thinking of Ian Pace‘s “devil’s advocate” comment on Twitter on “the inability of others to make the most radical developments apparent to a wider public.” Is anyone trying to answer this question? The echo chamber can’t be our only venue.
So to sum up, here’s what I think we need more of:
listening, writing, reflection, travel, research, communication
here’s what we need less of:
canonization, short-sightedness, self-interest, camps, complacency
Your responses are most welcome.