Saturday, October 08, 2005

This year's model

The novelty of musical devices, special effects, or extended techniques is usually inversely proportional to the antiquity of the device. The composer or performer who uses the device first gets a free ride, but everyone after that is obliged to come up with a convincing musical context for repeated usage.

Some devices allow themselves to be dated with fair precision, and first compositional usage can be determined with similar accuracy: Cowell gets hands inside of the piano, Cage gets nuts and bolts, Stephen Scott gets bowed and stroked piano wire. Varese gets sirens. Salzedo gets a near-monopoly on harp effects. Crumb gets seagull calls on cello harmonics, maybe cymbals on timpani, too. Lucier gets a rare trifecta with brain waves, re-recording in the same space, and long wires. Partch gets a railroader's chorus of "Chicago, Chicago" (sorry Mr. Reich). Leedy was the first to have a player speak through a wind instrument (for the record: the instrument was horn and the words were "if elected I will go to Korea." Rzewski gets settings of "El Pueblo Unido" (sorry Mr. Spahlinger). I think we can safely assign roto toms to the year 1976, but mutiphonics will need some binding arbitration. A bit of research will surely yield definitive dates and composers for fluttertongue and velcro tap-dancing. But who gets to keep the farfisas? Heck, we're getting close to a dissertation here.

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