Sunday, May 28, 2006

Obligato

Some people manage to summon huge reserves of anger for music that they don't like. Just mentioning the names Schoenberg or Cage or Babbitt or Boulez on a listserv can usually guarantee an extended verbal assault. On the one hand, it is a good thing that music inspires passion, and I can understand this reaction when the music is forced upon the listener, without warning, and without escape. (Personally, I like some advance warning that music will be loud, and I like to be able to leave or plug my ears if it is too loud; as far as I'm concerned it's the same as protecting the rights of non-smokers to remain non-inhalers of smoke). In general, however, our most intensive musical experiences, when the music is not incidental to advertising or background for films or tv, the experiences where we can concentrate on the music itself, are in situations where we can assert considerable amounts of choice. So in the face of that choice, this anger towards music that one doesn't like is rather more an impulse to control the music that others hear, and that's just not civil.

The arguments summoned by the angry often attempt definitions of the musically acceptable, territory explored by Plato and the emperors of the Choson dynasty with equally ugly results. Music must have a beautiful melody, remain in a certain mode, be faithful to the spoken language, be danceable, only use consonances, or admit dissonances when resolved properly to the admitted consonances, not be played at certain times, be only played at certain times, be only sung by men, or when sung by women, then not in the presence of men, be tonal, not use instrument, not use organs, not use accordions, not use amplification, only be composed of sounds with harmonic spectra and must conform to the know limits of our psychoacoustical apparatu, it must not use drums or other makers of noise, and most of all, it must entertain as the musician is obliged to the listener. (Not.)

If I want to entertain, I will pick up a tin whistle and a hat and play for Euros on the Zeil in Frankfurt, or I will dig out a coat and tie and do lunch at the Russian Tea Room, planning my papering and conquest of Carnegie Hall, or I will score a few more industrial training films or adult entertainments or space operas, or I will write radio jingles for clogged-drain specialists. But that'd be another job description for me, another career, and I suspect that I'd make a better dim sum chef. The music I'm interested in making comes without a set list of acceptable qualities. As far as my music is concerned, the extent and limits of what music is and what it might be and how it might be used are still unknown, and I'd like to explore that, at least in a modest way. And neither the angry listserver nor the waitress down at Hoho's nor the King of Zembla nor the Pope of Pittsburg nor the CEO of the Yoyodyne is paying to support my music habit, so it's none of their business. And if the angry remain angry, I'll just tell 'em to change the channel and get a life of their own.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

That's a wonderful apologia. If your music is even half as interesting as your writing, it should be quite good indeed.