Saturday, November 11, 2006


This time of year, getting darker ever earlier, settling into the cold, is the time when all emotions associated with my distance from home, California, become most acute. And it's distance in time as well as space. Frankurt, relative to most of Germany -- or Europe for that matter -- has changed a bit in the past seventeen years. A skyscraper or two, a renovated square, a new underground line. Changes of regime in the musical scene. But nothing resembling the pace of change in California. My grandparents remembered orange groves being planted in the desert, my parents watched the last of the groves get replaced by tracks of houses, and I've seen some of the oldest tracks removed to make way for ever new developments. The freeway system built largely in the sixties is now a decaying object, the dry desert that I knew around Palm Springs in 1968-69 is now humid, thanks to golf courses fed by stolen water. There are deep wounds in both landscapes -- the dying forests in Europe, long a fragment of their selves, a product of over cultivation, or the Salton Sea in California, product of an accident, and now a useless monument to pride and stupidity.

But the urban landscapes that have grown out of those wounds have a vibrancy of there own, and I can't imagine my life without this. In Los Angeles and in Frankfurt, at night, there is a charge in the air. A bit of moisture in the air at night helps carry doppler-shifted sound from passing trains on the AT&SF line, or here from the U-Bahn, now overground in our neighborhood. I think I first really "got" La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano listening to it in a pickup on the 10 Freeway during its first local broadcast. It took 16 years for me to actually hear the annual grand bell-ringing in Frankfurt, and all of a sudden, the layout of a town I had thought familiar, was transformed by tonal relationships made spatial by great hanging chunks of bronze, now from this tower, now from the Cathedral, now from across the river.

Change in landscape, demography, or culture is both inevitable and unpredictable. I refuse to join the chorus of laments over the "demise" (whether coming or complete) of classical music. That tradition has always been in transition: coming, going, returning, and sometimes unrecognizeably so. We are still registering the impact of sound recording on music, and doing so as the recording media are themselves in transition. Outcome unknown. (Hell, we're still registering the impact of notation on music: the jury on that is out, too!) In the States, earlier regimes of classical music culture were intimately connected with waves of immigration largely from Europe. As those immigrants generations have passed on, and newer patterns of immigration have been established, reception of that repertoire will necessarily change.

I was fortunate, I think, to have grown up on the edge of all this, on the coast that doesn't look immediately back to Europe, yet has been welcoming to the best of that tradition, as one tradition among many. And I've been equally fortunate to have lived for a time in the middle of Europe and to have heard and seen one particularly old culture in all of its thickness, if only within the limits of my alien ears (that's my ethnomusicological training writing). But is there any fortune greater that being able to recognize that all this evidence of historical capacity for change is also evidence for the potential to do new and interesting work, now, and tomorrow, and the day after that?

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