Sunday, March 25, 2007

Strong Opinions

There's still quite a bit of uncertainty out there about how a web presence will play out in our changing Newmusicland. This blog has featured a lot of opinions issues of musical politics that can be reasonably characterized as strong, and I've received a lot of responses, but the vast majority of them have been email messages and many of the online responses have been anonymous.

For example, on the topic of boycotting competitions (in particular, those with high entry fees and low prizes), I have received 22 emails in support of my position and none against, and as gratifying as the echo was, it was a bit disturbing that not one of the 22 was willing to go public. While I might understand it if the emailer doesn't want to be associated in public with me (go google G. Marx on clubs, members, and having me as one), I dislike the idea that he or she doesn't want to upset the competition applecart by speaking out, and profoundly dislike the idea that she or he has chosen anonymity in order to preserve their own competition chances.

I have made a point here of blogging about composers with a diversity of approaches, idioms, and genres, often or even especially those doing work far different from my own. I happen to think that a musical diversity is essential, and I my curiosity about what windband, or choir, or liturgical, or film, or new age, or circuit-bending, or super-complex composers are up to is an honest one. Sometimes, this activity is personally more interesting than activity among musicians with aesthetics closer to my own. (One of my first postings here was about a composer with Asperger's syndrome; his rough approximations of late 18th century music brought out features of that music that I had missed). This has created a few very strong responses and some misunderstandings (I once defended Babbitt's right to compose the music that he wanted and was branded a 12-toner for my defense; unfortunately the brand has lived on in the eternity of internet publication). An anonymous comment recently slammed a composer I mentioned for writing "dreadful pseudo-romantic new age slop". Okay, but why the anonymity? and why not say a bit more about what, precisely, makes it dreadful? I may very well agree with you, but simply dropping a bomb and running away doesn't take us anywhere forward.

Personally, I think that Newmusicland is a microeconomy (or a series of microeconomies within a microeconomy) without much real at stake. Sure, there are prizes to win and teaching gigs to hand out, but in the end, it's a bloody struggle over bloody nothing, or a mad rush for crumbs (thanks to Joyce and Feldman), and even with the "best" resume and connections the distribution of laurels and better day jobs ultimately involves a large factor of the arbitrary. Establishing a public musical identity as a composer means taking a strong position, having strong opinions, and saying through our music in a very public way that I like this and (implicitly) not that. But are our strong opinions only to be placed in public in the form of our music, and not our words? When we switch to words, do we suddenly have a license to duck and cover?

My friend David Feldman has insisted that I'm the only person on the planet who worries about issues like these. David certainly has a more realistic view of how the ethical actually plays out, and he tells me that it has sometimes had a negative effect on my (minor) career. But these ethics are part and parcel of the impulse from which I do everything else in my life, my composing most of all. So, if I have erred here in less than diplomatic public utterances, it's a error that I can accept, and if a lack of anonymity in my own opinions has been a career-busting crap shoot, I can always go back to farming.


paul bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine Fine said...


I read your blog because I enjoy your strong opinions and positions.

Just for the record, I have not entered a single composition contest since your call for a boycott (not that anything I write I would ever win anything anyway). It is often very lonely being a composer, especially being a composer who works independently--a person not connected with academia or with performing institutions and organizations, so they give some people a sense of "belonging" to something or the illusion of being "judged" by their peers.

They may give some people hope, but composition competitions are unhealthy for me, so I don't enter them. I also have better ways to spend my money.

Les said...

I would like to publically state that I agree that composers should avoid competitions with high fees and low prizes. The American Composers Forum also agrees, fwiw.

Are there any group new music blogs? It would be fun to post manifestos/rants/opinions in a larger, higher traffic blog. Also good if it had a podcast that went with it.

Daniel Wolf said...

Les --

Do you have any idea what kind of software is needed to pull off a program?