Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Points of departure

Art musics are musics that, on the one hand, are not limited in their capacity to establish networks of references, both externally, to other musics or ideas from non-musical domains, and internally, within a single work, but also, on the other hand, are open to the possibility of beginning from a blank slate, putting sounds together from first principles. My greatest joy as a composer has always been in those musical moments in which a first principles approach leads to a re-encounter with another music, be it contemporary, historical, or from a cultural context other than, and distant from, my own. In this way a new, or at least unfamiliar, music hedges its novelty with direct connections -- however ambiguous, critical, or contradictory -- to the familiar.

Increasingly, however, my encounters with musicians and lay listeners have been somewhat disappointing, in that this dimension of reference is often lost. This can mean that I'm not doing my job of making references explicit well enough, or I'm doing my job of keeping those references below the surface too well, or maybe, just maybe, complexity of this sort -- as opposed to complexity due to the overlay of conflicting materials or processes -- is just out of fashion. In part, this is a side effect of the technology of these times, in which people can be exposed to a greater quantity and variety of music, with the paradoxical side effect that they, in general, know a lot of music, but know only niches of it very well, or that the range of possible references is now so great, that the potential for any soul other than my own not catching a reference has increased by a similar factor.

Like any other composer, I bring my own peculiar set of skills and experiences with me, and that peculiarity is both a blessing -- the source of much of my identity as a musician -- and a curse -- the source of my obscurity. So I bring a lot of experience with 14th and 15th century European music, with the early Baroque and classical eras, with 20th century art music and the American experimental tradition in particular, with playing Irish and Mexican music and in wind bands, and 28 years of playing Javanese gamelan, with some critical encounters with the (then-mostly analog) electronic music studio and instrument building and lots of thought about tuning and counterpoint thrown in for good measure. And on top of that, I probably bring a certain measure of irreverence, if not apostacy, to all of these experiences. And if my references (not to mention the irreverent references) don't often include pop music, or jazz, or 19th century classical music it may be exotic, but what else can I do?

1 comment:

Elaine Fine said...

In order for any piece of music to be worth anything at all, it has to be an honest expression of a person's musical experience. I see nothing wrong with your eclectic mix of influences. As a matter of fact, I would love to hear some of your 14th-century-influenced stuff.