Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Radical Music: Fragments of a Manifesto

Sounds articulate precise dimensions in physical space; musical sounds also articulate precise dimensions in social and private spaces.


Use the minimum of resources or means required. Less is often more.

Find the core question or idea in a work. Choose and use your materials to best frame that question or idea.

All musical ideas and all musical instruments (save the vibra-slap) are potentially useful. None is universally useful. (Save the vibra-slap, which is never useful.)

But having practiced the virtues of economy, allow yourself, from time to time, a bit of extravangance, some conspicuous production and consumption.   In the end, the economy of musical production is like the bellows of a concertina, expansion necessarily paired with contraction.


Go to extremes, in whichever parameter you use, including extremes of moderation.

Question parameters. A parameter is someone else's way of dividing up the aural experience. Explore the edges and boundaries of and between pitch and timbre and rhythm and dynamic and form. Explore and break boundaries between music and not-music.

Music, the physics of musical sound, the psychophysics of music, and the neuroscience of music are different concerns, each with its own territory and terminology. How might they relate? How might they not relate? What unique elements of cohesion does music bring to these disciplines and how can they extend the potential for new forms of musical activity?


Follow an idea in all its consequences. Find the end of a process or pattern. Push a system to its design capacity and then push beyond it.

However, if the consequences of a process are obvious, is it necessary to carry out the process in full?

Consider the possibility of multiple versions, or realizations, of a work. Or accept the first version and move on to the next work without looking (listening) back.

Break, subvert, or invert cause and effect.


There is an indeterminant number of ways of arriving at the same musical surface and it's not possible to determine the best or most efficient or most elegant way.  Worrying about this is an ethical issue, not an aesthetic one.

Start from nothing, from first principles, without assumptions and build a better (sound) world from the ground up.  Or start with everything and scrape, sculpt, and erase away, making the real, existing (wise, tired) world better. 

Limits and rules: anything we compose could, potentially, be through-composed,  by taste and experience, but sometimes the alternative, carrying out rules applied to a limited set of materials, in the manner of a game (a music game, like a language game) carries much less anxiety and leads to surprises rather than the habitual.


The radical music is about complexity.  But not necessarily that complexity.

Complexity is an elusive quality: It can be algorithmic complexity (for all that's worth) or the complexity of acoustical phenomena when heard in greater detail or the complexity of historical or social context.  Sometimes a highly dense phenomena can only be heard coarsely and sometimes the simplest of conditions can overwhelm the senses.  A universally applicable and acceptable definition of either "sufficient" or "over-" complexity is impossible. (To paraphrase Potter Stewart, you know it when you hear it). When people make and listen to sounds, to music, one form or another of complexity is inevitable. Don't give it a second thought. No, strike that, don't give it the first thought, but keep it well in mind as a second.

Every piece of music has an element of the improvisational, extemporaneous, accidental, capricious, prejudiced or arbitrary. Is a piece of music interesting because of this? Is a piece musical because of this?  


Experiment with scale, both the smallest, most local, and the grandest, most global, as well as the most anonymous quantities in-between.

Boredom is only a function of time, and a function with several variables.


Modest work done in a serious way, leavened with levity, can carry large ambitions.

History is both a playground and a minefield, and a composer can and will write and rewrite music history with reckless disregard for the difference between a playground and a minefield.

(2007, revised 2009)

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