Thursday, June 24, 2010

Generating Heat, Generating Light

(An encore posting from February, 2007)

We've all heard the talk about the low-level of attention, support, appreciation, etc. for new, contemporary, and experimental music. After having spent too much of the past two weeks monitoring activity in the online new music blogs and fora, I've come to the conclusion that one problem is that we, as a community, are generating simply too little heat: too little new of interest in the way of sounds, scores, or ideas, and too little controversy or passion, and even too little in the way of intellectual challenges. But most of all, through the underwhelmingly small amount of material we present to the world, we're simply giving out the impression that nothing is really happening in little Newmusicville. At this point in time, a new music equivalent of the "Instapundit" could probably get by with a bi-weekly post delivered by burro.

It's not so much a matter of clever promotion, it's more a matter of reporting and record-keeping. More information has to be out there, and more useful information. Media are cheaper and more accessible than ever, but we hardly have a presence, and when we have a presence it's shocking to see and hear how badly we use the media. Composers' webpages are usually prefaced with lists of institutional affiliations, awards, and scholarships. Come on, children, grow up! No one cares about your diplomas and merit badges! Dare to say something about your music and yourself first (or at least pretend for a moment that you are not the in-vitro product of those institutions). And composer's blogs are rare, and usually far too timid. Why the caution? Is is fear of repercussions from hiring and prize committees? It's a composer's job to have a posture, an attitude, and opinions about music, and it's through that posture, attitude, and opinions the we make the decisions that form our work, making it distinct from the work of others. We are going to disagree, and often be disagreeable, but that's how we keep music lively. We talk about it, in and among ourselves, all the time, but why are so few willing to make it public and write it out?

In a functioning cultural landscape, there is no way that this blog by this composer ought to be in the top 50 music blogs. I could list 50 other composers off the top of my head who ought to be out there before or instead of me, with their sharper ideas and sharper words. And there are hundreds more about whose work I'd like to know more: tell us what you're writing, or about with whom you're working. Got any fresh program notes to share? How about some sound or score snippets?

There are dozens of schools around the planet with lively composition programs, with pieces being produced by the rows and rows of apt disciples. Tell us about it. There are schools with staffs of faculty composers, each with a handful of grad students: show us your work, UCSD, UIUC, Yale, Eastman, Princeton, Cal Arts, Mills, Den Haag, Berlin, Brunel! Academic activity is supposed to end in publication, and online publication is a much better service to both you and to the new music community as a whole than via direct deposit to a personnel file in a closed cabinet. A composition professor who is not encouraging his or her students to get online is not helping those students, and students who are not getting online by themselves are not helping themselves.

As people who take music seriously, who want to present work in a high qualitative standard of production and presentation, we want both heat and light. But that second quality, light, is only going to be recognized if the context is known, and, I assume for most composers, that context is one rich which is rich in experiences of sounds and ideas, precedents, contemporaries, sketches, fragments, missteps, even failures, such that it is only by keeping the volume of our recorded activities high will we ever be able to let potential audiences even begin to recognize the qualitative in our work.

Heat and light. Don't take this as a rant, but as a sober recognition of opportunity. Never before has there been such an opportunity to present ones work in its own depth, not to depend upon the received local cultural and historical context. This is an opportunity to fashion an optimal context for an encounter with your work, to share it, and yes, to promote it. For better or worse, this, my friends, is the direction that publication will inevitably go, and not taking the opportunity now carries a risk for your own work, but also for the new music community at large, and that is the risk of becoming invisible, inaudible, and irrelevant.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

And by the way, context IS very important. It's important in language, it's important in life, and it's important in algorithmic composition.