Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Off the Scale

Maybe it would be useful to rethink the whole topic of engagement with musical scale. I have written here previously about composers — including Ashley, Young, and Feldman — for whom issues of scale were or have been important. I suppose that obsession with larger (and evermore-larger) scales of musical production goes back really to Berlioz and Wagner (with both inspired by the example of Beethoven's Ninth, the only non-Wagner work ever programmed at Bayreuth). Thus, in music as in economics, scale became a central concern with industrialization and nationalism and remained central in the parallel developments of corporate capitalism and state socialism (still active, for example, in the military-owned enterprises in China). Attributing a thematic, ideological, or causal relationship between the lengthy works of Young or late Feldman and corporate capitalism is, of course, a ridiculous proposition and an unnecessary line of inquiry. As with Stockhausen supposedly "serving" an imperialism that couldn't give a damn about his formulae, moments, groups or points, the works of Young and Feldman as well as Ashley are essentially invisible and inaudible to the economic powers-that-be, but they are clearly dependent upon conditions of corporate capitalist life — leisure time, tax deductions for charitable contributions, rent-protected industrial lofts, the reliable delivery of electrical power etc.. I don't believe that this is a terribly profound point, and certainly not one which would constitute a major point of criticism (indeed, one may well credit these composers for resisting the imperative of corporate music production to ship everything in three minute and album-length packages), but it does make me want to listen more closely now to musical miniatures (my family is sort of obsessed with Howard Skempton's all-miniature and mostly solo accordion CD Home and Abroad) as well as pursue the idea of works with wildly variable as well as "anonymous" (i.e. not particularly either small or large) scales.

No comments: