Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Making Splashes

Some composer colleagues are nicely represented online of late:

  • A nice article about Larry Polansky, here. (Nice line: "Like most countries with sufficient access to leisure, America has its classical music, but we're so confused about whether we ought to resent or admire the broader world (esp. Europe) regarding matters of class and taste that we often have trouble perceiving it with anything like confidence.")
  • Christopher Fox, in a quartet of soloists caught performing Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate, here. Has anyone else had the feeling that the Ursonate still refuses to resolve itself as music? And that that fact would be a sign of its continuing success? Statistically seen, Schwitter's peculiar economy of vocal sounds is definitely not linguistic in its character, but — attempts at conventional musical-formal analysis all defeated — neither is it musical in any familiar way. (In contrast, the works of Varese long ago asserted their musicality, in terms of economics of materials and their dynamic use.) Indeed, Schwitter's is a kind of pre- or post-music, certainly more clearly supplied and organized than, say, the Voynich manuscript appears to be, but definitely requiring that notorious "Ur" before the "sonata". This video performance, with the performers each somewhat birdlike in posture, makes, for me, a pretty good argument for Wolfgang Mueller's thesis of a connection between the Ursonate and bird song heard at Schwitters's exhile hut in Norway. Yep, just another imitation of nature in its form of operation...
  • Innova has released a multi-media DVD documenting a large scale graphic score by Mark Applebaum. The video component is viewable online, here, and is a nice signal of the recent rapprochement between factions in newmusicland, with card-carrying complexists, improvisors, and experimentalists as well as those who decline to be pigeon-holed having shots at interpreting and commenting on Applebaum's score. (Yep, Brian Ferneyhough and Paul Dresher on the same video, the whole Bay gang is there.) With some exceptions — and David Weinstein's monumental Illuminated Man and some works of Daniel Lentz are my leading exceptions — I'm somewhat allergic to the graphic notation scene, but the performances are done in a good spirit, the score itself is quite beautiful to look at, and it seems to illustrate a point I have observed to be common to works — or better, projects — of a certain discipline, scale, complexity, and ambition, like Weinstein's or the cued works of Christian Wolff or Cornelius's Cardew's Treatise, that with serious interpretation they have the capacity to assert systematic coherence, within which consistently applied rules usefully define, if through limits, the unique character and dimensions of the work. (I would really have liked to have heard one additional interpretation of Applebaum's piece, in which a performer prepared a meticulously picayune performing score based on very clear encoding of the pictographs, precise measurements of the score etc., a la David Tudor's earliest approach to graphic scores. )

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