Monday, June 27, 2011

Goodbye, Columbus.

So novelist Philip Roth has been interviewed and confesses...

"I've stopped reading fiction. I don't read it at all. I read other things: history, biography. I don't have the same interest in fiction that I once did."

Well, gee. That really doesn't make me enthusiastic about running out and reading some fiction by, say, Philip Roth. It may very well be true and he may well have earned the right to be bored with fiction after half a century of writing it, but was this really a wise thing to say? It's not exactly an infectious sales pitch for novels as a genre or the specific exemplars (54 and counting) of Mr Roth himself.

Unfortunately, a lot of composers — and composers without the 50 years of hard labor behind them — are prone to making similar statements, emphasizing that they don't listen/play/spend a lot of time thinking about new music. Instead, they offer up their bona fides as teenage garage band rockers or jazz musicians or would-be musical writers (remember Milton Babbitt command of Tin Pan Alley songs?) or anything other than new music maker/listener/devotee. As if it's something strange that one ought to be embarrassed about or at least qualify one's interest by admitting that you like the "real" stuff as well if not better. If the composer him- or herself likes other music better than why should we like the composer's music any better?

Here's a better sales pitch, and AFAIC, it's true:

I will now confess that I listen, play and think about my own music and other new music about 90% of my musicking hours, awake or asleep; it's the carbs, veggies, and protein in my musical diet. I top my musicking off off with trips into music history or ethnography (come September, I'll have been playing gamelan for 33 years!) but that's just dessert, friends. I like new and experimental, (ex/post/prae)modern, contemporary, avantgarde, circuitbent, scare-the-dog music more than any other, I like my own music and I like the music of my contemporaries and find a remarkable reserve of musical depth, integrity, excitement, charm, emotion, and continuous surprise in the music and I'd like to invite you to discover these qualities as well.

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