Friday, May 25, 2007

Polite. No way.

When I started this blog, I had intended to write about politics ("musical politics, political music, and just plain politics") . As it happens, there's been very little in the way of writing about -- as Terry Riley once put it -- "the big politics in the sky", and that's for three reasons: (1) my observations or opinions are probably unoriginal or unsurprising; (2) as an ex-pat, finding the right tone is difficult; (3) new and classical music is a relatively weak scene on the blogoplan, with a low level of activity and low readership. Because of this, my first commitment as a musician/blogger has been to make a public case for the artistic and intellectual liveliness of my discipline.

I have, however, written about musical politics and although most of the resonance has been in agreement, there have been complaints about "soiling the nest" (a phrase used in more than one email). The message has been that I shouldn't criticize competition fees or raise suspicion of corrupt jury structures* or make fun of the American Music Center simply because it is more important that these institutions exist and create public presences for new music. In other words, I should just buckle down and accept that althought they're not perfect, they're all we've got. While I agree that it is good that these institutions do exist, and if we don't like 'em, then nothing is stopping us from creating alternatives, I believe that we also have to look at the present low profile and slow pace of public activity in the new music scene and consider the real possibility that these institutions have contributed, whether through corruption or the natural and inevitable lethargy of institutions, to that invisibility and stasis.

Avoiding talk about these topics is, in the long run, bad for us, and worse for our musics. If we are to take music seriously, we have to take seriously the ways in which music is handled in public spaces. AFAIC, music is simply too valuable to be handled either as just another slow moving commodity in a micro economy or as a volleyball in an imagined uptown-downtown struggle or as a token in a process of handing out gigs, jobs, and brownie points. Music is more than all that: more differentiated, more valuable, more subtle, and ultimately, more sweet.
* Let me be clear: I do not believe that any individual jurors in the competitions I have mentioned are corrupt, however, processes through which jurors continue to be chosen from a narrow or targeted aesthetic and institutional pool and the organizers are not up front about these processes are corrupt.


Elaine Fine said...

Every competitive situation that ranks creative work is inherently corrupt, yet we live in a society that feeds on the value of rank.

I think that the best people to judge a particular piece of music are people who spend time learning and performing a piece. For that reason a group of composers (even well-known ones) may be the worst people to judge a composition contest.

Scott said...

I'm not sure if I agree completely with Elaine's stance on competitive art, but I am definitely sympathetic to it. I'm in complete agreement with your (Daniel's) view that truth should not be said out of fear that things will get worse. The truth can be painful, but it will set us free.