Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That Vision Thing

Christopher Fox on the uncomfortable aging of (the Schoenberg-initiated) new music here.   Some responses to Fox are here.

(Elsewhere is a peculiar response from composer David Salvage, voluntarily outing himself as a mainstream modernist, to Kyle Gann's — also peculiar, for better or worse — notion of an "absolute presentism" (which, all to Gann's credit is introduced as a rather tentative term in an talk about "The Trouble with Serialism" (here.))

My own response to all of this is

(a) with Schoenberg, as well as with any number of innovative composers, the roadblock for listeners is usually described in technical terms when, actually, the roadblock is style; Schoenberg's tonal practice is not the problem, it's his heightened expressionism that alienates audiences (although, when placed in a suitable context, for example suspense or horror films, even seriously watered-down pseudo- or ersatz-Schoenberg becomes unproblematic) ;    


(b) that the really valuable new music (as well as the older music worth renewing our acquaintance) is an optimistic assertion that we can change the way we listen (and, consequently, the way we live, alone or together); the conservative/mainstream/institutionalised school of musical quietude, on the other hand, is ultimately pessimistic, doubting if not denying the possibility that our ears (and, consequently, our persons as individuals or groups) can change.  


elsewhere: there is something rather disappointing about the state of the discussion of the aging new music when access to day jobs as College or University teachers has become such a central concern.  The discussion elsewhere is between someone comfortably tenured, but still complaining about it, and someone who seems to want nothing other than to become comfortably tenured himself.  That's the "mad scramble for crumbs" (Morton Feldman), that's not music.)


Jeez, am I relieved that everything went well enough yesterday.  I'm just paranoid enough that worry about these things never exactly subsides (pace Gravity's Rainbow, Proverbs for Paranoids 3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.)  My expectations for a new administration are limited, and I'm sure that there will be ample disappointment ahead, but if the US is to be governed at all, it is good to have the US be governed by grownups for a change.  All of which  provides a nice push to sitting down and getting more work done. I'm even looking forward to a trip to California next week, the land that's always been absolutely present, whatever that means...  


Anonymous said...

Thanks you for your essay of Wenesday, 21 Jan. It was, perhaps, unintendedly, thought-provoking for me.

As someone who stands on the sidelines of "academic" music (having studied and performed as an undergraduate and in high school) and works in another field, but now is actively performing "non-academic music" I was struck by "a third way" not alluded to in part "C". I do not hold a tenured position in music. My "day job" helps me to buy the gear I need to produce the music that I create and underwrites the public releases. There are those of us who write and create, truly outside of academia, and are just as serious as those inside it.

I was also pleased to be directed to the article of Kyle Gann and found it fascinating to see that the academy was at long last having to deal with the issues of Time and Space. In the popular music arena, there has been an interest in these issues for some time (so-called "Space Music", "drone" music, ambient music in the Eno-esque sense).

So mostly, just a "thank you" comment ...

Anonymous said...

It was Babbitt, not Feldman, that made the "mad scramble for crumbs" comment.

You might be thinking of the Feldman story in Cage's book, 'Silence', where he says, "You know? They're not free, they're fighting over bits of food."

I attribute knowing this to a misspent youth.

Daniel Wolf said...


it's interesting if it originally comes from Babbitt, because I heard it first from Feldman, unattributed, at the UCSD music library in February of '87, in response to my quoting Joyce about the Irish fighting among themselves.

Civic Center said...

Welcome back to the present land of California, where I've been born and raised and continue to live, and continue to think it really is the oddest, most fabulous place.