Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lucier Celebration

I'll be making a rare appearance as a panelist in the 'States for Alvin Lucier: A Celebration at Wesleyan University next weekend. Good times among the leading codgers of new music (incl. Ashley, Oliveros, Wolff, Mumma, Behrman, Braxton) anticipated. Some superb performers (incl. Roland Dahinden, Hildegard Kleeb, Charles Curtis, Anthony Burr.) Nice rooms (other than the one you're in now) available. Sine waves aplenty, alpha waves guaranteed, interference beating more frequent. What more do you want?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From a Diary: I:viii

It might be useful if we followed the Oulipo and presented our work as potentially music rather than definitively (good, bad, or indifferent) music. If we were more relaxed about the issue, it would eliminate a serious distraction and help to make surprises — particularly those drawn from our preconceptions about the extent and limits of the musical — even more so. Listening to a new piece and recognizing — for yourself, as a listener — that it's not quite music doesn't depreciate the experience altogether and, in the best cases, recognizing that it expands your understanding of the musical demonstrates best the benefit of experiment in music. A life without experiment has been lived to the least.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

From a Diary I:vii

Anarchists don't do theory well, but they do practice superbly. Every time people manage to work, create, cultivate, or collaborate in ways not foreseen by the prevailing system or state, it's anarchy and it's ubiquitous, not exceptional. (See, of course, Feyerabend on method.) What is an anarchic music theory? Provisional, pragmatic, open but not not ambitious (hegemonic). An anarchic music theory might usefully jettison the "theory" word altogether, as it's just practice; doesn't this usefully create an opportunity to question the degree to which or in what sense conventionally ambitious "music theories" are, in fact, theories as well?

From a Diary I:vi

Fuller famously said "Dare to be naive." But I think that's not quite right. Whether an idea is naive or not is a function of perspective, experience, available information. More precisely, then: "Dare to reconsider your assumptions." If the radical music had (or has) a common denominator, it's probably that: explore the extent and limits of the musical. The minimal impulse comes directly out of this: the elimination of distractions. Of course the laundry list of the Occupy protesters is unrealistic and if many demand were to be realized immediately, the result would be immediate and deep human tragedies. But by keeping attention on fundamental issues, even if our utopias are always indefinitely postponed for the immediate needs, it does strengthen the case of the reformers who might do some real good in the meantime. While there was always a conservative tonal music being produced and played in the heyday of the avant-garde — indeed, conservative tonal music in functional repertoire (= for media, education, church & state) has always predominated quantitatively — the radical music, particularly through its minimalist strain with its reconsiderations of the basic elements of the musical, was decisive in the reemergence of the tonal and straight-forwardly metrical in "serious" concert repertoire. The radical music's challenge of assumptions made a repertoire of neo-conservative and, yes Virginia, naive, music possible. We have much more work to do.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

From a Diary I:v

Notes inégales: a convention of performance practice in which notes of equal written duration are played with unequal duration. Our local edition of the Occupy movement established itself today with a march from (the profoundly appropriate) Rathenau Platz to the European Central Bank, on Willy Brandt Platz, facing the Frankfurt Opera. I walked alongside (not marching; I gave up marching with marching band in the 9th grade) enjoying the optimism and commitment of the participants (who had an astonishing age range; interestingly, it was the old '68s, many of whom are now securely in their pensions, who did the angry-voiced street theatre, with drums and bullhorns and ratchets, while the youngsters, who may never see a pension of similar value, were the mellow ones, practicing consensus rather than confrontation and using silent gestures rather than noise makers), glad that political parties generally stuck to encouragement rather than trying to assert themselves, and was even amused and nostalgic at a few encounters on the fringes with the usual sorts one finds at the fringes (yes, count on the LaRouchies and Young Sparts to show up, here, cheerfully, to no effect.) If the program of the protests here is, as yet, unfocused, that's okay, because the problems are complex and time were surely allow for some coalescence around a group of core issues (e.g. financial transaction tax, limits on political participation by corporate persons, unequal compensation, progressive taxation etc..) The organizations or informal movements closest to the protest in program, or at least those with the most dovetailing interests, like Attac or Anonymous, participated without appearing to dominate. It was a beautiful day for a walk through the city, with the clouding discrete enough to make their reflections in the mirrored surfaces of so many skyscrapers something approaching the poetic. At one point, an impromptu amphitheatre formed on the steps of Commerzbank Tower, and as the marchers passed in the little canyon between Commerzbank and the branch office of Deutsche Bank, a single older and hippy-ish handdrummer in the middle of those steps, with several dozen camera'ed folks forming a chorus line to his left and right, caught just the right tempo to play in time with his own echo. A big planned demonstration of this sort — especially when institutions like the European Central Bank is are on the route — is always going to face surveillance from authorities and Frankfurt's police seemed both practiced and restrained. However, with the ubiquity of digital cameras and mobile communications possibilities among the participants, it was striking to consider how an old basic inequality of official surveillance has been evened out. This was an event with thorough and independent documentation. As it happens, this evening I returned to the Opera house with my wife and daughter for an entertainment, Chabrier's opéra bouffe L'étoile. Looking down from the opera foyer at the now-tented protesters, now in for the long haul in the park with a camp fire set before the ECB, I was surprised by the lack of dissonance. Chabrier's operetta-like fantasy was silly, but the protesters were having their own fun alongside the serious business of getting the financial world to save itself from destroying its own ecosystem. Moreover, L'étoile is itself something of a political parody, of a kingdom in which the literal exercise of the law is not always optimum, indeed can be very cruel. Actually, quite a nice bit of political theatre complementing some of the street performances earlier in the day.

Friday, October 07, 2011

When Free Speech Is Not Available, Try Singing Instead

The City-State of Singapore is notorious for its restrictions on expression, especially political speech critical of the state itself. A solution has been proposed to have complaints sung chorally. (Some examples of the mix of political and social complaints: "We get fined for almost everything."; "People put on fake accents to sound posh/And queue up 3 hours for donuts."; "People blow their nose into the swimming pool/And fall asleep on my shoulder in the train"; "My oh my Singapore/ What exactly are we voting for? / What’s not expressly permitted is prohibited.") But the authorities are not allowing foreigners to participate in the performance of complaint songs.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

From a Diary I:iv

Life in the archipelago. There have always been differences, controversies, feuds, even, among musicians, composers in particular. These differences can have a productive effect, especially when it concerns aesthetics, styles, or technique (e.g. Artusi and Galilei), but too often they are counterproductive turf wars over the modest resources, rewards, and spoils our micro-economy has on offer. My sense is that, over the last forty years or so, disputes of the former sort — over musical issues — have become less heated and less salient except as fronts or proxies for the musically unproductive material disputes (our mad battles for crumbs) of the latter sort. (Thus a label like experimentalist or complexist or traditionalist or technologist or whatever can become, when dolling out prizes or positions, a cover for nepotistic or tactical awarding.) In general, while The New Music could once be divided into a manageably small number of factions, and composers, musicians, and audiences could keep aware of the major genres, styles and ideas floating around, the situation now is more like an archipelago — computer people here, circuit bender and hardware hackers there, analog synthies over there, noisy folk right here, pen and paper holders to the east, software engravers ot the west, bands, choirs, big bands, school orchestra composers in that direction, grown-up orchestra people to the left, opera people to the right, "new opera" people somewhere in the middle, composers with your own ensembles go find an island or get a raft!... — with lines of communication not always as clear as one would expect, sometimes due to chance or habit, sometimes to protective territorial instincts. My sense is that things are much more amiable between factions since we've moved to the islands, but this has come at the cost of some decline in the productive exchange of musical goods and ideas.