Saturday, December 03, 2011

From a Diary: I:xiii

THERE may well be other, parallel universes, but our access to them is certainly limited & their possible existence by no means reduces our obligations towards our own universe. Back at Darmstadt, in the year when Cage & Xenakis were the senior guests, Brian Ferneyhough gave a lecture in which he spoke of their work, of compositional aesthetics & practices other than his own, in terms of alternative universes, explicitly borrowing the device from Science Fiction. Although I'm always in favor of clarifications & making distinctions & I do find metaphors useful, I thought (& still think) that this was an unfortunate rhetorical move, because we all knew (& know) that we were (& are) in the same universe (hell, at that moment, we were sharing the same stuffy, swampy air in the same goddamn room. (Darmstadt. Summer.)) This should not have been such an important matter, it being just a metaphor, after all,* & for the fact that we shut information out all of the time, if only as a way of staying sane, maybe just even surviving, in a universe with too much to take in, so shuffling some body of music off into a metaphorical parallel universe ought not be so objectionable. Except there, in the context of Darmstadt, it came packaged with an inescapable value judgement: there are some musical universes more worth paying attention to than others. Now, this may well be the case — the function of the composers' chalk talks at Darmstadt is very much one of making the case for one's work — but you can't simply shuffle the inconvenient alternatives into their inaccessible space-time regions while at the same time claiming to have some command them, whether intellectually or musically. AND that's just what was going on in Darmstadt that summer as a series of performances of works by Cage were given: under-rehearsed, error-filled, & just plain badly. (Cage himself was furious at a cavalier performance of his Ryoanji). The great irony here, of course, was that all of this revealed about the world's leading institution dedicated to an aesthetic predicated on complexity was a substantial inability to manage diversity, which is, of course, a form of musical complexity.

* much as we all know that time signatures with whole number denominators other than powers-of-two remain rational, despite the terminological practice of many complexists of describing these as irrational.

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