* If there were an eighth piece, it would have gone like this: "Composition 2012 #8: Don't draw a straight line, draw a bunny and follow that." But there are only seven pieces, so this composition does not exist.
A displaced Californian composer writes about music made for the long while & the world around that music. ~ The avant-garde is flexibility of mind. — John Cage ~ ...composition is only a very small thing, taken as a part of music as a whole, and it really shouldn't be separated from music making in general. — Douglas Leedy ~ My God, what has sound got to do with music! — Charles Ives
Favorite Song: (at the moment) Douglas Hein: Orlando, He Dead.
Favorite Sonata: Mozart No. 15 in F major, KV 533/494.
Favorite Symphony: Ives Fourth Symphony.
Favorite Sandwich: Monte Christo.
Favorite Story: "Byron the Bulb" (from Gravity's Rainbow.)
Favorite Sound: Snowfall.
Favorite Season: Fall.
Draw a meandering line and follow it, or cross it, or run parallel to it, or ignore it altogether.
As diverse and dissonant as the community of composers can sometimes be, sometimes we are able to come together, to step up in order to assist when a colleague is in composerly need. Oswaldo Golijov has been having problems of late fulfilling all of his commissions in a timely and original manner, so a number of composers have come to his aid, each composing a few measures of their own, made freely available to orchestras to substitute for the missing Golijov.* The Golijov Bailout Movement now has its own website, here.
* BTW, I am presently preparing an Erased Golijov violin concerto, to replace the Golijov work which has now been twice postponed from its healthily-commissioned premiere.
The Louisville Orchestra was once one of the most important sponsors of new music in the US, through its commissioning and recording program. That was a long time ago and now the orchestra has been particularly hard hit by the great recession. Negotiations between management and the players have long been at an impasse, despite the players agreeing to significant concessions, and now the management has shut the players out altogether and have announced plans to replace the entire orchestra with non-union players, that's right, scabs. The players have agreed to binding outside arbitration, but one of the management's two stated objections to arbitration is, tellingly, that "it would have given an arbitrator the power to make decisions regarding management."
Unfortunately, there is a plausible scenario in the US in which only a small handful of major cities will have large professional orchestras whose players have reasonable compensation, security of employment, and decent benefits. The rest of the country will then have much less live orchestral music, and what they have will be played by pick-up orchestras or orchestras whose players have no security or benefits and are seriously undercompensated for their skills, training and labor, but will be managed by a class of professional administrators who compete nationally for very comfortable wages on the basis of their abilities to negotiate musicians' job security, wages, and benefits downward as much as their abilities to fundraise and promote concerts. The Louisville Orchestra can be one of the firewalls against such a scenario. I was pleased to be able to sign the online petition in support of the players, here.
Obviously, with their intention to hire an entire new group of players, the orchestra's management believes that there is enough interest in the Louisville region to support the continued existence of such an ensemble, so the questions is why they have not been able to do the real managerial heavy lifting, fund raising and cutting overhead rather than assets, and figure out how to make it happen with their single major asset, the group of players who have committed their careers to the orchestra and wish to continue with the orchestra even on the basis of considerable sacrifices in their own personal financial plans, rather than treat them simply as financial liabilities. And let's hope that when the orchestra comes back, that there will be a renewal of their earlier commitment to new music, to music that keeps the orchestral repertoire alive and lively.
The battle between Carnival and Lent*, or: between the market and capitalism, or: between live music-making and recordings. The dynamics of the market are information and noise on one hand, supply and demand on the other, always seeking meeting points, moments of stability, agreement. No market is perfect, but the alternatives are less so, and capitalism, hedging markets, is a fundamental modification of, if not an alternative to, not necessarily the same as a market. N.O. Brown: The dynamics of capitalism is postponement of enjoyment to the constantly postponed future. (D.J. Wolf: The dynamics of late tonal music is perpetual postponement of the resolution of dissonance to the constantly postponed cadence.) Capitalism presupposes continuous growth, regardless of its likelihood, sustainability or desirability. Capitalism presupposes an unequal distribution of information, and manufacturing noise is a strategy. The advantage of capitalism is that it makes possible, through debt to be repaid in the future, projects demanding more resources than one has available at present. The question, then, is how often do we really need projects of such scale that our futures will be so tied up? (Writing an orchestral work or an opera requires the composer to invest, speculate and leverage over a significant period of time, requires a committed working relationship with large and less flexible institutions, requires a gamble that the checks will actually come when promised...)
* I wonder what extra-musical ideas younger composers are getting excited about now — Attali's Noise, first in an excerpt translated in a journal and then in the French original, was something exciting in my undergrad days and cheerfully pointed to Brueghel's wonderful painting.
In a book review, Freeman Dyson recalls his encounters with Arthur Eddington, an important astronomer who also held some heterodox (read: wrong) ideas in theoretical physics and Immanuel Velikovsky who famously held unorthodox (read: so off as to be not even wrong) views on cosmology, earth science and world history. Dyson nevertheless finds much to value and cherish in the memory of both men. Dyson: "The fringe is the unexplored territory where truth and fantasy are not yet disentangled." ~~~~~ Now, in music we certainly have had our share of heterodox and unorthodox composers and in many cases, it is the music of these that we treasure the most. (For me Berlioz, Ives, and to some extent Skryabin are among the counterforce composers who most reliably produced work of this level.) Music doesn't work according to the kind of criteria with which a physical theory, in contrast, might be falsified or superseded, and I honestly don't have the least idea how one might even begin to distinguish true and false in a musical work, but I am nevertheless certain that we have had and can distinguish examples of bad music, mediocre music, mixed music and musical crackpottery and charlatanry, with which much wool has been pulled before ears and the clink of dull shards of the musically cracked continue to crackle. To be fair, music history is, in large part, a history of the superseded, but older music doesn't exactly go away in the same way that older physical theory goes away (actually, older physical theories don't always go away, they often stick around as valid to some increasingly limited degree of observation) and older musical sometimes actually return after being forgotten, to compete as novelties in their own right. We manage to distinguish between musics through criteria — beauty, logic, elegance, continuity, order, surprise, wit, drama, narrative etc. — that ultimately defeat the rational and the formulaic, but music theory, at its best, is a valiant attempt to sort out these criteria. ~~~~~ I've met my own fair share of fringe figures — and heck, for some of you, I may well be a fringe figure — and while that guy trying to sell stock in his perpetual motion machine out of a two car garage in Pomona was definitely a crackpot and a crook, someone like Ivor Darreg, a composer and writer specializing in microtonal music who managed the most unlikely survival in and around Los Angeles, did have something real to offer, a willingness to go where music didn't go before, even if the surfaces were rougher than rough and even if he didn't have the compositional technique to make music succeed over a significant duration. For all that, I think his larger failing was an obsession with fame; once, I remember him shouting that "at this rate, I'll be 65 soon and will never be famous." At some point, the facts of his poverty and isolation became points of pride and the quest for fame was put before getting the music right. Darreg had real talents and I will always wonder how different his life would have turned out if not for a tragic afternoon at the dentist's, in the days before antibiotics, after which the teen-aged Darreg essentially became an old and infirm man and his John Cage(!)-arranged plan to study with Schoenberg was forever put on hold.
David Graeber: I always say one of the great advantages of the academic life, as opposed to working in the creative industries (being a writer, musician, artist, etc) is that universities never, ever pretend they just forgot to pay you.
Yes, the recognition is appreciated, but... I have several friends teaching in the states who have recently been paid in the form of IOUs and several who have had their salaries cut, effectively, through fictional furloughs. Also, in my (tiny) music publishing business, I've watched the payment morale of US university libraries decline so badly, with payments sometimes a year or more behind (in four cases, two years and counting), that I'm close to saying no more to University purchase orders. In those worst cases, they don't even pretend that they forget to pay, they just ignore their post!