Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.
I wonder if anyone can help me with a neurological question. I have, and I assume all composers have, music going through my head every waking moment. Sometimes itís music Iíve heard recently, sometimes itís music I havenít heard in eons, sometimes itís music Iím working on, sometimes I donít have the slightest idea what it is. Doesnít matter if Iím having a conversation, reading a book, teaching a class -- itís always there. It is astonishing to me that this isnít true for everyone.
My limited understanding of brain science tells me that this is a malfunction/hyperfunction of aural memory combined with -- what? Does anyone know what is really going on, and why this phenomenon should be pervasive in some people and nonexistent in others? I would love to know more about it. Sometimes itís a source of deep pleasure -- and sometimes it just drives me nuts.
posted by Lawrence Dillon
Let Us Now Praise Not So Famous Men
I'm just back from a concert celebrating the 85th Birthday of Harold Shapero, and I just wanted to mention the fact of his birthday to a possibly wider audience. Shapero wrote some sort of legendary (and really pretty good) pieces in his earlier days (The Three "Amateur" Piano Sonatas, The Four Hand Sonata, and the Symphony of Classical Orchestra)(all of them available these days on recording) and not much since then. But he's a wonderful musician and a very dear man. So Happy Birthday to him.
posted by Rodney Lister
Friday, April 29, 2005
I Don't Wanna Work, I Just Want To Bang On Me Drum All Day
The short answer to David's question is this: different models work best for different people. Some composers love having academic jobs and find working with students stimulating and inspiring. Others find academia oppressive and overly politicised, and with too high an entry cost. Some composers can find a way to scrape together a living from commissions and lectures and consulting and writing and thrive on the variety. Others find that the stability of a non-music or arts-administration 8-5 job affords them the mental and financial security that they require in order to be able to afford to put energy into composing. None of this is to say that everybody ends up in the situation that best meets their needs -- academic jobs in particular are pretty hard to come by.
The long answer is considerably longer, and in two parts:
1. This question ties in nicely with Kyle Gann's recent post on the romanticization of the poverty of the composer and said poverty's alleged positive influence on creative output. He and I agree that the notion is bunk. The key quote with respect to David's question is "Every composer knows how your art improves: produce a lot of it, which requires loads of time and freedom from exhausting day jobs. Everyone knows how you gain the technique needed to increase your workís scale and ambition: by getting the practical experience of being performed." This is not to say that no composer has ever flourished in poverty -- Kyle mentions Partch -- but as a generalization I think it's true that practice is the surest route to success. Any day-job at all, be it academic, corporate, or otherwise, takes away composing time. The standard argument in favor of academic jobs is that more time is available for composing, and it's probably partly true, but I know academic composers who do all of their substantial composing for the year during academic vacations. It's also worth pointing out that supporting oneself entirely on commission, even if you have enough of a reputation that you can command large fees, is a lot of work too -- you have to find where the money is at, and then persuade them to give it to you instead of somebody else, which requires its own non-compositional skill set.
2. So what, if anything, can we do about it? Yes, we can try to raise more money, or pass larger NEA budgets. Yes, we should try to prevent academic composition jobs from being eliminated and composition programs gutted or killed. Yes we can and should do a better job of educating people from a young age about the value of the non-commercial arts and the importance of philanthropic support -- this last is especially important. But ultimately we need to face the fact that some of the old economic models are in trouble, and that the trouble is probably structural and thus long-term rather than short term. We need to accept the decline of the old systems with grace and dignity rather than with the anger and indignance I so often see, and look proactively toward new models better suited to the modern world. Most importantly, we should do our best to see the change as an opportunity to breathe new life into the new classical music field.
posted by Galen H. Brown
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Geoffrey Deibel writes:
hi--- i'm a friend of brian sacawa's. i was wondering if you guys have any information, or know any place on the web that deals with the international xenakis festival next month.
I don't. Does anybody know anything about it?
posted by Jerry Bowles
Our own composer/blogger Corey Dargel is featured as the MP3 of the week in Time Out Chicago. Check it out.
In other business, I'm overrun with CDs. Anyone among the regular bloggers or readers want to do some reviews for the CD Review page? No money, but fame and you get to keep the CDs. Drop me a note and tell me what you like.
Always interested in getting new contributors to this page or individual blogs. Don't say yes unless you can update at least a couple of times a week because, hey, it's not really a blog if the stuff gets too stale.
Also interested in finding folks in San Francisco, Chicago, London or other hotbeds of new music who want to review live events. No money but we'll make you a contributing editor and you can probably use our name to get some free tickets. You know where to find me.
posted by Jerry Bowles
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
New topic: should all composers be in the profession?
Quick new topic: should composers be "professional composers" (ie, they derive thier income, or at least strive to, from the sale of their compositions)? Do they have to be "in the business" or can they, like Ives, be in other professions? Can they be taken seriously as composers if they are not in the business? Reverse this: is it optimal for composers to write what they want and not be constrained by the need to obtain revenue?
I say this as someone who does not have an interest in making money on his music (everything is royalty free. as under a creative commons license).
Should it matter if one is a businessperson, doctor, lawyer, etc? William Carlos Williams was also a good obstetrician/gynecologist yet he's best known as a great poet.
posted by David Toub
Somebody suggest a new topic. I'm grubbing for money today. Sure like to hear some more ideas about marketing new music. Should we have a Sequenza21 radio station? Who wants to take charge of that?
posted by Jerry Bowles
Monday, April 25, 2005
Time for my first post to the forum. In his last post, David mentioned Creative Commons, which I checked out for the first time today. I'm curious to hear about what y'all think about copyright and the new realities posed by the technologies that have been emerging over the past decade. I have to say, while I usually have pretty clear opinions about things, this is one subject on which I've flip-flopped more times than I can count. Part of me finds the hippie/hacker ideal of Creative Commons and initiatives like it totally inspiring, especially given some of the frustrations I've experienced while trying to work within the current system. Another part of me is easily distracted by thoughts of shiny money, and insists on protecting my work from the nefarious designs of imaginary musical swashbucklers who would love nothing better than to plunder and pillage my pieces for the sheer sadistic joy of bad music-making. Still another part is skeptical of the whole concept of intellectual property in the first place--why should our CD or our concert be anything other than what it is, i.e. the physical slab of plastic containing digital data or the intangible experience of live performance in a public venue?
Considering your perspectives as both composers and people who work with other art that is not in the public domain (e.g., setting of texts, performing pieces by other composers, working with choreographers, etc.), what do you feel is the ideal level of protection (or, if you prefer, accessibility) for your work? How would you feel if somebody performed your work and didn't tell you about it and didn't pay you royalties (but did a great job and introduced your music to a whole new audience)? How would you feel if a DJ took one of your pieces (for which you were fully credited but didn't receive a penny) and used it as the basis for a remix which ended up selling well on the electronica circuit? How would you feel if a visual artist asked permission to use your work in an installation, charged no money, gave you full attribution, but modified it in such a way that it was completely unrecognizable and extremely unflattering to your reputation? Should there be some sort of "sliding scale" for these things that takes into account how much the copyright holder has to gain or lose from the inappropriate use of their work? (for example, the promotional value of the first scenario would differ greatly depending on whether the composer in question was Elliott Carter or Ian Moss)
I look forward to reading your thoughts.
posted by Ian Moss
the Web is not a ghetto...
Jerry asked a lot of questions, and I'll try to subsume them in a brief response. I don't think the Internet is the ghetto of contemporary music. Rather, I do believe that if done appropriately, the Web could be a great distribution model for all sorts of music. It still isn't quite there, but opportunities abound. P2P is one answer; while there is a dearth of classical music, let alone new music, on iTunes et al, the Gnutella network and others seem to have a lot of participants whose tastes run to Ligeti, Feldman, Reich, Glass, etc. [NOTE TO THE FEDS: I'm not condoning file sharing, mind you, just reporting that a lot of great new music is up there on the P2P networks).
I also think one way of getting music in front of a lot of people outside of a major label is to simply offer it up under a Creative Commons license. Depending on one's choice of license, the music can either be free with absolutely no strings, or (as I do on my site), offered for free use provided that the composer is acknowledged and the music is not altered.
The economics of the Web are very favorable, with costs per customer acquired typically below that of nondigital channels. That does not mean, however, that if one puts up a Web site everyone will come. There are many ways to build a user base, and that's not the purpose of this blog entry since it would go on too long.
Another option is podcasting. Personally, I think placing MP3 or AAC files on the Web suffices, but one could have a recurring podcast in which the composer or musician discusses the works in question. Independent music labels are still out there, but I really think digital files are the best way to go in the long term. It saves the user the step of having to rip the music to MP3, AAC or other audio format. Given that the CD will probably go the way of the LP within the next 5 years, this seems to be a viable approach.
Internet radio is also growing, but I think it's too early to know if this will continue to be a venue for noncommercial, cutting-edge music or will become heavily commercialized (much like Spinner did with its constant tie-ins to music available at Amazon.com, which cut off noncommercial music).
OK, not exactly succinct---sorry about the logorrhea.
posted by David Toub
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Internet - The Contemporary Music Ghetto?
Brian Sacawa had a post several days ago that I've been meaning to flag because it raises some important issues about the future of contemporary music and the major classical music labels. Brian's take on the new Sony BMG Masterworks label is that the emphasis is going to be on "Masterworks" and that "Contemporary music will have to be happy being marginalized, for the most part, to the internet ghetto." This raises a number of questions, not least of which, is: is the internet good news or bad news for contemporary composers? Is it a ghetto or Brentwood? How can the cheaper economics of digital production be leveraged in a way that provides some income to living composers? How do internet "radio" stations like Kyle Gann's Postclassic fit into the picture? Or is there a way to "monetize" (as the accountants like to say)adventuresome internet radio so that composers and performer get more than good will out of it? What about the new satellite channels? What about contemporary classical record labels that distribute digitally on demand? Other than ECM, which basically sells black and white photographs with sometimes interesting music inside, the majors are dead. Who has some ideas or a plan of action?
posted by Jerry Bowles