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.
Yesterday at the rehearsal of MACHUNAS instead of being dragged off for a coffee or snack in between acts, I stuck around as musicians wandered in and out and practiced by themselves or in small subgroups.
What I heard blew my mind. Since they were practicing MACHUNAS, each was playing a phrase of my music, but it was all mashed up: a line from one act mixed with a countermelody from another and on and on. I recognized it all of course, but it had been morphed into something quite different. I rather liked it, and suddenly realized that this whole recent notion of mashups is not such a new idea at all and actually does not even require any kind of technology. And, the fact that this particular mashup was totally random gave me a whole new (old) notion about indeterminacy as well. Undoubtedly the desire to reconjure some of these sounds will fuel a future composition at some point.
So, onto a hopeful threadstarter here... Has hearing your music in rehearsal affected your subsequent music making? And, if so, how?
posted by Frank J. Oteri
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Yin and Yang Revisited
In comments to the Masculine/Feminine post, Steve Layton -- do check out the very striking images on his homepage, as he’s a fine artist as well as musician -- made a comment about masculine/feminine being but a single aspect of the yin and yang in music.
This is an interesting and I think viable approach to attaching human personality characteristics to a sonic phenomenon that has theorists trying to “explain” music in terms they may interpret within some cultural context.
It points up something else, though, that has to do with the narrative aspect, or the lack thereof, in musical works. To take one example, Beethoven pretty much invariably takes a narrative approach, a “journey” of a sort, driven by harmonic progression, rhythm, and the other musical parameters that drive a piece forward.
This may derive from a literary model of tension and release, another aspect of the yin and yang perceptions that Mr. Layton relates. My wonderful teacher Martin Mailman once said, “If you write music without direction when you get out of here, it should be because it’s your choice, but not because you can’t.” He would then go on to explain ways to give a piece direction, moving a work forward along the arrow of time.
Layton’s idea that these tensions are inherent in the art itself rings true -- but that may be my own bias.
posted by Cary Boyce
Monday, August 15, 2005
Level 3 of composerly arrival?
So here I am in Lithuania, using the free internet connection at the hotel I'm staying in to post something on Sequenza21.
"What's wrong with him?" You're probably thinking about now. After all, I'm allegedly on vacation, ostensibly for the premiere here of my opera MACHUNAS, which my collaborator Lucio Pozzi and I prefer to describe as a "performance oratorio." So you'd think I'd have something better to do than post to the Seq21 Composer's Forum, right?
Well, actually, turns out it's now late evening and I'm stranded here without any of my luggage. So I've been pathetically hanging out in the lobby to at least obtain the barest essentials (e.g. toothpaste) to last me before I venture out to shop for replacement clothing before the next rehearsal begins at noon tommorrow. But that's not what I wanted to post here about, just the explanation for why I'm at a computer.
But, anyway, while sitting here, it dawned on me that a personal episode I experienced today might trigger some interesting discussion herein.
Thanks to late flights and luggage screw ups cited above, I wound up showing up late for today's rehearsal (which I didn't even know had started before I got there) but all is good because I experienced something I've never experienced before in my life as a composer: I heard my music being performed behind a locked door by people I hadn't met yet. As someone who has vociferously attended virtually every rehearsal of my music and who usually triggers that process in the first place, it was a tipping point moment, a strange sense of arrival on some level.
Many years ago, joking around with other "emerging" composers, we pondered a series of steps to composerly fame...
Level 1. someone else hearing your music besides you Level 2. someone else playing your music besides you Level 3. someone else playing your music besides you and you're not there.
Well, today I paradoxically experienced Level 3 which technically is supposed to be something you can't experience. And it was wonderful. So I thought it might make some interesting posting for people to describe their own experiences of hearing their own music unexpectedly.
[Hope this all doesn't sound too self-serving, I really don't intend it that way. I'm just eager to share this moment and hear about similar ones from the rest of the Seq21 gang, and, as I've already confessed, I've got nothing better to do at the moment while I'm waiting for my toothpaste... Oh, it's here now... Goodnight:) ]
Remember those terms from the not-so-distant past? Ascriptions of masculine and feminine show up in theoretical and musicological analyses of Brahms, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, and undoubtedly a host of other mainstream composers. So can one actually hear “gay” music? How about “straight”? Is there a difference between feminine straight and masculine gay or vice versa? David Salvage’s list of composers and their musical genders is an interesting stepping off point, but it may be stepping into a quagmire.
Personally, I suspect these ascriptions have more to do with cultural context, and occasionally, they might even be driven by personal agenda by either the artist or the analyst. There are worlds to say on the subject with such works as Britten’s “Death in Venice,” but it’s difficult to say what is and what is not driven by Britten’s own personality, or perhaps more by his choice of subject matter.
Sexuality may define who we are as people, but Kinsey states that people cover a wide spectrum of preferences and desires. The degree to which this aspect of behavior drives a work of art will change with the artist, the topic, the degree of abstraction, and many other variables.
I'd be interested to hear if any of the S21 composers take on issues of gender, sex, or their ramifications in the works themselves, and if so, what the response has been.
By the way, if any musicologists write my biography at some point, please tell them I only write “manly” music. Or if I write feminine music, it’s undoubtedly lesbian.
posted by Cary Boyce
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Pumpin' it Up
So this may be an insy bit off-topic, but let’s throw caution to the winds, shall we?
Last night I went to a nice bar with my roommate. The scene appeared to be composed of twenty-something graduate student-types and young professionals. Most were talking in groups. And the music was loud.
Loud, loud, loud.
It seems like if you want to go to a bar nowadays, you have to shout in order to be heard. I can understand having the music turned up loud at a dance club, but I’ve been to many establishments this summer – restaurants, movie theaters – where the volume was loud unto deafening.
I’m forced to conclude that I’m a weirdo and that most people, at least my age, like their music loud – even in places where supposedly they’ll be making conversation. (Cars, too.) What’s up with this? And what does it portend for the future of musics, like classical, that are often (God forbid) soft?
posted by David Salvage