Thursday, February 09, 2006
Uptown, Downtown, Out of Town
An interesting debate is raging below a NewMusicBox chatter piece we ran a week ago even though the link to the specific threadstarter has now disappeared from our home page. It started with Randy Nordschow's claim that distinctions between "Uptown Music" and "Downtown Music" no longer exist. It has since morphed into a debate about the value of compositional camps and whether or not minimalism or the new romanticism have caught on in Europe. The latter feud reminds me of Kyle Gann's frequent assertion that "Uptown Music" is largely European-derived while most "Downtown Music" is homegrown in the U.S.A.
I frequently joke that since I moved from Chelsea to Inwood (still in Manhattan), I've gone so far uptown that it might as well be downtown. But, strangely, the music I've written since that move incorporates tone rows, metrical modulations, and many other "Uptown" gambits while retaining a "Downtown" fixation with repetition and oddball instrumentation. I sometimes describe it as "Beyond Uptown" music, a name I stole from a poster advertising yoga classes in my new neighborhood. I would argue that Randy's music, which to my ears miraculously does the reverse, is "Beyond Downtown" music and, as if to bring the point home, he lives in Brooklyn. But that's our own silly argument.
As a small community mostly outside the commercial mainstream to begin with, I think we composers do ourselves a disservice when we carve ourselves up into opposing fiefdoms. Plus, even though I myself am a New Yorker, I would agree with any non-New Yorker who feels angered by a perceived New York centricity that terms such as "Uptown" and "Downtown" might connote. But, at least the terms are not really pejorative (which is not true for other words I've heard members of both camps use to decribe each other). Plus, we seem to be as stuck with them as we are with such other other etymological hobgoblins as minimalism, atonality, impressionism, jazz and classical music. Might there still be stylistic attributes that we can point to in order to define and better understand (not close our ears to) parallel movements that evolved separately? I'd love to hear other people's thoughts about this either on NewMusicBox or here in this Forum.