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 don't know Kyle Gann personally but we have corresponded from time to time by e-mail and I like and admire him enormously. No other single figure in the new music world has done more to put "Downtown" on the map or to blaze a path for new music composers whose training, instincts, tastes and compositions are outside the academic mainstream. In his latest post, Post-Semester Rampage, Electronic Version, Kyle bemoans the fact that composers of electronic music (the one branch of Downtown music that has actually led to permanent teaching positions)have become a bunch of academic tightasses themselves. (I'm paraphrasing.) Go over and read the whole thing but here's the heart of his argument:
Iíve been becoming aware that, even among the Downtowners, there is a standard academic position regarding electronic music, and am learning how to articulate it. Iíve long known that, though much of my music emanates from computers and loudspeakers, I am not considered an electronic composer by the ďreal electronic composers.Ē Why not? I use MIDI and commercial synthesizers and samplers, which are disallowed, and relegate my music to an ontological no-manís genre. But more and more students have been telling me lately that their music is disallowed by their professors, and some fantastic composers outside academia have been explaining why academia will have nothing to do with them.
The official position seems to be that the composer must generate, or at least record, all his or her own sounds, and those sounds must be manipulated using only the most basic software or processes. Max/MSP is a ďgoodĒ software because it provides nothing built in - the composer must build every instrument, every effects unit up from scratch. Build-your-own analogue circuitry is acceptable for the same reason. Sequencers are suspect, synthesizers with preset sounds even more so, and MIDI is for wusses. Commercial softwares - for instance, Logic, Reason, Ableton Live - are beyond the pale; they offer too many possibilities without the student understanding how they are achieved. Anything that smacks of electronica is to be avoided, and merely having a steady beat can raise eyebrows. Using software or pedals as an adjunct to your singing or instrument-playing is, if not officially discouraged, not taught, either. Iím an electronic amateur, and so I wonít swear Iím getting the description exactly right. Maybe you can help me. But at the heart of the academic conception of electronics seems to be a devout belief that the electronic composer proves his macho by MANIPULATION, by what he DOES to the sound. If you use some commercial program that does something to the sound at the touch of a button, and you didnít DO IT YOURSELF, then, well, youíre not really ďserious,Ē are you? In fact, youíre USELESS because you havenít grasped the historical necessity of the 12-tone language. Uh, Iím sorry, I meant, uh, Max/MSP.