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'm surprised that the new album He Poos Clouds from Final Fantasy has not been mentioned in this forum or on Blackdogred's blog. Final Fantasy is a.k.a. Canadian violinist, singer, and composer Owen Pallett. I had the pleasure of opening for him several times in England last May.
He Poos Clouds has ten excellent examples of how a sophisticated and carefully crafted composition can work as an adventurous pop song (and vice versa), and the instrumentation just happens to be very "classical" sounding. Owen plays violin and sings; he uses looping pedals and harmonizers in live performance, performing most of his songs alone on stage. The album has more expansive arrangements with string quartet, harpsichord, piano, percussion, etc.
Pounce on me if you think I'm promoting someone who doesn't need help from S21, but you should all know about this album. It's great. You can get it in the iTunes music store (search for "He Poos Clouds") or at your local progressive music retailer.
UPDATE: He Poos Clouds is now available on eMusic.
I occasionally write "pre-views" of concerts or upcoming musical events. I shy away from writing reviews, though I have done them on occasion. And with one notable exception, if they weren't overwhelmingly positive I simply didn't follow through. As active composers, we are perhaps the most qualified to comment publicly -- yet it's difficult, if not a downright conflict, to pass judgment on ones friends, peers, and colleagues. Anyone have thoughts on the matter? Also, since it's clearly unethical to review ones own concerts, I googled myself for "rocks" or "sucks" in the manner of the previous post to gain some objective perspective. It was a relief at 134,000 to 562. *whew ...*
posted by Cary Boyce
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the Rockin’est of them all?
One of my college English professors, William Spengemann, once remarked in class that "the entire world can be divided up into things that suck and things that rock." Recognizing the validity of that observation, I have undertaken a research project into classical music which, since it employs Science, is sure to be entirely valid. By searching the worldwide compendium of all knowledge (i.e. Google) for "X Sucks" and then "X Rocks" (where X is the name of a composer) and recording the number of hits for each search, we can assign a numerical value to the suckitude and rockitude of any composer. (I should note that composer Alex Reed helped with some of the research, and can be credited with one of the most important finds.) Here are some of the results:
"Beethoven Sucks": 516 "Beethoven Rocks": 1820
"Mozart Sucks": 438 "Mozart Rocks": 3050
"Bach Sucks": 556 "Bach Rocks": 2730
Somewhat disappoitingly, we also found that "Sousa" rocks 472 to 17, "Ravel" rocks 1520 to 2, and "Vivaldi" rocks 438 to 70.
Moving into the 20th century, "Schoenberg" rocks 13 to 5, "Bartok" rocks 223 to 36, "Stravinsky" rocks 53 to 3, "John Cage" rocks 4 to 3, "John Zorn" rocks 52 to 19, "Stockhausen" rocks 56 to 13, "Steve Reich" rocks 3 to 2, and "Philip Glass" rocks 14 to 5. On the other hand, "Milton Babbitt" sucks 3 to 0. "Elliott Carter" turns up under neither search, so let me be the first person in the universe to declare that "Elliott Carter Sucks."Stepping back to a few more general terms, we find that while "Classical Music" rocks 109 to 91, and "Minimalism" rocks 551 to 198, "Serialism" sucks 4 to 0, and "Twelve Tone Music" sucks 2 to 0. Heh. "Insure the supremacy of German music," my eye!
You will have noticed by now that very few composers Suck more than they Rock, and those that do tend only to have a small handful of data points – indeed, finding an exception to that rule turned out to be quite difficult. But what about Chopin? I think he rocks, but the numbers tell a different story:
"Chopin Rocks": 498 "Chopin Sucks": 2920
The people have spoken.
posted by Galen H. Brown
Monday, July 10, 2006
The CUNY PhD Music Composition Exam
This summer, in addition to fielding submissions for the S21 concert, two things are keeping me busy. The first is working with the worthy folks at RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. If you don’t know what RILM is, by all means click the link and find out. The second is studying for my PhD exams which occur at the end of the summer. And that’s what I’m ringing in here to talk about.
So. What does CUNY think composers have to know?
In order to officially become a PhD candidate, I need to complete two days of written examination followed by an oral examination two weeks later. The first day of the written part consists of an at-sight analysis of a piece from the standard practice period (or later). I have six hours to analyze and, presumably, write an analytical essay about the piece. Last year it was one of Brahms’s late piano works.
The second day consists of two questions. I think I have two hours for one, and three hours for another. The questions come in two groups; I chose one question from each group. The first question will concern broad developments pertaining to a particular genre. Say, “Trace the origins and development of the string quartet” for example. The second question will pertain to a particular 20th century technique of composition, like, say, serialism or electronic music.
The oral examination (sounds faintly disgusting, right?) shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I chose a composer and inform the faculty who this composer is at least six weeks before the exam. At the exam, I demonstrate the broadest possible knowledge about the composer. As one student put it to me, “You need to know more about your composer than they [the faculty] do.” I’ve chosen Kurtág. (Duh.)
I like this exam, and, while it’s all about the standard a school holds you to, I’m proud CUNY’s PhD examination -- at least in format -- is the most hard core I’ve heard about.
But I wish there were more COMPOSING. What happened to questions like “write a fugue based on this subject” or, “develop this motif in the style of Wagner,” or “write a brief string quartet movement in the style of Ligeti”? Isn’t model composition more important for composers, in the long run, than musicological essay writing?
What do you think?
posted by David Salvage
When Did We All Become Philosophers?
Steve Layton writes: You want a forum topic, you got a forum topic...
That's easy, the 19th century. So maybe the real question to ask is "WHY Did We All Become Philosophers?" Or maybe more relevant to now, "How Do We STOP Having to Be Philosophers?" ...Yes, you. Deny all you like but face it, we're still in a culture that expects us to always have some deeper idea lurking at the bottom of a piece. Metaphysical, psychological, social, phenomenological, scientific... The cigar is never just a cigar. Practically all the way up through Mozart the issue barely existed; there might have been some program decorating the work like frosting on a cake, but at heart "the piece was just a piece".
Think how rare that is now, at least in what's passed for Classical these last few generations. Is there any way to go back to where the prime factor is Playing rather than Thinking? Or is there even the need? I'm not actually complaining about the situation -- though the onus to be "deep" has generated a lot of crappy dreck from composers who were never cut out for philosophising. I'm just interested and curious about how we got there, and why we stay there.
posted by Jerry Bowles