We continue with Alex Kotch. Composer.
Did you learn anything in music school? Or does the phrase “circle of fifths” mean nothing to you?
Sure, there’s plenty to learn. Orchestration and taking apart scores are essential, and stuff I sometimes put off if I don’t have an institution to force them on me. But probably the most important thing I’ve learned from school is what we need to change. The status quo needs to be purged. Development, counterpoint, linearity need to be options, not requirements. We’re being given a standardized set of tools, which inevitably produce homogeneity. And pop music needs to be taken seriously by composers, not just by small pockets of musicologists. Most importantly, in my opinion, if we claim to contribute to culture, we need to study it: critical theory, race and gender studies, and new media (not to mention psychology and psychoacoustics). I’ve found much more inspiration from cultural theory than from music theory.
What’s your favorite “bad” piece of music? And briefly justify your crappy taste.
I’m against qualifying music these days. Almost any song has some element that we can learn from and is therefore not “bad.” In fact, I think this false musical hierarchy has caused the group that thinks it’s the best (us) to write the music that most other people think is the worst. However, at the risk of seeming completely humorless, I’ll go with the album, Club Nation America Volume Two. I love sentimental, mainstream house music–it’s generally got great beats, beautiful voices, and perfect production–and it usually takes up a giant amount of space on my mp3 player.
I also dig the latest Britney Spears album, Blackout, for its irony, vocal treatment, and grungy production. I don’t think Britney’s popularity could have lasted over a decade in one-hit-wonderland if she, along with her lyricists, composers, and producers, didn’t innovate, as this album demonstrates. (There’s a great article on the album at Pitchfork.)
Your five-composition-long playlist for Schoenberg would contain:
Well, here’s a short list that anyone who happens to wake up from a 57-year nap might wanna listen to, and why:
—Meshuggah: Catch 33 album (the legends of math metal)
—Bjork: Selmasongs album (a gorgeous combination of found sound, instrumental writing, and delicious electrobeats)
–David Rakowski: Imaginary Dances (harsh dissonance with rhythmic drive)
—Richard Devine: anything (dark, masterful electronics)
–Notorious BIG/Method Man: “The What” (amazing flow, especially my favorite MC, Biggie)
Congress calls on you to draw up a bailout plan for contemporary music! What do you do?
Jump-start a new public works program with concert hall demolition crews nationwide. After the work is done, new music groups will have no place to perform aside from bars and clubs. Since young people tend to frequent these types of venues, and tend to eat and drink, the venues can split the bar profits with the band and charge 5 bucks, or less, for the entertainment. And we can write dance remixes of our pieces, and others’ work! Basically, do what Gabriel Prokofiev does in the UK.