Just a couple of observations:
1. As far as I know (and I’m just a composer, so what do I know?), sociopolitical systems aren’t, by their nature, corrupt. But all systems are corruptible.
No form of government – democracy, autocracy, whatever – is inherently corrupt. No form of corporation – mom&pop, international, educational — is inherently corrupt.
Corruption occurs when people use a system – a form of government, a corporation – for personal gain at the unwilling expense of others who interact with the system.
Systems will always be vulnerable to corruption, because there will always be people who are interested in using them for personal gain at the unfair expense of others. Societies stand to benefit when systems have outside oversight to minimize systemic corruption. Eliminating corruption is not a reachable goal, but keeping corruption in check is.
2. Speaking of outside oversight and keeping things in check, from my little corner of the world, it appears that our government’s system of checks and balances works well on the executive and judicial branches – which is to say, the power of the executive and judicial branches to impact our society seems to be appropriately measured. I don’t always like their actions and decisions, but the processes they go through to make those actions and decisions seem, for the most part, well designed.
But – again, from my little corner of the world – the legislative branch appears to be too cumbersome in design to handle its responsibilities effectively. I’m pretty sure this flaw is not fixable, because 1. the checks and balances on the legislative branch do not have the power to focus legislative activity, 2. The electorate has an easier time holding executive candidates, as opposed to legislators, accountable, and 3. the cumbersome design has a powerful incentive for self-preservation.
As a result, we limp along to the best of our ability despite the encumbrance.
Now back to the music.
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This Thursday night, violinist Jacqui Carrasco of the Forecast Ensemble will play ten selections from Fifteen Minutes, my unaccompanied serenade to celebrity. Because of time limitations, she won’t be playing the entire work, but this piece is more excerptable than most – it’s just a set of one-minute sound-bytes. She’s playing:
Jacqui has been a consistent force in the new-music world since the 90s. A founding member of the Cygnus Ensemble, she’s played with the Cassatt Quartet, S.E.M., Newband, and scads of other cool groups.
Now she’s with Forecast, and the band has a nice lineup for their set at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Music by friends and colleagues in the air:
John Beck: West Side Impressions
Mark Engebretson: The Difficulties
Michael Rothkopf: At a Crossroads
Alejandro Rutty: More Music for Examining and Buying Merchandise
Eric Schwartz: My Unshaped Form
And the by-now-expected 2012 John Cage experience will make an appearance. More here.
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image by Julian Semilian
Next month, Mellissa Hughes is joining Le Train Bleu in the premiere of a new work of mine for soprano and eight instruments at dromnyc. The piece is called Seven Stories. It’s about a stuffed animal that falls from the seventh floor of an apartment building. As she falls, she glimpses figures in the passing windows and struggles to create stories from what she sees.
Like much of my work, Seven Stories both embraces and flies in the face of the current artistic zeitgeist. I’ll be curious to see how it goes over with the dromcrowd.
More info is just a click away. And here is the click.
The show, called Toy Stories, is a fascinating and amusing program put together by my long-time friend and colleague – and Music Director of LTR — Ransom Wilson. In addition to my piece, he’s doing Thomas Adès’ Living Toys, Matt Marks’ Sex Objects and Eric Nathan’s Toying.
Batteries, presumably, included.
Text and music by Lawrence Dillon
Melissa Hughes, soprano
Le Train Bleu
Ransom Wilson, music director
85 Avenue A, NYC
November 7, 2012
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Been to five concerts in the last ten days. Attending concerts this fall, I am as aware as ever of the prevalence of gray hair around me, often cited as a sign that Classical music is dying.
But wait a minute.
The average life expectancy in this country is 78.2 years. If we assume that most of us start turning gray in our 40s, then that means that the majority of our adult lives is spent with gray hair.
And if that’s the case, then the music that attracts the most gray-haired listeners must be the most successful.
I’m just saying.
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Class trip time. Tonight we are off to what I understand is the second performance of David Lang’s Love Fail, an hour-long meditation on love, as it is experienced vs. how it is memorialized. The text is a fascinating amalgam of various tellings of the Tristan story crossed with writings of contemporary author Lydia Davis. Can’t wait to hear it. Given the fact that the piece was written for, and will be performed by, Anonymous Four, it sounds like a perfect recipe for David Lang in his attractive, neo-Medieval mode.
Here’s a vimeo about the piece, featuring Lang and an onymous one:
Love Fail from International Festival of Arts & on Vimeo.
First performance seems to have taken place in New Haven in June; I’d be curious to know if the four-month hiatus before outing number two was an opportunity for performers and composer to tweak and refine. Tweaking and refining are two of my favorite things to do, but not everybody agrees.
Nice class trip if you can get it: board the bus, fifteen minutes later we’ll arrive at the venue. Many thanks to the Secrest Artist Series for co-commissioning the piece and hosting the performance, and to the Kenan Institute for the Arts for taking all of us for a ride.
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This afternoon we have our first composers concert in Hood Recital Hall, a performance organized, rehearsed and performed by students. Here what’s coming:
Bruce Tippette: Motion
Kenneth Florence: Sleep Stuck
Clayton Davidson: Fragmentation Blade
Clayton Davidson: Branched Polymers
Quinn Dougherty: But For to Spangle the Black Weeds of Night/An Ear of Corn in Silent Sight/And Know Those Bodies High Reign on the Light
Derek Arnold: Sonata in G Major
Cheyne Runnells: Derpin
Nicholas Rich: Flocking
I’m eager to see and hear what these wonderfully creative, high-energy artists have in store for their audience. I feel sometimes as if I’ve got a studio full of rockets ready to blast off, and one of my most important responsibilities is to count backwards.
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This Friday, we’re pooling some awesome collective wisdom for mutual benefit. Turns out that 2/3rds of our Composition majors have moderate-to-advanced proficiency on electric guitar, so we’re getting them all to bring their instruments and show us their stuff.
The electric guitar is a fascinating instrument to get to know these days, for a number of reasons:
- It’s hard to name an instrument that is more emblematic of the music of the last half-century. Sure, there are others that are in the mix, but the electric guitar is so much a part of our collective awareness, it’s impossible to discount.
- Many wonderful rock guitarists are Classically trained, but many more are not. Consequently, there are a lot of conflicting traditions for this instrument, even in such a short history.
- Because so many of the musicians who play this instrument are self-taught, approaches to playing it can be deeply personal, which complicates the process of notation.
- Even the acoustic guitar raises daunting issues for composers who aren’t used to it. Throw in the ramifications raised by the color range of the electric version, and the possibilities can be overwhelming.
So we’re going to share stories, techniques, notations, frustrations – get it all out there. The whole process will be overseen by guitarist-composers Kenneth Florence and Nicholas Rich, who have prepared information and examples for those of us who lack a tactile relationship with this beast. Then everyone will have a month to come up with a mini-composition for the guitar electric, and K and N will perform the results. I’m expecting a lot of useful insights to arise, and I’m including myself on the list of those who stand to gain from the experience.
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I’ve lost count of how many printers I’ve killed over the years. I don’t think I ever met one I could cohabitate with. My standards are, all experience to the contrary, way too high. I cherish two unreasonable notions: 1. It should be fairly easy for a printer to spew out a 50-page score without extensive hand-holding, and 2. Over time, printers will get better, so my next one will be more reliable than my last.
This second belief is the most difficult to defend. After all, it’s clear from my expectations that — despite all my experience — I’m not getting any smarter.
How lovely that so many people are just as happy to receive PDFs as hard copies these days. I’m perfectly willing to delegate the printing responsibilities elsewhere.
And here’s a big shout-out to the Atlantic Ensemble as they repeat their brilliant, all-Dillon program for a new audience in Nashville tomorrow. Sorry to miss!
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A 2005 survey by the Music Critics Association of North America reported that composers aren’t breaking new ground these days. What does that mean? From a journalist’s point of view, “breaking ground” means novelty, which translates into things that are easy to write about. Putting an unusual sound source on the stage, incorporating new technology or theatrics into performance, even using a catchy or provocative title: these are the things that journalists can grab onto, hooks that make writing a feature or a review on a tight deadline a bit more manageable. None of these things are inherently good or bad, or even inherently new or old, but they can be perceived as newsworthy.
That’s the superficial meaning of “groundbreaking,” but what of the more significant kinds of innovation? Is it true that composers are just rehashing — or to use a very unfashionable word, developing — what’s been done before?
That would be a very sad situation, wouldn’t it?
Or would it?
What does the word “groundbreaking” really mean? Everywhere I look, I see broken ground. I see peaceful meadows, teeming forests and weedy lots dug up the name of progress and growth. Growth and progress can be wonderful things, but too often they just serve as a euphemisms for greed and boredom. Ground sometimes gets torn up just to give people’s lives meaning, to mark territory, or to make room for more expensive, expansive automobiles.
These days, I find myself wanting to repair some of the ground that’s been broken, to write music that connects the dots, rather than ever more distantly scattering them. I take special pride in pieces that don’t wear their innovations on their sleeves, music that doesn’t hit you over the head with its newness. I like a piece whose novelty only becomes apparent when you try to peg it on an earlier generation and find it just doesn’t fit.
The perception that great art must be groundbreaking reminds me of the “be fruitful and multiply” dictum from the Bible. Fine, as long as there was a danger of population extinction, and there were adequate resources in the earth to feed expanding generations. At this point, it would appear that there are enough people on this planet that the best chance we have for extinction is self-destruction, so I’m for population maintenance, not growth.
In the same vein, I think we’ve broken enough ground for the time being — physically, culturally and metaphorically — to satisfy even the most severe cases of attention-deficit disorder. There is a place now in our world for composers, for artists, who can reconnect us with one another, with the past and the future — with solid ground.
Mind you, I don’t believe for a minute that there is nothing new being done, or nothing new to be done. There are so many possibilities, it’s nauseating.
I just feel that novelty is overrated. If we think like journalists, then newness is everything. If we think like artists, then truth is everything, and truth is one of the oldest things going. And it’s one of the few things that hasn’t lost any value over the years.
So if I end up breaking any ground, I’m going to make sure I’m not just marking my territory. If I break new ground, I hope it will be because I have something healthy to plant.
[First posted June 7, 2005]
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As I wrote last time, I’m off to Tennessee in a couple of days for the premiere of Saturn Dreams of Mercury. What I neglected to mention is that this premiere is one chunk of an all-Dillon program, sandwiched between two talks featuring my voice, and hopefully some of my thoughts. The concert program has music for strings with and without piano, including (in addition to the premiere of SDoM) The Voice, What Happened, and String Quartet No. 4: The Infinite Sphere. It’s a demanding evening of sawing and ivory tickling for the Atlantic Ensemble, one they are planning to repeat in the spring.
Oddly enough, though I’ve lived next door for a quarter-century, this will only be my second visit to the Volunteer State (barring layovers in Memphis airport) and – to my knowledge – the first time my music has shared the air with the western slopes of the Blue Ridge. Looking forward to an exquisite drive, struggling to keep my eyes on the road.
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