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[Note: Philip Fried is a composer mentioned before on S21; I've known him forever as a long-time commenter over at NewMusicBox, and as composer-in-residence for Minnesota's Opera Bob. Phil had a bit of a brain-worm spinning around in his head, and asked if he could share this thought over here at our forum.]

Bear with me. Stockhausen created an opera, part of which requires an instrumental performance in moving helicopters.  I saw this on video. John Cage creates a work where the player doesn’t ‘play’ in the traditional musical sense, but turns a page in time. (It would be easy to say that this is simply a theater piece for a musician to perform, Mr. Cage was a theater composer after all.)  Recent European music plays a lot with timbral similarity and disparity.  In the vocal realm an opera can have editorial that can’t be perceived from hearing the work. Sound artists create works that are site specific.

These works have a similarity; in effect they are creating new instruments. That is, the instruments are not playing music so much as the “music” creates a singular and unique instrument. Sometimes it’s a disposable, one-performance-only work. Other times it’s features are reusable. The laptop is not the instrument itself, rather it is part of a larger exploration of time, space, and event. A part of many.

A performance in a moving helicopter implies that the moving space itself is part of a site specific instrument. Is the video a useful recreation or not?

Naturally all musical ensembles and performing abilities — chamber music, grand opera, solo piano, recital — have their particular time and place to perform. Then where and in what context might beginners, advanced, students and professionals in these different styles perform?  Strictly speaking these rules are no longer the case. The space can become part of the work.

An orchestra has long been considered an instrument with many performers; so too are bands and many other instrumental configurations. The creation of “super instruments” — that is, joining several similar or different acoustic/electric instruments into a single formation or unit that act as one instrument (that is mostly rhythmic or gestural unison) — is quite popular especially in Europe, combining an instrument with a voice or voices, or electronics as a single formation. Or the melody, the obbligato, and the accompaniment act as one multifarious singularity. All kinds of composers and sound artists are creating sounds and music that explore and develop these new solo and multi-player instruments.

It seems to me that post-modernism is focused on music that creates new instruments, rather than in modernism which used instruments to create new music. If that makes any sense… Thoughts?

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Literally… For a while now, and with far too little recognition, a group of composer-students at Michigan State University have been running their own weekly videocast/podcast. Called SoundNotion, it’s a place where composers share geek-talk with — and more importantly, for — other composers. Whatever’s going on, from the recent Pulitzers to new hot works, current web memes to just your general composerly “what’s up with that?!?”, SoundNotion is a reasonably smart, witty, casual place to catch up with concerns of up-and-coming composers figuring out this musical  world today. The regular cast includes  Patrick Gullo, David MacDonald, Sam Merciers and Nate Bilton, enhanced with the occassional guest composer, guest interviews, etc. etc. Here’s the latest episode, with topics including:

  • Q2 (from WQXR) has put together a list of 100 composers under 40.
  • The Pulitzer committee announced that Zhou Long would be receiving this year’s award for his opera Madame White Snake.
  • We’re going to be in Chicago this Friday (Apr. 29) for the New Music USA Town Hall Meeting, 5pm, Roosevelt University. See you there!
  • Help us find a summer music festival to cover.
  • Do you have what it takes to be the next Iron Composer?
  • CalArts robot orchestra is ready to jam.
  • Is “avant-garde” still a relevant idea?
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    A big thanks to Tim Rutherford-Johnson for alerting us to the video below. If you’re a comp student anywhere from the grand palaces to the podunk armpits of this country, you really should get to know both Michael Pisaro and Aaron Cassidy. I’d wager they aren’t on many professors’ radar, yet they’re both quietly but powerfully influencing directions in contemporary music that I think will only become more prominent in the next decade. And here you get to have a free sit-down-’n-listen on a conversation between the two. It’s little pieces of the puzzle, that often will barely appear in classes, that help you see the real lay of the musical terrain you’re going to be navigating. So pay attention and enjoy:

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    Accessible Contemporary Music is a non-profit group out of Chicago. Their goal?

    It is our artistic mission to promote the performance and understanding of contemporary music, especially the music of living composers. We have as our target audience both those already acquainted with contemporary music and those who may not even realize that there are people still composing concert music today.

    To that end they run a very nice concert series, all kinds of classes and workshops, and what I want to tell you about, namely the Weekly Reading series beginning again this November:

    Weekly Readings was begun in the 2004-2005 season to address the growing number of composers who find themselves without available professionals to read and perform their music. Each week members of ACM and professional guest musicians from the Chicago area meet and conduct a prepared reading of a different new piece of music by a living composer who has submitted a piece to us specifically for this project.

    Not only does the piece get read and performed at the series, each piece will also receive consideration for a future ACM concert. And for $10 they can get you a CD of the reading, too. Follow the link for the complete description and guidelines.

    Seems to me that this is a great idea, and a real boon for a lot of composers out there without players at your beck & call. Writing music is fine, but the reality of what you’re writing doesn’t happen until you actually hear those dots, blobs and scratches in the hands of real performers. Kudos to ACM!

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    Jim Sector over at the Albany Symphony told me about competition kicking off just now, that some of you might be game for:

    The Albany Symphony Orchestra (ASO) is proud to announce the orchestra’s first young composer competition: the “Composer to Center Stage” Reading Session. The ASO will hold an open call for scores starting on September 14th, 2009 and ending November 14th, 2009, available nationally to young and emerging composers looking to refine and develop their orchestral craft. From the pool of applicants, three composers will be selected to join the ASO in March 2010 to attend an open forum, hosted by nationally-acclaimed composer John Harbison, and to attend the ASO’s March 26th concert featuring Mr. Harbison’s music. In May, these finalists will be brought back during the orchestra’s annual American Music Festival, where they will have their pieces read by the symphony on May 22nd, meeting again with Mr. Harbison for feedback. An honorarium will be awarded to finalists, and both travel and housing will be provided for their trips to Albany.

    A few of the more important rules for this one:

    - Applicant must be either a US citizen or non-citizen lawfully and permanently residing, or studying full-time, in the United States.
    - There are no age restrictions; however, applicants should be composers at the early stages of their professional careers.
    - Each composer may submit only one composition for consideration.
    - Only works that will not have been performed or read by a professional orchestra nor received a public performance prior to the reading date are eligible.
    - Only works completed within the last five years will be considered.
    - Works may be up to 15 minutes in length. Sections of longer works will be considered.
    - Instrumentation should not exceed ASO’s standard symphonic complement. Works with instrumentation which exceed the above will be considered only with advance approval.
    - Not eligible are concertos, choral works, works with excessive electronic elements.
    - Works with Electronic elements are discouraged, but will be considered on a case-bycase basis. For works with electronics, MIDI, and/or digital technologies: include a one page statement describing the rationale for its use, as well as any pertinent production requirements and technical specifications.
    - If selected, composers must provide professional, legible orchestral parts and scores prepared according to guidelines established by the Major Orchestral Librarians Association.
    - The quality of the score submitted is the primary evaluation criteria. It is therefore in the applicant’s best interest that the score be clear, accurate, and the best representation of the composer’s work.

    If you’re interested just contact Mr. Sector at jims@albanysymphony.com, and he can send you the complete application & guidelines.

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    haydnIt’s still the 200th anniversary of Franz Josef Haydn’s death, and in honor I thought I’d borrow a few words from Chris Wendt’s Haydn bio on Chris’ “Here of a Sunday Morning” website. But what I’d like you to do, is read it as if it’s being written about some “maverick” in the last 20 years — Picking up what you know outside academia, living on ramen in cheap apartments giving a couple lessons & freelance, a couple lucky connections, landing a sweet commercial gig but with a lot of dogwork, copyright violations  and pirated music that paradoxically work in your favor…

    At St. Stephen’s Haydn received instruction in voice, violin, and keyboard, but little general education except for a smattering of Latin. In 1745 he was joined there by his younger brother Michael, and almost immediately the gifted younger sibling assumed the elder’s position as soloist. Passing out of the limelight probably encouraged Haydn in his natural bent for composition, but he received little help: Reutter, himself a professional composer, gave the youngster only two lessons. As Haydn’s voice changed, his position as a chorister became increasingly untenable. In late 1749 he was dismissed peremptorily over a practical joke.

    Taking an attic room next door to St. Michael’s Church, he made ends meet by giving violin and keyboard lessons, working as a free-lance musician in churches, and performing in (and sometimes composing for) groups playing the open-air evening serenades so popular in Vienna. At the same time he began an intensive study of counterpoint (using the writings of Fux) and figured bass (using Mattheson). The results of his industry were clearly evident by 1751, when Pietro Metastasio, the renowned poet and architect of opera seria, engaged Haydn to tutor a gifted girl, Marianna Martines. [...In 1753] Martines began vocal studies with Nicola Porpora; through her and Metastasio, Haydn gained an entree to that famous opera composer.

    Haydn proposed to serve as Porpora’s factotum in return for instruction; although this arrangement was undertaken for no more than three months, Haydn later credited Porpora with teaching him “the true fundamentals of composition.” [....]

    Haydn had worked scarcely a year when the prince died on March 18, 1762. If Haydn was once again plunged into uncertainty about his future, his fears would have been dispelled quickly, for Nikolaus, brother and successor to Paul Anton, possessed an appetite for music that was, if anything, even keener than his predecessor’s. Haydn’s original contract stipulated that he report to the prince in the morning and again in the afternoon to see if music making was wanted. This arrangement probably continued with Nikolaus, whose evenings were given over to theater and music theater. Daily music making often meant accompanying the prince in divertimentos for his favored instrument, the baryton, typically in concert with viola and cello (Haydn created a repertory of at least 126 such works in the years 1765-76); it sometimes meant playing solo keyboard works. Twice a week, orchestral “academies” were held; for these Haydn could probably count on assembling, before 1776, two oboes, two horns, one bassoon, and nine strings (disposed 3-3-1-1-1), with himself the leader; trumpets and drums were added on festive occasions. [....]

    In his contract of 1761 it was stipulated that Haydn “neither communicate [his] compositions to any other person, nor allow them to be copied … and not compose for any other person without the knowledge and permission of His Highness.” This injunction did little to slow the dissemination of Haydn’s works abroad. Between 1764 and 1780, 51 authentic chamber works and 43 authentic symphonies had their first publications in unauthorized editions in Paris, Amsterdam, and London. These 94 works are but the tip of an iceberg that includes pirated republications, a large number of circulating manuscript copies, and many spurious works. The extent of Haydn’s complicity in this dissemination is not known, but he cannot have been pleased to go without recompense for his labors. From this flagrant piracy two results ensued. First, in 1779 Haydn obtained from Prince Nikolaus the freedom to write for and publish with whomever he pleased. Second, by the early 1780s Haydn had become one of the best-known and most sought after composers in Europe.

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    For all you composers big and small who still think that a big publisher contract is the bee’s knees: composer John Mackey blogs in a nicely lucid way about why the deal is nowhere near as good as the dream, and how you can and should be taking control of the full fruit of your labor. This is stuff that, to me, is every bit as fundamental to a young composer as learning I-IV-V-I (& maybe more, these days). Yet it’s rare that we ever see a “Basic Music Business 101″ course — not the first year, not the fourth, not even the sixth or eighth.

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    Or at least write the music for one?  Just a couple posts earlier we were talking about composer Chris Becker’s work with dancers. If this is always something you’ve thought about doing, and you happen to be in NYC, a fantastic opportunity is just waiting for you to respond:

    Every year, the Joyce Theater Foundation presents “Free Advice”, a series of seminars for dance companies and choreographers spanning a wide range of management and presentation subjects. As part of their schedule this year, on Monday June 22nd at 6:15pm they’re hosting a Choreographer/Composer Meet and Greet, where they promise you can mingle with choreographers who are eager to work with composers, chat each other up, and trade work samples and contact information.

    It doesn’t get any easier or better than this, y’all. But word from Joyce SoHo is that they’ve got way more choreograpers signed on than composers. So here’s your chance to take a chance, step up and represent our end of the artistic deal. It’s free, but you do need to RSVP with the little form on their webpage. Joyce SoHo is located at 155 Mercer Street, between Houston and Prince. So put on your walking shoes and pack along some CDRs; you might just find your next big work waiting to happen.

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    Being myself a composer who’s worked a LOT with dancers, I can say that there’s not much more synergistic a musical experience. While the communication can sometimes be strange and strained, with mutual openess and patience all of that gives way to a work where both arts can penetrate and change the other in remarkable and surprising ways.

    Composer Chris Becker (whose wonderful CD Saints and Devils got a lot of play on my stereo last year) is right now collaborating with choreographer Sasha Soreff on a piece for an upcoming performance in late June. As he works through it, Chris is going to try to blog a bit about the whole process. It promises to be an informative read, so check in there regularly.

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    The photos to the right show where I make all of my music; the top is from the early 1990s, the bottom from 2007. The equipment has changed drastically but one thing remains a constant, in every workspace I’ve had going back to the mid-’70s… See the single sheet of paper tacked on the wall with an image of a piano keyboard, a long row of notes from low to high, and lots of lines above that? It’s a photocopy of a chart from a book I once owned, on the ranges of all the orchestral instruments. It also includes the frequency in hertz, as well as the naming convention of each note. Michael Urich in La Porte, TX has even been kind enough to offer an exact copy of it online.

    Recently I spotted another by Charles Houghton-Webb over at BWMusic, that I think will become the new candidate for my wall; in addition to all the original has, this one extends the range, color-codes some stuff, and adds the standard MIDI note numbers for each pitch. It’s also a PDF file, so the print quality’s a bit better (the PDF is password-protected, but Charles offers the password right there on the page). Plenty of this information has long been internalized, but it’s still something I glance at almost automatically a few times during the composition of any piece.

    So how about it? Do any of you have some little, almost-totemic item that stays at your own workspaces, no matter when or where?

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