Author Archive

Peter Gillette is studying trumpet — and of course all manner of other things seriously musical — over in Iowa City. Like so many of us he also keeps a blog, and I just couldn’t help passing along a link to his wonderful little post, “A Brief, Entirely Clear Thought Upon Reading Milton Babbitt“. An excerpt:

This evening, was read by me, which is to say having been read as one reads if read one must call it (that is, that which must be read or has been itself read) several articles by””or, rather, at the limits, if a name apply it we must, Milton Babbitt; eminent theorist insofar as theory itself ascribes eminence, ascribed insofar as ascription can itself be ascertained through paragraphs of two or more sentences at once, it can be said, resembling this one it can be said at its own very limit, both within and beyond that which is under and about (as far as we may be certain enough to say)…

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In London’s Standpoint magazine, tenor Ian Bostridge has a short essay on some of the experiential and philosophical aspects of musical time, at least as he feels it. I think he overreaches a bit in what he credits late Romaticism with attempting, and I’ve always been leery of the whole “music is a language” thing. But it’s a worthwhile read, and a fast one at that; and there are a number of relatively good comments already, just below the article. Take a peek.

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washington composers forum websiteEven though I’m down in Houston now, I still get my regular monthly email update from the Washington Composers Forum.

Christopher Shanin has put quite a bit of effort into both the site, and keeping it full of current and interesting news. And just as important, he truly works to create regular and real-life opportunities for local composers to share their music and ideas, with both themselves and the public.

Of course there’s the more general American Composers Forum, which is an umbrella linking forums in places like Atlanta, Philadelphia, D.C., etc.; and the even more broad American Music Center and the Society of Composers Incorporated. But I’d like to hear from you, about whatever similar, specifically local organizations are at work in your own piece of turf ( I know, I know, I could look them all up on Google; but I’ve got a life, too, and don’t see why we can’t pick all your brains a bit).

Who’s doing what in your town? Are they active, sporadic, or comatose? Promote calls for scores and concerts, just hang out for an occasional chat, or exist pretty much in name only?  Tell me all in the comments — and link ‘em if you got ‘em…

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Having just viewed from only slightly afar (my television) the Latin Grammys held this year here in Houston, I thought I’d conterbalance the crushing Juanes domination by mentioning that there was also a Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition buried down in there somewhere. For both sentimental and musical reasons I was rooting for Jorge Liderman‘s Barcelonazo, but the awards held true to form and picked a tremendously “pleasant” piece by the Costa Rican composer Carlos José Castro. I’ve managed to dig up links to a snatch (or more) of all the nominated pieces, though how long the links keep working is anyone’s guess:

Barcelonazo – Jorge Liderman, composer (Jorge Liderman) / Track from: Barcelonazo

Concierto Del Sol (Winner)– Carlos José Castro, composer (Orquesta Filarmónica De Costa Rica) / Track from: Orquesta Filarmónica De Costa Rica

Non Divisi – Roberto Valera, composer (Camerata Romeu) / Track from: Non Divisi

Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina – Sérgio Assad, composer (Sérgio y Odair Assad) / Track from: Jardim Abandonado

Variación Del Recuerdo – Aurelio De La Vega, composer (The North/South Chamber Orchestra) / Track from: Remembrances-Recuerdos

So you all can be the judge…

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The latest RIAA/MPAA tactic? Enlist a non-profit “justice” organization to create the most heavy-handed (and by the way, factually incorrect) propaganda in the form of a comic, distributed to 50,000 college students. Yes, file-sharing of copyrighted media can be quite possibly illegal; but this “educational” attempt seems right up there with “Reefer Madness” and those Jehovah Witness comic books. Though maybe seen in that light, it’ll become a future camp classic… And of course this is all done purely in the name of the protecting the artist, you and me, right?

You know, I was thinking that the comic has all the elements for a nice, pathos-laden chamber opera… takers, anyone?

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A recent essay by Rasmus Fleischer in Cato Unbound does a great job of explaining the evolution — or better, the progressive convolution — of copyright, what’s become fundamentally different in our own time, and why any model based on our old conceptions of it are utterly doomed in anything less than a world police-state. It’s only fair to point out that Fleischer is part of the Swedish anti-copyright group Piratbyran, founders of the notorious file-sharing site Pirate Bay, so some could read this essay as simply justification for their own “questionable” activity. But Fleischer clearly lays out some real issues here, and there are many good examples of how the meaning of copying and sharing have transcended — and will only move farther from — the old models and enforcement. One of the most mind-boggling is this:

One early darknet [the term for the idea that people who have information and want to exchange it with each other will do just that, forming spontaneous networks which may be large or small, online or offline] has been termed the “sneakernet”: walking by foot to your friend carrying video cassettes or floppy discs. Nor is the sneakernet purely a technology of the past. The capacity of portable storage devices is increasing exponentially, much faster than Internet bandwidth, according to a principle known as “Kryder’s Law.”  The information in our pockets yesterday was measured in megabytes, today in gigabytes, tomorrow in terabytes and in a few years probably in petabytes (an incredible amount of data). Within 10-15 years a cheap pocket-size media player will probably be able to store all recorded music that has ever been released “” ready for direct copying to another person’s device.

In other words: The sneakernet will come back if needed. “I believe this is a “˜wild card’ that most people in the music industry are not seeing at all,” writes Swedish filesharing researcher Daniel Johansson. “When music fans can say, “˜I have all the music from 1950-2010, do you want a copy?’ “” what kind of business models will be viable in such a reality?”

I’d urge everyone to read the full essay, since this stuff will directly affect all our work, our entire career.

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The science journal Nature has been working its way through a nine-part series of essays on Science and Music. Not all are online or free yet, but you can currently read Phillip Ball’s and David Huron’s contributions on the site.

Huron provides provides an important — though to many of us not very surprising — reminder that the worldwide musical landscape is nearing the completion of “The Great Flattening”; soon, there won’t be anyone making anything that doesn’t have the Western musical tradition either at its heart, or as its wrapper:

Last year I joined an expedition of biologists to the remote Javari region of the Amazon. The biologists were censusing the wildlife. I was interested in the people. We encountered subsistence hunter-farmers with transistor radios. Even in the western Amazon, people listen to Funk Carioca and Christina Aguilera.

Linguists know how fast languages disappear. Musical cultures may be an order of magnitude more fragile. It will be many centuries before the whole world speaks Mandarin. Meanwhile Western music has swept the globe faster than aspirin. Robust musical cultures remain in China, India, Indonesia and the Arab world, but even in these regions, most people are thoroughly acquainted with Western music through film and television. Less robust musical cultures are disappearing rapidly or are showing deep infiltration by Western musical foundations. Many have already disappeared. There remain only a few isolated pockets, such as the highlands of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya.

Regrettably, most cognitive scientists are ill-equipped to do remote field work, and few ethnomusicologists know how to do an experiment. This situation must change rapidly if we are to have much hope of glimpsing the range of possible musical minds. We have perhaps just a decade or so before everyone on the planet has been brought up with Western music or its derivatives.

Of course the plea for keeping all this diversity alive and thriving is right, good, noble… but it’s just not going to happen. There’s always something in the call to “preserve your culture” (whoever the “you” may be), that has its own tinge of a kind of reverse-imperialism. On the one hand, the old-school thought was “here, ditch all that silly crap you’ve been doing for generations, and we’ll teach you the only true civilization”; while the other asks people to not join up, stay fat and happy (or skinny and miserable, as the case may be) and and just keep doing what you’ve always been doing over there in your own little world. And through all of this noble theoretical bickering, the people just do what they think they want to do… I’m not making any plea myself, just saying “get ready”. Sure, there’ll always be different styles of music, but only one foundation: that of the West. Everything else will just be interior decoration.

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“Eh? Speak up, I can’t hear you…” The problem? Hearing loss from too-loud music. The culprit? Composers! All our fortissimos are endangering the very people we rely on to make our music. From a recent St. Louis Dispatch story:

Seated in front of the percussion section, and subjected to “ferocious” sound, [bass clarinetist James] Meyer worried about the effects on his hearing. He did research at the library and talked with people at 17 different orchestras around the country about their setups. He drew diagrams. He took readings of decibel levels. “The threshold of pain is (about) 118 decibels. I took a lot of readings (on stage) over that.” [....] Many contemporary works rely heavily on percussion and high volume, notes [percussionist Rich] O’Donnell. The orchestra played a lot of them during the Leonard Slatkin years, in particular. “I think there are a lot of composers who have trouble writing a soft piece,” O’Donnell said. Conductors can be prickly, too. O’Donnell recalls bringing up noise issues at a meeting with Slatkin and getting a glare: “He said, ‘Are you trying to limit my artistic expression?’”

While we may side with Slatkin and pooh-pooh this as over-worried hype, better think again if you’re hoping to have that European performance; As the NYT reported recently, workplace noise-protection regulations there now apply to symphony orchestras just as much as to factories:

They had rehearsed the piece only once, but already the musicians at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra were suffering. Their ears were ringing. Heads throbbed. Tests showed that the average noise level in the orchestra during the piece, “State of Siege,” by the composer Dror Feiler, was 97.4 decibels, just below the level of a pneumatic drill and a violation of new European noise-at-work limits. Playing more softly or wearing noise-muffling headphones were rejected as unworkable. So instead of having its world premiere on April 4, the piece was dropped. “I had no choice,” said Trygve Nordwall, the orchestra’s manager. “The decision was not made artistically; it was made for the protection of the players.”

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Geoff Edgers over at’s Exhibitionist blog, posted a few thoughts today on composers’ attitudes to their early works. Some keep ‘em, some never want them to see the light of day, and some wish that, even if they might have become popular, they’d just go away.

I know I’m a pack-rat. I still have every cassette tape recording I ever made in my bedroom, starting at about age 15; and in a box in my garage is the musty, yellowed remnants of my first-ever score (titled Mountains, it opens with long string runs up and down a C diatonic scale… pretty darn original, huh?). I’m fifty-freaking-two now, and so much of this early stuff is embarassing, hilarious, even painful — so why do I still keep it all around? I suppose simply because it’s a record of me; most everything I became musically is hiding out in this or that phrase or moment.

How about you? Are you a hoarder, historian, or spin-meister? Do you want your musical story with warts and all, or all neat and tidy?

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A few nicely surprising identifications, but if the combined brainpower of the S21 crowd only recognized two-thirds of the 36 faces, seems — what with the long, cold and snowy holidays coming up — a little catching up on any of these diverse and worthwhile composers would be time well-spent:

1. Maryanne Amacher  2. Gerald Barry  3. Dennis Báthory-Kitsz

4. David Behrman  5. Earle Brown  6. Allison Cameron

7. Maria de Alvear  8. Francis Dhomont  9. Allain Gaussin

10. Francisco Guerrero-Marin  11. Kamran Ince  12. Iván Naranjo

13. Alphonse Izzo  14. Monique Jean  15. Camille Kerger

16. Christina Kubisch  17. Paul Lansky  18. Mario Lavista

19. Daniel Lentz  20. Stanley Lunetta  21. Marc Mellits

22. Gilberto Mendes  23. John Howell Morrison  24. Gráinne Mulvey

25. Sarah Peebles  26. Christopher Penrose  27. Eliane Radigue

28. John Rea  29. Marga Richter  30. Linda Catlin Smith

31. Yasunao Tone  32. Lois V. Vierk  33. María Cecilia Villanueva

34. Claude Vivier  35. James Wood  36. Isang Yun

Why these, here and now? Just as with the monoliths, as soon as you dig them up and fly to Jupiter, they’re not nearly as exciting… I happen to have a folder with all kinds of composer portraits, that I attach to the I.D. tags of MP3s in my collection. I like to put a face on the person behind the piece, to take a little time to not just know the music but the living, breathing person as well. These were just a few, chosen almost at random, of the folks I listen to with some regularity, and don’t see why you shouldn’t too.

As to the fabulous 4-CD prize, technically Kyle Gann got the most, but that’s almost too easy for our resident vetran of the trenches. David Toub wins in the creatively weird category, hands down!… But the real award should end up with John “Sparky” Prokop, for getting almost as many as Mr. Gann, and showing a certain depth and breadth in who he was able to pick out. So Sparky, head to my website and find the email address at the bottom of most any page, send me a little note & I’ll be sending YOU a Cage-feast for your holiday repast.

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