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Like the Monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, this link simply appears, unbidden… What does it mean? What purpose can there be?… WHO will discover the answer?… (and win my own copy of the Asphodel 4-CD John Cage Atlas Eclipticalis & Winter Music delivered to their door?…) All I know is the magic number seems to be 32…

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Adventurous internet pal/violinist/composer Johnny Chang just sent around another reminder that the next round of the justly-famous MicroScore Project is upon us. I herewith pass his very words on to you:

First if you don’t know about the project, please have a listen to some microscores first. As you are listening attempt to imagine a performance of 40 to 60 (or more) compositions, ideas, concepts, all coming together to create a kaleidoscope of sonic-visual tapestry. From our Vancouver, B.C. concert of March 2007 (PDF program here):



And now if you are still interested, read on !


INVITING Writers, Musicians, Artist, Performers, Instrumentalists, Listeners

Seeking 30-second compositions that can be performed as solo AND duo – instrumentation: violin and cello, or for one or two performers. Just to clarify, the composition has to function Both as a solo AND when performed by the duo. Potentially there will be three performances of the work. The first show will be the SOLO Violin versions.

For the moment, the show is scheduled for February 20, 2008 at the Wine Cellar (Auckland) – the submission period ends January 19.

Some guidelines for Scores Submissions.

1. Scores sent in PDF format should be set in A4 or 11′x7.5′ format.
2. If you are sending hard copies instead, please make sure to have 3 copies of the score.
(Most times it should not be necessary to send individual parts as the compositions are so short. Please give this some thought.)
3. Attach a very brief micro-bio of yourself, maximum 30 words.



The fun things about these pieces: 1) you don’t need to be an official composer, or even use traditional notation; you just need to be a person with an good, interesting idea and a way to score it; 2) the pieces end up all contributing to a larger whole, both with all the other pieces, and in their mutability from solo to duo settings. Go for it, have fun!


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ArtikulationWhile I’m on my Ligeti mini-memoriam kick, and apropos of nothing in particular, I want to offer this video from YouTube.

In the 1970′s, Rainer Wehinger created a visual listening score to accompany Ligeti’s 1958 electronic piece Artikulation; our YouTube poster kindly synched this score up to the recording, so you can follow this elegant little graphic essay pretty easily in time to the music. (I can’t seem to embed YouTube videos in the forum, so just click on the image to view.)

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A few days ago in the Guardian, our latest young-wunderkind export Nico Muhly (sorry Nico, I wasn’t being mean, really!) jotted down a few thoughts on the current state of ‘crossover’ between classical and pop (serious crossover, that is; Yannis and Bocellis need not apply). It’s a good read, with a number of relevant observations. One in particular struck me, and I quote:

Everybody knows Prince’s song Kiss. I once heard him perform it with just an acoustic guitar sitting on an office chair in the middle of Madison Square Garden in New York City; the core nugget of the song remained the same, while the arrangement changed entirely. This is the wonderful flexibility built into popular music; in classical, you can’t randomly decide to change up your set at the last minute and do Die Schöne Müllerin with Thomas Quasthoff accompanying himself on the autoharp.

Traditionally, I think it would be safe to say that the best kind of old-fashioned pop song is one that can bear the weight of infinite variations; you can imagine songs such as Like a Virgin or Kiss or Jolene working themselves out in a variety of situations. This is built into the genre inasmuch as the recording is one type of documentation of the art and the live performance another. I would then argue that the inverse is true of 20th- and 21st-century classical music (let’s leave the older ones out of it for the time being): you like to think that something like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring banks on its specific details (that pair of tuned antique cymbals in the Augurs of Spring), just as something like Steve Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians works because of the perfect combination of this many marimbas and that many pianos.

The intersection between the two genres is coming from artists who want to have it both ways, but who don’t talk about it.


In the 19th and early-20th century, it was pretty standard procedure for composers to learn about cutting-edge works at the piano, regardless of the actual instruments the score called for. I happen to love hearing the two-piano rehearsal version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (the dissonances take on a extra weight that’s missing in the orchestration), and have even enjoyed a couple nice rock-band performances (Fireworks comes to mind). But since the 1960s there’s a whole raft of stuff that calls for ‘this sound, and this sound only’. Original scores tended to become almost sacrosanct objects. There is another crowd, though, that all along has purposely kept their scores more open to timbral variation.

So, just wondering which side of the fence you all have been coming down on lately; if you stick pretty close to one side or the other, or do a little climbing over now and then?

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Sidney Chen over at the blog The Standing Room had a link to a blog entry by Michael Hovnanian, Bassist with the Chicago Symphony. Titled “More Clearing of the Inbox“, he tries to address a reader’s question:

I would be so curious to hear more from your insider’s perspective as a player about what makes some modern pieces distasteful. Is it gratuitous dissonance, technical demands on the performers, what?”

Part of his reply: “There are so many ways players hate modern music it is impossible to discuss them all. As an aside, one of the most surprising things to me entering this profession was the discovery that orchestra musicians might be even more conservative than their audience when it comes to new music.

Take a good read at Michael’s own blog, but I’ll give the gist of his observations:

1) “For many players and audience members alike, the concert hall has become a mausoleum where only the most esteemed corpses are allowed to rest.

2) “…atonality is probably the most criticized element of modern works, whether or not they are familiar.

3) “…simply lack of craft. Ungainly or unplayable instrumental parts are sure to raise musician hackles. Poor orchestration is another but related complaint. Dense, muddy, over-scored orchestrations seem to be the norm for a lot of the newly commissioned works we see.

4) “Works that utilize musicians like robots are especially distasteful [...] Often, it seems as if a new work was written on a synthesizer and might be best also played by one.

5) “…the feeling by some players that they can’t use their music training or instincts, the musical language is somehow unintelligible, leaving them bewildered, clueless and demoralized when facing a new work.

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From an interview with German composer Volker David Kirchner, reprinted at the Sign and Sight website:

KirchnerIn the late 1960s, I was still labelled an avant-gardist – a genuinely unpleasant, military term, which refers to the vanguard, so that I always ask myself: When is the real thing supposed to come along?

[Interviewer:] The pianist Susanne Duch has said that the most intense moments for her are the pauses between the tones. What does the composer have to say about this, having, ultimately, composed the tones themselves?

[Kirchner:] It’s true, the silences between the tones are quite decisive. And if I hadn’t composed those tones, there would be no silence, but instead only pauses. That’s the difference.

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…or effect that you ever asked for from a player in a score of yours, that surprised you by how well it worked? (Bonus points for telling us what made it so musically essential for you to ask for it.)

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I know that when things are slow it’s all to easy to pick on Sound and Fury blogger A.C. Douglas, but THIS post on 20 January had me groaning seven different ways (you can click over there to read, but I’ll reprint it here to save you the flip-flop):

The Composer As Physicist

If you want to understand why such a large measure of postmodern classical music is so dreadfully wrong “” so anti-music, as I’ve elsewhere called it “” you’ve only to read the following from French (surprise!) composer Tristan Murail:

Only now have I begun to feel as if I have obtained the technical means to achieve my dreams of adolescence: I imagined certain ambitious works, but lacked the capacity to realize them. With a piece like L’Esprit des dunes (1994), for ensemble and electronics, I feel that I have succeeded in doing something that I could have easily dreamed of doing when I was twenty or even younger. In a piece like that, there is a clear research on the level of pure technology but there is also a musical research into the combination of sounds; this may not be immediately apparent, but so much the better. And while the “poetic” side of the piece probably has an even greater impact than the spectral contents, the “poetry” depends utterly on their careful construction. Creating this sense of research, newness and “avant-garde” while still maintaining a coherent and comprehensible musical discourse is my real goal. [Quote taken from a post on the theater blog, Superfluities.]

No further comment required.

Let’s see, Murail consistently acknowledges the musical/poetic as the guiding principle that all of the “research” is in service to, and yet Mr. Douglas reads it as proof-positive of the composer as “physicist”? The funny part is that if you subsitute one word in this line of Murail’s, thusly:

And while the “poetic” side of the piece probably has an even greater impact than the formal contents, the “poetry” depends utterly on their careful construction.

This could be said by Bach or Beethoven.

It’s interesting too, that he calls the music he finds so “dreadfully wrong” Postmodern; So I’m guessing the plain old “modern” stuff Like Schoenberg and Boulez are just fine with him?……(not)…

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In the January 6th Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout raised a couple interesting points about “intellectual property”. One point especially has some direct bearing on composers and performances of their work:

Last month a London judge awarded 40% of the copyright of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to Matthew Fisher, the group’s ex-organist. Mr. Fisher, who had asked for 50%, doesn’t claim to have written the song, but he did write the Bach-like organ countermelody heard on the group’s 1967 recording of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which sold 10 million copies. Judge William Blackburne called the countermelody “a distinctive and significant contribution to the overall composition and, quite obviously, the product of skill and labor on the part of the person who created it.”


…anyone familiar with Procol Harum’s recording would be likely to agree that Mr. Fisher’s countermelody is an integral part of the song.

Here’s the problem: Where do you draw the line separating creative performance from actual authorship? Yes, Phil Woods’s coruscating alto saxophone solo on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” is one of that song’s most memorable features — but does that fact entitle Mr. Woods to a share of the royalties that are paid to Mr. Joel for having written the song?

And, a few more questions:

1) In works with indeterminate or improvisatory elements, could the performer begin to claim some share of actual authorship royalties for their realization of your piece?

2) Could another performer be found guilty of infringement, if their own performance was deemed somehow too similar to a previous performer’s realization of your piece?

3) If yes, and taking the issue to its logical extreme, might the interpretation of even a “fully-notated” (bearing in mind that there’s in reality no such thing) piece of yours be deemed the performers “property”? That they could end up “owning” that little attack, portamento or ritard?

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Reading Mai-Mai Sze’s Tao of Painting, I couldn’t help but be struck by this; it’s from the first part of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, written by Wang Kai in 1679:

Among those who study painting some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough. Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough. Some set great value on method; others pride themselves on dispensing with method. To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.

You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. …If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.

Now, I’m no “observe, Grasshopper…” kind of guy; but 325 years later, in a very different culture and artistic discipline, it still seems to me perfect advice to young composers.

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