Another of Smooke’s 2/22/11 NMBx comments just made me laugh. “Most people’s tastes ossify by the time they reach maturity, and throughout their adult life they seek comfort through repeated encounters with the art of their youth.”

Very Not-So. Born-in-the-bone composers possess a big bump of curiosity about music — about all the arts, about life — which gets scratched regularly, and often. The “non-Pergolesi”s among us know that our individual artistic voices mature over time — that we come into our own just about when a professional baseball player’s career is winding down.

We continue actively to meet music in score and in sound. We constantly evaluate, re-assess, incorporate a new approach or perspective when it works with what we’re all about. We welcome fresh approaches (that aren’t gimmicks), and have no fear to step out, step forward. In short, no calcification!

[ What about academia, you ask? Well… maybe. But I suspect a large part of the slow-to-change, “I-teach-as-I-was-taught” groove comes from the fact that source materials -- anthologies, music history and appreciation texts – just plain do not keep up. But there are fuddy-duddies out there, unhappily. ]

I’m so sure that the next-biggest-thing will be the product of a mature music creator that the annual prize I endow (through IAWM) is specifically for a composer over 30 whose music has not yet been published or performed in a principal venue.

There’s wisdom – seasoned, at that – to discover your position within the continuum that runs from “Time is of the essence” to “All things come to the one who waits.”

~ One happy proponent of ‘hearing it all, all the time’ is Frank Oteri . He often writes in NMBx about his philosophy of openness to all the music out there, as on March 1st: “I’ve attempted to eschew self-selection and try to approach everything with completely open eyes, ears, and heart.”

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Music Maker JLZ 26

A recent NewMusicBox column was titled “Changing Tastes” ( Feb. 22, 2011). In it David Smooke discusses, with some wonder, the fact that his musical tastes have changed over ten years.

I certainly agree with one of his observations : “The works that really get my brain buzzing [now] don’t always work in one hearing…. Their elusive logic excites me.” What’s most meaningful here is an underlying acceptance that we’ll want to hear the piece more than once.

This chimes with what Leo Kraft has said many times — that what we get from a first hearing basically is that something in the music calls us back to want to hear it again. The music might delight, irritate, mystify or confuse in a way we find intriguing, but overall it has to have an impact, inviting us back to hear it again.   What music shouldn’t ever do is be so boring, so transparent — or signal so constantly about what we’re about to hear that we know too well what will come next — that it leaves us afterward saying “So what?” That’s death for art.

We have no control over the life circumstances of the people listening to our music. We can’t prescribe how folks take in — process, comprehend – what we put forth. All we can do is remain true to the internal prompts that keep our music vital: that it be fresh in concept and intriguing in its clothing out, that it warrant its length ( short or long), and that it offer something to savor through repeat hearings (and in multiple performances).

[ Recently I heard from a performer who was readying a Naxos disc of my music for next year, that the reason he chose one of these pieces was because it mystified yet interested him when he heard someone else play it – he just had to put it through the rehearsal-performance crucible himself in order to find out what makes it tick. ]

Yes, our age demands lots of product. And some of it is intended to have a shelf-life as brief as a quart of milk’s. But if the intention behind what we do is to make something more durable, then we’ve got to do precisely that – honestly.

============
From Richard Nilsen’s Feb. 27th AZ Republic review of an Arizona MusicFest concert ( Arutunian trumpet concerto, M. Bates “Desert Transport”, Rachmaninoff Symphony #2). His says of one work: “Completely competent, even magnificent in its craftsmanship, but we’ve heard this music before in other contexts. Is that enough to make it musically satisfying?”
But of the Rach: “It was music to break your heart…. When it’s over you come away knowing you’ve been through an experience… of deep, profound emotion.   Competence cannot do that.”

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Early-bird notice: I plan to post regularly this year. With 4 CDs in various stages of readiness and a new e-book — not to mention beginning the fourth movement of my Symphony No. 4 “Pure, Cool”, this week — there’s a fair amount to chew over.

I’ll link my Facebook page with the direct posts here at S21.

Please stay tuned!

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I’ve been following the Bravo TV  reality series, “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist”  ( fifth episode this week).   It tracks  a group  of  young-ish  artists, most of whom  have already   been exhibited ,  and  assigns  them a fresh project each week  to be conceived and completed  in about  1.5 days.    

    The completed works  are  then displayed  in a private gallery showing followed by a critiqued from  a panel  of  judges ( a core or regulars, plus  one  fresh prominent figure per week;   one week it was Andres Serrano.)   The projects range from utilitarian-but-arty  (design a book cover for a classic novel re-issue)  to  almost-unspecified  ( “do something outrageous”),  and at times  the artists  receive their assignments  by lot,  with no say as to  the subject agreeing with their own affinities ( or preferred medium).

 Although  it’s  the  usual  winnowing-out  design typical of such programs – and   I don’t at all care  who gets  tapped as eventual  winner –  I’d pinpoint  the same  two interesting  elements within each   hour-long segment :

  •  The very different  processes each  of the artists  follows  in      interpreting  the assigned  project.   These are profiled in some detail – surprise!  — and follow  the  gradual  development  of each new work.  This   manages to take  up a big slice  of  the program, some  20+  minutes.  

        It’s exhilarating to see cameras  paying attention to  a working-out  that stems from  labor which is  primarily  ‘head-work’ .     And  rare.

•  A refrain in the judges’  comments,  present virtually every week:    that  the works  they find  successful  do  *in some respect*  provide  for  viewers to respond  to the piece – and  actively.    ( For example,  they very much admired  works  in which the artist incorporated a mirror,  or  sign-in boards  to register comment, or  placed  him/herself actually  physically into the piece ; etc. )    

       Of course the judges  want  the artist’s   individual  personality  to be expressed in the  piece – but  beyond that,  and  far  from an auteur context where a viewer is only meant to “receive” an utterly  complete document -  the judges want the  art to  invite  the viewer  to respond, so that the work is ‘incomplete’  unless and until someone reacts to it in a way  that  registers to other viewers.  ( This  forested  tree  demands the  listening ear  be there !  so  its fall  can  be  heard.) 

 There’s  plenty of opinion flying about throughout  the episode  — in addition to the judges,  the artists  themselves comment  liberally on one another’s  work  throughout the show.    If  you pay no mind to the trumped-up  personality  conflicts  and  the  bland  or fatuous criticism  ( or the commercials),  the  show  can  be worth screening. 

         The level  of  the  works  — particularly  those by  three of the competitors  still ‘alive’ – is  certainly  professional.    And  the prize is  $100,000.  plus  a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum.     Sarah Jessica Parker  is  one of the program originators.

               – Would that composers could reap the same  on-camera attention for our head-scratching  hours…!

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October 3 , 2009

My Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra gets its world premiere in Baltimore on October 7th , and I‘ll be there. It’s scored for soloist and large wind ensemble; Harlan Parker conducts the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble with Timothy Hoft as piano soloist. The program also includes Husa’s Music for Prague 1968, and works by Carolyn Bremer and Percy Grainger.

Subtitled “Solar Traveller”, the three-movement Concerto is a half-hour long, and is definitely absolute music. Over the years I’ve written works which center in the vastness, wonder, and beauty of sky and space – music that has to do with appreciating natural cycles and the discovery of whole systems outside our normal frames of reference. These pieces are not program music but they all carry descriptive titles. So does the Concerto; its three movements are “Outward Bound”, “Nocturne (Lunar)”, and “Ad astra per aspera”. Its only programmatic element is an embedded technical feature – each movement’s core material is a progressively smaller musical interval, thus mirroring the compressive forces associated with the propulsion necessary to leave Earth’s gravity.

Quite by chance, the Concerto is timely – just in the past two weeks we’ve learned that NASA has uncovered evidence of water hidden on both the Moon and Mars(!). For myself, living in Arizona has as benefit a state mandate that the night sky not be cluttered with light – I’m someone who faithfully tracks the space station on its night-time visible passes across the sky’s dome, and thrills at the sight.

[“Solar Traveller” was commissioned by partnerships of wind ensemble conductors and pianists at Peabody Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Indiana State University, Louisiana State University, Shepherd University, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern Mississippi. Individual state premieres will take place over this season and the next. ]

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September 1, 2009

With “BEASTS”, the newest movement recently posted, I’ve been musing on a particular side-note to this summer ‘experiment’ . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nr6XFT6z1Fo

We started the series because I was annoyed to see some recordings/performances of selected pieces of mine get co-opted for YouTube presentations I considered to be lame, or — in one case – a copyright infringement as regards the art work.

Because I cannot endorse composing originally for a royalty-free medium, my project’s premise is to use only single movements from larger works, and only music from already-issued LP/CDs, with consent obtained ahead of time from the conductors and publishers.

The response from many (around the world) has been to correspond privately with me about the music – music which they are first encountering via the videos, years after the recordings were issued: Source recordings for these videos appeared first in 1979, 1995, 1998, and 2007. And three of the four movements have been available on the Internet — for free — for at least 2 years

We consider the series is successful on its own terms – for example, Texas Public Radio’s Classical Blog has linked to two of the movements . This suggests the timeliness for a discussion now on the reach, and clout, of this type of communications channel.

Composers should look to develop professional guidelines for projects like these that can serve as targeted conduits to a different, broader audience.

BEASTS

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August 17, 2009

~ A mysterious sequence of night visions.

The newest movement in the suite of four Music/Art videos being posted over the summer months, partnering my husband Gary’s artwork and my music.

“ Borealis ”
- now ready to view at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPg8vdqoJg

very different from last month’s light-hearted first movement,
“The Joy of Dance” ( now widely available ).

The project is a collaboration between the Arizona artists and NY videographer Michael Bregman.

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August 10, 2009

This just in by email last night from a composer back East.
(I’ve been corresponding with a number of composers since my newest Music/Art video came out last week – “Borealis”. )

Here is an experienced composer speaking from his heart:

“I dream of the day when I can find large enough uninterrupted periods of time to actually write music as I
want to. Knowing even as I do how hard it is to get any of performed — most of the music I’ve written has been for specific programming needs for specific groups I’ve been involved with so it’s always gotten performed, and I haven’t had the problem of writing something and then hoping someone
wants it performed. But that also has limited me in what I could write since I had to take the technical limitations of
the personnel in the groups into account. And ultimately the greatest limiting factor was the lack of time to
experiment, change, re-listen, explore and finally end with works which allowed/forced me to work beyond what I had thought my capabilities are.”

We’re in an era of funding contraction. And I fearthat makes it ever more challenging today for an American composer to establish a distinct personality in new music – one which may not gibe so readily with established styles.

Yet some of us continue to make that statement, take that risk.

J L Zaimont

“L’audace, toujours l’audace!” – Georges Danton

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December 9, 2008
Science Fiction — with all its parallel universes –  has nothing on  the myriad  worlds comprising the realm of New Music.  

   
What ‘stars’ we navigate by,  what  principles of operation frame and validate our individual bodies of work are exceedingly  personal, and – more than ever before -  idiosyncratic.  
Niche mentality  much too  often brings disdain towards those only slightly-different from ourselves.  I worry that there’s a  consistent, fair bit of sniping across our chosen borders.   
            How do we talk  meaningfully across these?   Is it possible to exactly hear  , with every nuance intact,  just what another composer is saying?    
             Does your world  contain a population greater than one ?  
All hail sympathetic  translators! (“Good fences [should] make good neighbors.”) 
             Zealots need not apply….

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Serendipity!    About one month apart comes news of two different – and successful – approaches by artists intent to reach their publics direct, bypassing any agent, gallery owner, or other middleman.

I discovered the first on a plane back from Vienna in an article in The Economist  detailing  a two-day auction of artist Damien Hirst’s newest works.   (The article appeared  last month on the day Lehman Brothers collapsed.)  The experimental sale of   pieces by the artist well-known for various  works featuring a shark as icon, took place at Sotheby’s in London; it was preceded by  “unprecedented  public interest” in the week prior to the sale, with 21,000 visitors coming to view the sale preview in an eleven-day period.

The Hirst sale included at last one bidding war via telephone, and  netted an amazing total of 178 million dollars.   ( Damien Hirst  himself was not present at the first evening, understandably finding the occasion “too stressful”.  )

The second item is from today’s NY Times Magazine, titled Painting by Numbers.

Two art directors in the NY ad business,  have  web-based art enterprise which sells original works and began by selling to a targeted list of  folks who were their internet contacts.  The novelty here is that the artworks – minimal, ‘iconic’ in look -  each carry realistic price-tags, mostly quite low;  and the subject of each painting is a portrait of the thing the makers wish to buy with the proceeds of the sale.  Examples  of their works already sold:  bottle of aspirin;  plane ticket; hotel room for a night in Las Vegas; new bikini; good luck (this picture was free !).

Each of these enterprises appeals to a quite differentiated  group of buyers ( big bucks /   modest bucks).  Both appear to be successful.

What kind of lesson lurks here for composers — ?

“L’audace, toujours l’audace!”
– Georges Danton

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