Hearing Fast = Shallow Content [?]
first of two posts
A week ago Friday I attended a concert at Arizona State University. (The program closed with a super-hot performance of my sax quartet, Parallel Play – I couldn’t ask for a better delivery!)
What stuck out from the program at large, though, was that the music by the younger composers programmed seemed built according to pretty different expectations of just what audience members were meant to get from their listening experience:
Acceptance that this hearing would in all likelihood be their one-and-only encounter with this piece – and therefore the music’s goals / contents / ambitions needed to abide by reduced dimensionality so that everything possible to glean would be doable in one pass through the piece.
Because I operate from a very different premise, I was struck by the thinness of content – by and large – in the works built accordingly. And their markedly slow harmonic rhythm. And their relatively shorter length.
Don’t get me wrong: There were striking sonorities and hooks aplenty – but they were primarily found in the very opening bars where they serve to capture the ear, and set up the listening presumption that some variation on the first material might occur – but also that that’s all there would be /could be. It makes for a tidy presentation, but (for me) is a curiously lifeless way to sustain originality in any artistic statement.
– Sure, we want the basic materials of a piece actively refreshed to our ear from time to time; that’s what Recaps (and Developments) are for. (Not to mention the essence of fugue.) Affirmation and confirmation are for sure important signals in crafting comprehensible forms.
But, by the same token, shouldn’t there be the delight of un-expected discoveries, un-anticipated adventuring in the music? If not these, then how can a piece be memorable? — something savored so much in retrospect that – like a good book – you just have to seek it out for repeated encounters.
Six years back I participated in a panel discussion with 2 other composers of wind ensemble music, and the youngest guy there confided to the room that he builds his movements by the following formula:
Present three distinguishable bits, then toss them about for the movement’s length. Is this today’s industry standard??
Shana tovah ! to everyone.