Thursday, January 31, 2008
"The Sinking of the Titanic" (1969) by John Adams
"Christian Zeal and Activity," by Gavin Bryars
"Popcorn Superhet Receiver" by Jonny Greenwood
Check it out if you've got a moment..
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
In the preface to Music Downtown, Kyle Gann claims that the “younger generation” (the one to which I think I still belong) is more interested in vernacular music than classical, presumably inferring that this stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of former generations (namely, I assume, his). This assertion is patently ridiculous. While I won’t argue that my generation is, indubitably, more interested in vernacular music than classical music, we are not the first generation to adopt this attitude. The generation that “killed” classical music is not mine, but my parent’s (the one to which Gann belongs). Were I to ask my father to name five Romantic symphonies, he would laugh at me and go back to his Pink Floyd records. Were I to ask him to name five Rolling Stones songs, he’d have them listed in the time it took me to construct this sentence.
However, as much offense as I might take to Gann’s statement, I invoke this quote not so much to fault a specific generation, or even to fault Gann’s contention as such, as I do to engender an understanding of what my definition of Downtown music consists of, and why I feel Gann’s is faulty. Downtown music is more of a philosophical stand than a musical one, yet Gann is attempting to define it as one would normally group a music genre: by finding artists that share compositional common ground. With Uptown and Downtown, this won’t work. Even if we are to exempt geography (which, given that there are composers in places other than NYC, we certainly should), Uptown and Downtown composers should not be grouped by musical style, which would merely be divisive, but by similar philosophy.
The European influence that Gann cites as being indicative of Uptown and Midtown music is not so much a musical influence as it is an influence of attitude. The European tradition of sitting in concert halls, listening to music in a prescribed and narrowly defined genre, where compositional practice is defined by sets of rules, and analyzing that music strictly for academic content, is what uptown music has derived from European tradition. Downtown music took music out of the concert hall and into a setting comfortable to its participants, one generally tread upon by rock musicians. The very fact that composers of my parent’s generation were so interested in vernacular music is the reason that Downtown music even exists! The composers of “Downtown” music are steeped in the aesthetics of rock and jazz (so much for the assertion that Gann’s generation doesn’t place the same weight on vernacular music that mine does), and their musical philosophies reflect a sentiment not characterized by rules or confinement, but rather by expansion; taking different influences, refusing to be pigeonholed, questioning definitions, and removing art music both from the concert hall and from its pedestal as “art music”.
Furthermore, the definers of Uptown and Downtown with regards to musical content have become blurred. I find it amusing that in the introduction and preface to Gann’s Music Downtown, he cites that New Complexity, as led by Ferneyhough, Reynolds, and their ilk, is a rallying cry for Uptown music, yet, in American Music’s chapter on post-Cage conceptualism, he cites New Complexity as a conceptualist style, thus, according to his criteria, rooted in the DOWNTOWN scene! Additionally, Steve Reich, perhaps the very picture of downtown music, himself claims major influence from Stravinsky, the primary exponent of European neo-classicism! This is one of Downtown music’s most fascinating facets: it can draw influence, in the same piece, even, from Bach, The Beatles, and Berio, and still be Downtown. In fact, this diversity of influence might even, according to some, make this hypothetical piece MORE “Downtown”.
Gann makes the statement, towards the end of the introduction, that, as he transitions from the world of Downtown New York City to the world of academia, he finds that he is now “too old” to be a faithful and reliable barometer of Downtown music. It seems to me that Gann is primarily associating Downtown music, a burgeoning music style characterized by aggressive challenging of musical precept and a relaxed attitude towards the uncommon, with youth, and, no doubt he is right to do so, as Downtown music is A) a young movement, and B) these values are also characteristic of adolescence and post-adolescence. Now, I’m not one to be ageist-great composers and performers, even great critics, can come at any age. Reich, Perlman, Christgau: all are icons of the aforementioned three fields, and all three are over 60. Similarly, Nico Muhly, Hilary Hahn, Chuck Klosterman: all are of my generation, and they continue to excel in fields set by their predecessors. So, perhaps, then, Gann isn’t too old: perhaps he’s just too crotchety.
Good comments! I came up with a definition of music while a graduate student that has served me well, lo these many years, and is inclusive enough to embrace 4'33" as music:
Music is sound organized in time by a composer, performer, OR A LISTENER. The implication being that any sounds, when heard in an aesthetic or inquisitive way, can be perceived or considered music.
Added to this early definition of mine has been my study and practice of mindfulness meditation, which seeks to train bare or pure attention. When one drops judgement and engages any of the senses fully, i.e., without the distraction of a discursive or judgemental mind, life can be experienced as a mystery and/or a work of art. I have always thought that Cage's aesthetics late in his life (as Kyle Gann says in his Chapter 6) were in large part shaped through his encounter with Zen Buddhism, which teachers pure attention and seeks in ways to undermine the rational mind so that we can open to mystery, to freedom. But perhaps this is a separate thread.
Anyway, good discussion. Thank you.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I enjoyed our class yesterday, and although it was not a model of “efficiency,” it was great that everyone had a chance to speak their piece (perhaps not yet “peace” but we’re getting there). I had a nice long conversation with Andy after the class where we evaluated what we did and how we might make the seminar sessions both energizing and productive, in terms of our learning and delight.
As you know, the idea behind assigning chunks of Gann’s American Music (AM) and giving reports was to have everyone familiar with the compositional “roots” leading up to 1968, while lightening the reading and listening load. Although this worked pretty well, this approach does not lead to class discussion, because most of the class has not read or listened to the music assigned to one pair of buddies. This makes the learning more passive than active. Even though there is a lot of music, we have time to make sure our foundation is strong and we can move a little slower. So those who were chosen to REPORT on chapters will serve more as discussion leaders than just presenters, so that all can be included in the discussion. So, Leah and Paul will serve as discussion leaders for the rest of Chapter 6, while Charlie and Bryan W. will lead the discussion for Chapter 7. With that in mind, I propose we do the following for the next class:
From Gann’s American Music in the 20th Century
Everyone read the rest of Gann’s AM Chapter 6 (that is the part not yet reported on by Leah and Paul) and read the beginning of Chapter 7. This involves the following pages:
Gann, American Music in the 20th Century, pp. 145-152 (review, pp. 127-145 on Cage and Feldman); Chapter 7, pp. 154-172 (you can complete reading the chapter if you like, up to 184).
All of Chapters 6 and 7 should be on eReserve for MUS 702 by the end of the day (1/18), so they are easily accessible, if you do not have the book yet.
Also from Gann, Music Downtown, everyone read the following (also on eReserve)
pp. xiii-xix (Preface)
pp. 1-15 (Introduction)
pp. 293-297 (“philosopher no more,” obituary for John Cage)
These pages are CORE for us: the definition and laying out of the field of “Downtown Music,” which we shall be studying intensively before and after Kyle Gann’s visit. Also the position he assigns to Cage is a very powerful one, and it would be good for you to respond to it on the blog.
In addition, please try to do the following listening, associated with Chapters 6 and 7 of AM:
John Cage, Sonatas and Interludes, excerpts; The “Numbers” Pieces
Morton Feldman, Why Patterns?
David Tudor, Rainforest
Chapter 7: Post-Cage Conceptualism
Robert Ashley, Perfect Lives
Pauline Oliveros (in class sonic meditation)
Alvin Lucier, I am Sitting in a Room
James Tenney, Chromatic Canon
Roger Reynolds, The Emperor of Ice Cream
Andy has agreed to put all of these on eReserve for MUS 702. If he has any problems with this, he will let us know.
So you asked for some specific topics to write about and here they are. What do you think about Gann’s definition and assessment of “Downtown Music?” How about his assessment of John Cage? Is John Cage more of a philosopher than a composer? Is 4’33” music?
There should be enough in here to goad you into blogging. Also choose at least one of the assigned listening pieces to comment upon.
Be realistic. There is a healthy bit of reading and listening for this week, but it is a WEEK’S worth of work, not just a day’s worth, so pace yourself. If you cannot finish it all, be selective so that you can be informed enough to join the discussion. Have opinions based on your experience.
That’s all for now. See you on the blog!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
So here it goes - here is my list:
1. Steve Reich - New York Counterpoint
2. Paul Lansky - Idle Chatter
3. Michael Gordon - Trance
4. John Supko - This Windoow Makes Me Feel...
5. David Lang - Child Album
On a more practical note, I find this works best when you use Firefox for your internet browser. Also, you can use bold and italic (which is by far easier in Firefox), but it is a little bit of a pain. Just an FYI.
Also, once you have gone through the steps, feel free to put up a post of your own. Once people get comfortable, it is very easy to link to other sites/blogs or post photos and videos which makes things very interesting. Hope to hear from you all soon!