Thursday, February 26, 2009

talk talk talk

Of Art and Art Music.

Lets face it, it seems some folks are bent on composers yakking about their work. What composers say about their music covers many categories:
  1. It’s good.
  2. It’s bad.
  3. It's indifferent.
  4. It’s great.
  5. It should be great, but…,
  6. Schoenberg got it wrong.
  7. Really, I’m not doing exactly what my teachers taught me to do.
  8. No, I am not part of club or team where the audience is made up of captive, self interested people, who think or want to be just like me.
  9. Or perhaps be our new team leader.
  10. I’m a commercial composer and I am only interested in what the gatekeepers will pay for.
  11. I’m an artist and I choose my projects for personal reasons only.
  12. Brittany Spears got it right.
  13. I'm more successful than you will ever be.
  14. Love me love my gamesmanship.
  15. We can pretend that there is no distance between us.
  16. The music does not come first.
No one says,
  1. “I want to hobnob with the rich and famous.”
  2. “I want to be in with the in crowd.”
  3. "I’m an insider your not.”
  4. What I say is a fabrication.

Anyway, it occurred to me that some explanations of work had no relation to the music. Are we so distanced from the actual effect of our music on other ears that we believe everyone naturally gets it? Are people suppose to get it just because we say so, or because its our party line? This reminds me of the curators at art galleries and museums, because composers seek to place their music into an editorial context rather than explain the music. Just because a composer believes their work to reference some other larger world, i.e. popular music genres, those folks have no idea who the composer is, and most of the time the composer has no experience in their world. Even if they did have experience what would that mean? Composers assume that everyone understands their private language.

Then how does an artist, even a commercial one, define their world?

1. The world of pop music, Broadway, television, and movies?
2. The classical music world of institutional opera, symphony, chamber music, and performance spaces?
3. The art world?
4. The crossover industry of unique performance spaces.
5. National and political world?
6. The University world?
7. The world itself?
8. Nationalism?
9. Style team?
10. Any subset of the above?
11. All of the above, etc.

Historically, we see that artists' explanations must be taken with a grain of salt. One can get it right for all the wrong reasons, or get it wrong for all the right ones. The Composer can have insight into their own works, but not their works context and how others might experience it. This is especially true if one style team presents their music to outsiders, those who don't know the tropes even if they know the ropes. It is also possible that some composer's musical insight extends to everyone but themselves. Looking in the mirror is harder then it looks.

Part of the problem this is that more people read text than read music, so the composer feels compelled to convince the listener of their approach through language, not just through the music. Academic training is geared towards the jargon rich language of the dissertation, which even within closely aligned disciplines is different. This kind of training does not naturally lead to plain speaking. The academic focus on being correct, with it, and above all a playa, this supersedes any issues like correct about what? How strange it is that so many folks who love complexity in language, for example Joyce and Beckett, hate complexity in music.

As I first mentioned, many composers say similar things about their music, but we tend give weight to the opinions of the successful, the composers of the moment, the old hands, not to mention the honored dead. Actual nobody cares at all about what composers say except other composers, foundation boards, and search committees. Well, perhaps a theorist or two if that particular composer is their subject. Take a terrible composer, like Schenker. He had insight into tonal music. The problem was he thought the history of music stopped with his personal likes and dislikes. Composer’s opinions tend the same way. What I like, my friends, The people on my team.

Then there is the problem of self interest. Self interest is a perfume that lingers around so many composers, and others, that the public is no longer interested in us as artistic leaders. This makes our talks all the more limited because even though we compose a work about "world peace" everyone knows or suspects that we threw Grandma under the bus to get the gig.

Today critics and academics take everything at face value. Critical thinking had its moment and it is past. This means that what the composers say about themselves, and others, has extra meaning. Well, it is an American tradition to reinvent one's self.

To put it bluntly believe the hype.

Just ask the "Howard Cosell" of new music.

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