Monday, February 1, 2010

Run for your life

I was never one to sell a bill of goods.  Who would believe me anyway? 
Recently there has been some ground swell to make the experimental "gesture" composers minimalists. 
Say What?

Naturally one hopes this isn't just an attempt to create relevance (good for teaching to the unfamiliar), or to grab on to the coattails of those very very successful composers.  By the way those composers  have done an end run around a whole generation of other composers--just as the  commercial electronic composers have done to the academic electronic profession. 

For many and for a long time "serious" music for all the arts excluding music was exclusively John Cage and followers (these I call gesture composers), or perhaps Jazz, and then some kinds of really hip rock music (the folks who hanged with the art crowd)1.  This has changed with John Cage dead this leaves a vacuum needing to be filled. Now it's the motion composer's show. 

To state the obvious: If the gesture composers were in operation long before the motion music people why privilege the term minimalist?   Especially since the gesture composers created these techniques.

Since the unexperimental "classical music" world has seemingly rejected the motion composers (actually they have not, especially if you count commissions and performances, and if so its just a few composers)so this could be a simple case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  the enemy of my enemy is my friend - the enemy being trained composers who compose dissonant music.  Teams join up.

Politics aside just because something fulfills the same function doesn't mean that its the same thing.  Better or worse.  Supplanting Cage is perhaps so politically uncongenial that it is best just to say you didn't do it, or it didn't happen.  John Cage is so much more "relevant" than Carl Orff (a composer who is much closer in sound and success to the motion composers [for a more detailed explanation of possible origins see my style-a-matic-2000 in my composition lessons]). 

Then again we are not discussing the music at all but musical politics. May be it just feels good to say these things even though John Cage did not like the motion composers or Jazz.     

So let the revisionism begin.

In C by Terry Riley is strongly accented and has improvisation and no instrumentation other than the pulse.  The motion composers have no connection to this as they are strictly notated and orchestrated. Harmonically too their are differences as in major and a wall of sound for In C and minor and appegiated clarity for the motions.
Yes they both have repetition, but if that is your proof which composer doesn't? 

Most important In C is a happening for the performers.  Its fun. On the other hand motion music is not only hard work and difficult to play, but besides evoking a cool seriousness, exists to showcase something else other than the music.  This could be a concept, or a visual image, or a film or the composer themselves.

Well don't take it from me. 

1. Naturally these generalizations exclude all those with open and flexible minds. The classical music world that I know includes jazz and besides that is in constant flux.  Certainly not a monolith..

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