This and That

A reader sent me a copy of this CD, by Duo 46. The duo consists of violinist Beth Ilana Schneider and guitarist Matt Gould. All of the music on this album (by Anthony Joseph Lanman, Daniel Adams, Paul Richards, Kristi McGarity, Richard P. Schaefer, Pierre Jalbert, Joshua Penman, Neil Flory, Russell Sarre, and Stacy Garrop) was commissioned by the Duo. The program explores a great deal of the textural possibility (but hardly all of it) presented by this challenging medium. The pieces are exceptionally well-played and recorded. Buy it, and the Duo can commission more music!

I've added Rob Witts' Musicircus to the blogroll. For two reasons: He has the good taste to post about Richard Powers, one of my favorite writers, and the bad judgement to list me as one of his "Daily Readings".

Kyle Gann rhapsodizes about finally getting to hear a performance of Roy Harris' Third Symphony (scroll about 5/8 of the way down). In a later post, about the need for different kinds of singers for different kinds of operas (a point I heartily agree with), Mr. Gann perorates thusly:

Maybe they'll appear when classical music finally dies, which classical musicians keep promising me is about to happen, so I keep waiting for the final announcement. It's been dying longer than friggin' Generalissimo Franco.

It would have been bitterly ironic had the hoped-for demise (accent on the first syllable, ala Ward Bond) occured before Mr. Gann got to hear the Harris.


New Directions in Lounge Music

I went to lunch last Friday with some new colleaques. The restaurant had a grand piano that was outfitted with a device (several generations [technologically speaking] old) that sent MIDI signals to the piano, causing it to play standards and pop songs. For minutes at a time, however, the device would malfunction and send out MIDI signals that would play isolated chords (triads up through 9th chords) and brief (two- or three-notes) melodic fragments with long, pregnant pauses between them. I dropped a chip into the tip jar and wondered how much it got per Gig.


The Times Are Never So Bad

Two recent posts highlight some issues that are central to artistic experience in today's world.

Greg Sandow rebuts the canard that young people have a shorter attention span than earlier generations. Greg mentions activity after activity associated with young people that require intense concentration for long periods of time. He goes on to attribute the aesthetic trends that some point to when leveling the short-attention-span charge--quick cutting in film and video, especially--to a desire for complexity, due to the ability to process more information, faster. I tend to agree with Greg, in part, but I would point out that more information doesn't necessarily lead to more complexity. And both of these desires may be in play here. (Alex Ross gently bemoaned the desire of some younger composers for more complexity not too long ago in a post that pre-echoes some of Greg's points.)

I think the kind of complexity that Greg notes may have more to do with an aesthetic that I have felt in the air for a few years than with a desire for complexity, per se. I call it the aesthetic of co-incidence, and I've seen and felt in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love), the television series Boomtown, and in the novels of Richard Powers (especially Gain and Plowing the Dark). All of these treat coincidence as thematic material, and have coincidences that would be eye-roll inducing in other contexts. The techniques used in these works--radical tone shifts, changes of cinematography, multiple points-view, and changes of voice and tone--all provide the layering necessary for this aesthetic of co-incidence to work. And they can be very complex.

The other post is an excellent one by George Hunka on his struggles with one of Schoenberg's piano pieces. Read the whole thing, of course, but the part most relevant to our discussion is this:

As I mentioned in an earlier post (and with the nagging feeling I'm beating a dead horse), the piece I'm working on is scarcely a minute long, but so far I've heard it (in both my own dreadful rendition and those of other pianists) a hundred times, at least. As Beethoven and Wagner reshaped the course of music, their more daring compositions waited for years to be recognized; now the Choral Symphony and the Tristan love-death motif are as familiar and listenable to many of us as old show tunes, even if only as an element of a movie score. As we heard them over and over again, as their innovations trickled down to more popular and less rarefied forms of music, they became a part of the culture–not offensive or challenging to the ears any more, even boring to some. Considering the disapprobation that still attaches to the work of Schönberg and the Second Viennese School generally nearly a century or so following its composition, I wonder how much of this is attributable to the fragmentation of our leisure time.
I think he's right about the fragmentation of leisure time, though that doesn't square with certain points Greg made about the willingness of people to spend hours learning the complexities of video games or to spend hours getting a sound just right on a recording. Still.

There's something to this, and it may be, as George suggests, related to the strangeness of Schoenberg's idiom, despite the fact that it is nearly a century old. It is interesting to note that in an age when people will gladly sit through multiple viewings/hearings of Tolkien and/or Wagner, the blazing intensity of these short pieces by Schoenberg (and others like them) remains problematic.


Workshop (I)

Everything is Green is simmering on the back burner for the moment, while I take care of some other projects that keep insisting on attention. I just finished a short piece for brass quintet called A Certain Light. The title comes from the remarkable Chapter VI of Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

Let the trumpets sound! But not too loudly.


I've been asked to post a link to the allClassicHall classical music forum. If it proves to be substantive, I'll link it in the "Links and Resources" on the main page here.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson provides an introduction to Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated here. There's a link for just about every section of the piece.

I'm cleaning up the blogroll a bit by removing the links to individual Sequenza21 composer/bloggers. The growing list of composers blogging at S21 can be found on the magazine's homepage, or at the S21 Composer's Forum, which will remain in the blogroll.