On Criticism

My friend Leonard Pierce has written a thoughtful post on what it means to be a critic and why criticism has value, even in an age of thumbing ratings and aggregated scores. An excerpt:
Criticism can and should sometimes be a painful thing, in the same way that pain calls attention to something amiss in the body.  But it should never be about robbing people of the joy of art.  The role of the critic is to examine art closely, to see what it’s made of whether wondrous, fraudulent, or nothing at all.  Critics should never judge people by how they react to art. 
Please read the whole thing here.


On Babbitt

I never met Milton Babbitt, who died this past Saturday at 94, nor have I heard many of his works in concert,but his impact on my work was direct nonetheless.

Bill Hibbard, my teacher at Iowa, was a fan of Babbitt's music and had studied it extensively. When looking over a passage in a piece I was working on at the time (I don't remember what it was, what it was scored for, or even if I ever finished it), Dr. Hibbard seemed to sense that I was trying to do something with register (the high/low placement of notes in musical space) that I didn't have the experience or means of doing. Over the course of that lesson (which ran long) he decribed in extraordinary detail how Babbitt had dealt with registral issues in a few measure of Composition for Four Instruments (1948).

Part of the beauty of Hibbard's teaching was that he did not require or even expect me to use the specific techniques he or Babbitt or any other composer used. He wanted me to see how it's possible to use any aspect of sound to create expressive music. It's clear to me that he himself had learned that from his study of Babbitt's music.

And part of the beauty of Babbitt's music (and his writings and his work with young composers of many stylistic stripes), for this then-young composer anyway, was how it seemed to show that there are many paths to an individual musical voice.

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Phil Freeman, proprietor of Burning Ambulance, asked me to respond to a quote from Babbitt's most notorious article. My response is here.