I am back in New York City for a week, and the moment I landed, I got sick. Sick enough to really stay in bed and do absolutely nothing for two days. It felt like my body was telling me to take a rest after eight months of whirlwind motion in Rome.
Today I finally felt well enough to get up and met a friend of mine, Oscar Bianchi, at a cafe in the West Village. Oscar often composes in cafes, directly into Sibelius software, without sketches. His music is complex, dense, extremely rhythmic, and funky. He comes from a background of studying in Italy with the avant-garde, hyper-complex composer Adriano Guarnieri; a year-long seminar at IRCAM; and playing keyboards in an afro-pop band.
What strikes me about Oscar’s music is the risks that he takes. In Sibelius, anything you write is played back—in time, pitch-perfect. Yet when I look at his scores, great stretches of them seem unlikely to be played by actual performers. But—and this is the amazing part—when humans do perform his music, not only are they successful and virtuosic, the performances have a quality of treading a line between man and machine, between the possible and impossible.
Those of us who were taught before notation software may be suspect of composing without paper, without sketches. But for Oscar, the computer allows him to hear new rhythms, textures, and speeds. His music is undoubtedly fresh and singular—it is not computer music, but there is something about it that arises from computers.
Steve Reich was at the American Academy last week, and he said, in a slightly sheepish way, that he uses a computer to aid composition. I wonder if this embarrassment comes from an older generation of composers, or if it still exists.