Happy New Year! I trust that by now many of you have checked out our January profile of Mikel Rouse and, if not, will do it now! These profiles are always a lot of fun to make, and this one generated plenty of insights for me, as I find myself straddling a fence between one musical generation and another, able to catch a glimpse of each one from the in-limbo state of a person almost exactly between the two—ten years younger than those who were artistically very active during the 1980s, and ten years older than those finding their creative voices in the beginning of the 21st century.
As Mikel spoke about his early experiences with the band Tirez Tirez, the ensemble Broken Consort, and about the challenges he has faced—and still does—in finding a home (i.e. genre) for his music, it sounded just like the struggles many composers face now who are writing music that doesn’t automatically fit into a prescribed genre. Thirty years ago Rouse and others were already making what has now become known as “Indie-classical” or, um, “this alt-classical stuff.” While it is clear that “bandsembles” are not new inventions, the current incarnations are happening with original twists, just as earlier groups presented angles and approaches of their own. For instance, composer-driven ensembles have often in the past (as one would expect) been focused on the work of that single composer. The Philip Glass Ensemble plays the music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Musicians plays the music of Steve Reich, and Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company for the most part played the music of David Borden. Among groups formed within the past five to ten years, the emphasis on community building and the means by which music is disseminated provide a different slant. In 2011 numerous ensembles have composer members and/or function as composer/performer collectives, such as NOW Ensemble, Newspeak, Dither Quartet, Ne(x)tworks, Imani Winds, ICE, etc. While they do, of course, perform the music of those composer-members, they also play music by many, many other composers. And in addition to fostering a real sense of community, respect, and friendship between composers and performers, they are making significant headway into changing the way contemporary music is presented by throwing genre specifications to the wind and opening up into the spaces where different styles of music meet. As much as I think this is fabulous for us all, there is so much fussing and fuming about this topic! Change can be hard, folks, but look at it this way; it’s not new, it’s just different.
Just as one can hear plenty of “older” composers grumbling about current events in the new music scene, “Who do these kids think they are?? They didn’t invent this music! We’ve been doing this for decades!” at the same time the “youngsters” are pooh-pooh-ing “Those crusty people over 30! Totally clueless!” Far more interesting to me is witnessing some heartwarming bridges between the generations, in the forms of, to name just a few, Molissa Fenley choreographing to the music of Lainie Fefferman, or Bang On A Can featured as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival, and Joan Jeanrenaud making beats with PC Muñoz!
It seems that the older generation should be proud of, not to mention reap the benefits of, the years they spent building musical roadways, while the younger generation, which is (and should be) taking advantage of those routes and repaving them using their own materials—as the generation after them will surely do—can always be learning from the past. At this point in my life I feel really lucky to be perched between these two amazing groups! And I can’t wait to find out who will be arriving next, and how they will continue to reshape the musical landscapes of our time.