In his piece last week, Randy Nordschow made reference to a certain composer’s interest in professional wrestling. I’d heard about this before, through the grapevine, but until Randy (who can be considered an authority as far as I’m concerned) brought it up, I’d maintained my skepticism. However, a little thumbnail research has revealed that the noted semiotician Roland Barthes wrote on the subject; former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould, it seems, used to write WWE storylines. Maybe the real question is why more composers don’t throw some pizza bagel bites in the microwave and snag a spot on the couch for some Monday Night RAW. This was a weekly ritual during my undergraduate years, but I always assumed that I was the only composer pedestrian enough to enjoy such spectacle. Maybe there’s a thriving community of closet Stone Cold-aholics within the new music world.
I don’t know what Ferneyhough finds appealing about it, but for me, the appeal of pro wrestling for composers rests in the dramaturgy of the match. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider a wrestling match a form of guided improvisation: Although the eventual outcome and several teleological check-ins are prescribed, the flow of the match is extemporized around these landmarks. Within this structure, local events are characterized by the interaction of the performers’ physical vocabularies (the Rock’s is instantly recognizable), influenced by the audience’s reactions, and conditioned by our knowledge of the match’s circumstances within the persistent storyline. Thus abstracted to its experiential shape, the dynamics of a wrestling match are comparable to a piece of music’s. I saw a Goldberg-Lesnar match in 2004 that reminds me, in retrospect, of Nicolaus Huber’s work. HBK specializes in Beethovenian epics; Triple H is the Tchaikovsky of the WWE.
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? There are dramas (or non-dramas) being presented all around us, even in the wrestling ring, that are cut from the same cloth as what we experience when we listen to music. Seeing past the “nouns” of pro wrestling to its “verbs”—its abstract transformations—may take a great deal of patience for machismo and spandex, but it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only composer who finds it worthwhile.