Is There in Truth No Beauty?

While folks across the country marched in parades, fired up the barbeque, or went out-of-town, I spent the Memorial Day weekend catching up with listening to recordings I’ve acquired over the past six months, and in some cases earlier. Of course, in Zeno’s Paradox fashion, every time I feel like I make a dent in the piles of unheard CDs and LPs, the piles magically grow again. Well, perhaps not so magically—I kicked off the weekend going record shopping, and so my listening festival was a combination of stuff waiting in the queue and the newly acquired.

It would be difficult to enumerate highlights, especially since I’m not a partisan of ranking, but curiosities included a 1980 Western-styled Chinese opera by Wang Shi-guang and Cui Ke-xiang called The Hundredth Bride which sounded somewhat akin to Rimsky-Korsakov; solo piano music from Albania created under the strict guidelines of former dictator Enver Hoxha (who by comparison makes Stalin seem like a fan of Helmut Lachenmann); an incomplete collection of the complete pre-1955 recordings of jazz/R&B singer Dinah Washington (I’m still hunting down a few volumes); and a three-hour sonata for solo violin by an enigmatic Swedish composer named Claude Loyola Allgén (1920-1990) who was forced to melt snow in his bathtub in order to drink after his water supply was cutoff for lack of payment.

But two things I listened to struck me not just because I really liked what I was hearing but also because of provocations contained in the recordings’ liner notes. The first comes from the premiere recording of Alec Wilder’s 1959 Suite for Brass Quintet, performed by the New York Brass Quintet, one of the first such groups. (By the way, the NYBQ’s playing both on the Wilder and a quintet by Don Hammond on the LP’s other side, sounds nothing like contemporary brass quintet playing; it sounds more like either a jazz combo or a reduced pit orchestra for a 1950s Broadway show.)

There is an ever increasing trend among many of our contemporary composers; the seeming necessity to divorce their creative impulse from their performers and listeners. Often by the simple device of adopting a “system” which is complex beyond the ear of the auditor, the composer achieves a dual victory over critic and competition, and at the same time, through the completely abstract method of approach, the creator remains unscathed and unrevealed.

(New York Brass Quintet presents Two Contemporary Composers,
Golden Crest LP CR-4017)

The second is a quote by Peter Mennin accompanying a recording of his all-too-little-known Five Pieces for Piano from 1950:

I feel that it is inappropriate for the composer—who has been looking inward during the creation of the work—to have to explain merely the compositional technique without the emotional involvement with the content of the musical ideas that created the urgency to make the work come into being.

(from Contemporary Record Society LP 8528)

Both liner note comments seemed very effectively reinforced by the pieces of music they were describing, 1950s works of a decidedly un-modernist bent that came into being as modernism was becoming the paradigm for that era. In fact, while both pieces of music might come across as quaint and somewhat old-fashioned to some listeners today, they actually seemed downright defiant to me. Perhaps even more defiant than Arnold Schoenberg, who in his Harmonielehre drew a distinction between beauty and truth which now nearly a century later seems like yet another Berlin Wall:

Beauty begins to appear at that moment when the noncreative become aware of its absence. It does not exist earlier because the artist has no need of it. For him, truth suffices.

Mind you, I write this as someone who finds a whole lot of beauty in Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet and Piano Concerto and many other works. But as I continue to struggle with two pieces of my own music—as luck would have it, a brass quintet and a composition for solo keyboard both inspired by the working out of systems—I would counter that truth probably doesn’t suffice. However, despite truth allegedly being objective and beauty inevitably being subjective, is it possible for truth not to always contain some beauty and for beauty not to always contain some truth?

69 thoughts on “Is There in Truth No Beauty?

  1. William Osborne

    “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.”

    –Bertrand Russell The Study of Mathematics, in Mysticism and Logic, and Other Essays,ch. 4, London: Longmans, Green, 1918:

    “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought

    As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

    –John Keats , Ode to a Grecian Urn (1819):

    Beauty and truth might have a few cross-cultural, quasi universal characteristics based on phenomenological correlations between the human mind and the physical universe. For example, we like people with symmetrical faces and bodies because they represent individuals possibly free of genetic defects. Our brains seem to be hardwired to appreciate this. Mathematics and Grecian urns might similarly represent formal structures of order that can help secure our existence and survival.

    Nevertheless, we also embrace darker forces, like hatred, greed, deceit. We celebrate ugliness because it is part of our nature. We capture these impulses and give them aesthetic form. Beauty and ugliness, truth and lies, create a dialectic. Synergistic permutations evolve. Metaphors arise. It is our human fate that art is only born out of good and evil.

    Good luck with the brass quintet.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  2. philmusic

    The “third stream” classical/popular music connection has been around a lot longer than we think. We tend to forget that a opera singer, Robert Merrill, had a No. 1 “hit parade” hit as a pop singer in the 1940′s. “the whiffenpoof song”

    As always it still seems that the modernist/anti-modernist conflict is still the only arts debate in town-when in fact its not. What of the outsiders and insiders regardless of style?

    There was a time when composers had to chose following either Brahms or Wagner. I think that time is past? Isn’t it?

    Phil Fried, Big Boss of the University of Lilliput

    Reply
  3. rtanaka

    Interesting article as always, Frank.

    Some people listen to music because it allows them to escape their daily toils of existence. The fantastic often allows people to feel as if they were part of something greater than themselves…it can become excessive, but I think that it’s necessary for people to have some level of fantasy in their lives in order to be relatively happy.

    On the other hand, some people like to listen to music because it’s “real”. The success of a blues singer lamenting about life’s difficulties largely depends on how well the audience can identify with what’s being expressed in the music. It’s an emotional release, but also very comforting in knowing that there are those out there with common experiences.

    Classical music has historically always been a very idealistic, transcendal enterprise. Personally I think the high-modernists took this idealism to an extreme, reflected in the subject matter of their work which often contain elements of the fantastic. Jazz and pop musics are in a lot of ways their antithesis because it tends to emphasize raw personal expression. Even in, say, classical ballet, you can see the dancers try to float away, while jazz and hip-hop dancing tends to stay rooted on the ground. I think early modernism dealt with “realistic” issues (like Wozzeck, which often gets accused of being “too commercial”) but seems like it gradually became more and more unpopular as time went on.

    For a while I think people tended to form camps around these two ideas (and be generally hostile toward each other), but it looks like maybe finally people are beginning to see the importance in balancing the two things. I’m seeing a lot more works which attempts at finding this middle ground…things might be bad in the arts right now, but I’m generally optimistic about what the future might provide.

    Reply
  4. William Osborne

    Is Wagner an example of a composer who created beauty lacking truth? He was a racist who expanded his beliefs into cultural theories that were used to create anti-Semitic metaphors of his operas. The racism in his operas is quite apparent, and yet its existence is commonly denied. It takes a real effort in denial to lift some art to the realms of truth.

    Wagner’s thought also led to forms of cultural nationalism that became extremely destructive. John Toland, in his book, Adof Hitler (New York: Doubleday, 1976) p. 22 documents an eye witness account of how even as a young man Hitler went into a political trance upon his first hearing of Rienzi and spoke of the mission he had before him. On pages 35 and 36 he documents that Hitler spent several weeks working on an opera libretto based on Wieland the Smith after he learned that an outline of a music drama based on it had been found in Wagner’s posthumous papers. In his Introduction to his translation of Mein Kampf, Ralph Manheim notes that the main source of Hitler’s pet phrases was the theater and the opera. Hitler was a regular presence at Bayreuth, and a personal apartment was built for him on the grounds. It is still there.

    Hitler was not an anomaly. His views about race and cultural nationalism were common throughout the world. The racist and genocidal conceptions of America’s “Manifest Destiny” are only one such example. Hitler saw the Holocaust as a work of art, a sculpting of the human race to make it more beautiful. Our “Manifest Destiny” was imbued with similar genocidal aesthetic conceptions.

    Wagner was also deeply narcissistic and self-indulgent, the kind of person who would seduce and take away his patron’s wife, and whose tastes for extravagant luxury would run him into extreme debt. His music revels in this excessiveness, this love-death, a narcissistic abandon of a deeply neurotic self-absorption.

    It would seem that indulgence, hyperbole, racism, ethnocentricity, self-absorption, excess, and narcissism would weaken aesthetic judgment and create mediocre art, but apparently it doesn’t. Art celebrates truth and beauty, but does it not also celebrate the very worst parts of our nature?

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  5. rtanaka

    I think it’s mostly that there’s a side to all of us that finds appeal in that sort of thing, represented through Wagner’s ultra-Romanticism. But behind all the glamor and excessiveness lies a man who was always in deep depression, never able to be at peace with himself. His descending chormaticisms have always been a signifier for a troubled mind.

    I believe that one has a choice in how to interpret the music for what it is — either as an ideal to strive for, or as a documentation of something which existed previously, rooted in its historical context. I can’t help but think that the latter is a much more healthy attitude to take, unless people actually believe that his lifestyle is somehow sustainable in this modern world…

    Reply
  6. dalgas

    Ryan wrote: His descending chromaticisms have always been a signifier for a troubled mind.

    “Warning! Danger, Will Robinson, Warning!” Whether it’s a minefield or a pile of poop I don’t know, but you’re stepping into it again…

    Steve Layton

    Reply
  7. rtanaka

    At least from the music history that I know, what Wagner did was “extend” tonality through extended chormaticisms, which Shoenberg pushed even further, which eventually lead to the 12-tone system. Around Shoenberg’s time was the birth of the field of psychology through Freud, which became popular around that time period. I don’t believe that it’s much of a stretch to link modernist angst with the music of Wagner by any means, and I think most musicologists would agree with me.

    Now, in recent times people have become more skeptical of psychology because its roots have racist and sexist undertones. Freud believed that in order to understand child psychology the West ought to look toward Africa because they represented the condition of a “simple” mind. He was also able to convince women that they were sexually abused by their father — even if he was wrong, through the power of persuation he was able to substantiate these lies in people’s minds as if it were the truth.

    The ironic thing is that psychology has obviously left a very strong influence on new music during the 20th Century, but in the meantime, the field also found its application through commercial marketing and advertising. Instead of being upfront with what’s being said or what’s being sold, Western society has become more and more reliant on psychological “tricks” in order to persue certain agendas. Even if the two often claim to oppose each other, the similarities in approach are pretty remarkable.

    Reply
  8. William Osborne

    Ah, Ryan’s comment is nothing, Steve. I heard a musicologist say that all those parallel thirds in Schubert and Tchaikovsky were emblematic of their homosexuality. Apparently the state of Texas plans to forbid parallel thirds as part of its new sodomy laws. This left me wondering what might represent heterosexuality. Contrary motion?

    Sorry. To be a little more serious, has anyone considered that Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise might represent, at least in a few subtle ways, a gay aesthetic? One might argue this on a deeper level than merely his emphasis of Benjamin Britten. (I haven’t been frequenting the AMS list, but it seems like something that would have come up over there, so forgive me if I am out of the loop.)

    For a very concrete example to illustrate the general idea, works like Britten’ Death In Venice, clearly show how gender can create conceptions of truth in beauty, and beauty in truth. Does Ross’s book represent a shift away from the seemingly masculine predilections of modernism toward a postmodern femininity? What correlations might exist in this transition with a possible formulation of a gay aesthetic?

    Even though the categorizations are highly arbitrary and reflect extreme essentialism, mind is coded as masculine and nature as feminine. Might the highly rational, often dissonant, aggressively radicalized character of modernism be coded as masculine? Might postmodernism, especially in its neo-romantic vein, be coded as feminine? Are we conditioned to see lyricism, emotionality, symmetry of form, and the continuity of tradition as less aggressive, more harmonious, and thus feminine? Is there a new femininity coded into postmodernism that might also be correlated to the increasing presence and influence of women composers? Is this feminine perspective changing our conceptions of truth and beauty in art? (Maybe not, considering the rarity of women around here…)

    These are very wide, essentializing views, but then “truth” and “beauty” are very general concepts.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  9. rtanaka

    I’m not so keen on essentializing musical trends, but I think there’s enough evidence and patterns sprinkled throughout history to at least make a case for my claim. Chormaticisms have always been associated with the darker side of the human condition, in which Wagner is a perfect prelude to the atrocities of the wars which would come thereafter. There’s Gesualdo, for one, who sticks out as another example. Even in film music, to get that “ominous” feeling, chormaticisms are highly useful.

    If people disagree, I’d like to hear alternate theories about the implications of the sonority. Almost everything I’ve heard about it tends to associate itself with that sort of depressive, “sinking” feeling. I’ve applied this idea in a theater production myself for scenes where there was a man dying, and the producer and director thought it was very fitting. At the very least, I have never heard it associate itself with feelings of joy or happiness, at least.

    Reply
  10. pgblu

    Chromatography
    If people disagree, I’d like to hear alternate theories about the implications of the sonority. Almost everything I’ve heard about it tends to associate itself with that sort of depressive, “sinking” feeling.

    How about no hypothesis at all? Chromaticism can just as often express exuberance as pain; and surely upwardly moving chromaticism isn’t going to convey a “sinking” feeling.

    Gesualdo may have set some hair-raising texts, but composers from around his time were often fascinated by chromaticism as just a really cool resource that tested the boundaries of temperament, etc. Take the Capriccios of Frescobaldi, for example.

    I also take issue with the idea that chromaticism led to the twelve-tone system. It’s more like the twelve tone system (which isn’t ‘chromatic’ at all, just, well.. twelve-tone) came from a desire to get away from chromaticism as a decoration of diatonicism and more as a kind of solid-state technology. (sorry, that’s a big topic which probably doesn’t belong here).

    Reply
  11. mdwcomposer

    Almost everything I’ve heard about it tends to associate itself with that sort of depressive, “sinking” feeling.

    Not to my ears. As Steve said further up, it’s a minefiled. Some chromatic (more or less) things that certainly lift my boat rather than sink it:

    • Lutoslawski – Symph #2
    • Ligeti – Lontano, Lux Aeterna
    • Carter – almost any short piece from the last 10 years
    • Rakowski – Strident
    • Mellnäs – Transparence
    • Wuorinen – Spinoff
    • Yuasa – Scenes from Basho

    Whatdaya think about any of those, Ryan?

      &nbsp – Mark Winges

    Reply
  12. pgblu

    I think the word chromaticism is simply meaningless in a non-tonal context. I define it as the more or less frequent interpolation of chromatic steps into diatonic frameworks, but without totally obfuscating or neutralizing these. Thus Reger is definitely chromatic; Schoenberg op. 11 arguably also, in places; but Webern op. 6ff is not. Even for something like the Tristan prelude I’d use the term ‘extended tonality’ and save the term ‘chromaticism’ for only very specific passages in that work.

    Reply
  13. philmusic

    “..Even for something like the Tristan prelude I’d use the term ‘extended tonality’ and save the term ‘chromaticism’ for only very specific passages in that work…”

    Kill Joy!

    Phil Fried, U of Lilliput

    Reply
  14. rtanaka

    Probably you guys are right in saying that the implications are meaningless if its not used within the context of tonality. Though I think it’s sort of a signifier of something in a lot of people’s minds because it’s been used so often — even to the point where it might even be a cliche. I usually write within a tonal context (even if it’s dissonant) so I find myself using it a lot if there’s a need to express sadness or some sort.

    I have even heard the idea of the “sinking” thing mentioned even in the context of listening to Bach’s music –according to one musician I knew, lot of the downward steps he said reminded him of going through the daily toils of life. Even in say, Shoenbergs or even Bartok’s early quartets, I’d say that there’s a definite ominous feeling, hightened by very dense, chormatic harmonies.

    It seems like Mark’s list is from a lot of composers from the middle to late-modern which were deliberately trying to avoid references to tonality, so maybe the language is entirely different. Or is it? When I listen to the stuff from that era nowadays a lot of it sounds really neurotic and schizophrenic. (Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the composers on that list up there…might be a good time to do some more listening.) I mean, sometimes it can be pretty funny, but in a kind of perverse and crazy sort of way. But maybe that’s the modern world for ya.

    Reply
  15. William Osborne

    I find it interesting how often classical musicians –seemingly more often than artists in other genres– tend to blur out the large picture of world events and myopically focus on the details of their art. Maybe this has something to do with the complex technical nature of classical music. Or perhaps it is because it is difficult for classical music to respond to topical events in any sort of specific way. Or is this myopia symptomatic of a deeper psychological and moral problem? Do we classical musicians sometimes focus on details because we do not want to face the uncomfortable truths provided by the larger picture?

    This blog might be an interesting example. It started with a very broad discussion about the nature of truth and beauty. Issues of racism, cultural nationalism, and ethnocentricity were raised, but the dialog quickly moved toward a much more specific discussion about chromaticism with few correlations or points drawn concerning conceptions of truth and beauty. This is not at all unusual or unexpected, but is still notable because there is hardly any other art whose presumptions of truth seem so smug and artificial – especially in terms of class-oriented, nationalistic, white privilege.

    Or is denial about class-oriented, nationalistic, white privilege so common in American society that classical music cannot be singled out? In the eyes of the world, for example, the Iraq war is basically an attempt to steal the country’s oil at gun point, but for a long time, that was not your average American reality. We even asserted, after the fact, that the invasion was our smug right in order to impose “democracy” on the brown-skinned heathens. The massive suffering and death we created was not real. It was just images beamed from the aethers, something like a video game. No cause for significant protest.

    And even now, we still do not accept the view common in the rest of the world that these actions represent war crimes. As is usual with imperialistic war, the armed robbery is expanded exponentially until it essentially becomes an act of mass murder. We refuse to see this larger picture and the truths implied. We refuse to accept any responsibility for what is happening, and as a result we cannot respond as artists. If there is a beauty in truth, then we have become an ugly people.

    Normally, if we saw an armed robbery, especially one combined with extreme abuse, we would try to do something to stop it if there were any possible way. When governments commit mass murder, however, we standby in a kind of torpor. We refuse to look at the larger picture. Truth becomes very “flexible.” It is consciously problematized in a way that allows us to take refuge in specious confusion and vagueness. Contrived details become the veils over our eyes. We are not like Henry David Thoreau who went to jail for refusing to pay his taxes during the Mexican-American War. (We might remember that General Ulyssses S. Grant considered that war one of the most brazen crimes in history and thought the American Civil War was a resulting act of divine retribution.)

    Why do we consider the larger picture as unreal and dream-like, something beyond our realm of action and responsibility? How does this moral myopia and sense of helplessness affect our conceptions of truth in art?

    I know, of course, there will be no answers, and perhaps there shouldn’t be, but maybe the thought is worth something. History illustrates that the only time people are convicted as war criminals is when they are subjected to victor’s justice after wars. Only a paradigm shift reveals the truth. Are not paradigm shifts the realm of artistic work?

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  16. dalgas

    William, your own post seems just about as far-veering as Ryan’s “chromaticism=neurotic” satement. Socio-political ethical/moral issues are the stuff of another topic, but don’t do much about referencing Frank’s original question.

    As to that question, We can easily have beauty and “truth” in any amount and in either combination… But with the important distinction that this particular kind of “truth” is always a constructed fiction. Not a lie, but fiction — two very different things. The truth in a work of art isn’t of the objective, scientific variety; it’s whatever we (creators and audience) make it, whether in the prior constructs of a style or school, or in the immediate moment and context of its performance. And beauty is what happens when this fiction acts (recalls, subverts, reinforces, contradicts, opens) on all our experiences.

    Steve Layton

    Reply
  17. pgblu

    William, I really think you’re jumping to conclusions. I am for one deeply concerned about the social and political ramifications of art and have written about it here frequently. For another example look no further than Ryan Tanaka.

    Lots of people are blind/ignorant/resistant to the art-society link. Musicians not more or less so than other artists, let alone art lay-persons, I think.

    But you’re right, music is technically more complicated, so there’s more to talk about there than in some other fields. Chromaticism is one of those terms that sends up a red flag for me, nothing more.

    Reply
  18. William Osborne

    Phil, it wasn’t my intention to label any participants here, but just to comment on the larger predilections of our profession. I know that many here are very engaged socially. I should have included that caveat.

    Interesting thoughts, Steve. Do my observations veer that far from Frank’s question? He left his terms so undefined that I think a large range of comments might be relevant. I wouldn’t want to sound like Pontius Pilate, but what is Truth?

    I think some art is fiction, and some just plain dishonest. (I am not sure I would use your very specific term and say art can be a lie, because that seems related specifically to verbal dishonesty.) Carl Orff, for example, accepted a Nazi commission to write a “Mid Summer Night’s Dream” that would replace Mendelssohn’s work. Several composers rejected the commission, including even the Nazi ideologue Hans Pfitzner. For one thing, they knew the original could not be topped. Orff also knew his work would be inferior, but wrote it anyway for career reasons. He also ignored why Mendelssohn’s work had been suppressed in the first place.

    Might this be an example of a kind of lie in art – a form of deceiving oneself and the public for self-serving ends? Composers collaborated with the Nazis, and rationalized their behavior by not looking at the larger picture of what was happening. Is that not a form of self-deception, a kind of dishonesty that can weaken artistic intelligence and devalue music?

    I have faced this problem personally, because Abbie and I have been invited three times to perform for the Eastern Trombone Workshop in Washington D.C., which is hosted by the US Army. We participated, but each time I felt uneasy, because I felt I was very directly contributing to the unjustified militarism of our society, and even more, to the often terrible ends for which it is used. Such high profile participation becomes a kind of endorsement. (At this point, I have said enough things in public forums that I doubt we will ever be invited again. That is saddening, because I really like the colleagues there.)

    One can try to avoid these judgments of art by suggesting it exists outside of a historical, social and cultural context –as if it were some sort of abstract ideal– rarified sound residing in an aesthetic Valhalla far removed from earth. I follow instead Christopher Small’s argument that music is a broad, phenomenological Gestalt that cannot be separated from its context. Beethoven is not just abstract sound; it is a cultural phenomena that carries inseparable and continually varying semiological meanings that evolve over time. Those meanings can vary from person to person, and culture to culture, but they are part of what the music is. In a word, music is inseparable from its cultural reception.

    And even more to the point, social awareness changes how we create art. If we bury our heads in the sand, we risk limiting the intelligence and relevance of our artistic expression.

    William Osborne
    http://www.osborne-conant.org

    Reply
  19. dalgas

    If there was any lie, it wasn’t in the art. Orff’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fact, nothing more. Now, the music itself is a truth made by its fiction. The place you seem to want to take this isn’t in the art or music, but in the an artist’s life within some society. That’s a great, too, in its own space & place; but I’m not in the “artists’ ethics & morality must bear on their art” camp. In the case of Orff, while I don’t remember hearing his MSND music, I personally love the work he created while living under the Nazis (Carmina Burana, Cattulli Carmina, Der Mond, Die Kluge). They don’t try to be the Horst Wessel Lied, that’s for sure!

    How artists chose to live is a fascinating subject; Chopin, Wagner, Picasso, Stravinsky, Dali, Pound, Webern, Orff, Stockhausen — none of these folk were Gandhi, but it doesn’t drive me away from their wonderful work. Tomás Luis de Victoria happened to compose for a horribly corrupt imperial regime, responsible for the rape of the New World and the Inquisition. Do we need to hold that against his beautiful music, or be constantly looking for some insidious subtext?

    Steve Layton

    Reply
  20. William Osborne

    Orff’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a fact, nothing more.

    On one level that is obviously true. But do people listen to music as a mere “fact, nothing more?”

    This approach would first depend on whether one can voluntarily choose the associations one has with music, or voluntarily stop them. Wagner, for example, is rarely performed in Israel. It is not a vendetta, but rather the unavoidable associations many people there have with the music. Those associations are not something they can simply turn off. They become part of the music for them. The folks in Bayreuth perceive something very different. Both groups hear the same sounds, but music does not exist through hearing. Music comes into being through listening.

    If audiences could listen to music as a fact, nothing more, we would have an actual universal, ideal truth — an auditory experience devoid of any perceptual filters. What an interesting world that would be.

    The problem is that music doesn’t really seem to work that way. It always seems to carry a context of some sort. Even Cage’s proposed “neutral hearing” was in practice a modernist conceptual filter. I thus propose that music is not an object or an abstract fact, but rather an active process of mental engagement. In my view, that mental engagement is what the music actually is – a Gestalt of sounds, associations, symbolic meanings, performance practices, education, gender, ethnicity, cultural conditioning, history, etc. Only when we move beyond hearing to listening is music born.

    On the other hand, part of the richness of music is that people can successfully define it in many different ways. If people want to define music as an absolute, ideal, fact, and the cultural associations of the music as something separate, more power to them. I can see a value in both approaches, even if I practice one over the other.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  21. philmusic

    When the dust of history settles all that is left is the art. Why so much fascination with the Venus de Milo? Well perhaps its because for some this statue reveals the entire golden age at a single glance. Wether that golden age is a mental construct, a belief, or a lie, or all three is besides the point.

    Its Art that makes history live.

    Phil Fried, Lilliput U. underpaid, overworked

    Reply
  22. William Osborne

    When the dust of history settles all that is left is the art.

    I wish that were true. History leaves more than dust and art. It can leave glory, victory, hubris, and forgotten genocides. It can leave devastation, hatred, and horror. Even from a historical perspective, art is a matter of perception.

    What if someone wrote a large opera cycle portraying Americans and evil, greedy, sub-human dwarfs? What if a powerful dictator considered the opera a prophecy, attacked the United States, and exterminated 80% of the population in an attempt to “cleanse” the human gene pool. How much play time would that opera get in the States today? Would it help if someone told us the opera was a “fact, nothing more.?”

    Music is not an object, it is a mental process.

    I didn’t come to this understanding through some special gift, but through spending most of my life in a rather alien culture and watching how perception is formed. Truth and beauty are forms of situated knowledge – as is history.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  23. William Osborne

    An additional, highly ironic illustration occurred to me. Phil, what might happen if you took that charming, voluptuous, nude Venus de Milo and hung it on a public wall in the Islamic world? Would you experience a different view about what art, truth, and beauty are? Might you quickly be made part of the “dust of history?”

    William Osborne

    Reply
  24. philmusic

    “…What if someone wrote…Would it help if someone…
    what might happen if…”

    Bill, I just don’t want to play the “what if” game.

    sorry.

    Phil Fried, chicken little professor at skid-roe U.

    Reply
  25. William Osborne

    OK, Phil. I’ll state it plainly (though I know shouldn’t bother.) Your comments about the Venus de Milo do not represent a universal view. In fact, the painting illustrates the extreme cultural variances in conceptions of truth and beauty. We see that it might make more sense to view art as a form of mental engagement and/or culturally conditioned interaction with an object or performance, rather the just the object or performance itself.

    Is there a philosopher that has tried to define the meaningful differences between art and artistic experience? This might be far more complex than people realize.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  26. Chris Becker

    “And even more to the point, social awareness changes how we create art.”

    But social awareness will not guarantee you by any means the creation of a great piece of art.

    But you make some good points. Yet I’m not sure what you’re looking for from the other people commenting here other than them to agree with you whole heartedly. You often use your own “social awareness” to bully other people without knowing their music, their day to day decision making, and / or their own complicated set of morals. That’s really how you come across in this medium.

    You pointed out your own issues with working with military musicians – and that you accepted this invite three times. Are you a gutless shill for the Pentagon? No, of course not. And you’re going to find similar examples of this sort of ambiguity in the work and lives of many composers past and present – composers with politics nowhere as extreme as Wagner’s for instance.

    I think it would be nice to hear the other people commenting elaborate on their own personal artistic experiences. As Steve said how composers live is a fascinating topic. Composers’ polemics much less so.

    Reply
  27. William Osborne

    Chris, you repeatedly object to my posts. It has much more to do with your own psychological issues than the substance of my comments. I have tried to overlook this. If necessary, I can always return the rudeness and abuse, but do you really want to go there?

    As for your comment, I think concepts of integrity in art are very interesting and vitally important. In fact, I think a lack of artistic honesty might have damaged the world of new music over the last 50 years or so. Stylistic cronyism has been an especially serious problem. Thoughts on these issues are not merely polemics. And even the polemics of artists can be very interesting and valuable. This is a place for in depth, professional discussion and debate. I hope you will try to keep it on that level, and on the level, even if you disagree with thoughts presented.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  28. philmusic

    “Well perhaps its because for some this statue reveals the entire golden age at a single glance. “

    William if you took the trouble to read my posts carefully (or others also), you might have noticed that the above qualifier “for some” in fact means that I understood that this idea was not universal. Rather it was in response to your post which did claim such universality.

    You might also have noticed that the Venus I was referring to is not a painting.

    Phil Fried, 2 for 1 concerto special-operators are standing by!

    Reply
  29. Chris Becker

    “Chris, you repeatedly object to my posts. It has much more to do with your own psychological issues than the substance of my comments.”

    Well, William you’ve basically posted the same point over half a dozen times. Isn’t this close to the definition of insanity. Only this time around, you threw in an unnecessary reference to my own psychological issues.

    How did you know I was locked up? The doctors let me on the net for one hour every day and you have to go and ruin it!

    Reply
  30. William Osborne

    Sorry, Phil, I was thinking of the Birth of Venus by Botticelli – also a nude like the Venus de Milo. I suppose my illustration about a differing view in the Islamic world might thus still stand, in spite of the embarrassing error. The Venus de Milo is actually Greek and thus an Aphrodite, which certainly wouldn’t help matters…. And I did notice your qualifier about “some” people liking the work. But why does appreciation make other people’s views of art “beside the point?” Might the idea lead to insularity? Does a similarly motivated insularity affect the new music world?

    I’ll just ignore Chris’ continuing animosity. He’ll get over it.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  31. philmusic

    a Venus is not an Aphrodite

    Lefty Lucy is not a righty tighty

    a day-e is not worn in the nighty

    a Venus is not an Aphrodite

    A Roman is certainly not a Greek

    but if they were, perhaps it would be chic

    Then again their parents, they might freak

    If Roman pretended to be Greek.

    the Aphrodite de Milo

    I just read her bio

    Its played on a xylo

    outside of Cairo

    but just between us

    She’s known here as “Venus”

    If you must spleen thus

    your on your own.

    Phil Fried, -no comment

    Reply
  32. William Osborne

    Well, so much for this discussion. Anyway, wiki lets us know that:

    The Aphrodite of Milos (Greek: “Αφροδίτη της Μήλου”), better known as the Venus de Milo, is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. It is believed to depict Aphrodite (called Venus by the Romans), the Greek goddess of love and beauty. […] From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; it was earlier mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles.”

    Yet another example of how cultural predilections create differing views of art and truth. A (presumed) Greek Aphrodite is turned into a Roman Venus. Sometimes we reject the art of other cultures if it challenges our beliefs, or if we like it we appropriate it and call it our own.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  33. philmusic

    Well Bill, If I didn’t know the difference between a painting and a statue, I would avoid talking about art as well.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  34. coreydargel

    Osborne’s posts have become so offensive that it’s time to call him out for what he really is — a domineering charlatan who spouts forth statistics, hollow verbiage, and pseudo-progressive nonsense about the relationships between gender, sexual orientation, etc., and artistic sensibility. His comments seem to impress some people, but that’s only because he has a way with words that makes his writings sound more intelligent than they really are. More importantly, he does not listen to other people. As Becker says, Osborne restates the same position over and over again without really paying attention to what other people have to say. My strategy has been to wholly ignore Osborne’s comments, but now that he is starting to openly diagnose people as psychologically unfit, it’s time to stop giving his writings the undeserved attention they have been getting.

    I fully expect to be attacked for posting this. I am willing to accept that consequence.

    Reply
  35. philmusic

    In chat rooms they used to, and still, have an ignore button that makes the trolls and such miraculously disappear from the thread.

    I’d like to see that updated to blogs.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  36. rtanaka

    Well, I appreciate some of Will’s comments because I think they do bring a different perspective to the discussion. There are darker sides to the music profession that seldom gets talked about and I think that it’s important that people be aware of it just so they don’t end up getting used and abused like some people I know. I can kind of understand the urgency of it, though I think to the most of us here he’s already made his point…

    Historically abstractions came into being as a way to aid people in their memory. It starts with cave paintings of early-human beings where they would record stories of the hunt and teach it to their offspring. Eventually this process has lead to narratives where it may contain aspects of instructions, explainations, sharing of experiences, morals and values, etc. Although we have made tremendous technical progress since then, a lot of the forms that we use and apply have not really changed all that much since the early days. These things are still being used all the time today.

    I tend to see music as something similar. Music is very technical and very abstract, but I don’t see this as a reason to forsake its ability to be representational. I just saw a Partch concert this weekend, and although the music has very weird sounds, it’s basically about the composer talking about the gritty reality of living in the modern world. (Which incidentally contained a lot of decending notes, but maybe we shouldn’t get into that discussion again!) You can say that his microtonality represents his time spent as a hobo — living in between the cracks of society. There’s something very real about the sounds and the emotions it evokes…which is probably why the concert sold out completely even days before it was put on.

    To me, this is how artworks contain the ability to reference something that actually exists in the world, and help us learn about something that we otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. It’s a misnomer to say that the “truth” is always fiction just because our ability to abstract information is imperfect — of course music isn’t going to capture everything we do, but it can reference something in fairly specific ways as long as the artist has enough integrity to be honest with their intensions.

    It seems like a lot of people tend to forget this and as a result the work gets caught up in technique or conceptual schemes which usually doesn’t go beyond the scope of ideology or politics. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but experiences are something unique that everyone has. If one is being really honest with themselves, then the “truth” will come through, even if it’s a truth from a personal perspective, which it will always be limited to. Although it seems that people who are willing or capable of doing this are few and far in between.

    Reply
  37. Chris Becker

    “If one is being really honest with themselves, then the “truth” will come through, even if it’s a truth from a personal perspective, which it will always be limited to”

    This is the sort of thing one says before falling down an elevator shaft…

    Reply
  38. William Osborne

    I think conflict is inevitable when one challenges a ruling status quo, which is admittedly what my posts often do. One of my objections, for example, has been to forms of postmodern cant that have taken very positive developments and turned them into mindless, faddish forms of thought. I notice that some of the composers here take those criticisms personally, though they shouldn’t. Another area I often criticize are the forms of stylistic and geographic cronyism that exist in the States – and that seem to strongly affect NMB. The composers who get most hot and bothered are exactly the ones who might be most involved in that sort of thing. Their irritated reactions might actually be a sign that some progress in raising awareness is being achieved.

    Perhaps it’s valuable that these objections come to light in a discussion about truth and beauty – especially in terms of how conditioned these views can be. Contrary perspectives are derided as totally wrong, the work of charlatans, psychotic, etc., etc.. And most of all, the perspectives are to be silenced, so that the distrubing thoughts will cease to exist. The discussion itself becomes a case study in how views are conditioned and how they shape reactions.

    As for the geographic cryonyism, I have often wondered how many general cultural regions the United States might have. The US Census Bureau has published a map with its nine regional divisions of the country:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/reps/maps/us_census.html

    Though not complete, the map outlines cultural regions in an interesting way. Consider the writers and commentators on NMB, and note how about six of these nine regions are hardly represented. That alone might cause concern about the balance and validity of the perspectives in this forum. And of course, there are many other examples, such as 25% of the last CAP awards going to one state alone (New York, of course) and only one of about 26 or 27 awards going to a mainland state. If you challenge these imbalances, people will get angry. Their power structures are being put into question. And as is the nature of the web, it can quickly lead to mobbing – though that too can be quite revealing. Humans follow their usual patterns, disagreement evolves to hatred.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  39. Chris Becker

    “Their power structures are being put into question. And as is the nature of the web, it can quickly lead to mobbing – though that too can be quite revealing. Humans follow their usual patterns, disagreement evolves to hatred.”

    You are being melodramatic because a few people in this thread had the guts to call you out on your attitude. When a personal attack on me didn’t serve you, you decided to expound upon mob mentality and (for a second time) bring up the supposedly skewed grant giving of the AMC.

    I think you might benefit from some perspective on the people who contribute to this thread as well as the staff of the AMC. I have met and / or corresponded with many of these folks. I understand you are not calling anyone out personally with this last post, but it doesn’t come across that way. I reads like a reactive post incomplete in its data and inaccurate in its conclusions.

    But you have every right to post this stuff – noone here will ever tell you otherwise. You might have a little more faith in your collegues.

    Reply
  40. rtanaka

    This is the sort of thing one says before falling down an elevator shaft…

    Well, if you survive the fall you could write about falling down the shaft, in that case. I’ve studied a lot of different things in my life, and was fortunate enough to have the resources and people to pursue ideas within these different kinds of fields. But in the end, I’ve found that what moves people, as far as artworks go, is an honest represention of one’s self in relation to the ideas that they harbor. This is largely what has made art meaningful both to myself and the people I’ve worked with, and why I keep on doing it.

    In being specific, I sometimes get criticisms that I’m being “arrogant” in trying to stifle the subjective interpretations of the audience. I wouldn’t mind this so much if it so often wasn’t paired with what seems to be a stringent unwillingness to talk about what those “other” interpretations are. For example, people jumped all over me for my “chormaticisms=nurosis” interpretation — ironically, dismissing the right toward my subjectivity — while at the same time avoiding saying what the music means to them in terms of their own personal interpretation. Not only is an argument from ignorance, it contradicts itself under its own assertions. Maybe it’s a natural byproduct of our imperfect sense of logic, but there’s really kind of a neurosis involved in all of these discussions.

    Everyone has their own story, their own experiences that are unique only to themselves. Being specific does not limit the possibilities in any way. It’s true that artworks can sometimes carry double meanings or multiple connotations, but to imply that the composer is capable of writing something so all-encompassing that it allows for infinite subjectivity is in itself a fairly arrogant statement to make.

    Reply
  41. Chris Becker

    Ryan, I was being a smart ass. All I meant is that as soon as we think we know a “truth” something usually comes along to upend our deeply held convictions and mess with our heads. And I think art does a great job of dealing with this experience. It often runs away with our “truth” and morphs into something we couldn’t have imagined.

    This may not make sense, but I wanted to let you know where I was coming from.

    Reply
  42. mdwcomposer

    William, you seem to be quite passionate about certain aspects of our art; passion is something we all share. However, you do bring up the subject of geographic diversity quite frequently. I am curious about how far or in which direction(s) your enthusiasm takes you. The following are informational questions – I genuinely am curious.

    • Have you directly approached any of the AMC board members about your concerns, or lobbied any of them?
    • Have you increased your own personal contribution (over and above the membership dues) and indicated that you would like that money spent in ways that would generate a more diverse pool of applicants for the various AMC programs?
    • Have you sought out other composers in the US, especially in the parts of the US that you cite as underserved, to make sure they know about the various AMC programs and apply for same?
    • Have you considered running for an AMC board seat, or volunteering your time with the organization to help steer the organization in the direction you think it should go?

    I think my curiosity stems partly from the fact that I do not perceive under-representation as being as large a problem as you do. I’m on the west coast of the US, not in academia, and have gotten a couple of composer assistance grants over the years (though not every time I’ve applied). Certainly I’ve felt like I was treated fairly in the process, and aspects of it are handled professionally.

        — Mark Winges

    Reply
  43. William Osborne

    Thank you for your very interesting questions, Mark. I will try to answer them, even though I am afraid your questions and my answers might over-simplify very complex problems. From the outset we should understand that the AMC works within a larger social and economic system that more or less stipulates how the organization behaves. (I will try to explain my view after answering your questions.) I should also note that as someone in the Bay Area you are in one of the few regions that is relatively well represented culturally. I cannot say the same for many other areas where the nearest real opera house or fulltime professional orchestra is over 500 to a 1000 miles away.

    Have you directly approached any of the AMC board members about your
    concerns, or lobbied any of them?

    No. I assume that as board members they read these forums and will consider the ideas if they seem to have any merit. I doubt, however, my observations are anything they don’t already know. (Or maybe they do not consider these forums worth reading?)

    Have you increased your own personal contribution (over and above the
    membership dues) and indicated that you would like that money spent in ways
    that would generate a more diverse pool of applicants for the various AMC
    programs?

    No. I doubt the expenditure would be accepted for that purpose (and it would take far more than I could come up with.) I think groups like the AMC, MTC, and ACF take the problem very seriously, but like all of us, they have no idea how to solve it. Money alone won’t help. They could, however, participate in these discussions. I wonder why they don’t. Probably fear. They would likely face a lot of foolish attacks, but it might be worth a try. It would certainly signal committment to the problem and the democratic approach of transparent, open communication. It might be worth an experimental attempt.

    Have you sought out other composers in the US, especially in the parts
    of the US that you cite as underserved, to make sure they know about the
    various AMC programs and apply for same?

    Yes. I am talking to them right now. (I wish I were saying that to you in person so we could spend a moment chuckling together.) In an earlier discussion I proposed some specific publicity efforts involving brochures sent to university music departments, but an email campaign might be cheaper and almost as effective. People in the “other” areas would also need to be persuaded that there would be no conscious or unconscious bias in the judging. Making sure the panels were regionally diverse would help a lot.

    Have you considered running for an AMC board seat, or volunteering
    your time with the organization to help steer the organization in the
    direction you think it should go?

    I would not find the support needed to get elected. On the other hand, I take considerable time to share my ideas here, and hope they will be considered by some. If I lived in NYC, I might indeed go down to the office and stuff envelopes, sweep up, empty the garbage, or whatever they needed, but I am very far away.

    The issue of cultural uniformity in the States goes far beyond anything the AMC, MTC, ACF, and the various foundations do.

    There is an overwhelming force for cultural uniformity in our society because it is an inherent part of mass markets. It would not be very difficult to create nine well-funded, autonomous branches of the NEA based on something similar to the US Census Bureau’s Regions and Divisions Maps, but this would be contrary to deeply rooted financial interests in our country. Regional cultural autonomy would over time inevitably lead to far more regional economic and political autonomy. Mass markets would be weakened, in direct contradiction to powerful systemic economic structures in our society. This will not be allowed to happen in a country as deeply plutocratic as ours.

    I know this perspective difficult for Americans to accept, but I see a different system every day living in Europe – a continent divided into over 30 small countries, each with its own unique culture. This form of regionalism creates a much richer cultural landscape – and a lot less unity. People consciously struggle against the political and economic forces that try to homogenize their societies.

    We might remember that cultural domination is an inherent part of economic hegemony. People see how the United States tries to dominate other countries by imposing its cultural perspectives on them, but we forget that a similar form of hegemony was imposed (often violently) on the various cultural regions of our own country – mostly during the 19th and early 20th centuries. These actions not only caused loss of cultural identity, but also incredible amounts of suffering. Wealth was transferred toward a few major urban areas, property was disappropriated, local government weakened, and cultural identity destroyed. The million deaths of the Civil War are but one aspect of this complex history. (A lot more happened ecomically and politically than ending slavery.) Some of the easiest examples to study and document are the actions of the large railroad, petroleum, and mining companies. A more recent example is the destruction of the economic centers of our towns and smaller cities through corporate “big box” businesses. Most town and smaller city centers are now like ghost towns. The local cores and cultural identies of our communities were steadily eaten away until they finally died. This history illustrates that cultural identity is always closely tied to political and economic autonomy.

    Imagine what our country would be like if regions such as Northern and Southern Appalachia, the Delta Mississippi, and the Hispanic and Native cultures of the Southwest truly found their full expression through a well-planned and operated system of regionally autonomous, public funding like the Europeans have. Imagine if huge urban areas like Seattle, Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix, Kansas City, Tulsa, Chattanooga, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Dallas were allowed the same kind of cultural expression as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. There is no reason this incredible cultural richness and diversity couldn’t be released, except that it would destroy an insidious kind of systemic, economic hegemony that over the last hundred years has reduced our society to an incredibly uniform grayness.

    I remember when Wal-Mart showed up in Germany. People stamped it out like it was a deadly virus. Wal-Mart, after using its usual tactics, finally closed their “stores.” It is not Wal-Mart itself that is the problem, but the long-term effects of the economic structures its represents. In the same way, Europeans struggle against the forms of American “privatization” that would destroy their Social Democracies and reshape their cultures through a brutally isomorphic capitalism. I am so sorry these issues are something difficult for blinkered Americans to understand.

    A second consideration is that one can’t really blame the AMC, MTC, ACF, et al for their parochialism. Culture is by its very nature local, and it should be. To ask arts communities not to prioritize their own needs and interests is like asking ducks to whinny like horses. This is especially true for a deeply insular and parochial area like New York City. (Think of the Saul Steinberg’s cartoon about NYC’s view of the country.) As we have discussed here (and seen,) people view their own forms of cultural expression as relatively absolute universals. They by nature presume their own art should be good for everyone else.

    It should be no surprise that corporate America strongly funds the arts in NYC. It helps create a kind of cultural hegemony that indirectly justifies the economic and political hegemony of Wall Street. If regions like Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas, or St. Louis become too independent politically and economically, the corporations will starting getting visions of Sherman’s march of pillage, rape, and arson to put things back in the proper “order” – just as they have done on a more literal level in Vietnam, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. It’s astounding when you think about it…so we don’t.

    These problems can only be effectively solved through systemic solutions. It does little good to tell New Yorkers they need to take a wider view. The better approach is to lobby for autonomous, regional, public funding. People could then follow their natural impulses to prioritize their own local culture (because for them it really is the most important.) And even more importantly, the cultural needs of artists and communities can only really be understood on a local level.

    Anyway, Mark, you can see why I am not so interested in specifically trying to solve the AMC’s and NMBx’s parochial perspectives. It would be like trying to cut off a cancerous tumor when in reality the disease has filled the entire body. The only approach I can see for me at this point is to try to help people see the value of regionalism and public funding– a view I gained living in Europe for the last 29 years.

    I also want to thank you for asking those questions. Part of the strategy of the NYC parochials is to marginalize my views through ostracism (e.g. not responding.) It’s too bad that they can’t understand we are all on the same side.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  44. Chris Becker

    “Have you sought out other composers in the US, especially in the parts of the US that you cite as underserved, to make sure they know about the various AMC programs and apply for same?”

    Every state I’ve lived in – Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana and Massachusetts – have arts organizations that fund contemporary music. I received a grant while living in New Orleans to fund a recording I created for a New Orleans dance company – the grant is very similar to the AMC’s CAP grant.

    The support (and the struggle to fund creative music) is there across the country. Don’t assume that because someone lives in the midwest or Deep South they need a grant or a symbolic pat on the head from New York. Or that they read this blog (PUH-leeze – my friends around the country wonder why I even spend time doing this…)

    Reply
  45. dalgas

    Just noting that regular posters on this forum aren’t all NYC-centric: just a partial perusal shows William’s in Europe, I’m in Texas, Phil Fried’s in Minnesota, Mark Winges is in the Bay Area, Ryan Tanaka & Josephine Chang in Southern California, Brian Vlasak’s in Iowa, Mischa Salkind-Pearl is in Maryland, Jay Derderian’s in Oregon.

    Steve Layton

    Reply
  46. William Osborne

    That’s true, Steve, about the variety of respondent’s here, though about 45 States are missing. I wonder why, and how involvement might be increased.

    And the actual regular NMBx bloggers might represent a New York-centric demographic. Frank, Trevor, Molly, and Randy all live there. Mark, who seems to have dropped out, also lives in NYC. And Yotim is a New Yorker, temporarily living in Rome. Colin and Carl are the only two normally outside of NYC. That creates a ratio of six to two for that one city against all the rest of the country.

    Could that be part of the reason around 45 states are missing? I notice Colin brings in a big Illinois contingent, or used to before he left the state. They seemed proud to have a local voice on NMBx. Would the same thing happen if someone were blogging from huge music schools like Indiana University or the University of North Texas? It seems that when people feel included they participate.

    (And may I add as an aside that there are no women, except Molly, whose Friday Informer column doesn’t address issues in the same way? Has it been difficult to find women bloggers?)

    There are grants available all over the country, but we need to look at the overall balance when judging regional diversity. A tiny number of cities dominate classical music and new music culture. It is not only a matter of funding, but also media presence, and many other factors.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  47. Chris Becker

    I’ve found more and more blogs by women involved in contemporary music by following links appearing in discussions here, Steve Smith’s blog Night by Night, and Sequenza 21.

    New Orleans has a very healthy blog culture, actually – I didn’t realize this until reading about it in one of Chris Rose’s columns in the Picayune.

    I think using NMBx as some sort of measure for the amount of diversity that actually appears online is a mistake. Although I have asked Frank and Molly about more representation on this site from African American composers. But it’s sort of silly to get irate with a such a small staff with limited resources – it’s actually amazing what they are able to cover and advocate!

    If you just dig a little, the conversations and network exists.

    http://beckermusic.blogspot.com/index.html

    Reply
  48. philmusic

    ” Has it been difficult to find women bloggers?”

    I just can’t get Janet to blog-I’ve tried –she has given me suggestions sometimes. One of Janet’s students, a Mezzo, blogs but only on the subject of baseball. Well I suppose that some folks actually have lives they might need to attend to instead of staring at a computer screen till their eye balls melt.

    I promised Janet that I would only do it till I needed glasses.

    Phil Fried, married man

    Reply
  49. rtanaka

    Here on the west coast, things tend to be a little bit more diverse just because of its exposure to the Pacific. The East Coast, at least in my experience, tends to be more “European”, for better or worse. A lot of the arguments I’ve heard about the East Coast/West Coast thing seems to stem from this kind of difference in aesthetic.

    The west coast has had a very long history of doing things outside of the western classical tradition, and in that sense it’s very “open”. But like the wild west, it seems like you’re pretty much on your own in terms of making your career around here. It seems that the east coast has a larger institutional support, but as a result, it’s much more competitive. In both cases, some people end up getting left out of the loop, unfortunately.

    But if we’re looking at this issue through the lens of a fairly specialized organization like the AMC, then I think this tends to distort the picture of what’s happening on a broader scale of things. There’s lots of jazz, pop, and world music concerts happening in LA — not to mention all the work provided and supported by Hollywood, which some classical institutions seem to rather not have to acknowledge that they exist. Things may be bad right now, but I don’t think the situation is really hopeless because if you look at most statistics it will show that people are still going to concerts and paying good money for music in record numbers. It’s largely a matter of how and what we can do to attract people to what we do.

    Reply
  50. coreydargel

    It’s amazing to me how every time someone disagrees with Osborne, or calls him out for his ridiculously un-nuanced, sweeping proclamations, he casts himself as the victim of endemic American hegemony. And we’ve let him get away with it!

    What is actually the case is that Osborne’s own willful ignorance about the vast majority of people who participate in this forum — an ignorance that he disguises by once again quoting superficial statistics — betrays that he is a nation unto himself, imposing his own beliefs by dominating and bullying his way into every discussion and changing the subject to suit his self-congratulatory agenda (What did the original post have to do with geography?)

    It is as though the only lens through which he is capable of viewing American society is the lens of hyper-capitalism and solipsistic, individualistic liberty. Woe is the person who suggests ignoring his comments, for that only proves that his comments are challenging the status quo, and, by implication, that the person who suggests ignoring them is himself or herself an agent of the status quo!

    And yet he keeps barreling his way through, effectively practicing the very thing he seems to be preaching against — bullying others into silence and remaining absolutely dismissive of any critique of his 1970s point of view.

    Reply
  51. William Osborne

    It’s interesting how Corey writes these extremely angry and abusive posts, but does not address the points I have made. Why not speak to the issues and leave the ad hominid attacks aside – a fairly basic standard for professional discussion groups? One of the regular NMBx bloggers, Mark N. Grant, addressed a possible basis of Corey’s perspectives in a forceful way, and far better than I ever could. You can find it here:

    http://newmusicbox.org/chatter/chatter.nmbx?id=5365

    Mark’s statement is in the long comment section of that blog. Search the page using the word “wisdom” and you will find it (though as with most flame-styled posts like Corey’s, it’s probably best to just ignore them.)

    Anyway, there is one sentence in his comment that might be worth responding to, his question:

    “What did the original post have to do with geography?”

    Frank’s blog was about conceptions of truth and beauty in art. These are largely culturally defined, and cultures are generally distinguished by the regions in which they reside. These regionally conditioned views also shape conceptions of power and status (which might have something to do with Corey’s vague objections.)

    In these days of the Internet, we might ask why six out of eight of the regular bloggers live in New York City. Would that lean toward a narrowed perspective of American music? How could a more regionally diverse representation of bloggers be created? Would this be beneficial for NMBx, the AMC, and American music?

    William Osborne

    Reply
  52. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I agree there are diversity and cultural issues, and feel that truth and beauty are at best marginally related.

    Of more immediate interest to me is the question of geography. I do not want to hijack this topic, so I’ll just say that for all its diversity, NMBx and its composers are basically creatures of cities.

    My first 28 years were in the New York orbit. But save for a year in Europe, I have lived the past 30 years downtown in a village of some 330 people and now on a small road in a former village that’s now only a place-name. I’m not sure if anyone else posting (or even reading) here is living full-time in a rural area. The differences between urban and rural culture seem more striking to me than urban-urban differences in an increasingly culturally flat developed world.

    But I’m not certain. Maybe it’s just me hearing what I believe I’m hearing. In any case, I said that I wouldn’t hijack this topic, so I’ll offer these three links to my blog:

    I’d like to hear off-forum from composers who perceive that an urban-rural artistic distinction is significant in the music, why that is, and (most important, because this is the part I’m struggling with) evidence in the character of the music itself.

    I’ll put those comments on the blog, and perhaps (if anyone thinks it worthwhile) draft a more formal article.

    Dennis

    Reply
  53. William Osborne

    Molly lives in Baltimore. A very interesting place. Have you lived there all along, or did you just recently move? You speak so often of things New York in your column I had the impression you lived there, at least until your recent marriage.

    Anyway, that makes the ratios 5 for NYC, and 3 for the rest of the country. Or if Mark Grant has retired, then 4 to 3. Still a bit lopsided, if one considers that NYC is just one city out of a country of 300 million.

    Perhaps one could argue that the bloggers at least have diverse regional backgrounds. I am not sure, but I think some of the New Yorkers come originally from other areas of the country. Randy seems to have a somewhat Californian sensibility – downright Millsian at times. And Molly spent time studying and working in Ohio – though I am not sure if that is where she is originally from. You can’t get more into the heartlands than beautiful Ohio.

    Could one argue that geography is irrelevant in this age, since so much information from everywhere is readily at hand that we no longer have a sense of locality – sort of like Molly seeming like a New Yorker, but in Baltimore? That might be partly true, but for some reason, the nature of composition still seems to often be localized. And even diverse backgrounds do not seem to override the actual presence of where a composer lives. I wonder why?

    Molly, is there some reason why there is no woman doing a blog in the regular issues type of style like all the men? Can one say that it matters if the m/f ratio is 7 to 1 (or 6 to 1?) Would a larger representation of women perhaps create a different, or at least augmented, view of truth and beauty in art? Would more women bloggers possibly lead to more women participants in the discussions?

    I know these are delicate questions. I’d love to hear answers, but the thoughts can be seen as rhetorical.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  54. mollys

    >Molly, is there some reason why there is no woman doing a blog in the regular issues type of style like all the men?

    Well, I can tell you that we haven’t put up a fence. Belinda Reynolds, Teresa McCollough, and Missy Mazzoli did that kind of Chatter writing; more women will come around again as we continue to hear from new voices. I’m not sure it would increase commenting. That is a deeper socialized issue, I suspect, but I speak only for myself (ohio, new york, nepal, ohio, new york, maryland; vegetarian, raised catholic, city and country mouse just keep me out of the suburbs. And I’m a Libra.)

    The short and straight-up answer to your question is that Chatter is just a piece of the puzzle here and we (Randy, Frank, Trevor and myself) are always thinking about diversity across all the shows on Counterstream Radio and the articles in NMBx from the Cover to the InPrint selections (both in terms of subject and writer)–genre and gender, race and creed, city and state. All resources considered, we try to do the best we can. That’s not to say we’re complacent or to make an excuse, only to clarify that we’re not off in our own personal Starbucks and ignoring these concerns. They are our own as well. And we are a community here, too, so if there’s a subject or writer whose perspective you’d like to see in these pages, please do drop me an email so we can discuss.

    Reply
  55. philmusic

    What some folks don’t realize here is that Bill is an ideologue, a follower of a strict political philosophy. All of his posts reflect this.

    Central to this philosophy is the following:

    1)Power corrupts

    2)Elucidating every example of the above (which is a continuous and infinite process) is the highest goal- there is no implied civic duty to change anything by action. Action might lead to power that would corrupt.

    3)My way or the highway-there can be no debate– only a choice of sides and my side is always right.

    As Steve mentioned he had no problem with composers with unsavory political connections because its all about the music. On that line of thought (I’m not sure I agree with) we must also accept William as a composer. However every post he makes will be noth’in but nit pick’in.

    Phil Fried, who knows the difference between the Renaissance and 140 BC.

    Reply
  56. Chris Becker

    …as I said earlier, if you dig a little, you’ll find all kinds of active blogging…

    Some blogs maintained by women I’ve come across over the past few years and enjoy…

    http://shadowsofapeople.blogspot.com/
    http://irontongue.blogspot.com/
    http://mellissahughes.blogspot.com/

    However, my wife just rolls her eyes when I describe some of the exchanges (like in this thread) that I’ve been privy to online. Maybe she’s a little less interested in wasting her time..?

    Reply
  57. Chris Becker

    …actually, I don’t want to imply that we’re all wasting time here. I have gone back and forth on the value of blogs and lately I’ve seen a lot of positive things come out of these virtual communities. I’ve connected with and can call as friends Steve, Phil, Ryan, and Corey – which probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t butted heads online.

    And that’s an important point – we’ve disagreed about some things, but somehow, this medium has allowed us to voice our respective opinions and accept the differences.

    I’m also inspired by the number of composers who take time to promote – without financial compensation – the music they love via their blogs. So much music that is in fact underrepresented in the media is touted online in a variety of creative ways.

    I can hear the sound of thousands of bloggers 10 years younger than me saying “duh” right now, but bear with me…I’m still navigating this strange new world…

    Reply
  58. William Osborne

    Chris, I am not so sure my thoughts are all that absolutist. As I wrote above in response to Steve’s ideas: “…part of the richness of music is that people can successfully define it in many different ways. If people want to define music as an absolute, ideal, fact, and the cultural associations of the music as something separate, more power to them. I can see a value in both approaches, even if I practice one over the other.”

    And I do believe in social action. For example, my efforts, along with the help of others, brought women into the Vienna Philharmonic.

    Thanks for the information, Molly.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  59. philmusic

    “..this medium has allowed us to voice our respective opinions and accept the differences. ”

    I agree!!

    Phil Fried, U of Lilliput, small decisions require small minds!

    Reply
  60. Chris Becker

    William, Phil is the person you are responding to. Although the quote you posted from one of your earlier posts did jump out at me at the time as being especially nuanced and perceptive.

    Chris “…but I play one on TV” Becker

    Reply
  61. dalgas

    William wrote: Chris, I am not so sure my thoughts are all that absolutist. As I wrote above in response to Steve’s ideas: “…part of the richness of music is that people can successfully define it in many different ways. If people want to define music as an absolute, ideal, fact, and the cultural associations of the music as something separate, more power to them. I can see a value in both approaches, even if I practice one over the other.”

    I’m not taking issue with that at all, William. Music is whatever anyone wants to make it. Sound just is; musical sound is just what anyone decides it is, and that can mean literally anything under the sun.

    No matter any musician’s ideology and life-choices, there’s a place in the music that does its own thing regardless. I’ve always been in Stravinsky’s camp here, except that he should have said “Music is powerless to express anything, except what we assign it.” And even if the creator assigned it, I don’t have to buy it. I would never judge a personality by their music, and so would never judge the music by what I know of the person who wrote it.

    Anyway, that’s it. William, I’ve been reading you for years (literally); through all of that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you discuss music. Music always takes a back-seat to a ponderous, couple-note sociological screed, of the “glass is always half-empty” variety. In person, you may be as nice as all get out, and your music may really shine; but all I know is that in your writing you’re a obsessive pontificator.

    Reply
  62. philmusic

    “..It helps create a kind of cultural hegemony that indirectly justifies the economic and political hegemony of Wall Street. ..”

    Absolutely!! oppsey–sorry Bill, no “absolutes” around here!

    I think everyone respects your work on equality Bill, its just that you mention it again, and again and again. Oh, you didn’t mention if that particular activity preceded your becoming an ideologue or not. If not, more power to you that’s a flexibility you might want to show more.

    Phil, not Chris, and not that “other” Phil either!!

    Reply
  63. rtanaka

    However, my wife just rolls her eyes when I describe some of the exchanges (like in this thread) that I’ve been privy to online. Maybe she’s a little less interested in wasting her time..?

    Yeah, the internet is a big place and there’s lots of stuff to do outside of the column, believe it or not. William might be projecting too much of his own expectations on the capabilities of the AMC and this site. Even then, if you look at recent columns that come after some of these discussions, you’ll probably notice that a lot of them are in fact fairly sensitive to what’s being talked about here…I mean, look at the most recent analysis article about the gender divide sitting right there as we speak!

    I guess the question is if the AMC has the capability to (or even wants to) accommodate the entire geographic, racial, gender, and class palette of the United States. Will brings up some good points about the lack of these things within the classical music world, and I think that he’s played an important role in increasing this awareness among the musicians here. But the AMC really is a very specialized organization geared towards a very specialized patronage-base, and it’s hard to say whether or not they should be obligated to be a representation of everyone and everything in America. If they do, though, that means garnering more support which is hard to argue is a bad thing.

    What I’m learning now is that if classical composers really want a broader audience base, then that generally means having to leave the concert hall institutions and go out and play music. I’ve talked to a number of people and did a number of lessons asking what I could do to make a living, but it seems like to go out there and create your career from scratch is the only means of doing it nowadays. Unless you’re of the lucky few who get stream-lined into a prestigious career, most institutions aren’t really going to do for most people. I’m planning to put on shows at bars, cafes, obscure art galleries, even shopping malls, over the next year or so. We’ll see how it goes.

    Reply
  64. William Osborne

    Yes, Lisa Hirsch’s article is excellent, and illustrates that the NMBx staff is very sympathetic to the rights of women. On the other hand, the m/f ratios for the issues oriented blogs is 6 to 0. And I would guess that 90 to 95% of the respondents are men.

    In her post above, Molly said people should contact her if there are writers whose perspectives we would like to see here. In response, my wife sent a post to the email discussion group of the International Alliance for Women In Music, and asked if there were any women who would like to blog for NMBx. Abbie said people should send their proposals directly to Molly and supplied the email address.

    Within 24 hours several women very eager to write blogs for NMBx contacted Molly. Two sent copies of their proposals to Abbie, and Molly told me of a third that had written to her directly. All three of these candidates would be fantastic. All three have advanced degrees in composition, and all three are also excellent musicologists. One is the author of a very respected book about women jazz musicians. Two of the women have extensive administrative experience in music organizations. One included a list of five sample blog topics she would write about. They were incredibly interesting! All live outside of NYC.

    Molly told me she would consider the proposals and be in touch with these women after the NPAC conference in Denver. (The whole staff will be there and tied up until then.)

    In the past, NMBx has always had only one woman blogger at a time, more or less isolated among a group of men. I hope this will change. A single woman blogger creates the impression that women here are an anomaly.

    Half the bloggers on NMBx should be women. That would be about three positions, and Molly has already been contacted by at least three highly qualified candidates very eager to start work. (I do not know of the additional women who contacted Molly, but I think some of them might also be very good, so there are probably more than three highly qualified candidates.)

    I think three women bloggers would add new life to the Chatter section, and provide new, very enriching, creative impulses. Over time, it would also encourage more women to become respondents. I hope the Editors will move things in this direction. If they don’t, it certainly won’t be because they lack highly qualified women eager to participate.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  65. jchang4

    I’m sorry I haven’t taken the time to read everyone’s comments but there are a couple things that I’d like to throw my two cents into.

    I agree that the issues usually covered on these pages tend to skew towards compositional minutiae that are of little interest to a non-composer such as myself. This (perhaps unintentional) focus on compositional details can be an alienating factor in terms of audience outreach/participation and may be part of the reason why this forum lacks a certain measure of diversity.

    Of course, the compositional bent in the posts here is only natural since an overwhelming majority of the contributors here are composers. For me, the lack of diversity in perspective is more troubling than the lack posts from women specifically or from other regions specifically. Is new music a domain solely for composers? What about the rest of us? I have so many questions, and they are rarely addressed here in these pages… or really anywhere. I’d love to see regular columns from non-composers: musicologists/critics, theorists, performers/performing groups, conductors(?), etc.

    As for regional concentration… it is a very complex topic. But I think part of the reason why so many AMC (and maybe other?) organizations tend to give awards and whatnot to people from particular areas like New York is because these particular areas have a richer history of support/education in the arts and thus are more developed and have more developed artists. For example: In the Los Angeles area, an overwhelming majority of piano teachers have advanced degrees (DMAs are very common). As a result, the piano students here are really really good. In the Grand Rapids area, few piano teachers have advanced degrees, so their piano students are at a disadvantage.

    Anyways, maybe when the NMBx-ers get back from that Denver conference they’ll make a push for some diversity here in these pages. Or maybe it’ll just be business as usual. Change, indeed, is not so easy. (Uh, reference to Molly’s blog?)

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.