Lest Ye Be Described… I Mean Judged
“Inscrutable” –The Buffalo News, 1998
“Distracting” –Twentieth Century Music, 1998
“Too sophisticated to be called New Age” –NRC Handelsblad, 2000
“Easily written…intelligent chill-out” –Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, 2004
“Other works, by Claude Vivier and Randy Nordschow” –The New York Times, 2005
“by Randy Nordschow” –The Washington Post, 2005
This is a sampling of some of the things music critics have written about my work. Notice any patterns? While the Europeans think I’m some sort of Brain Eno figure, for the most part the American coverage these days seems to exhibit a profound lack of adjectives compared to eight years ago. I don’t regularly follow music journalism as closely as I should, but I have noticed that opinion has practically been neutered and description is now the new black, as far as the way modern composition is covered. Are the music journalists afraid of us composers, or was everything just a little bit edgier a decade ago?
New music practitioners put a lot of weight on pedigree and academic rhetoric. Funny, considering the music critics themselves don’t really need any lofty credentials from an ivory tower. If only I had a nickel for every time I heard a composer question a critic’s intelligence. As I learned last week, critics don’t always know everything about their area of expertise and besides, how is that even possible?
I don’t mind the discrepancy—I’d rather have a music critic who can string together words coherently, without knowing the proper way to scribble down a Landini cadence. Words are what they know, so give us words…
Like the rest of us, both artists and critics are fallible. That’s why I find it odd that anyone can harbor ill feelings towards this supposedly opposed faction. Sometimes critics can sermonize on an issue for too long—I love you Jerry Saltz (a man who knows his adjectives and ain’t afraid to use ‘em), and I agree that women are sorely underrepresented in the art world, and love the fact that you constantly remind us of this fact, but I’m guilty of wanting to read about something else for a change—and composers can over-proselytize musically as well. That said, I want critics to clue me into their gut reactions and their subsequent ruminations about new work. I wish music critics would, yes, describe the music, but not stop there. I want to hear their assessments, their judgments, prejudices, and opinions. I wouldn’t expect anything less from any composer’s music.