In the race to keep new music sounding, well, new, somehow things just end up stagnating. A recent blog post by Kyle Gann suggests that young composers are to blame, partly for fetishizing the wrong set of elders—namely Ligeti, Carter, Xenakis, Berio, and Boulez, rather than Adams, Lentz, and Meredith Monk—as well as lacking a good ol’ sense of rebellion. But haven’t we heard what rebellion sounds like already, say, ad nauseum over the past 60 years?
Although I don’t really consider myself all that young, I certainly do pass for what’s being called a young composer these days. As such, I can honestly report that most of my colleagues tend to lump the previously mentioned composers into one simple category: the past. Personally, I’m tired of hearing about Uptown, Downtown, academic, non-academic, blah, blah, blah. Yes, clearly there is an historical lineage to all this, but it doesn’t weigh too heavily on this generation’s shoulders—thanks in part to folks like Kyle Gann.
Our generation seems to be listening from within while developing our voice. We go to each other’s concerts not only for moral support, but to listen and learn. Certainly we’re influenced by the philosophies of our mentors, but more often than not, our work extends well outside any level of encroachment. A rebellion against an assumed establishment (which in actuality may only really consist of several already-frayed sub-factions) feels like an affectation at this point. Or perhaps we’ve reached the point of affirmative nihilism—you know, with a positive spin.
Admittedly, there is an establishment. But if you’re looking for the “Under 30” crowd of new music fans in New York, don’t even bother to look at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. You’ll have to venture a little bit off the beaten path to places like the Cake Shop, Issue Project Room, Barbes, Zebulon, The Lucky Cat, Monkey Town, Deitch Projects… need I go on? (And no, I didn’t accidentally forget to list The Stone.) Maybe our elders’ idea of where the establishment really lies is mistaken.
As always, revolution starts underground. Here, the music is usually accompanied by the hissing of beer cans opening and any blue hair you see in the crowd is, in fact, on purpose. But now, even this seems like a bit of a cliché. Especially considering all the desperate, failed attempts by musicians in the classical music camp at attaining thy holy hipness. That’s just not cool. Yesaroun’ Duo blasting their Crom-Tech transcriptions at Merkin is. New Human’s cock-punk-minimalism at P.S. 1 is. And Zs’ Lachenmann-inspired rock (old guy, sorry Kyle) that’s gigging all around town certainly is. But like they used to say around 30 years ago, don’t trust anyone over 30.