Talking About Music Shouldn’t Be Like Dancing About Architecture

It’s hard to find like-minded musicians to work with. But when you crossover into other disciplines, compatibility seems to get even scarcer. I recently attended an event designed to spark new collaborations between composers and choreographers. Beyond the initial language barrier encountered in describing these two disparate art forms, I discovered another little snag: I compose music that doesn’t concern itself with rhythm. Turns out that for the most part, dancers and choreographers are heavy into that stuff.

While I may be a little metrically challenged, I’m nevertheless interested in working inside the contemporary dance field. As an audience member, companies like John Jasperse and Merce Cunningham consistently thrill me. Having never worked with a choreographer, I can only imagine the contact high of being a co-conspirator in such spectacles. So I wasn’t about to let my lack of rhythm hinder my chances for future artistic partnerships. Embarrassing as it may be, here are some of the things I remember saying to potential collaborators at the meet and greet: My work is very conceptual. I’m not interested in writing music, per se. Maybe a sonic environment could work in that instance. I find there’s not enough un-music in dance. Have you ever thought of using field recordings?

It soon became clear to me that this was a rather traditional bunch. With my leanings more toward dance verging on performance art, I knew nothing much was going to come out of the evening. Although armed with a handout containing short bios about each composer and choreographer in attendance, I’d be hard pressed to play matchmaker. It’s a chemistry that can’t be worked out on paper. Besides, the prose actually spoke very little about the individual’s artistic concerns. The emphasis was: I went to this Ivy League school, now I’m going to namedrop some of my teachers, and this is what The New York Times said about me. Unless you’re deep inside the trenches of that particular art form, most of this information is totally meaningless.

The important thing that I did learn is that we all have to become more clear and eloquent when speaking about our own work. I’ve noticed over the years that successful artists really excel in doing this, even pulling out a great little elevator speech when the occassion calls for it. I’d like to have one of those myself. I just need to stop procrastinating.

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