The Deletion of “Rock the Vote” Explained

The deletion of our columnist Carl Stone’s post “Rock the Vote,” along with its attached responses, has troubled some of our readers and deserves an explanation.

While public citizens are unlimited in their ability to speak out for or against political candidates, legal limits are placed on any not-for-profit forum such as NewMusicBox. No 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization can support or appear to support, rate or appear to rate, any political candidate. While such support or rating was not the intention of Carl’s post, it had the potential to appear so. When the situation came to my attention last week, I instructed the editorial staff, after speaking with Carl, to take it down pending further investigation. Consultation with counsel and government affairs specialists has confirmed that NewMusicBox must not host conversation about political candidates.

Fortunately for all of us, there are forums for such important dialog. Americans for the Arts is just one example.

You might also want to check out Charities Lobbying in the Public Interest, which has more information on the subject.

We appreciate your participation in our forums, and I hope I have addressed any concerns the deletion of the post may have raised. Thank you for your passionate engagement here and within the broader new music community.

22 thoughts on “The Deletion of “Rock the Vote” Explained

  1. dbrmus@aol.com

    The “deletion” of Carl Stone’s “Rock the Vote” reflects an interesting problematic for what is considered our open society—and an example of it for fledgling Democracies—predicated on encouraging discussion about issues its members care about; not until the current administration, guided by its Rovian aesthetic, has it been put into question this way. Carl Stone, who has long been an important member of our community, serving non-profits in many capacities, has written a short, informative, and non-partisan piece, not, itself, representing the American Music Center or its views. And while carefully not drawing conclusions for others to take as gospel (not to be confused with any faith-based initiatives), invited a discussion that affects the well-being of our entire culture, not only our selfish composerly interests. Indeed Carl knows this, and comments were from across the board. Because organizations such as the American Music Center and Meet the Composer are advocates for living music unlike any others, including the American Composers Forum, that cannot, when its values are basic to the preservation of all American culture, ethically stop at the doorstep of political discussion, political discussion is, in fact, the very thing we should be able to celebrate. By confusing it with political action we silence ourselves from fear and intimidation. The decision to “delete” this discussion is a sad testament to our limited sense of freedom of expression, one which necessitates patriotic dissention.

    Daniel Rothman – dbrmus@aol.com

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  2. coreydargel

    I’ve been following the discussions regarding the deletion of Carl Stone’s expatriotic post, and I am baffled at some people’s implication that AMC is to blame for a government policy that it had no role in creating. Suspicion and protest are in order? Calling up the AMC to complain? Are we really that solipsistic?

    It seems to me that AMC is understandably cautious because it doesn’t want to risk losing its 501(c)3 status. Losing that status would shut down New Music Box as well as all the other resources that AMC provides.

    As we all know, there are now policies that threaten to destroy any 501(c)3 organizations that attempt to (God forbid!) connect politics with public service. Before you take it out on the victims of these rules and regulations, consider these other options:

    Take it out on the government (i.e. cheat on your taxes, write anti-American slogans on your dollar bills).

    Write to your senators, congresspeople, and other government officials, and express your thoughts on said rules and regulations.

    Ponder the fact that said rules and regulations are only selectively enforced (if you’re a Southern Baptist, you can always turn to James Dobson or Richard Land to see which candidate they’ve endorsed, and your local preacher will probably have something to say as well).

    Start your own blog that does not operate under 501(c)3 status.

    Only endorse, examine, and explain political points of view in the comments area of the chatter section, so that AMC is protected by the clause below.

    Choose your battles wisely…

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  3. William Osborne

    Thank you for your comments, Joanne. Your explanation, even if a bit belated, is very helpful. When blogs and commentaries on important and highly politicized issues like arts funding simply disappear without explanation, it can raise suspicion and protest that might be quite justifiable. In the hyper-politicized atmosphere created by the American culture wars, the media and other forms of discourse are often strongly manipulated. If the AMC deletes a discussion on a topic like arts funding, the actions need to be carefully explained in order to avoid potentially serious confusion. Your explanation also creates a forum where the deletion can be considered, which helps maintain a democratic sensibility in the NMBx forums in spite of the draconian gesture of deleting an entire discussion.

    On the other hand, I think everyone realizes this is the first time this problem has occurred, and that a learning curve was to be expected. No one knows better than we artists that we are hunted, and that there are politicians always prepared to attack us. It is sometimes difficult to know how to proceed.

    I wonder though, if there is not some point at which we artists need to stand up more strongly for our society’s need for public arts funding. By being relatively passive, or possibly over-cautious, we are not only betraying our own interests, but those of our country. In many respects, that is what most of the commentary to Carl’s blog was about. We examined how poorly the American arts funding system compares in the international community, that it is extreme and isolated, and that it has very negative effects on our society. It was an attempt to help composers understand our country’s arts funding problems, and to encourage them to formulate and carry through solutions. We cannot turn discussions of these topic solely to groups like Americans for the Arts because we are the natural leaders.

    It is essential that we as a community discuss the candidates arts funding platforms, as long as the AMC is not creating any sort of bias (as Carl’s non-partisan blog attempted to do.) How ironic that we are silenced by a lack of arts funding, and then further silenced when we try to discuss the funding problem. We must renew our confidence and combat the fear that is plaguing our profession.

    Anyway, Joanne, now that we have an explanation and a forum for discussing the deletion, I think I speak for almost everyone when I say we will close ranks with you and the AMC and keep working for the support of American music. Please keep up the great work. We stand behind you.

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

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  4. William Osborne

    Since the AMC’s Chief Executive Officer has been gracious enough to join us, I thought I might provide a rough comparative example of how the AMC’s financial support would change if the NEA were funded with the same percentage of the federal budget as public arts spending recieves in France.

    An article in Bloomberg News, dated February 2, 2004 mentions that, “Among European countries, museums fare best in France , where about 1 percent of the national budget is spent on culture each year….”

    If the United States spent one percent of its federal budget on the NEA, that would have been 24 billion dollars for fiscal year 2007. That’s 172 times higher than the current NEA budget.

    The NEA’s contribution to the AMC is listed among the donors in the $25,000 to $49,000 category. So what would it mean if NEA funding for the AMC were increased 172 times? Since the AMC doesn’t list the exact amount the NEA gives, I will list comparisons for the lowest, median, and highest sums in its donor category:

    $25,000 would increase to $4,300,000

    $37,500 would increase to $6,450,000

    $49,999 would increase to $8,599,828

    Somewhere between 4.3 and 8.6 million dollars would be a lot of CAP grants and new music performances. The AMC’s costs would also be reduced, since they wouldn’t need such a large staff for obtaining funds. And this is to say nothing of the radio orchestras (mandated to regularly perform new music) and the major new music festivals also funded by the French government. (Actually, Bloomberg News rounded off the numbers. French arts spending is 1.31% of national budget, which would raise the numbers even more.)

    The public arts funding of individual states in America is generally so low, it would hardly be a factor in changing these comparisons. New York probably spends the most, and it also funds the AMC. This might lower the public funding comparisons for the AMC somewhat, but the differences would still be extreme. That would also be a misleading comparison for the country as a whole, since most states hardly fund the arts at all.

    Finland uses 2.10% of its public spending for the arts. I won’t bother drawing comparisons for how that would affect AMC spending. It’s too depressing, but it reminds us why Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, and a host of international conductors come from a country with a population only slightly larger than Minnesota’s.

    Here are the Canada Arts Council’s findings concerning spending on the arts as a percentage of total public spending. Rob Teehan provided the source for the numbers during our discussion of Carl Stone’s now deleted blog:

    Finland 2.10%
    Germany 1.79%
    France 1.31%
    Sweden 1.02%
    Netherlands 1.47%
    Canada 0.93%
    UK 0.65%
    Australia 0.82%
    Ireland 0.43%
    US 0.13%

    The concrete manifestation of these numbers is shown in the far higher per capita ratios for fulltime, year-round orchestras and opera houses in these countries. As the AMC comparison shows, there is also a correlation in the number of well-funded new music concerts.

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

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  5. Chris Becker

    “If the AMC deletes a discussion on a topic like arts funding, the actions need to be carefully explained in order to avoid potentially serious confusion.”

    I don’t disagree with William, here. But I don’t disagree with Corey’s various points either. My point is that in this day and age, we tend to rely (I think) a little too much on “blogs” for communication when a face to face with a neighbor or colleague may just be a train ride away.

    However, I read a great article in the NY Times today concerning (the lack of) affordable health coverage for jazz musicians that was probably prompted in part by two very good blogs by NY based musicians (Secret Society and Shadows of a People). So grassroots online hectoring may not be such a bad thing!

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  6. philmusic

    There seems to be two issues here:

    1)the removal of Carl’s post

    2) the removal of the discussion that followed

    As to 1–I am glad that we live in a country that follows the rule of law. I understand Ms. Cossa explanation –and I have no problems with it at all.

    As to the removal discussion that followed? Well. it was no different than many of the other discussions on this site which need to be taken with several grains of salt.

    As small aside from the NYT :

    By PATRICIA COHEN

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/14/books/14dumb.html?em&ex=1203742800&en=8e771b3bbcd125e7&ei=5087

    “…Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”). ..”

    Phil Fried

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  7. rtanaka

    Ported from the other thread:

    Ryan, why do you say the art world is adverse to discussing politics?

    I can only speak from experience, and I’m sure its different for people of another generation or people living elsewhere. But I spent much of my school years watching things like The Simpsons, South Park, and the Daily Show and the like. These shows often have very clear political themes embedded within them, and despite their “popular” nature, they can be quite hard-hitting. They often use thinly veiled metaphors to satirize specific people in power or prominence, and often providing some possible solutions. South Park, for example, always has a “moral of the story” theme at the end of every episode, or at least they used to, anyway.

    Compare this to, say, a photography display at a museum dealing with the subject of poverty. Maybe the program notes might give some background information about the origins or the nature of the photograph, but in my experience it often leaves it at that, without the artist attempting to make a statement about the subject matter itself. The relationship of the work to the artist is detached in this manner, although some will justify through the idea of being “objective”. (There are parallels to this idea in music as well, obviously.)

    I usually tend to have some problems with this kind of detachment, though…For one, presenting a problem “as is” often insinuates to the audience that they’re oblivious to problem itself, which tends to come off as being pretencious. The detachment also highlights a level of indifference to the idea, which tends to reinforce the stereotype of art largely being an enterprise for the lofty, unconcerned elite. I think often the “message” of the work often borders on a self-aggradizing “look at me, I feel bad about this”, “I’m thinking about this”, or “I’ve noticed this”, etc. that audience members find off-putting.

    I’ve met a number of musicians who literally felt offended that certain artists were committing some sort of heresy in dealing with politicial issues when doing their art. (As you mentioned yourself, John Adams being one of them in his operas.) Maybe part of it is fueled by the desire to resist being “trendy” by being too topical, who knows. But the fact that the AMC can’t even mention political candidates speaks volumes, because they know where their bread is buttered.

    The private sector, on the other hand, can get away with almost anything as long as there’s a demand for it. It’s a give or take, I guess.

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  8. danielgilliam

    I just wrote a rambling post in complete anger of the responses to the removal of Carl’s post.

    In a nutshell, AMC is complying by the laws that afford them certain tax privileges and protections in exchange for not advocating a political agenda on the left OR right.

    As to the Southern Baptist comment, the Presbyterian Church (USA) could be in equal danger for advocating positions that could seem left of the political spectrum…thus endorsing a candidate.

    All of you screaming and whining need a lesson in Constitutional Law.

    I’m not sure this post was any less angry, but at least more concise.

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  9. William Osborne

    Daniel, I think everyone agrees that the AMC should obey the law. The IRS notes that non-profits can present voter guides as long as they are not biased. There were, however, differing views about whether Carl Stone’s blog was biased. The second, and larger concern was that the blog was removed without any notice or explanation. The third issue raised was how to host discussion with several hundred artists and avoid political discourse that would seem almost inevitable (and necessary.)

    Fundamentalist religious groups abused their non-profit status for years by openly supporting conservative politicians. The crack-down on non-profits engaged in campaign intervention is largely a reaction to those developments. I think we all agree that non-profits should not intervene in campaigns, but should they also be non-political? How can a non-profit be socially engaged and avoid political bias? Would dampening the social engagement of non-profits ultimately harm our society?

    These questions are extremely complex. The simplistic guidelines offered by the IRS are not at all adequate for solving the philosophical, legal, social, moral, and artistic issues involved, hence the dilemmas faced by the Editors of NMBx and the community of artists who read it. If you were in the shoes of Joanne Cossa (Chief Executive of the AMC) or Frank Oteri (Editor of NMBx,) how would you approach these problems?

    These issues actually go into an even darker region. Could the crack down on non-profits ultimately become part of America’s post WWII propensity to intimidate artists, as exemplified by the Truman Loyalty Acts of the late 40s, the HUAC purges of the 50s, and the manipulations of the NEA through the 90s until the present? How could such a politically oriented manipulation of non-profits be avoided? Is what we are seeing a harbinger of something worse to come?

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

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  10. Somebody

    How can a non-profit be socially engaged and avoid political bias?

    The first way to avoid a political bias would be to not post a top down list of presidential candidates- a list that portrays candidates pension for the NEA. This discussion is so ignorant of the American tax system. A non-profit does not pay taxes. You really need to think about the implications of a non-profit organization as a pre-election supporter and how money could be packed away. Also, you need to consider the illusion of “no political bias”. It is a ethical issue. It is not a free speech issue.

    William, I really do not care if you respond to this or not, but your integrity is really an issue. I have brought the issue into light about 501c3, arts funding, and “Rock the Vote” (a title which surely implies pre-election pandering), and you have heckled, argued, called me Borat, and made false claims of 501c3 laws, and now, you politely reply to Ms. Cossa’s post, describing it as a “learning curve”. This way of being is indicative of the arts world we live in, it is not the content of the message, but the status of the individual who articulates the message. This is not an issue for the New Music Box, this is an issue about your disregarde for the “nobodies” out there, Ms. Cossa being not just Ms. Cossa but the CEO of the AMC. This attitude is so prevalent in our media I can with the greatest compassion in the world understand how you would behave this way on this blog.

    And finally, I must say, that the posting that followed the orginal post from Carl contained issues with non-profit laws. I specifically recall a board member of the AMC posting a message about the “suffering arts funds” under the Clintons by a board member of the AMC, hence the whole thing had to go. I did my very best to not point my finger at this problem, but seeing that the bath water went, and the above response from the CEO, I think the issue should rest. I now think it is time to focus on the culture that composers face, not the politics. And, if you do want to talk arts funding politics, talk about the incumbents not doing their job, that is something a 501c3 can do.

    I gotta go finish a F Horn Concerto. I ain’t checking spelling and grammar!

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  11. rtanaka

    How could such a politically oriented manipulation of non-profits be avoided?

    It can’t, and I’ve met with European artists who came to study at the US because they felt that the the aesthetic bias of the government prevented them from what they were trying to do, despite the fact that they recieve a lot more funding than we do here in the States. They were more interested in working in the commercial industry, which is why they came to the LA area.

    I think most reasonable outlooks tend to emphasize a healthy balance between the public and the private. I think that now that the neoconservative movement is losing its steam, things will start to improve gradually here in the States. (The war in Iraq will have to come to an end, however.) I just wish that the dialogue on these things weren’t so dichotomized into an either/or situation, because the dividing line is largely imaginarily drawn by political affiliation…its usually very arbitrary.

    One of my teachers, for example, have had experience working in private, government, and in academic environments…and he once admitted to me that some of his collegues probably looked down upon him for some of the stuff he did outside of the academy. But he was a great teacher because he knew the complexities involved in working in the music industry. A lot of the skills and knowledge that I got from him I’m still using today.

    Politics will always exist, and I doubt that it will ever go away since its just part of human nature. But I think its important for artists to be able to find someplace where they fit in, regardless of what route they decide to take. In order for this to happen, however, information needs to be available and transparent. Paranoia tends to run high when things are done behind closed doors without any documentation or accountability. But I think this is the norm almost anywhere.

    I’ve applied to stuff, got rejected and it was a learning experience I guess, but I would’ve been able to save myself some time if information was more readily available. It’s highly unlikely that institutions would willingly accomidate its applicants in this way (extra work, no incentive) so it would probably have to be mandated as a law. Bias is everywhere and you can’t avoid it, but the very least we can try to do is be open about it, I think.

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  12. William Osborne

    One of my teachers, for example, has had experience working in private, government, and in academic environments…and he once admitted to me that some of his colleagues probably looked down on him for some of the stuff he did outside of the academy.

    One of my favorite composers, Paul Chihara, worked in academia and commercially as a film composer. Is that held against him? I wonder if we don’t actually envy composers who can make a living with their music. I can’t off-hand think of any others who bridge the academic/commercial divide. Are there any?

    William Osborne

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  13. rtanaka

    I can’t off-hand think of any others who bridge the academic/commercial divide. Are there any?

    I heard the composer for The Matrix, Don Davis, speak at my undergrad once. While he’s heavily involved in film music his concert featured his “artistic” side which was pretty nice.

    To be fair, there’s also a lot of burnt-out and jaded musicians working in Hollywood as well. Musicians are on the bottom of the totem pole as far as the industry is concerned, and they’re required to work extremely fast, usually fitting around certain pre-concieved ideas. Some times they say that the work can be “soul sucking”. But hey, they have an audience, and it pays the bills. The good ones can still maintain their personality even while meeting certain expectations, which takes a lot of ingenuity. (This idea is also applicable in academic settings as well, I believe.)

    The vast majority of musicians (including studio players) I’ve met are very intelligent and competent musicians. If something bad is produced, its usually because of forces larger than themselves which they have no control over. It’s particularly annoying when there’s atagonistic remarks being thrown at them by people who have no idea how the industry works…as if simply packing up and leaving their means of living was so simple as that.

    USC has a pretty good film composing program, I hear. And if you can make it into their circle there’s opportunities to work your way into the industry. Other than that, though, I’ve found that there tends to be a very strong antagonism against the idea of doing commercial music in most academic settings. Most composers leave school without any practical or relevant skills (or connections) that might help them land a job, but at the same time some of them are so indoctorined that maybe they won’t admit to themselves that maybe the academy has mislead them in some fashion. Sometimes you can do everything your supposed to do and still get screwed — it’s a hard admission to make, but one has to consider the possibility that perhaps the institutions are just yanking your chains.

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  14. William Osborne

    The region between commercial and non-commercial music is extremely narrow. We usually approach this problem by thinking in terms of some sort of new, more approachable music. That might only be half the solution. The other would be a new type of cultural infrastructure which would create new kinds of forums, publics, and venues. There is, for example, a growing international circuit of club venues for laptop composers/performance-artists. A few people, like Kevin Belchdom, seem to be making decent livings at it. Note how many of her concerts are in Europe. I would guess that many of these venues receive a good amount of public funding.

    A new kind of music is created specifically for a new kind of venue, which is very different than the more usual attempts to move typical classical music into alternate venues like cafes and other nightspots.

    William Osborne

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  15. rtanaka

    That sounds nice, but how does one get into the habit of doing these tours? I have an improv trio that I’ve been working with so far during the last 2 years and doing something like that would be right up our alley. We’ve been doing a lot of shows and our CVs are looking pretty impressive right now, but it doesn’t always translate very well into sustenance.

    Do you just hop on a plane, start playing on the streets, and the government will shower you with money? A lot of people I’ve talked to say how great it is up there for artists, but people generally don’t know how to make a step out there.

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  16. William Osborne

    Kevin Blechdom’s performances are specifically designed for a niche market. It is so new, and so under the radar of the classical music establishment, I don’t think it even has a name. (Or it may be that I am just poorly informed.) Perhaps you could call it the laptop club scene. All of the big cultural cities in the States and Europe now have them. Young people in their 20s or so gather in a sort of disco atmosphere, often in a loft or empty industrial space, and a few laptop performers provide the evening’s entertainment, in a style slightly related to the work a DJ might do, except that is it mostly electronic music performed live on a laptop with programs like Max/Msp, SuperCollider, Reaktor, etc. I’ve only been to a few of these events, all in the Bay Area. The atmosphere was hyper-hip. The attendees seemed to be the culturally elite from the elite schools like Stanford, Berkeley, and Mills. There was a complete embrace of digital culture in all of its aspects. The attitude seemed to be that the older non-digital world is utterly passé.

    In one I went to, the doorway had been fitted out with a curving three foot wide tube about 20 feet long you had to crawl through to enter. Inside, all of the 20 somethings were sitting on the floor on cushions listening to a Mills composer do a 20 minute improv made exclusively of low bass notes and subtones, produced on his laptop using SuperCollider. Occasionally the music would move to a kind of groove beat and then merge back to something completely abstract. The atmosphere was fairly mellow, sort of like in an upscale jazz club. The people listened, but would occasional converse with each other in low voices. I noticed that most of the people, and especially the women, were dressed in what might be called Geek-chic. I have to admit, I found the atmosphere very appealing, though I felt utterly self-conscious because I obviously didn’t fit in. (Too old, and Geek-but-no-chic.)

    These people would probably consider the acoustic free improve you mention utterly passé. Do I remember right that you are a horn player? You wouldn’t impress them by blowing tight rhythmic razzberries through a brass tube. For them, the days of meat-produced-music are over. I guess this illustrates my point that we can’t just develop new kinds of music. We also have to invent new venues and publics to go with it.

    And to perhaps go back to the topic of this thread, I think we are still learning how different digital culture is. One aspect of it might be termed its immanent eraseability. We can put information on the web, and with the flick of a finger it can be altered or even vanish. This was not possible with print journalism trucked around on thin sheets of organic matter.

    The anonymity of the web, and its immanent eraseability create an ethos that might be called trashable discourse. It encourages off-hand thought in print and brought about concepts such as flame messages. Human discourse becomes trashable, a form of digital detritus. What are proper editorial practices in this new culture? What are the responsibilities of the participants in web forums? How do we encourage and maintain meaningful, professional discourse in a world of digital detritus? At least you had to burn a newspaper, or meltdown an old LP or CD. Now you push a button, and human expression vanishes into the general plus minus balance of the universe. These are the learning curves editors of webzines must face.

    So we see that digital music is also something immanently trashable, a part of a pirated, remixed, mashed-up, unicorny culture of digital detritus we are only beginning to understand.

    William Osborne

    http://www.osborne-conant.org

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  17. Chris Becker

    “There is, for example, a growing international circuit of club venues for laptop composers/performance-artists. A few people, like Kevin Belchdom, seem to be making decent livings at it. Note how many of her concerts are in Europe. I would guess that many of these venues receive a good amount of public funding.”

    I understand what you’re saying, but a publicly funded performance spaces do not provide income that a musician can survive on (i.e. pay rent, groceries, health insurance, and money for savings). I know plenty of composers who tour internationally – playing festivals, clubs, museums etc – who still have to hold down some kind of additional day job(s) for their financial well-being. And even then they still can’t pay for health insurance.

    Good PR (photos in WIRE magazine, interviews on NMBx) is not evidence of “a decent living.” I’m sure we all know that.

    Finding a place to play isn’t a problem. Being able to sustain yourself financially is.

    A laptop musician is in the same boat as a jazz musician or a contemporary dancer for that matter. New instruments and new musicians dealing with the same ol’ sh*t :(

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  18. William Osborne

    It’s true, we don’t know how much Kevin Blechdom is making. On the other hand, I can tell you from direct personal experience that many of the state funded venues here in Germany pay composer/performers quite well. I used to present my work in them fairly often, and the pay was much better than what my wife and I get in the States. We usually performed on music festivals presented by governments and in the studio theaters of Germany’s 80 opera houses. These institutions have excellent budgets supplied by national, state, and municipal governments, who often own and operate some of the best venues.

    One thing is fairly certain. Kevin Blechdom is playing all over the world, and I seriously doubt she is paying for all those airline tickets herself. When venues put out that kind of money for transportation, its reasonable to assume they might have something for the performer too. We might not call it a decent living, but it might not be too bad either. On the other hand, if she is making some income with her art, she would be one of the very few. Another factor to consider is that Americans rarely have these kinds of publicly supported venues. Blechdom’s performances in the USA are probably presented under very different circumstances – which might also explain why most of the listings on her itinerary are abroad. When it comes to checking in on reality, Americans might need to look at their funding system.

    William Osborne

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  19. rtanaka

    William, since you said you considered yourself to be an ex-pat, I was wondering how you made the first step from moving from the States into Germany. Did you have a lead or a connection, or did you just hop on the plane and see where it took you? You also seem to know how to speak German, which isn’t an option for everybody. Maybe speaking of your experiences might help some people here figure out how they might branch out their music into other places.

    As Chris said, the sad reality is that there are many musicians who are doing tours “internationally” — their performance record looks impressive but it’s still not enough to pay the rent. I can say that I’ve played at RedCat and Walt Disney Hall through CalArts, and I’ve known a few people who have gotten glowing reviews from the LA times and played at the Carnegie Hall and such. Still, in in the long run it doesn’t lead to much, just because there’s so many musicians around. You can apply for grants to help pay for ticket costs but it’s usually not enough to pay the daily bills. That’s sort of the situation I’m in right now.

    As for my style, I used to be sort of interested in electronic music but I found that I perform much better in an acoustic setting. Because I was interested in evoking certain things, I found that there wasn’t anything I wanted to do acoustically that couldn’t be done on the piano. What’s “unusual” about our group is that we perform improvisationally off of classical music works in more modern or postmodern styles in an eclectic fashion, and have worked in an interdisciplinary fashion with other artforms. Crowd responses have been very good so far, and from non-musicians and non-artists, which I consider to be important, so I’m at least optimistic that it may have a chance to work.

    I’m familiar with the laptop scene you’ve describe and a few people I know are part of it. But while its technically “new”, they’re pretty much in the same boat as us. These concerts are self-produced, and the musicians are largely doing it as a hobby. I’d be surprised if any of them were even getting paid for doing these venues, much less making a living off of them. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way things are for now.

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  20. William Osborne

    Both Chris and Ryan are right. It is extremely rare for laptop performers to make any money with what they do. Many are not even professional musicians. That’s why I am curious about people like Kevin Blechdom and Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke started out in the Chicago free improv scene, but has now also become very active as a producer, film scorer, and filmmaker. It would be interesting to know how things work financially for these two, who are something like stars in the scene.

    Ryan asked how my wife and I made the leap to Europe. (Here is a fairly long answer from a rather personal perspective, most of which I had already written sometime ago for other purposes. It contains some of the contextual history, which might be relevant in helping people decide if they want to try to go to Europe.)

    During the mid 70s we decided we wanted to leave the USA for political reasons. The tipping point was the coup in Chile, combined with America’s history of mass murder in Latin America. We were idealistic.

    Our living conditions were also very bad. I was working as the super of a burned-out building in New York City. (In the 1970s unprofitable buildings were often set on fire by the owners to collect insurance money.) During the first year, the company that took over management of the building evicted about 40 people because most of the residents had not paid rent for over a year — or even much longer. (I had to be present with the Marshals at all evictions and break in the door if necessary. Fortunately, I only had to break in the doors about 7 or 8 times.)

    Violence was rampant in the building. Four people were murdered. The details are descriptive of the time. Two were a couple withholding illegal lottery money from the Latin mafia. They were both shot in their apartment. One was a transvestite killed when he/she fooled a man and invited him into her apartment. Her head was repeatedly bashed into a radiator until she/he died. And one was a musician killed by a Mannes music student who bought drugs from him, and who he was blackmailing for sex because she couldn’t pay.

    Those sorts of things seemed to define my daily life. I was assaulted three times, once with a knife. I could go on at length about the incredible experiences. It is hard for people who didn’t live in NYC during the 70s to even imagine what it was like. The police were generally useless. It was rumored, quite plausibly, that they were running a large drug operation out of their precinct headquarters. Films like Taxi Driver and Serpico give a hint of what the city was like. Suffice it to say we also had non-political reasons for leaving – except that such urban decay is also a very political issue.

    During our last year as grad students I received alternate for the Fulbright to Italy and alternate for the American Rome Prize, and my wife won the trombone position for the Spoleto Festival which is held in Italy during the summer. Planning for a possible move, I had studied Italian for a year at the Manhattan School of Music. Even without the Fulbright, I enrolled in the L’Academia di Chigiana (a prestigious summer music school in Italy.) We were able to manage this financially because Chigiana covered my tuition, and Abbie was being paid, transported, and housed by the Spoleto Festival.

    While playing in Spoleto, Abbie auditioned for the Maggio Musicale (the city orchestra of Florence) and won. She was not given the job, however, because its GMD, Ricardo Muti, said there were already too many women in the orchestra. I kid you not. Back then we just took it in stride, because we did not yet know the situation women orchestra musicians often faced in Europe.

    Florence hired the man who came in second to Abbie. He had been playing first trombone in the Royal Opera of Turin. Abbie auditioned for his old job in Turin and won it. I went back to New York to pack our stuff and settle our affairs. Abbie went to Turin to look for an apartment. She telephoned me in New York and said that Turin was a depressing, sooty industrial city and that we should remain in New York. I had just been in the basement of the building compacting the garbage (for 75 apartments) and had just crushed a half-poisoned rat with a shovel. I told Abbie we were going to Europe. I had to crush rats fairly regularly, but I was getting sick of it and everything else. And of course, much more, we both felt it was only a matter of time before I would be seriously injured or killed being the super in that building.

    Even though living among the Italians was almost pure joy, the orchestra in Turin was awful. Abbie applied for 11 open trombone positions in Germany, and got one invitation, as Herr Abbie Conant, from the Munich Philharmonic. The audition was held behind a screen where Abbie defeated 32 male candidates. They did not know she was a woman, so we ended up facing

    astounding problems.

    We did not speak German, but we were able to learn it fairly quickly, because living in a country makes learning its language much easier. (And when people are telling you that your are some sort of second-class human being because you are a woman, you learn the language even quicker because you want to talk back.)

    Abbie’s experiences as a woman first trombonist in the Munich Philharmonic were so extreme, they were eventually the subject of a 90 minute documentary film broadcast on German national television. By the early 90s, we had begun to speak out about the gender discrimination in German-speaking orchestras, which led to a lot of press coverage. A slow process of ostracism in the German music world set in against us. As a result, we no longer perform our music in Germany, even though we were very active and successful with in it in the 80s. And to be fair, we became so alienated, we eventually stopped even trying to get performances. We present our work by touring in the States.

    All things considered, I don’t recommend moving to Germany. Even with all of our troubles, we missed NYC horribly for years after leaving. And Germany is a deeply ethnocentric country. It might be a good place to visit as a guest artist, but integration is virtually impossible. The problems might be similar in a number of other European countries. On the other hand, one of Abbie’s American students is doing fairly well here. He recently won the Darmstadt Prize for new music performance, and just performed a concert on the

    Eclat Festival

    (a large yearly event in Stuttgart) with a trombone quartet he formed. (See the concert on February 16th.) The concert was comprised of several new works that had been written for them by prominent German composers, including Wolfgang Rihm.

    If I had to suggest which road to take, I would say get a Doctorate and teaching job. There is almost no other option for composers, either in America or Europe. And as an American, you can’t get a resident permit in most European countries without a job or a student visa.

    When Abbie and I were at Chigiana, our suitemates were Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, and a couple other Finns. It was interesting, and informative to watch how their careers developed. Esa-Pekka went back to Scandanavia and was hired as the GMD of a Swedish Radio Orchestra, where he was able to develop his skills. With that foundation and support he was able to build an international career.

    It’s the same story with Magnus. The events that surround his recently written Clarinet Concerto illustrate the Scandanavian cultural infrastructure that has built and sustained his career. The concerto was written for Kari Kriikku and commissioned by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation, and Radio France. The first performance – in a concert celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra – was conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste, who performs the work internationally, including its UK premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Vladimir Ashkenazy performed it with the Oslo Philharmonic, and presented its German premiere in Berlin. The Swedish premiere was part of a concert featuring Lindberg at the Stockholm Concert Hall Composers Festival. There were additional performances in Tallinn and Riga. The French premiere is was in Paris, with Mikko Franck conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. All of these institutions are owned and operated by governments. Magnus’ French connections were built through his connection with Ircam, a government owned and funded institution that consciously built the careers of several internationally recognized composers, including Tristan Murail, who now has a cushy professorship at Columbia. Against this kind of support, American composers fight an uphill battle when it comes to establishing themselves on the international scene.

    Europeans build and support the careers of their composers with a strong sense of cultural nationalism. It would be very unlikely that an American living in a European would receive the same level of support. Europeans want their composers to be nationals who represent their country’s identity on the world stage, and they apply their public arts funding to that end.

    I’m sorry to write such a long post, but if I am going to constantly go on about the European funding system, it seems necessary to discuss the system’s the larger context, and the perspectives that shape my view.

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

    Reply
  21. Chris Becker

    “I’m sorry to write such a long post…”

    Puh-leeze. William, I really appreciated this post! Thank you for making the time :). Best. CB

    Reply
  22. rtanaka

    Thanks for your story, William. Just hearing you talk, it seemed like you went through quite a lot during your life time. I’m just glad that in comparison, my life has been relatively easier than many of my predecessors…all things considered, I’m not doing too bad right now.

    Although I have the language skills, I’ve been avoiding going to Japan for similar reasons. I wouldn’t call my mother a feminist, but growing up she has always expressed dissatisfaction with the way women are treated there. One of my childhood friends from that country, whom I knew as being very smart and motivated, basically caved into the system — abandoning her dreams of becoming a lawyer and just got married. It’s suppressed, but in some areas its virtually impossible for some people to move up a certain ranks if you’re not of the majority race and male.

    Even in social situations, when I go there it’s fairly amazing because I noticed I get treated a lot better just because of my gender status. The servitude by women is practically automatically expected, even among the wealthy. (A quick glance at depictions of “normal” social life in narrative works should be a clear reflection of these things.) Most guys I know either don’t seem to notice or seem to secretly love it, but hearing the dissatisfactions from loved ones over the years, I can’t help but feel annoyed. (This might explain why we might have a similarity in outlook somewhat.) Despite its problems I like being here in the States a lot better.

    Trying it back to the issue of public funding and politics, it’s sort of interesting because in applying for government money you’re basically forced to cater to these kinds of sentimentalities of its population’s culture. So it seems like even you’re making the majority of your living in the States because the government disapproves of your social activism. That’s why I say that when high arts touches issues on politics, it has a tendency to be very bland and unconfrontational, in my opinion.

    I’ve met a few musicians who said something along the lines of “it’s fine to have a political opinion, but not in art”. As if the medium were immune or “above” such daily matters, right? Odd as it may seem, this point of view seems to be fairly the norm in the fine arts. It could be that they’re just being smart, though, since they’re gearing themselves up toward positions where they’re generally not allowed to talk about such things.

    Reply

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