The Short Version

If I haven’t mentioned Zeitgeist, the Twin Cities’ premiere new music chamber ensemble, in this space before, shame on me. I’ve seen Zeitgeist perform more than a few times since moving out here, often at concerts I thought they had nothing to do with—they’re the go-to group. They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with a program of thirty 150-second pieces (it’s the state’s sesquicentennial) by local composers. Was it a galvanizing, community-strengthening showcase, ably performed and, if reports from Friday and Saturday are to be believed, amply attended, of Twin Cities new music? Sure. Was it a great concert? Not quite.

Two and a half minutes is just long enough to interest me in a piece, but way too long to prove to me that I don’t like it. In other words, with only a handful of exceptions (out of thirty pieces total) it was either too much time or not enough. It’s also not quite enough time for a composer’s identity to be fully manifest, I think—especially when the aesthetic distribution of musical material is, as it was in this case, somewhat pear-shaped, with a preponderance of “Minnesota nice.” I am not crazy about “Minnesota nice” pieces, but if I avoided them as assiduously as I’d like, I’d have to abstain from just about every concert in Minneapolis and St. Paul, let alone the suburbs. This is not to suggest that Zeitgeist didn’t bring plenty of fascinating sounds—they absolutely did, notably but by no means exclusively in some of the pieces that made use of electronics or improvisation—but rather that the strict time limit prevented the program’s contributors from showing us enough of themselves to make strong impressions. Even though everyone involved was clearly 100 percent earnest about making the program a success, the magic just didn’t happen for me. Maybe I should have been there Friday night, when the place was so full that someone had to sit on the fridge.

But I digress. This is a concept review, not a concert review. The concept—program a bunch of short pieces, all regional, that illustrate the scene’s diversity (in every sense of the word)—is seductive. At an NPAC caucus I argued vociferously for the vertical integration of arts presenters, for local performers to play the music of local composers in local spaces. Not only is it an appealing way to engage the community, it also makes you proud to be where you’re from, which I like—a vestige, I guess, of my rock background. If Twin Cities new music and Chicago new music, for instance, were as stylistically distinct and identity-conscious as SoCal punk and D.C. hardcore used to be, their respective constituents might be mobilized in the spirit of friendly competition and energized to pursue that vertical integration I mentioned. But the underlying assumption is that we do these things in support of the content, and thirty polite but audible voices at 150 seconds per voice, paradoxically, is a content-light experience. A lot of other people besides me saw Zeitgeist last weekend, though, so you won’t have to look far if you want a second opinion.

73 thoughts on “The Short Version

  1. Ann Millikan

    I think—especially when the aesthetic distribution of musical material is, as it was in this case, somewhat pear-shaped, with a preponderance of “Minnesota nice.” I am not crazy about “Minnesota nice” pieces, but if I avoided them as assiduously as I’d like, I’d have to abstain from just about every concert in Minneapolis and St. Paul, let alone the suburbs.

    I’ve lived in MN for four years now (originally from the Bay Area) and still am not quite sure what people mean by “Minnesota nice,” everyone seems to have a different definition. Would you care to explain yours and how it relates to music in this context? Then I’ll offer my 2 cents on the concert, allbeit from an inside-composer’s perspective.

    Reply
  2. philmusic

    Charging Forward features composers:

    Carol Barnett,

    Philip Blackburn,

    Jeffrey Brooks,

    Mary Ellen Childs,

    Brent Michael Davids,

    Randall Davidson,

    Mark Eden

    Douglas Ewart,

    Eric Fratzke,

    Phil Fried,

    Chris Gable,

    Chris
    Granias,

    Douglas Geers,

    Brian Heller,

    Dick Hensold,

    Steve Heitzeg, Gao Hong,

    Kathy Jackanich,

    Marc Jensen, Libby Larsen,

    David Means,

    Scott Miller, Ann
    Millikan,

    Mike Olson,

    Justin Rubin,

    Matthew Smith,

    Carei Thomas,

    David Evan
    Thomas,

    Janika Vandervelde, and David Wolff.

    Phil Fried–yea!! that one!!

    Reply
  3. Colin Holter

    Would you care to explain yours and how it relates to music in this context?

    It’s a term I hear a lot too; I’m glad you asked for greater specificity on it, because I’m never sure whether I’m using it to mean the same thing that others here use it for. Although I’m tempted to cop out and steal Potter Stewart’s famous line – “I know it when I see it” – I think it can be described by connecting its origins in early 20th-century consonant music to its proponents born in the 20s, who in turn taught or influenced a number of its living practitioners (from Howard Hanson to Dominick Argento to Stephen Paulus, for example). However, I think it’s more than just a constellation of mentor/protégé relationships; “Minnesota nice” pieces seem to share a number of aesthetic characteristics, including a traditionally tonal notion of dissonance/consonance rhetoric, some borrowing of affectively conventional film-music tropes (themselves informed perhaps by Hanson’s generation), and socially affirmatory, often nature-related extramusical conceits. A light maquillage of vernacular music, especially folk and jazz but increasingly rock and electronica, also makes it onto a lot of “Minnesota nice” pieces. Although these aesthetic traits don’t appeal to me, they must possess some highly selective nation-spanning magnetism – many “Minnesota nice” composers were actually born elsewhere and immigrated here.

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  4. lukegullickson

    The big question is whether we’re still capable of the sort of regionalism you call for in the 21st century. Most people who talk about such things in general terms would probably argue that we’re moving away from that, but “globalization” is getting to be a tired concept already… personally, I think a swing back toward regional identity is inevitable, and likely not so far off. And I agree that it would be artistically beneficial in many ways.

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  5. Ann Millikan

    Colin that definition was too broad a brush stroke to be meaningful – hardly a regional statement.

    In terms of “concept,” what connected everyone on the program was Zeitgeist. All of the composers had worked with the ensemble during its 30 year history. Not many new music ensembles (if any) have lasted that long, and the anniversary was celebrated by showcasing the music and composers they have been known. Weekend one, “Glancing Back,” featured music of Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, and John Cage. Weekend two, “Charging Forward,” featured 30 new commissions by Minnesota composers they have worked with in various ways over the years. The composers were limited to choosing from a specific set of instruments for each player, and 150 seconds duration (as mentioned, connecting to the state’s 150th).

    I wondered how 30, 150 second-pieces was going to make for a program, but Zeitgeist did an extraordinary thing. They grouped the pieces into suites of four or five pieces that functioned like movements. Each suite had integrity even though the pieces were by different composers, and it made for an engaging program with rich variety. Two and half minutes is enough time to say something. I think there is a certain elegance in short-form (I always loved Webern’s Six Bagatelles) where a composer is forced to be that succinct. I thought the concert worked remarkably well, and was impressed by the pieces on the program – far from being a folksy mash of tonal schmaltz.

    Friday night was packed and the energy in the room was electrifying. Most of the composers were present. To me what was most important about the event was celebrating the role Zeitgeist plays in the community, and the living culture they actively nurture in MN. They pretty much hold down the fort in the chamber music category, and no one does what they do in terms of workshopping, commissioning, and programming new/20th century music. I think your column trivialized an important event.

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  6. Colin Holter

    I think your column trivialized an important event.

    I went out of my way to establish that the concert, which as you say represented a continuation of Zeitgeist’s admirable and long-standing project, certainly was an “important event” and certainly wasn’t trivial. It just didn’t provide the kind of concert-going experience that moves me. This is neither a slam on Zeitgeist nor on any of the composers whose music they presented – the takeaway, for me, was simply that a valuable act of creative service to the community does not necessarily make for an engrossing afternoon of music, as much as we might wish otherwise. However, I’m glad you mentioned Zeitgeist’s “suiting” of these short pieces, a tactic that went a long way toward making the program more cohesive.

    Was my definition really too broad? I thought it was pretty solid, but maybe you’re right. A colleague pointed out to me today that it actually describes a whole lot of contemporary American music from Los Angeles to Boston. It doesn’t happen to describe any of the contemporary American music I care deeply about, but defining “Minnesota nice” outside my personal aesthetic wheelhouse shouldn’t be construed as diminishing Zeitgeist’s achievement or its commissioned composers’.

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  7. Ann Millikan

    It just didn’t provide the kind of concert-going experience that moves me.

    That’s cool, you don’t have to like it, I just don’t think you accurately described the range of music, nor gave enough information about how Zeitgeist presented it, which may have been more interesting for people to read about.

    A colleague pointed out to me today that it actually describes a whole lot of contemporary American music from Los Angeles to Boston.

    Exactly.

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  8. jchang4

    I miss those pre-politically-correct days when people could call augmented sixth chords German, Italian, and French. The problem with our present, highly conscientious era is that it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about things without being accused of generalizing, over-simplifying, or bigotry. Sometimes the labels are just plain inaccurate, but sometimes the conscientiousness is just out of control.

    Interestingly, I recently heard my precollege teacher Susan Svrcek give a lecture about Ives, Cage, and Crumb. She was saying that it normally takes her a little over an hour to get through the Concord Sonata, whereas it only takes Gil Kalish 55 minutes, “but he’s from New York and they all play faster anyway.”

    Reply
  9. philmusic

    When your not familiar with a composers other works I would think it difficult to judge them (style-wise) solely on a 2.5 minute work. Especially if this is not their typical mode of operation.

    Advantage; song composers and miniaturists.

    Phil Fried, very, very nice.

    Reply
  10. Matthew Peterson

    Dear Colin,

    I have never written on this site, but I often check it for composer/music features and the news wire. Today I’ll break my rule of not spending time on the chat boards, because this post hits “close to home” (literally).

    I have never heard “Minnesota Nice” applied to compositional style before. Here’s how I understand the term in general. “Minnesota Nice” is the (radical) personal embodiment of the ancient ideal that others should be treated the way we want to be treated, whether we like them or not. It is about being respectful. Perhaps it’s even about modesty, and keeping quiet if you don’t have anything constructive to say.

    I grew up just across the Red River in North Dakota, and went to college in MN, so I think I know a little about Minnesota. Now is where I depart from part of my personal “MN nice” ideal.

    Far be it from me to criticize anyone’s personal aesthetics, as well as if he chooses to spend his limited time and energy writing lots of blogs. I apologize, because to an extent, I’m going to do just that.

    Some of the composers listed I regard as friends and mentors; one took me under her wing when I was 19 and turned me into a composer. I have a deep respect for the Twin Cities art scene, especially its music. How many metro areas its size have so many professional composers? WHO CARES about what kind of music they write? As long as it is authentic, they believe in it, and write it consummately well, it is valuable.

    You’re a Minnesota composer now. Why didn’t Zeitgeist play a piece of yours? You write a lot of criticism about other people’s music, but I don’t see anyone writing about yours. Do you want to be a critic or a composer? Personally, I don’t think it’s possible (or healthy) to be both. If you’re drawn towards writing about other people’s music, that’s great, and you should do what you love. You can be the staunch, anachronistic defender of dead-modernism, or an apologist for some other stylistic regime that suits your fancy.

    Now I’m getting off my high horse/keyboard, picking up my pencil, and writing music. I’m working hard on my first band piece; it’s a commission from Tim Mahr and the St. Olaf Band. It will be performed next year, probably late January; I’m very excited about this piece of music.

    If you’re still in Minnesota, you should check out the performance. If you hate it, stay away from your computer and write a piece of music in response.

    Yours,

    Matthew Peterson

    Reply
  11. Colin Holter

    Perhaps it’s even about modesty, and keeping quiet if you don’t have anything constructive to say.

    Do you not find this discussion constructive? The Twin Cities are home to an astoundingly strong new music establishment that (fortunately, and unlike almost everywhere else in the country) supports a huge population of composers but (unfortunately, and like almost everywhere else in the country) rewards risk-averse composing. This shouldn’t raise any eyebrows – long before I moved here, I was told that this is how the new music scene operates, and (almost) all of my experiences since coming here have confirmed it. Let me say again that I see it as a challenge, not a deal-breaker. I love living in Minneapolis; the Twin Cities really are a one-of-a-kind environment for the arts.

    Far be it from me to criticize anyone’s personal aesthetics, as well as if he chooses to spend his limited time and energy writing lots of blogs. I apologize, because to an extent, I’m going to do just that.

    Don’t apologize – you have every right to criticize someone’s aesthetics, and so do I. This is America.

    Some of the composers listed I regard as friends and mentors

    Me too. That doesn’t mean I have to love every note they write (or vice versa). See how this works?

    WHO CARES about what kind of music they write?

    What? I do, and everyone who goes to concerts where their music is performed should. That’s why we go – to care about what we hear. I thought this was pretty self-explanatory.

    Why didn’t Zeitgeist play a piece of yours?

    For starters, they have no idea who I am. But I’ve seen them do a number of very adventurous pieces by friends and colleagues, and I’d never accuse them of lily-liveredness when it comes to programming. They certainly have the chops to play whatever they want.

    Do you want to be a critic or a composer? Personally, I don’t think it’s possible (or healthy) to be both.

    I don’t think it’s responsible to be a composer without critical faculties. Most of the artists I revere developed by questioning creative decisions, their own and others’. I think it’s the only way to grow; it’s the only way I have. We may have to agree to disagree here, but I do think you owe it to yourself to try it sometime.

    I’m working hard on my first band piece [...] It will be performed next year, probably late January; I’m very excited about this piece of music.

    What a coincidence – I’m working on my first band piece too. I’m sorry to say I won’t be around in January, though. I hope it goes well, and I hope your audience respects you (and themselves) enough to think critically about what they heard.

    If you hate it, stay away from your computer and write a piece of music in response.

    Right, because we should all just keep our damn mouths shut, avoid lively dialogue, and be thankful for what we’re given. My better half is from North Dakota, and I can assure you that not everyone out there feels the way you do.

    Reply
  12. Lisa X

    Hey Colin, I am very interested to know what you don’t like about this Minnesota nice music. Are you talking about personal taste or something more? Seems to me like you have a deeper aesthetic argument against this music. I`d love to hear it. Clearly you prefer what you would consider more adventurous music, but why?

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  13. Matthew Peterson

    Dear Colin –

    I hope your audience respects you (and themselves) enough to think critically about what they heard.

    I think that well-written music doesn’t LET you “think critically” – it forces you to feel, to react, to experience. And I am confident enough in my abilities to know that I won’t give the audience (except maybe the cynics-on-purpose-with-an-agenda) the opportunity to have reservations about what they just heard. I’ll give them urgent, emotional art that grabs them and doesn’t let them go.

    Most people don’t go to concerts or any art exhibit so that afterwards they can “think critically” and write blogs about it. This is what critics do. Most people go to concerts out of a desire for the person to person transmission of art.

    I don’t think it’s responsible to be a composer without critical faculties. Most of the artists I revere developed by questioning creative decisions, their own and others’. I think it’s the only way to grow; it’s the only way I have. We may have to agree to disagree here, but I do think you owe it to yourself to try it sometime.

    I believe that every artist is a law unto his or herself. There is a difference between being a critic, and thinking critically about music. Unless we are being oppressed, and need to take action through published words, we can do all our “critic” work inside our head, and let our resultant influences and dislikes inform our music in the ways it will. This is what I do whether I hear a masterwork by Beethoven or Crumb or Sandström, or a piece by a first year college student.

    I do think critically (more privately than you, however) about music. I do grow. I reject music that feels the need to self-consciously rationalize it’s existence in a pseudo-scientific manner; I reject music that is dry, boring, and/or unexpressive. Often I react to pieces in shades of grey; simultaneously enjoying and disliking certain elements. No one gains anything from me whining about something I don’t like in a piece, a performance, or even an entire body of music. It won’t make bad music better, or make composers write a different kind of music.

    I agree with you that dialogue is important; that is why I contributed. The question I want to raise with all this is, ‘is it possible for us to talk/blog too much for our own good as artists?’ Our art, not our words, is what brings music into the future. Too much thinking breeds too much self-consciousness and hesitancy, as well as the desire to create systems or paradigms to control and rationalize art. My opinion is that this enables bad music to be written and even celebrated. I’ve learned this from great living (and dead) composers as well as my own experience.

    Yours – MKP

    Reply
  14. Colin Holter

    I’ll give them urgent, emotional art that grabs them and doesn’t let them go. [...] Most people go to concerts out of a desire for the person to person transmission of art. [...] I reject music that feels the need to self-consciously rationalize it’s existence in a pseudo-scientific manner; I reject music that is dry, boring, and/or unexpressive.

    “Emotional, urgent art” sounds pretty good to me too. But as one of my teachers used to say, the dichotomy between emotion and reason is a false one. This also pertains to Lisa X’s question – I think that music intended to pull the audience’s emotional strings Affektenlehre-style is manipulative, cheap, and supremely patronizing. It shows colossal disdain for one’s listeners to jerk them around with the emotional conventions of older music. I think music is a shared responsibility – the composer and performers have to present something meaningful, and the audience has to decode it. The decoding apparatus that most nonspecialists acquire and use is probably so transparent and comfortable that it’s easy to forget it’s even there, but it’s a construct all the same. Music that seems to convey its emotional payload “naturally” – i.e. without artifice – is instead just availing itself of a kind of widely recognized and accepted artifice. The music I really care about demands that we reevaluate our decoding apparatus in order to get at what it has to offer – namely, stuff (perhaps highly emotional and urgent stuff) that we couldn’t see with our old apparatus.

    By the way, that’s as true of large-C Classical music as it is of modern music. If you think you’re getting the real meat out of Beethoven’s music by passively drowning in its “emotional content,” you’re fooling yourself. And your listening apparatus is fooling you too, so shame on you both. (I realize that this is a much longer manifesto than is really appropriate to the current discussion.)

    ‘is it possible for us to talk/blog too much for our own good as artists?’ [...] Too much thinking breeds too much self-consciousness and hesitancy, as well as the desire to create systems or paradigms to control and rationalize art.

    Hey, they tell me to write a few hundred words a week, so I write a few hundred words a week. I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing as “too much thinking,” provided that one’s thinking doesn’t hinge on misapprehensions. Again, we may have to agree to disagree.

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  15. philmusic

    Mathew, arguing against Colin’s generalizations by proposing your own generalizations provides little insight into the wonderful compositions performed on this concert.

    So let me get this straight — “thinkers” (Matthew) who are “nice” (Colin) had better quit composing?

    Right?

    Phil Fried, Oh, I composed two band works, Commissioned by Augsburg college. I was just “thinking” about them. Isn’t it nice?

    Reply
  16. philmusic

    My post was in between so I must addenda:

    So let me get this straight — “thinkers” (Matthew) and the “Emotional” (Colin) had better quit composing?

    I thinks that just about covers all of us doesn’t it?

    Phil Fried, nice enough

    Reply
  17. Colin Holter

    Fair enough, Phil – here’s my response:

    Nobody should stop composing.

    Everybody should think harder about how they compose, including me.

    I shouldn’t presume to tell people how to prosecute their art from my precarious gargoyle perch on the AMC’s servers.

    Cool?

    Reply
  18. Lisa X

    Didn’t answer my first question but Ill keep trying.

    “Everybody should think harder about how they compose, including me.”

    Why? Really, I’m serious. This is a huge statement of purpose for everyone implying giant ideologies that are by no means taken for granted by many of us.

    “I shouldn’t presume to tell people how to prosecute their art from my precarious gargoyle perch on the AMC’s servers.”

    You just did! And I think you should continue to do so, just tell us why. If you believe that you have some ideas for us that matter, especially ones that start like “Everybody should…” than lets hear why.

    Like your broad and casual dismissal of “Minnesota Nice” we need to hear an argument so we can learn something. I would love if you could find a representative piece of this music and tell us what about it you don’t like.

    Reply
  19. rtanaka

    That’s often the downfall of music criticism in general though, since it’s very difficult to translate the audible experience into the written word. But I think the best of critics (like Alex Ross, for example) can give a fairly good picture of what the music sounds like before explaining what its meaning might be. Say, Copland’s music is often described as being very “nice”, since it’s fairly consonant and incorporates a lot of influences from the vernacular — at least its an attempt on the part of him to try to be an egalitarian. But if you listen to his Orchestral Variations you can sense a lot of pent-up rage depicted through his brash brass and percussion writing and the screaming high notes of the strings and flutes. I guess it just goes to show that he’s human too.

    Some of the discussions here go in circles because we’re often talking about our reactions toward music rather than what the music itself sounds like. What does “Minnesota Nice” sound like anyway? The use of harmonic resolutions? Curved, as opposed to angular gestures? Orchestrations that blend, rather than have the instruments stick out in a disjunct manner? From reading this thread I don’t think anybody who wasn’t there would be able to figure out what exactly happened that night.

    People have a right to like or dislike whatever they want, but without specifics, it’s pretty hard to have meaningful dialogs…I think that it’s important to be able to articulate the reasons behind preferences, otherwise it just becomes a tautology. (e.g. It’s good/bad because I happen to like/dislike it.)

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  20. coreydargel

    I think the choice between reflecting and experiencing is a false one. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Maybe as we reflect on our experiences, our emotions become richer, and our immediate experiences become deeper and more rewarding as a result. Reading about other people’s thoughts and opinions helps us to better understand our own.

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  21. Somebody

    What Colin Doesn’t Like
    Colin, being at a concert and not “liking” what you are listening to is not music criticism. I would call it narcissism. Furthermore, understanding the music you are listening to would bring further clarity to any message you make on this wonderful web site. Going to a concert and saying it “Was it a great concert? Not quite.” isn’t what this community of composers needs, they need someone to articulate a message about the tonality, meter, texture, and development of the music you heard. Yet, for some reason, you continually avoid these important topics.

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  22. BMD

    Colin Holter“Was my definition really too broad? I thought it was pretty solid, but maybe you’re right. A colleague pointed out to me today that it actually describes a whole lot of contemporary American music from Los Angeles to Boston. It doesn’t happen to describe any of the contemporary American music I care deeply about, but defining ‘Minnesota nice’ outside my personal aesthetic wheelhouse shouldn’t be construed as diminishing Zeitgeist’s achievement or its commissioned composers’.”

    Okay, send me a bunch of your work, and I’ll examine it to see if you have any “Minnesota Nice” in your aesthetic wheelhouse music. Bet you do. Your tasty roadster is probably cruisin’ right along the Mississippi with the rest of us.

    You wrote an Op-Ed, not music criticism.

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  23. Colin Holter

    Your tasty roadster is probably cruisin’ right along the Mississippi with the rest of us.

    That may be. But if it is, it’s the result of a deficiency in my technique, because I actively seek out and remove the things in my music that coincide with the aesthetic features I mentioned in conjunction with “America nice.” Let me save you some time: You could look at a bunch of my pieces, but all they would tell you is that I haven’t been as successful and thorough as I’d like in creating negative dialectics, which I’ve just admitted to you here. I’m working on it, though – which is why I’m in school, which is why I was approached to do some writing for NMBx several years ago, which is why you see my Op-Eds (and indeed they are) here every week. If you want to read something that I wrote about actual music, by all means pick up a copy of this.

    Lisa: I sent you an email several days ago, then realized that “rdlkj” lies suspiciously well under the fingers on a QWERTY keyboard and may not be an address you check regularly. If so, that’s a mean trick.

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  24. heather@zeitgeistnewmusic.org

    Colin,
    Thank you for being present and sharing your thoughts about our 30th anniversary concert in this forum. Constructive criticism and lively discussion of new music are essential to the growth of our art form. Can’t ever be enough of it.

    The conversation has moved a bit away from the “Minnesota nice” bit, but as a person who has lived in this area all her life, I thought I would give my definition of the term. “Minnesota nice” is a pejorative used to describe the reticence of our people to be completely frank with strangers and acquaintances about what they think and feel. At best, it is seen as overly polite, at worst, it is viewed as disingenuous.

    With regard to the works on our program, I don’t think it is an applicable term. Knowing each of our composers quite well, I am certain that each delivered a piece that reflected his/her personal artistic convictions. In my experience, that’s simply what composers do. Each of these pieces, and perhaps the sum of all of these parts, may not have suited your aesthetic tastes, but I don’t believe anyone was being overly polite or disingenuous.

    As to the vertical integration you mention as a means to identifying and supporting regional and local trends, I think that is simply a fantastic idea. Obviously, Zeitgeist does much in collaboration with our local composers. I’d be very interested to hear from other performers and ensembles who are doing the same with an eye to sharing information and possibly developing collaborative projects. Anyone interested?

    For starters, they have no idea who I am.

    We not only know who you are, we know where you live. See you around and keep up the good work.

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  25. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    The vertical integration has been going on here in Vermont for 20 years, and successfully.

    It has had two consequences: More performances of music by Vermont’s (more than 150 nonpop) composers and just a little more attention to Vermont’s composers outside the region.

    We celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Consortium of Vermont Composers later this year. In 1988, there was little performance of new nonpop of any kind except by the newly formed Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble (a tiny group that has since commissioned and performed sixty-seven new works on essentially no budget), and even less by local composers unless they had (as I did) their own ensembles. A group of us came together to make our work visible in the state, and worked hard to enthuse ensembles to play it. The group was reasonably democratic, non-academic, and welcoming.

    (By “non-academic”, I mean it had no staff or office in an academic institution, no academic financial support, a wide mix of composer backgrounds, and its home address moved from house to house as composers took turns being in charge.)

    We chose to work collaboratively, creating a festival every 18 months, mostly with performers and ensembles who had rarely taken on new music before. Venues were schools and churches and town halls and gymnasiums. Audiences turned out, and by 1996 the organization sent itself into dormancy, having achieved the visibility it sought. By then, critics came to and reviewed the concerts, one of them even deliberately becoming knowledgeable in new nonpop in order to make sense of it. Every ensemble in the state became involved and commissioned new works, including the professional Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the semi-pro Vermont Philharmonic and Sage City Symphony. Newly founded ensembles and orchestras play and commission new nonpop as a matter of course today.

    State composers’ organizations as far away as Alaska were in touch with us to learn how we succeeded in seeding new nonpop widely in the region. And the truth was pretty much what Colin proposes: vertical integration, or what in Vermont is marketed by the state simply as “Buy Local”. (Download the “Concert Music: Buy Local” bumper sticker!).

    Vermont is a great test case — a state of fewer than 650,000 people separated by difficult geography, dirt roads, six months of unhelpful weather, and little new music tradition outside the walls of Bennington or Middlebury Colleges.

    It may also suffer from the “Vermont nice” equivalent of Colin’s criticism — one with which I would concur. Adventurous music has different meanings in different contexts … obvious, of course, but not always well assimilated. This is a topic discussed in another thread, but geography and weather influence the perception of art. What works in an middle-Atlantic Eastern urban environment has no context in a city where weather still matters or in the countryside where geography and weather really rule. We attend concerts in boots not because it’s chic.

    But I digress. The point is that a commitment to each other as composers can lead to the successful presentation of new nonpop as an expected part of the cultural milieu. (As a final aside: When my piece “Icecut” was performed by the Vermont Symphony in its 10-concert tour in 2004, almost all the venues were sold out. In Lyndonville, far into the cold and isolated Northeast Kingdon, teenagers were pulling out pocketfuls of coins to buy their way into the SRO concert to hear the new piece, whose reputation for being pretty cool had preceded it.)

    Vertical integration works. Buy local!

    Dennis

    Reply
  26. BMD

    Colin“it’s the result of a deficiency in my technique, because I actively seek out and remove the things in my music that coincide with the aesthetic features I mentioned in conjunction with “America nice.” Let me save you some time: You could look at a bunch of my pieces, but all they would tell you is that I haven’t been as successful and thorough as I’d like in creating negative dialectics, which I’ve just admitted to you here.”

    I suspect a much simpler explanation for the problem rests with the initial assumption: searching for unsung “negative dialectics” (considering Occam’s Razor). At the foundation of the problem is the lack of any clear distinctness, and therefore an equivalent inability to “seek out and remove” those unidentified aspects.

    See how much easier that was to explain?

    Reply
  27. rtanaka

    Why try to “remove it” to begin with? What’s the point? Isn’t that culture part of who he is a composer?

    One thing we teach in improvisation is the idea that one should be comfortable with their own ideas — don’t be afraid to fall into your tendencies and familiar “riffs”, so to speak. If you want to take a critical look at things you can always do it at a later time. But people should allow themselves to be themselves once in a while, I think.

    Reply
  28. Colin Holter

    At the foundation of the problem is the lack of any clear distinctness, and therefore an equivalent inability to “seek out and remove” those unidentified aspects.

    But I’ve identified them clearly: q.v. my earlier post, a “traditionally tonal notion of dissonance/consonance rhetoric,” “some borrowing of affectively conventional film-music tropes,” “socially affirmatory, often nature-related extramusical conceits,” and a “light maquillage of vernacular music.” I know them when I hear them, I can point them out on a score, and I don’t want any part of them. If you’d like to continue this line of argument, maybe we should do it privately rather than use public bandwidth for what seems to be an increasingly circular debate.

    Reply
  29. rtanaka

    It’s only circular because you’re avoiding the relatively simple questions that almost everybody here is asking — What exactly is “Minnesota Nice” (according to you, anyway) and what about it do you dislike so much that you feel the need to eradicate its influences from your work?

    Reply
  30. BMD

    Colin“But I’ve identified them clearly … a ‘traditionally tonal notion of dissonance/consonance rhetoric,’ ‘some borrowing of affectively conventional film-music tropes,’ ‘socially affirmatory, often nature-related extramusical conceits,’ and a ‘light maquillage of vernacular music’.”

    I can imagine a composer singing into the Mall of America hoping to hear his own voice, but can’t. So he tries escorting out all the “MN Nice” people he crosses, hoping to clarify his own echo. He admonishes the
    “traditionally tonal” conservatives to leave, chides the “dissonance/consonance” rhetorics to amscray, yells ‘fire-in-the-theater’ at the “film-score” tropers, sports evil-eyes at the “socially” affirmative do-gooders, and howls like a wolf at every conceited “extramusical” naturist he passes. But especially maniacal are the MOA shoppers in ordinary makeup — the “vernacular” maquillages — oh my!!

    Contrary to the notion of “MN Nice” put forth above, I see no conceit whatsoever in any of the nature-inspired works presented by Zeitgeist. In fact, as an American Indian composer, the narrowly defined idea of music-for-the-sake-of-music (devoid of those pesky “extra” musical trappings) is nothing but a myth — an ethnocentric one at that.

    One possible alternative to the “where’s-my-composer-voice” quandary, might be simply to join in the Mall of America medley, barndance the MOA polka, or interact with the culture in some composerly way rather than avoid it. I found the initial “MN Nice” characterization quite ill conceived, and this “negative dialectic” pursuit seems rather fruitless if not pointless.

    Reply
  31. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve been as surprised and dismayed by anything on NMBx as this discussion.

    The reaction to Colin’s comment (including his own subsequent reaction) reveal fault lines in new nonpop that I thought had long been sealed.

    Josephine’s Republican/Democratic/avant-garde/neo-romantic proposal (see her blog referenced above) makes a different kind of identification of post-modernism, one that to me is ill-informed about the avant-garde and oversimplifies more than a half-century of parallel and perpendicular and tangential trends. (Not that that matters — it’s just that proposing another division is dizzying.)

    The divisions appear to be deep. I can’t fault Colin here — his offhanded “Minnesota nice” comment is an observation (based on the material I’ve received over the years for the radio show) that is accurate — see my post above about Vermont and geography, and how “nice” is not necessarily a criticism but an observation. The criticism is Colin’s and, putting aside the pseudo-intellectual rhetoric (sorry, but yuck) it is legitimate.

    But following on atonal/tonal, minimal/modern, uptown/downtown, modern/spectral and every other disputatious psychology and style and school and system and psychology, yet more divisions are, to this greying guy, stupefying.

    One would think that in the post-modern period of inclusiveness, the ability to grasp and incorporate and accept diverse approaches (whether or not there’s a “negative dialectic” — for goodness sakes!) would be integrated into the psychology of an era. (Or does Colin show we’re reaching the end of that grab-bag tolerance?)

    Grasping, incorporation and acceptance do not mean that one can’t intensely dislike a musical approach, though. Without a visceral reaction, one has no unique voice. And it’s only at this point that I think Colin (and others) appear unwilling to step out from behind the big lens of their artistic commitment that views other approaches as somehow wrong or lesser. Every piece is different, and the character of those differences may be invisible to the filters on certain of those lenses.

    Interviewing nearly 300 composers has certainly tempered my artistic arrogance. This is personal, isn’t it? Not about art or negative-freakin-dialectic, right? Once I was a hard-ass avant-gardist (and once I was a child, too). Even though I have become “Vermont nice” by sheer influence of geography and culture, I could never in my life write as melodically accomplished pieces as, for example, Beth Anderson’s “Swales” (another artist who underwent a wrenching transition from her avant-garde period). Nor could I compose, though I dislike this kind of operatic style, as well-formed and compelling an opera as (what I’ve heard from Act I of) Evan Hause’s “Man: Biology of a Fall” (the first act now on YouTube). Nor, though the approach doesn’t interest me, the electronic work of Fred Szymanski, what I see as the easy-listening collapse of the high minimalists, the cheap grab-bag style of a lot of post-modern composition, etc. But my dislike is mitigated by an utmost respect for the music itself and, of course, what I am incapable of doing. It is unwilling humility, to be sure.

    I don’t think we should “all get along” — that’s all kittens & puppies. But I do think that creating artificial (artistic, not social) class divisions erects ramparts where energy goes into defense that could be going into mutual encouragement. That’s why I brought up the Vermont example above that had no follow-up discussion here … it can be done. Do I “like” Derrik Jordan’s music? No, it’s not to my taste and I would never compose like that, but it’s astoundingly accomplished, and I celebrate the fact that one of our local Vermont composers just won the biennial Shakuhachi Chamber Music International Prize awarded in Australia.

    So let’s celebrate, whether it’s “Minnesota nice” or something spiky or even negatively dialectified! This is the golden age, folks — a period this rich in stylistic diversity and accomplishment hasn’t been experienced in a very long time. I’m grateful to be alive to see it.

    Dennis

    Reply
  32. philmusic

    There are many of us, as artists, who chose to reject some aspects of our society. True this too has been domesticated by colleges and universities and by the compromises of everyday living not to mention the profession itself.

    One could point out that the society of composers who reject society is still a society. Maybe its even larger than those who would be “nice.”

    Right or wrong motivation, true or false self knowledge is not the point–the music is.

    Phil Fried, fairly nice

    Reply
  33. jchang4

    Thanks for your comments, Dennis. It’s hard to know if you’re getting it or not when no one reads what you write, so I thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote and for sharing some of your reactions.

    So… I got the avant-garde completely wrong? What is a more correct way of describing the movement? But, since you didn’t comment on my neo-classic description, does that mean I was pretty close there? I wasn’t trying to make up a new dialectic… I was just trying to understand the state of classical music today, which is really hard to do since we haven’t agreed on terminology. I decided to go with terminology agreed upon up by the composition faculty at USC: avant-garde vs neoclassic. I realize what I wrote is oversimplifying, but sometimes you have to simplify in order to get your head around an issue.

    I’m sorry to pester you all with this, but this is something I’m very interested in, and they didn’t teach us this stuff in school.

    Reply
  34. rtanaka

    There are many of us, as artists, who chose to reject some aspects of our society.

    I agree, but I do think that it’s important to be able to at least articulate the reasons why, if not in words, then at least in your own mind. A good piece of artwork should reflect something about something — whether it be about society or about the artist themselves, both good and bad. Otherwise there’s really not much chance that it’ll connect to an audience.

    I have problems with the idea of “eradicating” influences from your work, mostly because I see it as a denial of the reality that exists around us. At worst, as Cornelius Cardew would put it, it’s a form of justification of Western imperialism; at best, it’s a well-intentioned distraction from the issues that actually affect people. There are styles and musics that I don’t particularly care for but I don’t hesitate to include it in my work anyway because it gives way to a type of discourse of ideas which can be worked out as part of the piece. You can set them up as dichotomies (Stravinsky), cooperative relationships (Copeland), or parodies (John Adams), but they actually have to be there in the work in order for it to be a dialog. I would say that most of the “great” composers, in one form or another, were able to do this fairly consciously.

    Tonality exists because Western society exists. Denying this fact generally means ignoring what’s going on in the world, and more than anything, it highlights the sort of out-of-touchness that often turns people off from our medium.

    Reply
  35. BMD

    Colin“If Twin Cities new music and Chicago new music, for instance, were as stylistically distinct and identity-conscious as SoCal punk and D.C. hardcore used to be, their respective constituents might be mobilized in the spirit of friendly competition and energized to pursue that vertical integration I mentioned. But the underlying assumption is that we do these things in support of the content, and thirty polite but audible voices at 150 seconds per voice, paradoxically, is a content-light experience.”

    Yes, it’s a no-brainer to champion a “buy local” mentality and hope this creates a vibrant composer and new music community. Granted.

    What I do not find useful are pontifications about “content-light” concerts that were not. Sorry, but I’ve seen no evidence put forth to either present an adequate “MN Nice” music, nor an adequate understanding of the composer community here in MN.

    It’s not ‘content’ that is the “underlying assumption” for participating here, but affirming the local vitality of contemporary music. Describing this perfect example of a “buy local” event (with its “buy local” underlying support) as a “polite but audible” Zeitgeist concert is unbelievably arrogant. Of course Zeitgeist’s program was about the whole process — not merely the content — a point that the original entry seemed to have missed but then criticized as a strawman argument.

    I mean, come-on, read the list of composers again (most of who were all there on opening night), and talk to me again about this “content light” “Minnesota light” mischaracterization. Minnesota’s great collective of composers, prominent and not-so-prominent alike, come together to enact a vibrant experience, but the Op-ed offers a back-handed slap at the event?

    Minnesota Nice ” ?

    Contrary to the search for some ineffable “negative dialectic,” I find the original entry to be an illustrative example of “Minnesota Nice” actually, which I find perfectly ironic.

    Reply
  36. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Frankly, the distinction sounds entirely made up. It’s like somebody who wasn’t at the concert did the review! Or perhaps the USC composition faculty came down with some sort of mental withering disease. It’s total nonsense.

    I can’t begin to summarize either era that simplistically. The entire past, oh, 70 years is all historically informed, but that’s apparently not what is meant.

    Were avant-gardists consciously rejecting a past? Really? Were Pauline Oliveros and Eliane Radigue and Morton Feldman all doing that when they invented their long, delicate shapes? How about Rzewski and his politically inspired “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues” on top of Il Gruppo and their sonic experiments? Where does the Cage/Hiller “HPSCHD” fit into that? How about behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain where Pärt and Górecki and Penderecki were working? Do they slide conveniently into the Fluxus happenings? How about Lou Harrison or perhaps Partch’s “Delusion of the Fury”? Subotnik and Stockhausen and Ferneyhough and Cardew and Gubaidulina and Vivier and Nono in one breath?

    On the other hand, does supposed neo-romanticism include pairs such as David Del Tredici and Steve Reich, Belinda Reynolds and John Luther Adams, Melissa Hui and Phil Kline, Amy Scurria and Greg Mertl, Merzbow and Calliope Tsoupaki, Corey Dargel and Thomas Adès (sorry, Corey!), Rozalie Hirs and Karlheinz Essl and Carson Cooman and Eve Beglarian and Jason Eckardt? How about any dozen composers who pop up right here?

    The division seems entirely constructed and deliberately divisive — or just plain lazy!

    Dennis

    Reply
  37. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    [My post above had no reference. It was a response to Josephine's ... Brent got in there about 60 seconds earlier!]

    Reply
  38. BMD

    Re Josephine By Dennis Bathory-Kitsz
    [sorry for interrupting the continuity of your response with my entry-key trigger finger!] … and I agree, it’s an artificial categorization perhaps useful in some temporary investigative sense but is not applicable to how things really are.

    Reply
  39. rtanaka

    The distinction between the two streams are apt, in my opinion — and it’s a useful model to use, not only because there were many who clearly stayed within on type of style (and still do, oddly enough), but also because it also makes it easier to find the exceptions who traversed between the two camps.

    If you look at the rhetoric and output of the avant-gardists (the two major streams being the integral serialists and American experimentalism) it’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to avoid any sort of reference to history by utilizing non-conventional forms and languages. Stockhausen officially declared himself as not being part of this world, while Cage was actively trying to undermine the syntax of music and language itself. They talk a lot about severing their ties to the past and what not, the sentiment partly emerging as a reaction toward WWII atrocities.

    The categorizations will cease to be useful as time goes on only because there’s so much inter-mingling going on between the styles nowadays. But if you look at it historically, the divisions are fairly clear.

    Reply
  40. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Ryan,

    I gave groups of 19 and 17 examples respectively. Care to show what each group has in common, and how the two groups differ? — from a perspective that’s actually present in the music, that is? Here are a couple more. Which group do they fit in, and why? Louis Andriessen, Mary Jane Leach, Ben Johnston, Ellen Fullman, Kaija Saariaho, Marc Battier, Richard Barrett, Lisa Bielawa.

    Dennis

    Reply
  41. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    What ticks me off about this academic claptrap is that any lazy, arbitrary categories can be invented and then explicated by some music faculty.

    Howzabout some categories, some uncomfortable, that could be arbitrarily held up just as well as avant-garde/neo-romantic:

    • Academic/Real
    • Men/Women
    • Under 40/Over 40
    • Gay/Straight
    • Asian/Black
    • Rich/Poor
    • Alive/Dead
    • Canadian/USian
    • Educated/Autodidact
    • Effete/Popular

    Does that get us anywhere? I think not. But maybe categories like avant-garde/neo-romantic are not-so-subtle code words for asserting contemporary prejudices and own avant-garde rejection of history. “Oh, that’s avant-garde” (subtext: old, defunct, annoying, selfish, arrogant, theirs) and “Oh, that’s neo-romantic” (subtext: fresh, alive, accessible, sensitive, inviting, ours).

    Dennis

    Reply
  42. dalgas

    I’m with Dennis here (so what’s new :-), but certainly understand how natural this dichotomy-stuff is. Humans have always sought identity, and usually with some like-minded group. So that no matter how many different identities are out there, it really boils down to the fact that there’s yours, and then there’s the *other*. By extention to the group, if you’re not us, you’re all part of *them*. We can and are gradually escaping this, but it’s still absolutely interwoven through much of the human psyche, worldwide.

    Steve Layton

    Reply
  43. Ann Millikan

    For those of you still wondering what “Minnesota Nice” is in reference to music, there’s no such thing. No musicians use that term to describe music here. It is Colin’s verbiage, which he refuses to break down in any meaningful/musical way that would offer clarity. It makes sense to him, so that’s what’s important, because it’s his column so that’s what he’s going to do. Talk about wasting bandwidth.

    A good reviewer goes to a concert with open ears, takes some notes, comes home and writes something that will help other people get a sense of what was heard. In the Bay Area my favorite critic for new music was Sarah Cahill because of the generous way she took you inside of the music (Alex Ross does this too). Good writing is about opening up the experience for other people, whether you like the music or not. Colin has refused to give one concrete example from the concert of what he doesn’t like and why, so we’ll never know what he’s talking about. As a participant in the Zeitgeist 30th celebration, I am disgusted at this sort lazy, stingy journalism.

    Reply
  44. rtanaka

    Well of course history isn’t so simple as it can be reduced down to only 2 ways of doing things. But these spectrums are there because these divisions actually exist within the medium. It’s pretty obvious that the avant-garde had little to no interest in the vernacular, which puts them at odds with the neo-classicists who were obviously interested in the vernacular. The dichotomy is limited in scope, but as long as you can articulate the reasons why and who it applies to, then it doesn’t have to be a simplification of the issue.

    If popular and jazz musics were to be included in these types of discussions, it would obviously produce a more complex picture. But most music history books (at least in my experience) are wary of even acknowledging that Hollywood exists, even though its influence is all around us and strongly shapes the perception of our world. There is also the “third” stream in new music, which consisted of classically trained musicians working within improvisatory mediums. (Zorn, Lewis, Bailey, the AACM, etc.) But this movement has hardly ever been mentioned anywhere until fairly recently. Classical music seemed to have made it a point to describe the narrative of history in terms of a dichotomy, and even the avant-gardists weren’t able to escape from this.

    I’m not suggesting that people use these models as if it were the only thing in the world, but it can be helpful to acknowledge that these divisions actually exist and there are ideological reasons behind it. Cause if you meet enough musicians you’re probably going to run into a few ideologues who can’t really see music beyond a certain stylistic approach, and you’re going to have to learn how to deal with them or avoid them if necessary. And it makes finding people who are actually “open” to things that much more pleasurable.

    Reply
  45. BMD

    ColinFrom: colinholter@gmail.com
    Subject: NMBx
    Date: July 12, 2008 8:02:03 PM CDT
    To: brent@filmcomposer.us

    Hi Brent,

    I’m writing this in a personal email rather than on a message board because I want you to have the assurance that I’m not saying it to be “overheard.” Also, frankly, the inflammation of my white guilt solar plexus after reading your “ethnocentric myth” comment has kept me from responding further on NewMusicBox. There’s not much I can say to that one. But I do want to be straight with you, hence this email.

    Nice try, but you’re emailing me privately to avoid the responsibility of actually responding publicly to the growing criticism you are receiving and avoiding.

    Colin“I think conservative concert music is a waste of time. I will not apologize for this opinion, especially because it’s one I’ve been espousing publicly since I started writing for NMBx in 2005. I was unmoved by Zeitgeist’s concert for two reasons in about equal measure, one structural (i.e. 30 2.5-minute pieces is just kind of hard for me to swallow) and one (the one which has attracted most of the controversy) aesthetic.”

    First, you’ve not given any accurate description of the Zeitgeist concert on which to base critique, so whatever your claims are about it remain completely unsupported. And Second, a major point of the Zeitgeist event was that is was a great occurrence of the “buy local” idea, no matter what happened “musically” at that event. Every composer there is entirely capable of composing a well-crafted work; however that was beside the point. The point was that we actually got together and all did it — all 31 of us — together. It was nothing like the mass-marketed meaningless concert that you are contending with your inept insinuations.

    The purpose of the event was not to please your sense (or should I say ‘anti-sense’) of structure and beauty. You overlooked the central purpose of the event (local vitality), focused your attention on something way less important (musical “conceits”), washed it all away as shallow (“MN Nice”), and then pretended to praise it publicly while avoiding your true opinion (journalistic cowardess).

    Colin“But every piece on Zeitgeist’s program had something unique, individual, and not conservative about it, which is what I found so frustrating: If all thirty of those composers had decided to roll the dice and do something 100% new and untested in their 150-second works, I would have gotten a huge kick out of the show, and you’d better believe I would have written all about it on NewMusicBox in glowing terms.”

    How very frustrating, having to actually ‘think’ about what you are hearing, and not being able to simply have it served to you on a silver platter all neatly bundled into 100% easy-to-consume packages. Poor baby.

    Colin“Maybe some of Zeitgeist’s composers took this kind of risk. Maybe you did.”

    You mean like the “risk” you took by publishing your true views instead of pandering to what you imagined would be acceptable to the New Music Box consumers … you mean, like you took THAT kind of risk? How very brave of you.

    For the record, I didn’t take any risks at all; and, of course, it doesn’t matter one iota that I didn’t. My intent was to write something very friendly, warm and lush, something you’d maybe hear at an anniversary gathering. It was called “Something Pearl” for that very reason, what you give on 30th anniversaries, something pearl.

    Like I said above, every composer there is wholly able to write a new work under their own set of intentions whatever they might be. But addressing Colin’s favorite “constructs,” “aesthetics” and “conceits” was not the goal of Zeitgeist’s 30th anniversary project — it was all about the local composer community.

    Colin“But asking for a 150-second piece for a program whose job, in a sense, is to demonstrate contrasts in the identities of Twin Cities composers is not the way to encourage thinking outside the box, and that’s a criticism that Zeitgeist has earned.”

    Again, the goal was not to “demonstrate contrasts” (as you have assumed) but to bring together all of Zeitgeist’s former composers into a vibrant community project, the operative word being “together.” And it was great!

    Colin“I’m sorry that my introduction to your music was two and a half minutes, even if they were your best two and a half minutes; I’d much rather Zeitgeist had commissioned a half-program-length piece from you, say, without attaching it to their own anniversary celebration. I’d know your perspective a lot better, and I would have been able to invest much more of myself in the listening experience.”

    Your slip is showing. You should already know Zeitgeist has already commissioned me and performed my works several times over the years. Zeitgeist is one of the most successful and supportive new music ensembles in the state; anyone who prided themselves on knowing “new music” in MN would out-of-necessity be heavily invested in Zeitgeist’s programs on a regular basis. How could any serious new music aficionado avoid Zeitgeist so easily, Zeitgeist is probably the first “go-to” group for new music here. Don’t get around much?

    Colin“If they’d commissioned me for 150 seconds for their (well-earned) lovefest, I’m certain that I couldn’t have come up with something to represent myself well. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about this because every day since July 2 I’ve read a new blistering indictment of my take on Zeitgeist’s show.”

    Well-earned indictments.

    Colin“Also: You and everyone else on NMBx can scoff at my attachment to ‘negative dialectics,’ but a lot of the new (as in, being written today) music I care most about is predicated on conceptualizing music as a post-Hegelian, post-Marxist, Adorno-informed thought construct.”

    One thing Adorno was criticized for was not knowing about the pop culture he was supposedly criticizing. He made up generalizations about what he thought he saw, built them into straw men, and then burned them. You did the same.

    You built a “Minnesota Nice” straw man, burned him, and completely missed the value of what really happened with the Zeitgeist project. Instead, you chose to engage in a New Music Box diversion: “What’s Behind Critic Number One?” (a confuse-the-audience guessing game).

    Colin“Maybe it’s pretentious and (as Dennis said) ‘pseudo-intellectual,’ but it’s behind pieces that I love, and I won’t apologize for that either. Needless to say, you almost never hear any of these pieces in the Twin Cities, so I can’t hold it against you or anyone else in town if you’re unfamiliar with the latest Michael Spencer or Cornelius Schwehr premiere.

    “Maybe”? Okay, so you insist on not apologizing because there’s nothing to apologize for, but turn right around again and mischaracterize Minnesotans as “uninformed” what? Midwesterners? Not-from-NY yokels? Too Funny. Nothing like tossing in patronizing insinuations to distract attention away from “the latest” blunder “in town.”

    Colin“As I mentioned, people told me it was going to be like this out here. They said there’s a great community, but it’s hard to get into, and you (meaning me) probably never will, with the kind of music you write.”

    Woe is you. But you know, I’d have to say it’s highly improbable you’d be shunned in MN for anything ‘musical’ you might do. Even the concert you so slovenly dissed, had a variety of things on it from a wide variety of composers. A big part of the composer community was there, but instead you chose to Op-ed yourself into a “Minnesota Nice” tizzy because you couldn’t figure out how to genuinely realte to the event. No, I doubt your ‘musical considerations’ would potentially hinder your participation in MN. Can you think of any other possibilities?

    Colin“I tried to be as polite as possible throughout the conversation online; maybe I should have just been honest from the get-go (this is why there’s no “Maryland nice,” not even a myth of one). I respect you and your work, and I’m sorry this became so acrimonious.

    Colin

    PS By the way, I’ll be overseas from September until May, so please don’t think I’ve just stopped going to Twin Cities new music performances this fall!

    “Polite” is not the description I’d have used for your behavior, “blandishments intended to misdirect or insult,” or the even more befitting “Minnesota Nice” — Irony at it’s best.

    You don’t know my work well enough to respect it, remember? One cannot get a good understanding of a composer from only 2.5 minutes, right? Like I said, insincere blandishment.

    After the stunt you just tried to pull here, I wouldn’t hold your breath on my following your whereabouts with much interest. I thought New Music Box was supposed to be a place where honest dialogue takes place, not pandering, and apparently talking out both sides of ones hat, just to keep up “pseudo-intellectual” appearances. I would have expected much better from someone being “asked” (or paid) to blog here. How very disappointing.

    Reply
  46. jchang4

    I think we are having a bit of a misunderstanding. I’m not trying to label or pigeonhole any composers specifically… I’m just trying to understand the fundamental philosophies behind what appears to be two general (and distinct) approaches to the craft. I understand that few composers will actually fall into an either/or position… most will be somewhere along the spectrum between the two… with a lot of highly idiosyncratic influences thrown into the mix as well. But what I am interested in is a philosophical overview. Is it completely false to sense a philosophical dichotomy? I certainly sensed two, general camps of compositional approach amongst the composition students when I was in Illinois. Did I just imagine that? Or is it something that is exclusive to Illinois? And Why do people consider it dumb/bad to simplify and generalize? I can’t even use those two words without the negative connotations.

    Perhaps the problem is that composers are simply not the best people to ask these questions to, because it’s just too personal for them.

    Reply
  47. jchang4

    I’d just like to say: I think it’s sick that people feel a need to attack a man’s character simply because he holds aesthetic beliefs that are counter to their own. Seems like enough bullying has been going on on this column. Where are the moderators when you need them?

    Reply
  48. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Josephine,

    I’m one person with one view, and I guess a combination of factors (advancing age, mixed experience city/country/US/Europe, interviewing hundreds of composers in a way that required me to keep my opinions silent and thus have them transformed by the listening, personal stylistic changes from month to month over 970 compositions) has led me to see more rather than fewer ‘pigeonholes’. In fact, the pigeonhole that I know is a fleeting shape inside individuals.

    There may be a usefulness in finding patterns that encourage more exploration. As I pointed out above, politically correct or not, there are seemingly endless pairings that can provide separate streams. I simply feel that this avant-garde/neo-romantic pairing is so weak as to be negligible. For every example there’s a counter-example which, if the categorization were a strong one, would not be the case.

    One can choose an edge of the circle, as Ryan does, with late Cage or late Stockhausen, or one can instead look at, say, Crumb or Rochberg. Likewise, one can look at another edge and find Kievman or Hagen, or move inwards and find Beglarian or Dargel. I think you acknowledge that when you write, “I understand that few composers will actually fall into an either/or position… most will be somewhere along the spectrum between the two… with a lot of highly idiosyncratic influences thrown into the mix as well.”

    What you are after becomes clearer when you write, “I am interested in is a philosophical overview. Is it completely false to sense a philosophical dichotomy?” You might sense a dichotomy, but that is also a (to round the circle) Zeitgeist. If philosophy is your interest, then you cannot examine art as independent of its place and time (which is why I asked Ryan to give me an explanation in terms of the music itself). The artistic period from 1950-1980 was simply part of a kind of multipurpose rebellion; from 1980 to the present has been a period of manifold conformity. Much of the art created during a period of ferment and disaffection is going to be differently oriented from that created during one of reflection and consolidation. That’s almost tautological, but if that’s your question, I’m not sure how useful it is — and how it is contradicted by, say, a group that included Feldman, Eastman and Gibson, or even the multiple facets of Eastman himself.

    And so you see that I immediately devolve into talking about individuals, the signals inside the noise. Perhaps that’s just a weakness in my ability to analyze, or my objection to categorization, which bluntly chops off the individuality, crudely deforms people so they fit a conception, and becomes a justification (as Ryan sees it) for (as I see it) a deep unwillingness to commit to the individuals and their works which are, after all, the likely reason these distinct works are created in the first place: to express an individual voice.

    Here’s another way that’s just as arbitrary: the earlier artists were more imaginative and creative, the later artists aren’t. That’s just as defensible — and just as false — a dichotomy, because one can turn it around and say the earlier artists were constrained by a narrow, dark-ages world-view and the later artists have the entire world exposed and at hand.

    You see the dichotomies that are important to you, I suppose.

    On the other hand, how can I disagree with someone who shares my mother’s name? :)

    Dennis

    PS: I want to state my objection to publishing a private email without permission. Whether or not it proves a point, I believe it is not ethical to post private correspondence without permission.

    Reply
  49. jchang4

    Wow, thanks! I’d love to hear you elaborate on the 1950-1980 and post 1980 trends that you allude to. This is the stuff that the schools don’t talk about because they are so outdated. I was always envious of the composers because they seemed to know what was going on while the rest of us were only informed up until Philip Glass. Like, all these names that you guys drop like they’re standards… I don’t understand why non-composers are kept in the dark.

    I get that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. None of the movements in the arts were ever simple, but we summarize, codify, and create vocabulary to make it easier to talk about them. I hate how we can barely talk about new music today because so many people insist on making you feel bad for doing those things. I guess by that token, perhaps because I am on the outside looking in, I don’t see all those juicy details that you do, and so it’s only natural for me to generalize.

    Reply
  50. BMD

    I just wanted to point out that if anyone else posts false-face hyperbole on New Music Box, and then has the great idea to email me the truth unnoticed by others, you can expect to have your email brought to light. If you don’t want your secrets uncovered, don’t send them to me.

    Reply
  51. rtanaka

    Nice post Dennis, I agree with you for the most part. Figuring out how aesthetic “camps” work is pretty difficult, but if you do some research on how people made a living and whom they affiliated with, it’s quite possible to produce at least a generic picture. In my own mind, I see a bunch of overlapping circles where I might be able to fill in some of those names that you asked. Lots of work though! I don’t know if I have the time or energy to do it right now. And it has to be time specific as well, because people sometimes jump ship and go back and forth. I mean, look at Cornelius Cardew’s career, for one.

    I guess just so it doesn’t seem like I’m copping out, I’ll just say that I tend to like composers who can traverse styles and genres the most. Bartok is one of my favorites because I believe that he does a very nice blend of modernist and neo-classical sounds. I like the composers who came out of minimalism (Glass, Reich, Adams) because of their willingness to embrace popular culture. Arvo Part because he mixes the secular with the sacred. I’m finding out right now that a lot of the indie rock movements have some pretty interesting ties with people like Zorn, who produced a ton of albums with musicians, some of whom are now very influential.

    But even those who sit at the end of extremes I can appreciate if there’s a certain integrity to the process. Elliott Carter’s music is purely modern but his music is also a kind of a dialog, extending a lot of ideas and techniques that come out of the classical canon. I’ve also seen a lot of world music concerts lately — a lot of it is very strictly rooted in tradition, but you can sort of sense a cohesion in the music that gives it that type of integrity.

    People will like and dislike certain things depending on their background, tastes, and experiences. Being Japanese-American I have a biased interest towards East vs. West sonorities — I find it interesting on a personal level but not everyone will, and that is OK. Part of living in a diverse society such as ours means that people will like different things. But in order for the music to be meaningful I do think that there needs to be a certain level of self-awareness about what they’re doing and what they’re hearing. Otherwise it ends up being just a bunch of notes and swiggles on a page.

    Reply
  52. Leos

    I just wanted to point out that if anyone else posts false-face hyperbole on New Music Box, and then has the great idea to email me the truth unnoticed by others, you can expect to have your email brought to light. If you don’t want your secrets uncovered, don’t send them to me.

    Brent, you are just flat-out wrong here, and are behaving much worse than Colin. He is guilty only of making rather silly, unsupported generalizations; you are just being arrogant, and you have no right to post private correspondence without the permission of the person who sent it to you, who should have the expectation of privacy in this case. Bad move.

    Reply
  53. rtanaka

    Cardew’s Stockhausen Serves Imperialism for a Marxist critique of the avant-garde, from a former musician who used to be part of the avant-garde.

    All I can say is that 60s and 70s seemed like it was some pretty weird times for everybody. Although a few decades from now they’ll probably be saying the same thing about our generation too.

    Reply
  54. BMD

    Final Comment on “negative dialectics” — I think it is a great idea! In fact, I am going to start doing it myself right now! What a great idea, to create a Master Aesthetic! Purge those inferior vernaculars from all musical “camps.” Maybe I should write a book. Hmm, Let’s see, what might I call it … Oh, I know! How about “Mein Camps!” That’s it!!

    Leos“Brent, you are just flat-out wrong here, and are behaving much worse than Colin. He is guilty only of making rather silly, unsupported generalizations; you are just being arrogant, and you have no right to post private correspondence without the permission of the person who sent it to you, who should have the expectation of privacy in this case. Bad move.”

    Colin is support by AMC to blog here and is part of the official media called New Music Box, and has a responsibility to do better than this entry has proven to be. He is part of the media. What you are calling silly was actually the only review coverage of the Zeitgeist concert, and this is what we get? Sorry, but I don’t accept your criticism. What Colin did was not only insincere, it was something very public that affects real people in the Twin Cities. It affects their exposure. It affects their income. He is part of the media. Like I said, if anyone wants to hide their false-face secrets, do not email them to me. Think what you will, I won’t keep emailed admissions of fakery to myself.

    Final Comment on “The Short Version” — Please, future critics, please write honestly and do your homework. Please. The kind of self-aggrandizing dishonesty that started this thread is what’s wrong with today’s bad reviews. It’s not good journalism, and I know we can do better. “Minnesota Nice” really has nothing to do with music in Minnesota, but there is another common saying that might apply to music criticism: If you cannot say anything nice and remain honest about it, it might be better to not say anything at all. But the Brent Michael Davids version would add: … and if you decide to voice some type of dishonesty in the media anyway, please do expect someone else to get in your face about it afterwards.

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  55. Ann Millikan

    So why couldn’t Colin simply say he’s into the German avant-garde and no one on the concert writes like that, so it didn’t do much for him? Why couldn’t he then have gone on to say what WAS on the concert? That’s journalism. Instead what we got was ironically something very “Minnesota Nice” (translate: passive-aggressive). I think it’s entirely appropriate for him to be exposed on that. There is nothing wrong with having a strong aesthetic. I certainly have one. But if you are going to review a concert, and then categorically dismiss the music because it ain’t your thing without breaking it down, as far as I’m concerned you are being lazy. If he didn’t like it and went into detail about the music – at least the readers could decide for themselves if they agree with him or not. Now can you? Now do you know what the music sounded like? No. All you can do is project more theories and categories because that’s all we’ve been given to work with. That is arrogantly supposing there are some musics worth discussing in depth because they are of value, and others that can be thrown onto the almighty heap.

    This isn’t about being PC, it’s about being accurate. It’s about having enough sophistication that you can bring the music to life for your readers whether you like it or not. Remember, we’re talking about 30 different composers here. It’s about celebrating music, not dissing everything that isn’t part of your particular fundamentalist bible. That sort of literalist thinking is unhealthy, if not fascistic.

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  56. Leos

    Brent,

    People have done nothing but get in Colin’s face since the review, and he was deserving of much of it. That doesn’t make your apoplectic response to a private communication any less over the top, and you occupy no moral high ground here.

    Reply
  57. Leos

    Brent,

    I’m only saying that, in your–in numerous ways understandable–anger and high-minded zeal to “expose” Colin, you have responded to what was obvious immaturity with more immaturity. Revealing a private e-mail was crossing a line. Go after him with all you’ve got in the public forum; his review had already given you and the others more than sufficient ammo. What you did sets a very bad precedent.

    Reply
  58. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Posting private email can completely sour a forum like this one, so just a reminder from an Internet old-timer that if plain courtesy isn’t enough, there is precedent.

    Both RFC 1746 and 1855 cover this issue. RFC 1855 notes, “If the message was a personal message to you and you are re-posting to a group, you should ask permission first” and RFC 1746 states clearly, “Email correspondence is considered private. “

    Later guides (not yet part of the RFCs) point out that forwarding email without permission “is a copyright violation and a serious breach of privacy,” and the net-abuse list identifies posting private email as a violation in many countries, including the U.S.

    Dennis

    Reply
  59. jchang4

    I really don’t understand arguing over aesthetic values. The way I see it: I like it, you don’t like it. You like it, I don’t like it. What’s to argue about? Unless you’re trying to influence my verdict and make me change my mind. In which case, you could certainly be more diplomatic about it.

    I think the nature of NMBx Chatter is much more informal than what you’d find in a subscription series, so I don’t understand why people are being so critical of this column. Yes, posting private email in a public place does cross an ethical line, but playing nice is the real root of the problem. Every so often we need to be reminded that on the other side of the screen (so to speak) is a real person. That’s the problem with these text-based forums: makes things so impersonal.

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  60. coreydargel

    I would like to state my opinion, as a regular reader and contributor here, that Brent Michael Davids has seriously compromised the integrity of this forum. Anyone with a reasonable understanding of electronic correspondence knows that personal emails are not meant to be posted in a public forum without explicit permission from the author. To pretend that his unethical “exposé” of Colin’s private email is somehow serving the better good of this forum is self-righteous and self-defeating.

    Reply
  61. Somebody

    Car Accident
    This web site is just one big National Endowment for the Arts car accident. Colin’s personal dislikes and likes are moot them moment the NEA funded the Information Technology that goes into this web site. Most of you are getting juice from the shear ignorance of these columns. Go home and write some music.

    Reply
  62. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Josephine, Ryan (and anybody who’s left!),

    I’m a real lightweight about philosophy and aesthetics; it was not something discussed during my childhood in a poor family, and the university I attended in the late 1960s (Rutgers) had no trace of intellectual subtlety.

    So when I came to composition in my mid-teens, it was pretty much a process of self-directed discovery, and largely through recordings. Fortunately, I also lived (and worked, starting at age 13) near a discount store where contemporary art music wasn’t selling very well, and a weekly trek to the cutout bin quickly relieved me of my meager earnings but fattened my listening experience.

    Long before home video (we had no television anyway) and without the means to attend concerts (New York was a $2.25 bus ride away; the inflation calculator pegs that at $16.22 in today’s dollars) I came to understand and love contemporary music primarily as an acoustic experience, and a personal one at that. Within a few years I was playing 2nd bass clarinet in a high school band, the Siberia of instrumental performance. :)

    So to me, there was no difference in some grander way between my early influences — Stravinsky’s Rite and Coltrane’s Ascension being primary among them. They were all mechanisms to make music.

    As I studied techniques and styles (again on my own, as I was told “our undergraduates do not compose” by the forever-damned Henry Kaufmann, music chair at Rutgers), I played with what interested my ears. I bought Cage’s Notations and performed many of the pieces with friends. I composed and presented performance pieces (before they were called that), worked with electronic music starting in 1969, checked into and out of serialism, wrote two terrible symphonies, and generally tried everything on for size.

    I explain this because I don’t think that I’m at all an exception. My sense is that many composers simply knocked around, suffused with the Zeitgeist — experimentation and play and rebellion — and, save for the polemicists like Cardew and Stockhausen and even Cage, had no coherent public philosophy (and heck, I’d never even heard of Adorno until two or three years ago!). Perhaps you can call them avant-gardists because they showed up at Charlotte Moorman’s annual festivals, as I did, while the academics did not. There was a certain self-definition by association, but that was as much opportunity as philosophy.

    And I think if you follow the individual trajectories of what are being lumped together as neo-romantics, you find as much difference. Ryan talks about vernacular, and I don’t quite grasp what he means. Many if not most of what are considered avant-gardists used the vernacular as content. Many if not most of the neo-romantics used the vernacular as content. Do the means differ? The purpose? Or was the framing by the time and culture around it make them appear different? In other words, when the culture contracted politically around 1980 (to get to your question, Josephine), the art of the previous 30 years looked much starker or sillier or even elementary (For Ann, Rising? Really? So?). Yet were those of 1955 able to see the future of 1985, they would be shocked by the rollback of social exploration. No space program? No great arts endowment? No further social progress? More war? To-freaking-nality? It would have looked like an alien world, not a successor to their world.

    So here’s where it gets very murky for me. The world past 1980 (a date that is really artificial, like 1750 or 1830 or 1910) was a rejection of the world before 1980, itself a rebellion. That such a rebellion coincided with the critics still alive in the mainstream media and their pining for the Lost City of Romanticism, it was celebrated. The influence reached backwards into time, as it were, isolating earlier work (whether avant-garde or that mainstream atonality even new romantic David Del Tredici told K&D was “sexy”) and re-framing it as a kind of epidemic-de-freakshow.

    The murkiness is that none of this ever actually happened. There was no 1980. There was only a gradual change of interest where extremes can be plucked out as appearing to be significant. In C is one of those. “Seminal”? Sure, because it was noticed. On another day, it would not have been noticed but the gradual change would have continued nonetheless. The Alice pieces, likewise. Rochberg’s great rejection of the past? All because of his position, not his music. And back in the “avant-garde”… Nancarrow? Unknown and marginally influential until his rediscovery well into the twilight of his life. Partch? His influence pretty much a phenomenon of the era of recording.

    These changes are reflected in individual compositions and caused by them at the same time. I’m stating the obvious, I guess, but I see composition as a ball of energy in a continuum of frequencies. Look through one filter and some parts of the ball glow; use another filter, and the glows are different intensities in different places. Only one of those narrow-band filters actually shows an avant-garde and a neo-romantic.

    Dennis

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  63. rtanaka

    Thanks for your thoughts, Dennis. I appreciate your willingness to talk about your own experiences…although we may not agree with each other on everything, I find your posts rather honest and refreshing.

    I don’t think that most composers sit down and say to themselves “well, I’m now going to write in this kind of style now” at the time they actually compose. But after the piece is finished and they go through the process of getting it performed, there are some very real things that can be observed as a result. It’s largely these tangibles that make historical documentation a worthy pursuit.

    You could ask, well, what were artists trying to avoid, trying to rebel against, and why? There are often very specific and deeply ideological reasons behind compositional decisions, and the music always reflects this. The point is to gain a level of awareness of these issues so that when you decide to rebel against something, the thread is actual instead of something imagined. (Saddam Hussein, anyone?) The possibilities of the future may be infinite, but history needs to be looked at from an objective lens otherwise it becomes susceptible to a type of revisionist outlook that allows people to forget past events. And in doing so, we make the same mistakes that we have in the past.

    We’re living in it as we speak! In a lot of ways you could say that the current administration has basically taken a lot of the ideas of critical theory and psychological manipulation and put it into practice. An expansionist mindset (extending the possibilities) combined with an ignorance of Iraq’s cultural history (rejection of the past in the name of progress) has lead to the unnecessary deaths of thousands and thousands of people. This is not good for anyone.

    Reply
  64. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Ryan,

    I don’t know what most composers do. I only know the composers I know, who I’ve talked to and learned from, and what they report. Likewise, I have no particular evidence of the process of getting a performance, nor even if a piece is finished, as you say, before that takes place. A piece that I mentioned was not accidental — those high piano C’s from In C weren’t even Riley’s, and took place in the process of performance. Several of my own works were created while they were being rehearsed. So what does that say?

    I’m not as sure as you are that “there are often very specific and deeply ideological reasons behind compositional decisions, and the music always reflects this.” Indeed, I wish you had evidence to present. Most of the extant discussion of ideology is strongly post-composition, so it’s unclear which side of the event is revisionist.

    Further, I have no idea how an “objective lens” could have come up with what looks to me like a boneheaded academic distinction between avant-garde and neo-romantic, about as appley&orangey as it gets, to my thinking.

    I’ve tried to identify composers and compositions who would seem to fall into the center of that academic distinction, yet it’s clear that they also don’t … and there are composers who are grouped together by this rationale but have nothing in common save for someone’sexternal and arbitrary grouping. How is that useful? How does that save us from compositional Saddam Husseinisms?

    Can you identify composers who consistently reflect this distinction, and who also represent a strong influence on the main flow of those streams?

    Dennis

    Reply
  65. rtanaka

    The groupings aren’t particularly arbitrary, especially when the composers themselves speaks of their allegiance to certain ideological ideas. Cage enthusiastically joined the Thoreau society in 1968 and mentions his name in several pieces, like Mureau (1970). He also shares a similar disdain of commercialism and economic development of the Transcendentalists, which had also served as inspiration for composers such as Ives, whom Cage had also admired. This puts him at odds with popular and jazz cultures which relied on mass-production in order to promote their work. And he himself mentions that jazz couldn’t be considered as being “serious” music, at least at the time.

    Of all that could be written, he decided to write about particular things and spend hours and hours getting it rehearsed and performed. This means something, because the composer obviously felt strongly enough about it to prioritize his thoughts into something tangible. The point is that there are reasons and motivations for why people do things, and if you dig hard enough you’ll probably find that they’re almost never just abitrary.

    People are complex creatures and you’re completely right in saying that they are capable of holding multiple, even conflicting or contradicting thoughts. But history is there largely to document actions, which can at least tried to be looked at from an objective lens. I have serious problems with the idea that history should be subjective, because if history was fiction, that lends way to a type of revisionist outlook that fills the information pool with a lot of distortions and BS. And that’s basically the world we’re living in right now.

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  66. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Ryan, we were talking about groups, no? The same thing that started this thread — what is “Minnesota nice”?

    Mid-late Cage is an example on the edge of the sphere — a composer, writer, trickster. I’m perfectly happy with an attempt at historical objectivity … if there is evidence, if that evidence is primary, and if that evidence really does distill meaningful groups. Do Cage and Ives form this avant-garde group? Or something else?

    What I’m finding frustrating here is the quicksand-like basis of the claim. From avant-garde/neo-romantic now we’re in transcendentalism. And how about all those other lumped-together avant-gardists? How about the self-contradictory nature of individuals in the 1950-80 time period … let’s say Rzewski and Eastman. How does the former’s Winnsboro relate to his time in Il Gruppo doing mouth-sound art? How does the latter’s Gay Guerilla jibe with his vocal work on Meredith Monk’s Dolmen Music or Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King?

    Maybe we’ve worn this out, but I’m still waiting for Colin to get to the heart of “Minnesota nice” and you and Josephine to identify some core objective evidence in that broad-stroked avant-garde/neo-romantic claim. One or two composers will not make that argument, particularly if those composers ride along the edge, such as Cage, Stockhausen, Cardew, etc.

    (And, of course, there’s the reverse vernacular, such as the influence of Stockhausen on the Beatles. Another story, but the ol’ vernacular is more quicksandy than one might think. And we could really mix it up with the other Monk, Trane, Schuller…)

    Dennis

    Reply
  67. rtanaka

    I don’t know what kind of evidence you’re looking for, Dennis. It’s all there as far as I can tell, taken straight from the words and works of the composers themselves. The Cage thing was just one example, and I used it mostly because it’s what I happen to be doing research on right now. But you can produce similar narratives depending on who or what you decide to study. (Certainly if the composer wants to be honest with themselves they could do it introspectively as well.)

    Composers eat, poop, stress, get upset, sleep, get into arguments, fall in love, makes mistakes, does stupid things, get depressed, live and die just like the rest of us — what makes someone clever or insightful is how they learn deal with these particular issues. It’s not about putting people in boxes. It’s about trying to make sense of what the heck is going on, and why and how we got to where we are both individually and as a society. The avant-garde lambasted the neo-romantics because they thought they were “selling-out” into the interests of a corrupt society that killed millions and millions of people. (Reaction towards WWII atrocities.)

    It’s all there in the literature. I didn’t write’em, they wrote’em, and (at least at the time) didn’t seem very apologetic about it. When Boulez wrote “Schoenberg is Dead”, was he just kidding about being antagonistic toward the old stuff? Somehow I don’t think so.

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  68. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Wait, Ryan, now Cage and Ives and Boulez are all avant-garde transcendentalists blasting new-romantics like, um, Schoenberg who caused the death of millions?

    Colin, Josephine and you have each presented cases which haven’t been supported, so I guess I have to call this one out: Prove yours, Ryan. Don’t say “read this”. I’ve read the stuff, you’ve read it, and probably everybody here has read it. You’re making the case, so make it — not with begging the question, as you have been doing so far.

    Or I can wait to read your research and then tear you a new avant-garde one. :)

    Dennis

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  69. rtanaka

    I don’t think anything of what I said conflicts with your idea of composers being individuals….though it certain does conflict with the idea that composers are somehow superhuman or exempt from social trends or rules, but I’m not really sure if that’s what you’re really arguing here.

    I don’t know where you live, but these divisions do exist and they were certainly there when I went to school, and stories I hear from students and recent graduates from different institutions tend to say the same thing. Places like USC and Berklee gear their composers toward film or video game music so they tend to attract students who write more in a neo-classical style. Whereas say, Stanford and UCLA tend to be heavily European modernist, while the CalArts program had a heavy post-Cageian influence. It might be something that the institutions sets itself up for, though. While you’re in school, that’s all that matters since that’s all you really know and it can sort of drive you nuts. Outside of the walls of academia people generally don’t really care, if they even they’re even know about it.

    Even still, if you look at some composition competitions, some of them require you to write within a certain aesthetic/instrumentation/subject matter in order for it to be even considered. I applied to a few and got rejections saying that my stuff “wasn’t what they were looking for”, which implies that they were actually looking for something specific. So I’m not really sure what you’re saying when you argue that the world isn’t divided according to stylistic lines, because the practice seems pretty well and alive to me, anyway.

    I don’t think it’s taking anything away by talking about these things. Styles do exist — people congregate and build shrines around them. Maybe in theory they’re open to anything, but people who say that they’re “open to anything” are usually full of crap because their actions say otherwise. Better to observe what they do rather than what they say, cause that cuts through all the bullshit and exposes things as they really are. That’s kind of the point of studying history, isn’t it?

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  70. PKWnice

    I actually made a name to delurk to respond to this stupidity. And I even made a name that fits hehe :)

    While certainly a lot of ideas are expressed educatedly ( a word? Well I coined it. ) here– I am totally going to have to set up my tent in the camp of my old freind Dennis ( who wrote me the most amazingly hard bass piece I have ever leaned LOL) and my bass colleague of sort Mr. Fried here– why this conversation is even happening when it is not 1971 or 1959 or what have you is really mastubatorily ( another coin !) silly. Silly also because there is a new rise against ” nice” music since it’s 80-s,90-s, ascendance with two people on this blog, including the starter.. have written pieces for places that flat out told me to go to hell because ” my music is not weird enough”.

    I could go on and on and on back to Babbitt’s famous article and much less Schoeberg’s C major comment to rail for pages on the idioicy of such ( if you don’t want to play my music or anyone else’s fine, but this thankfully small swing back to the ” odd” and ” nice” is a bad word is really distrubing.) — but I think that this conversation is even having to be HAD in this day and age is apalling. And I am going to be more not-nice… as someone who has been blessed to be discussed in the NMB pages a number of times as well as many many other colleagues who write NICE music — I’d like to tell most of the rest of you and your myopic points of view to go straight to somewhere– and it’s some place that’s not nice. :)

    ( AND P.S. Thank GOD someone at least acknowledged in these pages that New music not only exists but THRIVES in places other than f******* NYC and LA– sure we all love when we get ” big coast” performances but the atittude that still pervades in many places that new music doesn’t exists between the oceans is also not nice, and makes me say vulgar, r-rated things that aren’t nice. :) )

    Carry On :) — back to composing.. I only came here during a block of what the hell the harmony in this transition is in this trio in front of me. :) hehe

    ::waves to Phil and Dennis and other nice people::

    Reply

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