Maybe you’re sipping a glass of wine, mingling with some friends of friends, and somehow, before you know it, someone lets the cat out of the bag. And now you’re faced with that dreaded question you’ve never developed a pat answer for: What kind of music do you write?
Ugh, I wish it were an easy question, and really, it should be. Besides the fact that a lot of the music we create lacks a household name—like disco or acid jazz—an all-encompassing descriptive becomes even more difficult to pin on it when your creative interests diverge from standard notated scores and venture into digital music, working with video, and performance art. Without the proper über-term at my disposal, I usually answer with some nonsense which attempts to reference classical music—the context in which I most often create—while hinting at more emerging cross-disciplinary approaches to the art form. However, as my boyfriend recently pointed out, “experimental chamber music” is a terrible reply. To most people at a cocktail party, the word “chamber” has no connection to music whatsoever. Besides, why define a creative trajectory by the number of musicians typically used to perform it? Seems rather perfunctory.
Seeing that I’ve been on the name quest for awhile now, attempting to construe a one- or two-word response that is not only intelligible but also gives artistic insight into the kind of music that I write, I asked my boyfriend how I should answer the question next time it arises. “New music,” he responded, “isn’t that what you call it?” I scoffed, thinking this description was too vague. “It’s better than ‘experimental Rick Springfield’ or whatever you just said.” We delved further into matters and finally agreed upon “conceptual music.” Think of it as shorthand. By and large, people know what conceptual art is and how they feel about it, so why not piggyback from there? It paints a vague idea of how the music is created and what it might sound like. Of course this is an assumption, considering I haven’t tried it out yet.