The Zeitgeist Trap

“Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilization; some believe they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witness to its extinction. In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished, according to the place and the angle of view.”

—Ivo Andrić, Na Drini ćuprija (The Bridge on the Drina) (1945), translated from Serbo-Croatian by Lovett F. Edwards (1959)

“I know these Earth people better than you; their minds reject things they don’t understand.”

—Susan Foreman in “An Unearthly Child,” the very first episode of the British television series Doctor Who, written by Anthony Coburn (original air date November 23, 1963)


For the past week, I’ve managed to stay out of both David Smooke‘s and Colin Holter‘s hot topics on the Chatter pages of NewMusicBox, as well as NPR’s 100 under 40 list and the avalanche over at Sequenza21. While conventional wisdom attests (and the numbers actually back it up) that these kinds of discussions are what people want to be talking about most, I find them somewhat stifling both creatively and perceptually.

At several times over the years, most acutely in the early 1990s, I have suffered from bouts of compositional writer’s block. What has usually brought these bouts on—I’m ashamed but obliged to admit here—is the fear that what I was attempting to compose was somehow irrelevant, out of touch with the zeitgeist, too experimental, or not experimental enough. The cure has always been to let the music take me wherever it needs to go and not to worry about how it fits in with the rest of what is going on, or even with the rest of my own music.

Similarly, as a listener, the thing that has most frequently gotten in my way of appreciating a piece of music is worrying whether or not it fit in or did not fit in—both are badges of honor, depending on your perspective, but both are listening traps that get in the way of truly appreciating what it is you are listening to. I’ve flippantly said to friends and music colleagues over the years that I believe Dennis Busch, a New Jersey-based composer born in 1947 who writes symphonies that are somewhat reminiscent of mid-period Haydn, to be one of the most radical composers of our time since what he creates goes completely against the grain of everything else being created now. There are loads of other examples over the centuries of people who created works which are either harkening back to earlier eras or seemingly predicting eras yet to be. But this in and of itself does not result in work that is more singular or significant. Yet similarly, there is also no special honor in creating something that is emblematic of its time, a designation that cannot be bestowed on anything from our time with absolute certainty and which is even a questionable accolade when accorded to efforts from previous eras.

A lot of folks involved with music seem to believe that had Beethoven or Arnold Schoenberg never lived, music would have taken a completely different course. Yet a closer examination of Beethoven’s contemporaries reveals that there were lots of contemporaneous composers doing similar things (e.g. Dussek, Mehul). And a century ago Johann Mathias Hauer (1883-1959) was composing with 12-tone rows before Schoenberg. There are also folks in Beethoven and Schoenberg’s times who took completely different paths which are no less valid than theirs. Immersing oneself in that music might actually be a healthier listening and or compositionally inspiring regimen, but then only if it does not erroneously lead you to think that this other way is the way. The way is whatever path you choose.

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34 thoughts on “The Zeitgeist Trap

  1. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    It seems to me that no one is approaching this topic simplistically. Almost every composer, every artist, I’ve met carries the burden of self-doubt. Certainly “the way is whatever path you choose” but self-doubt immolates that nicely routed chunk of aphoristic lumber when our creative sparks start to fly.

    Yes, one has to be courageous and, as you write, “take me wherever it needs to go and not to worry about how it fits in with the rest of what is going on, or even with the rest of my own music,” but that cannot deny self-reflection, self-criticism, reworking, rethinking, crossing out… that is, self-doubt. The opera I’ve been trying to fund is a very conservative piece of composition. Do I have doubts? Of course. But I still wouldn’t have written it differently; it was the path I chose for it.

    So I’m not sure that being ‘radical’ is the issue. I don’t think it was during the avant-garde, nor is it now. I believe it has always been does what I create matter? Doesn’t that question trouble everyone? Our responses have to do with Zeitgeist (which I wish you’d followed up more), of course, yet we can’t live before we lived. We are always now, but (and I’m sorry to be so obvious here) our nows are all different. My now includes more thens than yours, but your now is better informed by recentness.

    Okay, okay, don’t mean to get word-drunk. The original topics were inflamed by the idea that the composers whose ‘now’ has arrived (in media terms) leave some whose ‘now’ has fallen into ‘then’ (and I’m reluctantly among them) feeling unconvinced by what we hear — and I also include as unconvincing the hyper-fussy European heirs to modernism, some of whom were praised in this review.

    I see I’m being as indirect as you! Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but could it be just taste? If I grew up with fluxus and modernism and experimental jazz, my perceptions are deeply informed by it. What did you grow up with that made your perception so much more open? And how about those top Under-Forties? And what will the Millennials, the first digital and postmodern natives, bring to new music? (Will I have to retire my crusade for ‘nonpop’ as a term?) How does each of the composer generations alive, as represented by individuals within them, answer the question does what i create matter? — the for whom and to whom as well.

    Or have I just diverted the discussion from what you meant?

    Dennis

    Reply
  2. Frank J. Oteri

    have I just diverted the discussion from what you meant?

    By no means and I’m utterly awed after reading the sentences you describe as being “word drunk”: “We are always now, but (and I’m sorry to be so obvious here) our nows are all different. My now includes more thens than yours, but your now is better informed by recentness.”

    But I believe I did address the Zeitgeist; it’s what I call the Zeitgeist trap which is also addressed in the rather poignant (I believe) Ivo Andrić quote I began with as well as the flippant Doctor Who citation (which is equally pertinent if you get the reference; I did only after watching it for the very first time in my life this past weekend, indeed I do have fewer thens). Basically I think the notion of a monolithic zeitgeist is meaningless for our time and I have come to believe that it is ultimately meaningless for previous times as well. It gives historians some short cuts, which are misleading and ultimately bad both for the perception of history and stifling for the creation of history. E.g. In musical terms, calling Beethoven the defining composer of classical music is a terrible misrepresentation for listeners (including listeners to Beethoven) and lethal for the creation of new work. There, I said it.

    Reply
  3. MarkNGrant

    Thumbs up to giving the finger to the zeitgeist
    Bravo, Frank, brilliantly put. So much of art history (most notably after 1900) is publicity and politics caramelized into “received wisdom” and fashionista canons. What a sublime crock it so often is.

    And is there a tacit pressure to go along to get along? Is the Pope Catholic?

    Reply
  4. Matt Marks

    Thanks for writing this. I find so much of this type of discussion to be not only unproductive, but often quite damaging to composers (especially younger composers).

    I too suffered my worst writing blocks when I was obsessed with the question of how my music fit into the grand narrative of art and art music. In fact, I wasn’t really able to write music I respected until I learned to simply write the kind of music I want to hear.

    Originality is something grown and shaped through years and years of work, but many new composers feel pressured to create highly original work off the bat. In my opinion that’s the most destructive impulse that young composers have to deal with.

    Reply
  5. mclaren

    Your words are strange to me, friend.
    What is this “compositional writer’s block” and “self doubt” you speak of?

    Reply
  6. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Frank, one of my bad habits showed up: I don’t read prefatory quotes. I think I started doing that in my submission-editor days … articles that had prefatory quotes almost never got around to making their point independently. So I went back and read yours and, yes, they’re good.

    Maybe Zeitgeist is too all-encompassing? Maybe that’s what we mean when we talk about ‘schools’ of art? But there is something you feel part of, no? Time, manner, geography … and I know I’ve dwelt on that latter concept quite a bit (perhaps too much) since moving from New Jersey to Vermont three-plus decades ago. If it’s not Zeitgeist (or ZeitArtundWeiseOrtGeist) then what is it that is actually the cauldron in which art and music bubble?

    Are what you call shortcuts actually useless and misleading? Do they offer no context at all? Why, then, have I so strongly felt the differences in the three ‘eras’ of my own experience? I didn’t make them up and likely, being involved more in doing than in studying the doing, I only encountered these shortcuts later. Yet they seemed pretty good shortcuts. See, I love what you wrote here: “calling Beethoven the defining composer of classical music is a terrible misrepresentation for listeners (including listeners to Beethoven) and lethal for the creation of new work.” I’m just not sure it’s a really bad shortcut … unless you’re also dissatisfied with the term ‘classical music’ … but wait! We are!

    So what do you propose for, say, the ‘window’ that we can use to develop some grasp of thens and now? And one that is not ‘lethal to new work’?

    Thanks,
    Dennis

    Reply
  7. pgblu

    Zit gist
    Leave it to me to be the sole naysayer here… I mean, who could possibly argue with the assertion that composers would do well to ‘write what they hear’ or ‘let the music take them where it needs to go’. Of course music has a mind of its own! Of course the ear is the final arbiter of quality!

    Think about what this really means, though, and you’ll see that it’s just mystification. The music is made by people, after all, and not by the God of Music through people. So when ‘music takes us where it needs to go’ then it takes us toward things we’ve heard before but are too lazy to identify as influence, preferring instead to call it inspiration. And an identified influence is always better than an unidentified one.

    Young composers who are supposedly damaged by all this thunderous talk of music’s place in society and history shouldn’t be in this business in the first place. They are weak! Their cry of “I’ll write what I want to write!” is not a cry of freedom but a cry of capitulation to forces that need not be greater than themselves. All music is an answer to other music, and can only benefit the author and the society by being as ‘articulate’ an answer as possible.

    I don’t believe in a Zeitgeist (time ghost?) if Zeitgeist means there’s one necessary thing to be done at any one time. Rather, there are construction sites all over the place, and you are free to choose where you start digging once you get the lay of the land.

    Reply
  8. colin holter

    I don’t believe in a Zeitgeist, but I do believe in time-ghosts. They’re the ghosts of people who died in the future and they come back in time to haunt you.

    Reply
  9. Matt Marks

    @pgblu

    “when ‘music takes us where it needs to go’ then it takes us toward things we’ve heard before but are too lazy to identify as influence, preferring instead to call it inspiration.

    Not necessarily. It’s like Jarmusch’s paraphrase of Godard: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”. “Where it needs to go” is an impulse that is often satisfied in the most individualistic and unique manner. These are very subjective things of which we speak of course, but your personal rejection of this ethos is no less a subjective “mystification”.

    “an identified influence is always better than an unidentified one.”

    To you perhaps. Myself, I tend to notice after the fact where my inspirations have come from. I purposefully do not allow myself to identify them, because I have a tendency to freak out in the moment and assume I’m stealing an idea. In the end, the borrowed idea almost never resembles the original.

    “Young composers who are supposedly damaged by all this thunderous talk of music’s place in society and history shouldn’t be in this business in the first place. They are weak!”

    Assuming you’re not being sarcastic… this is no better than the simplistic ‘love it or leave it’ mindset. Part of learning to be an artist is understanding what is inspiring and what is destructive to oneself, encouraging the former and dismantling the effects of the latter. It’s my opinion that the “thunderous talk of music’s place in society and history” tends to be more destructive than inspiring (though I’m sure others feel differently). I don’t believe it has to be the guiding principle in new music, probably because I’m younger and have no serious allegiance to the status quo, which you seem to have in excess.

    Reply
  10. Matt Marks

    @pgblu

    The status quo being that, as a composer, one must be concerned with how one fits within “music’s place in society and history”. I think that’s baloney. You seem not to, unless I’m assuming too much.

    Reply
  11. pgblu

    This is complicated. Let’s assume that there is one status quo, and that it somehow includes both John Corigliano and Elliott Carter (since both start with ‘C’). The status quo of style is just a puppet for the status quo of class anyhow.

    I don’t think it’s a choice. Music is a historical and a social phenomenon. I’m not saying we have to be happy with the way things are, or make sure we can find our ‘rightful’ place in the canon. It’s the very opposite: we need to be able to identify what the status quo is, speculate on how it got that way, and then try to undermine it in creative ways. Otherwise (i.e., if we just ignore it), it’s not going to change. It’s not about conforming, but about being clear as to one’s place. The more that place is clearly articulated, the better its chances of being at odds with the status quo, though, which I find a welcome thing.

    The real gist of what I want to say is that if history (or anything else) makes people anxious, that’s not a reason to stop talking about it. We overcome our anxieties by confronting them.

    I am sorry if I come across as judgmental or brusque. I emphasize that I am not the arbiter of taste or of what is valuable. As I struggle to understand much of what my colleagues are doing, I can’t help but feel that certain new attitudes are strongly reminiscent of old attitudes, and I’m ready to accept that this is my own shortcoming. If I am right, though, then the advantage of these new attitudes is one of marketing (e.g., bringing electronica to orchestra subscription audiences, or the like), not of content (i.e., it doesn’t even necessarily need to be particularly sophisticated electronica as such, does it?), and I’m afraid it will do nothing to rattle the status quo.

    How does this, by the way, have anything to do with me being older than you?

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  12. eaj

    Matt, that’s an awfully strange definition of “status quo,” and allegiance thereto would seem to be a trait that crosses just about any stylistic/philosophical/genre/background boundary I can think of.

    In other words, I’m not sure what your point is.

    Reply
  13. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Matt Marks wrote, “Part of learning to be an artist is understanding what is inspiring and what is destructive to oneself, encouraging the former and dismantling the effects of the latter.”

    Why dismantling the effects of the latter? Self-destruction has produced brilliant work, and ‘dismantling’ its effects seems timid, fearful, even incomplete. No, I’m not holding up the self-immolating artist as an idol, but art isn’t all kittens and puppies.

    Dunno. Maybe that’s the present American Zeitgeist, and maybe there is something valid in pgblu’s semi-sarcasm.

    Dennis

    Reply
  14. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    I’m 26, (which I hope is still young!), so I’m full of anxiety about my music. I have a masters, so someone thinks I’m on top of my stuff.

    The music academia has a large role in this. I don’t mean “academia” in the creepy Evil Empire sense of schools who until recently still clung to enforced serialism. I mean the whole notion of academic music. I was fortunate to attend a school whose composition department was incredibly friendly- no competition whatsoever. But through recent experiences with composers from other institutions I am starting to have the idea that my school was the exception to the competitive norm.

    Damning as this may sound, much student music I’ve heard recently sounds like an effort to outdo the music composed by professors other students in the same environment. I don’t want to say this holds true for any prior time period necessarily, but I can’t shake this feeling. I worry that since contemporary music is so subjective, our only way to best someone is by adopting their language for use against them. I do not believe that comp departments generally select a homogenous style from all the applications they receive, but I do strongly suspect that, once in that academic environment, the students feel compelled to match and surpass one another’s efforts. This is most apparently done by utilizing the same “language” (similar sounds, attitude, and so on).

    Again, just an observation. It seems, then, that we’re simultaneously creating and following trends. If I think back to Scelsi, or Boulez, or Haydn when I compose, then I’m being derivative. But left to my own devices, I worry that my voice is just a reflection of the unhealthy relationship between me and my colleagues.

    It seems that the only way around this- the only way to write honest music- is neither to write what you want to hear, nor what you feel is new. Instead of concerning ourselves with what, let’s worry about why. It’s too easy to write for posterity. Let’s remember that we are- or should be- composing for living people, many of whom are not musicians, to listen to and enjoy. At least I hope so.

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  15. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Mischa’s comment reveals something: Let’s remember that we are- or should be- composing for living people, many of whom are not musicians, to listen to and enjoy.

    I’m the number mirror of Mischa — 62 rather than 26 … meaning I lived through the Big Bad Era of not getting stuff performed. Which means that I lived two parallel artistic tracks: writing for living people, i.e., my friends in my groups like the Dashuki Music Theatre and Il Gruppo Nuke Jitters, many of whom were only peripheral musicians; and writing for imaginary people who might play my stuff some day. Really, if you want to write for a big ensemble or even a small group of very good players, they have to be available, right? Otherwise you compose work outside your circle in a state of perpetual hope.

    Here’s a little statistic: I started composing in 1964. Aside from one choral fluke in 1967, the first piece ever played that I did not perform with one of my own groups was in 1985. One that year, another two years later, another the next year, and so on in increasing frequency. One-hundred eighty-six compositions before being taken up by others. Can you live with that? (Do you need to in the present day?)

    Since then, of course, interest picked up and older pieces for imaginary friends started being played, such as the 1972 sample piece Construction: On nix rest… in China for two trombones and tape, which waited 31 years to be heard.

    That’s meant to address the limits of writing for friends. I also wonder about writing music for enjoyment. Isn’t that only one optional aspect of what might be a composer’s motivation? You might be political, challenging, confrontational, thought-provoking, subversive, angry, subliminal… all, some of none of which might be at all enjoyable.

    My point: You might be in an academic situation which gets you performances or you might be an independent composer who gets few, and you might be writing for people to enjoy. But neither of those constitutes what you say ‘should be‘ why we compose.

    Dennis

    Reply
  16. Frank J. Oteri

    Even the most successful of our composers probably wish that their music was being performed more than it is. (I can’t imagine anyone saying that their music is being performed too much, but feel free to chime in here if my sweeping statement is somehow inaccurate.) For the rest of us, whose music gets done much less frequently, the question of what compels us to write our music is ongoing. Arguably for a piece of music to really have societal relevance it must be performed more than once and in more than one place, or at least exist in a recorded form that can be accessed by people in many different places and at many different times. But societal relevance might also not be a universal creativity driver.

    Over the past decade I’ve finally made the transition from being a composer whose performed works outnumber unperformed works. Like Dennis, I have pieces that had to wait decades before a performance opportunity emerged whereas other pieces got played almost as soon as I had written them. But this scenario definitely resulted from several compositional decisions. For example, I don’t write music for orchestra; the few early orchestra pieces I have written have still never been performed and at this point I’m not actively pursuing performances of them since I feel they don’t really represent me. (That said, if someone crawls out from under a rock and wants to perform one of them, I doubt I’d say no.) And to this day, performances of pieces I have composed for groups of more than seven people have been few and far between. Is this ultimately a zeitgeist issue, too?

    Writing for friends or specific situations where I know that the music will get played, or playing it myself, guarantees a performance although not always an optimal one. However I have found that when I am involved, not necessarily in the performance but at least in the rehearsal process, I am always happier with the result. In recent years I’ve been very interested in exploring intervals outside 12-tone equal temperament which means that these pieces appear to be not exactly playable by anyone, although nothing has been outside the realm of the possible and hopefully will remain that way. Some might think I should turn to electronic realization for such music, but while other folks have done music I deeply admire using such means it is ultimately not for me. I can’t even always get my computer to turn off properly! So much for living in our seemingly technology obsessed zeitgeist…

    Reply
  17. Colin Holter

    “Let not one year pass when I do not step one significant century backward.” – Harry Partch

    Do you agree with the sentiment of this quote, Kyle? Although I share the skepticism it shows to the notion of history necessarily as progress, to me it looks like one of those statements of reactionary, deliberately provocative nostalgia for the premodern to which Partch, for all his brilliance, was very prone. I don’t want to go back to a century when women were treated like pieces of property; I don’t want to go back to a century when the person with the heaviest club got the food and the people with broken legs starved.

    In fact, even though there are many respects in which we in 2011 are unfree and unsafe, I think most of us – even those of us in developing nations – are, in general, freer and safer than most people in most centuries past. (Obviously it would take a historian or political theorist, not a musician, to substantiate this.) Consider that if Partch had been born a hundred years later it’s likely his mother wouldn’t have dragged him to the doctor at age 8 to be circumcised with no warning.

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  18. Matt Marks

    @pgblu

    I suppose I should clarify how I am using this term in regards to this context. In my opinion, the current status quo (or “the existing state of affairs” by most definitions) in academic classical music (which, I’m defining as notated music written by classically-trained composers, though I’m practically inviting digression here…) is that one must be conscious of ones place in the grand history of art music. Of course, the irony here – as you point out – is that this very rejection could be seen as a consciousness of ones place in music history.

    I’m reluctant to make that concession, and I’ll use the same argument atheists often use when accused of being just as ideological as theists: Stamp-collecting is a hobby. Not collecting stamps is not a hobby. A stamp-collector may view non-stamp-collectors as a particular group, but that in no way binds the latter to identifying as a hobbyist. I think my analogy should be clear, but I’m open to criticisms.

    I don’t think rejection of this status quo in-and-of-itself results in better music being made. I think, for many people, viewing themselves on a timeline of torch-bearers carrying their illustrious tradition forward is inspiring. I find it tedious and unproductive.

    “It’s not about conforming, but about being clear as to one’s place. The more that place is clearly articulated, the better its chances of being at odds with the status quo, though, which I find a welcome thing.”

    I think it’s totally cool for you to find it a welcome thing, but too often it’s presented as the only option. I personally don’t feel my place needs to be clearly articulated, at least to myself. If others want to do so, that’s fine.

    “The real gist of what I want to say is that if history (or anything else) makes people anxious, that’s not a reason to stop talking about it. We overcome our anxieties by confronting them.”

    I think that’s a good point. Ideally we should be comfortable with ourselves enough to deal with extemporaneous classification, but it’s also important to know how oneself works best. It’s not always as simple a matter as inner strength.

    As far as the age thing… I suppose I characterized your initial “They are weak!” comment as sort of ‘Whippersnapper’-ish. Apologies if I offended.

    Reply
  19. Matt Marks

    @eaj

    I’m using the term “status quo” to mean the specific “the existing state of affairs” that a composer must feel compelled to consider himself along the grand tradition of classical music. There is nothing in the definition of “status quo” that suggests your can’t use the term specifically, am I wrong?

    “In other words, I’m not sure what your point is.”

    Not exactly sure what you mean here, as I’ve made several points in response to pgblu. My most recent comment as of your comment suggested that one mustn’t “be concerned with how one fits within ‘music’s place in society and history’.”, which seems to be a fairly clear point, regardless of whether you agree or not.

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  20. Matt Marks

    @Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Sorry, I must not have been clear. I meant destructive to the creative process. Self-destruction is one of my most constructive sources of inspiration!

    Reply
  21. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Matt, what is destruction to the creative process? Now you’ve really got me! This thread may be the first time I’ve come across this idea, though Frank may have been getting at something similar in suggesting that poor historical categorizations are “lethal for the creation of new work.” Is this a frequent problem? Do you have examples? (Really, I’m not being wide-eyed pretend innocent. I thought that, short of death and medication, the creative process was undeniable even if circumstances might deny its manifestation in actual work.)

    Dennis

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  22. Matt Marks

    @Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I’m simply talking about that which can disrupt the creative process, whether this results in an artist suffering from “writer’s block” or letting self-consciousness or other unproductive forces affect their work.

    Personally, I find that contemplating my place in the grand tradition of western art music to be quite inhibiting. More specifically, when doing this I tend to overanalyze my work while I’m creating it, needlessly comparing it to past and contemporary works, and wondering how my own work compares and continues/rejects these traditions. I’m sure this is not the case for many artists, but I’ve spoke to many who have had to conquer this type of thinking. I, and many others, find it destructive (and not in the good way!) to the creative process.

    If you’ve never encountered anything like this, then I envy you. You’re a much less neurotic person than I am apparently. :)

    This is why I much identified with Frank when he wrote:

    “What has usually brought these bouts on—I’m ashamed but obliged to admit here—is the fear that what I was attempting to compose was somehow irrelevant, out of touch with the zeitgeist, too experimental, or not experimental enough.”

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  23. philmusic

    “…the current status quo …in academic classical music …

    Well Matt I happen to know a great many composers and songwriters who have an explanation that excludes them from being part of the, or a, somebody’s “status quo.”

    Unfortunately it always seems that the problem is somebody else. Isn’t it?

    Phil Fried

    Phil’s status conscious page

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  24. mclaren

    Its lure never seems to fade, does it?

    “A lot of folks involved with music seem to believe that had Beethoven or Arnold Schoenberg never lived, music would have taken a completely different course. “

    This is the classic Hegelian fantasy that history moves of its own accord, regardless of individuals. The only problem with this assertion is that every single time the historical determinists have made a prediction, they’ve been wrong. And not just slightly wrong. Stunningly wrong. Massively wrong. Gigantically wrong. Stupefyingly wrong. Mind-bogglingly wrong.

    The historical determinists assured us that twelve tone atonal serialism was the predestined endpoint of world music history. WRONG.

    The historical determinists assured us back in the 19th century that non-Western music was “sunk in the deepest shadows of ignorance” and that only white guys represented the true pinnacle of human civliization in music. WRONG.

    Prior to that, the music theorists assured us that the Western major triad was the basis of all music (Rameau — unfortuanately he never could manage to explain the minor triad) and that the major/minor system represented the pinnacle and endpoint of all music. WRONG.

    Prior to that, medieval theorists assured us that the unitronisis omnis harmoniae together with the medieval church modes and the duplum and triplum (tempus perfectuma nd tempus imperfectum) represented the summation and endpoint of all music, sealed with proof from the Good Book itself. WRONG.

    And before that, the Greek theorists assured everyone that the three Greek genera together with the tetrachords from which all scales were derived represented the endpoint and final apex of all music, and that all other kinds of music was merely barbarian caterwauling.WRONG.

    Music history shows that, in fact, individual composers with their quirks and inspirations and restless imagination, determine the course of music, while all the theorists and historians and musicologists remain as inconsequential as empty air.

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  25. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    Matt,

    Disruption of the process, writer’s block and the like happen all the time. Every moment we pause, every edit we make, every mosquito that bites and every coffee we stop to make, every letter we have to send out… all are disruptions. And I’ll go neurosis-to-neurosis with ya!

    But none are destructive or worse lethal. Those are powerful words, personally apolcalyptic words. If you’re just talking philosophy and engaging in a bit o’ the old hyperbole, then I’m on the wrong bus here. But if you really mean destructive and Frank really means lethal, then I want to know the who through why of that.

    Which are we talking? No hurry. I’ve gotta go disrupt my composition with The Daily Show.

    Dennis
    Ow! Mosquito!

    Reply
  26. Matt Marks

    @Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    I think this is getting too far into semantics, but I’m not using “destructive” to mean ‘career destroying’ or anything that apocalyptic. But I’ve certainly had ideas and potential pieces destroyed by the demons of overanalysis, due to much of what we’re talking about.

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  27. Matt Marks

    @philmusic

    Ok… but the fact remains that there are several traditions, schools, ‘statuses quo’, what-have-you that are difficult to break from. I believe this is one of them.

    Sure, most people love to set themselves up as a renegade, but you’re not really offering any specific criticisms, you just seem to be throwing out a blanket critique of rebellion in general. Hit me up if you have any specific thoughts on what we’re actually talking about.

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  28. philmusic

    “Hit me up if you have any specific thoughts on what we’re actually talking about…”

    Matt: If you don’t understand my point thats fine, I get that a lot actually. My interest is music not in composers artist statements.

    Phil Fried

    Phil sell out page

    Reply
  29. Matt Marks

    philmusic

    “If you don’t understand my point thats fine, I get that a lot actually.”

    Oh, I get your point. It simply adds nothing to the discussion.

    “My interest is music not in composers artist statements.”

    Then why are you chiming in on a blog/discussion that’s largely about the artistic process?

    Reply
  30. philmusic

    “…Then why are you chiming in on a blog/discussion that’s largely about the artistic process?…”

    Matt I don’t believe that an artist’s process and an artistic statement are the same thing. I’m interested in technique not so much in editorial. So I can’t agree with your description of this thread.

    Phil Fried Phil’s highly technical page

    Reply
  31. pgblu

    “What has usually brought these bouts on—I’m ashamed but obliged to admit here—is the fear that what I was attempting to compose was somehow irrelevant, out of touch with the zeitgeist, too experimental, or not experimental enough.”

    I wonder (and genuinely don’t know the answer) how much of this kind of anxiety is encouraged by the composer community and how much of it is an inherent part of a given composer’s personality and/or sense of self. In other words, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that even in an environment where nobody talks about the avant garde as more relevant than other streams (a position I’m not even taking myself if you read my comments closely enough), people would still feel pressured to justify their ‘relevance’. Isn’t that kind of prevalent in all forms of life?

    Reply

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