Three Generations of Teaching Music Composition

11. From Being in the Class to Being Part of the Syllabus

PAUL LANSKY: I taught a course on music after 1945 and I do play some of George’s music, and I play them your music!

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Which one did you play?

PAUL LANSKY: Let’s see, the one with the machines…

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Oh, Slot Machines!

PAUL LANSKY: Slot Machines. Right. I also played the one that I love, Put a little distance between me and the job baby.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Yes, yes.

PAUL LANSKY: And a lot of students appreciated that. I did a whole section in the course on the studio, the convergence of the studio.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Not your typical “Music after 1945″ course!

PAUL LANSKY: Oh, well, that was a big part of music since 1945.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Oh, absolutely, but I remember a German book that came out a few years ago and only certain music was in it, so it’s a broad band that you’re engaging in, a broad spectrum.

PAUL LANSKY: Yeah, yeah.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: I do play Paul’s music to students. At some point in the course, I’ve only been at Northwestern since last fall, but one of the first things I did when I started a course called the Virtual Recording Studio was to play them Ride and not tell them who or how or anything, just what do you think? And I’ve had a pretty good response. One of the more strictly minded people said it was the only real composition I’d played all day. I’d played Radiohead, I played Chemical Brothers, I played some Steve Reich. But it’s interesting because everybody accepted Ride but some people for some reasons and some people for other reasons, you know? So there was a very serious minded student who had this notion of what composition is and he accepted that and the pop people did as well. So it’s a very interesting thing when it works in that broad band that one can actually cross in the listener’s mind as well as one’s own.

PAUL LANSKY: Yeah. I played George’s Adagio for Orchestra for the students. They liked that a lot. And that was sort of my week about American original composers. I played George with George Crumb and Elliott Carter and some others. When I teach this course I do like to do a lot of mainstream composers, but so many courses on music after 1945 consist of nothing but Stockhausen, Berio, Xenakis, and Varèse so, you know, I did a lot of that stuff, but I also did Leonard Bernstein. I think he’s a major composer.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Absolutely, what was your main take? Did you do mostly art composers and also some pop? Because I may have taken the course from the other side…

PAUL LANSKY: I see. It was mostly art composers with some pop. I didn’t really want to do a lot of pop stuff because that really isn’t what the course was about. I think mainly the sort of composers who don’t sell huge amounts of CDs!

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Right. I took it from the other side, you know, teaching the course “Producers, Composers.” I had to—I felt compelled to do a side bar on art music so we would get into Stockhausen who was, you know, Björk‘s and Kraftwerk‘s and Can‘s hero and Varèse was Zappa‘s hero. It’s so interesting how composers not heard by very many people have influence by their conception of music and expanding the frontiers of what’s possible. And so, that was an interesting other way around in a course that was mostly pop music.

PAUL LANSKY: Yeah, yeah. I did, I guess, in the pop music stuff, Laurie Anderson is probably the closest I came. I did some Autechre

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: That’s pretty close!

PAUL LANSKY: And Brian Eno.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Which Brian Eno?

PAUL LANSKY: Um, let’s see. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Oh, yes.

PAUL LANSKY: I like that.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: We had listened to that…

PAUL LANSKY: That’s right. And I also did, I can’t remember what it’s called, it’s the one that’s on the OHM anthology. We had a really interesting discussion on Robert Ashley‘s Automatic Writing. It was a really interesting piece and we sort of went on to Brian Eno. That was kind of interesting too.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Yeah, we did My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in Producers/Composers. [laughs]

PAUL LANSKY: Yeah, well, that’s a seminal recording.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Yeah, it was years ahead. I mean, when they had to go on a put everything onto tape loops and…

PAUL LANSKY: That still works.

VIRGIL MOOREFIELD: Oh, it’s fantastic. I think if you just put it on and played it for somebody I doubt they could say, oh, yeah, this is 20 years old.

PAUL LANSKY: That’s right. So, and I think I played some of your stuff around that time too. It’s still out on the Web page if you want to look at it.

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