Audience Cultivation In American New Music

“Isn’t it amazing, that we can all sit in the same room together…and not understand each other?  It could only happen in America!” —Richard Pryor

Introduction

Historically, new music has sought to confront general audiences with unexpected sounds and forms.  The present, however, sees the milieu of new music splintered into factions, each with its own loyal but marginal audience. One is more likely to find these groups at odds with one another than in dialogue, and many groups congratulate themselves for being the most marginal or esoteric. These divisions within the new music community foreclose on its original mission of confronting traditional audiences, as the factionalized groups that most new music now attracts already support and expect the work in question. All of these groups believe that they have meaningful formulas for creating provocative work, but what good is that work if no one outside the communities where it is generated has access to it?  In order for new music to remain a meaningful category of cultural production, it requires successful strategies for cultivating newer and bigger audiences.

While often used to refer to the experimental within the world of classical music, the term “new music” can be more broadly applied to any music that employs innovative, unexpected sounds or forms with the intention of challenging audiences to examine their assumptions about music, performance, and the consumption of musical experiences. When approached so broadly, new music is vast and hugely varied, but the central division within the array of new music practices is that between new music that is practiced in institutional settings and new music that does not receive institutional support, corporate sponsorship, or financial backing from investors.  The latter creative communities of practice often operate off the grid and, at times, outside of the law.  I will refer to these two areas of practice as “institutional” and “DIY,” respectively.  This classification is necessarily reductive, as there are many groups and individuals that embody hybrid forms of new music practice. Nevertheless, integrating these modalities remains difficult, and dominant traditions within new music lean toward one style of practice or the other. Similarly, each constituency represents a strong but discrete audience base—the concert-going, classical-music-based community, and the DIY community, which is aligned with band culture. This bifurcation suggests that the divide is of special relevance when considering the project of audience cultivation for new music in America today.

Current engagement with audience cultivation often finds expression in terms of collaboration and dialogue, not only within respective communities, but also between them. Audience cultivation strategies centered on cross-communal new music programming are often developed around a set of axioms, which may best be expressed as follows:

  1. The music of multiple new music communities, though touted as different from one another, actually has a lot in common.
  2. Each new music community has its own audience.
  3. The composite of all new music audiences, though never manifested as a single audience, would be bigger than any one new music audience.
  4. Collaboration between multiple artists from diverse new music communities will lead to a bigger audience for all new music communities.
  5. This will happen because collaborative programming will lead to a combining of multiple new music audiences.
  6. Bigger audiences for new music mean greater impact of progressive ideologies as mediated by the music in question.

These axioms carry theoretical weight, but despite the prevalence of this thinking—visible in the programming of many new music presenting organizations—the super-audience promised by such a collaborative spirit is not materializing. Even in New York, a veritable hot bed of collaboration and dialogue within new music communities, audiences—communities of fans!—remain, for the most part, segregated.

For the past decade I have played in ZS, a band which has had the lucky misfortune of being resident outsiders in multiple new music communities—most notably at the fringe of the underground noise or DIY scene, while also at the periphery of the institution and the academy. Our deliberate compositional method and disposition has garnered us an air of otherness in the underground community, and the abrasive dynamic and timbre of our performances has set us apart from our classical new music counterparts. ZS has charted this course deliberately, and it has afforded us a unique vantage point which may prove to be useful in the ongoing dialogue around the cultivation of larger audiences for American new music. My aim in the following discussion is to use this vantage point to explore the various factors at play when attempting to mobilize collaborative strategies for audience cultivation.  These factors cover both the practical and social features of musical performance, as I believe it is the attachment to these specific means of creating that is at the heart of understanding why the multiple communities have a hard time becoming one audience. To form an understanding of such attachments, one must consider the community structures at play wherein specific means of creative production become useful. These considerations must be addressed if we hope to bring about lasting and increased meaning, for more people, vis-à-vis the challenging and refreshing musical content created by multiple new music communities!

Videos featuring Eli Keszler, Tristan Perich, and Patrick Higgins accompany this article. I chose to feature them because their practices as musicians, composers, and artists embody something that works with the strategies I’m presenting here. All three of these artists operate with ease in many contexts, including the institutional new music setting and the DIY.

*

Concert and Show

When considering the sound artifact—record, CD, mp3, etc.—the differences between classical or institutional new music and the new music produced by the DIY scene are present but not so pronounced. It is not hard to imagine someone who likes Tortoise recordings enjoying Steve Reich’s music, or a person listening to both Xenakis pieces and Wolf Eyes or Black Dice records. It is harder, however, to imagine a person who frequents Miller Theater for Steve Reich concert programs catching a Tortoise show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. The similarities between these kinds of music are easy to notice when stripped of the social context that the performances take place in, but what can be said about listeners and the sound artifacts they consume cannot necessarily be said about concertgoers and the performance rituals they engage.

Ideally, performances are constructed frames in which, for a brief period, every detail serves to articulate something about a particular version of, and vision for, the world. Considering such details, then—how the audience is positioned, what the performers are wearing, the audience’s attitude, the atmosphere within the performance space—expresses the values of the environment in which a given performance takes place. A good place to begin is with a simple examination of terminology. The colloquial difference between classical “concerts” and noise “shows” are indicative of deeper disparities, and while similar in construction, the two questions, “How was the concert?” and “How was the show?” ask about different things. The former question is used to request an evaluation of the musical quality and content of a performance. The person who asks the latter, however, enquires about a broad range of elements: Who was there? Did it start on time or run late? How was the venue? How was the sound? Did anything crazy happen? The quality of the band’s performance and an individual’s response to the music are factors within a much larger set of elements that are at issue when describing a given show. When asked to describe a concert, details about whether Prosecco was served at intermission and whether or not you met anyone you knew are often not at issue. Rather, there is a privileging of the musical performance as the meter stick for determining the quality of a given concert.

In a classical setting, audiences must sit and be quiet. Those visibly doing something other than watching the concert are discouraged in the space where the concert is happening. The ensemble and the conductor wear uniform clothing so as not to distract from the event of the music making, and so on. Compare this setting to that of a show: members of the audience may be doing any number of things besides watching the bands—catching up with friends, consulting one’s phone, or participating loudly in the performance are all acceptable varieties of audience participation.  Regardless of preference where these settings are concerned, it is clear that there are different paradigms for audience-ship afoot in the different musical milieu in question, and these differences present clear obstacles for those attempting to combine new music audiences.

*

Band and Ensemble

The different expectations placed upon audiences in the social frames of “show” and “concert” are matched or even preceded by structural differences within the generative processes of different branches of new music. Where institutional new music is concerned, it is ordinarily the work of a single person, the composer, who has designed a specific musical experience for the audience to have. The content is chiefly communicated to the ensemble via sheet music, a set of instructions that expresses the musical design of the composer. While the balance of creative contribution may vary from ensemble to ensemble, it is clear that the role of the composer is the most generative, while the ensemble and conductor chiefly perform interpretive and executive labor, serving as vehicles for the composer’s content. Importantly, this division of labor is performed before the audience. The conductor stands with her back to the audience and presides over the ensemble; the ensemble is most often seated, wearing all black and performing for the audience, whom they face. Composers are often not visible but are generally identified in a printed program; if they are in attendance, they are acknowledged by the conductor and/or ensemble at the end of the performance of their work.  In this setting, there is a commitment to a lack of mystery surrounding individual contributions to a given performance; the place and role of the practitioners involved within the ensemble is clearly demarcated, and the composer’s authorship is clearly acknowledged.

Conversely, in a DIY setting, all generative mechanics of the band often lie under the hood of the band name. Whereas the ensemble divides the labor of music-making into discrete specialties and hierarchical execution, the band model is largely typified by a pervasive lateral quality. Band members act as composers, interpreters of material, and performers; every member is able to contribute to the musical content of the work being generated, and these contributions are happening constantly throughout the process of writing, rehearsing, and performing. Additionally, leadership in the band setting is often nebulous, and though a band may have a front woman or man, this is not understood to mean that they are responsible for authoring the musical material they render.

We have already noted the many differences between the concert and the show setting.  The divergent generative practices engaged by bands and ensembles serves to deepen the divide between these performance rituals—audiences at shows and audiences at concerts, though both viewing live performances of music, are consuming radically different culture products.

*

Audiences in Social Space

Where institutional new music practitioners disguise their bodies and individuality so that the audience may receive the design of the composer with extreme clarity, bands disguise notions of agency and authorship by not crediting work to specific individuals.  Instead, they foreground individuality in performance and group dynamics. By not calling attention to authorship and highlighting agency in performance instead, the band and the show create a different kind of space for the meaning-making practices of the audience. Audiences at shows understand that bands create the music that they play, however the audience’s focus is often not on the intentions of the band and its members, but on the audience’s own style of participation at a given show. Audience members may stand silently while the band plays, yell out phrases or sounds during or between performances, respond bodily, even throw a cup or bottle onto the stage (depending on the show you happen to be at!). The finished product of the show is a composite of the musical performance and the audience’s response.

Audiences at concerts and audiences at shows are thus not only consuming different culture products, but they are playing different roles where the construction of meaning is concerned. The decision that audiences make when they choose between attending a concert and going to a show can be couched in terms of consuming and creating. Concerts and shows are more than specific means of presenting music, they are cultural spaces where rituals of social identification are practiced and expedited. Concerts provide conditions for repose to be struck by connoisseurs, while shows create platforms for cultural actors who will shape their experience via participatory style. The idea that show-goers and concert-goers are seeking out different experiences impacts heavily upon audience cultivation where multiple new music communities are at issue. The real concern is no longer what music people are encountering, but how and where they are encountering it, and what their role is in the production of meaning while doing so. Traversing this invisible boundary is the real work of audience cultivation and expansion.

*

Obstacles and Best Practices

It follows, then, that those who wish to expand audiences in new music must consider what might make such different communities of listeners wish to widen their experiences and practice different methods of cultural engagement.  A good frame for an inquiry about best practices for audience cultivation is the interrogation of assumptions.  Both of the communities in question are able to manifest flexibility in prescribed areas of practice, but remain rigid where core values are at play.  In proper dialogue it is important for participants to enter their most deeply held core values as possible assumptions, and subsequently interrogate those assumptions in order to determine whether or not they are meaningful in the context of our current project of audience cultivation.  A widely held assumption about music in general is that audiences separate along lines of aesthetics.  In this essay I suggest that audiences of new music listeners separate not because of aesthetic barriers, but due to the specific mechanics through which music is created, presented, and consumed.  In order to address this point, every aspect of a musical production must be considered, not just the specific musical content being presented at a concert or a show.

Over the years I have encountered and enacted a variety of strategies for growing audiences for new music.  Some of them work, some of them don’t, a few of them are discussed below.

For the Institution

Institutions are responsible for many of the programs that pair diverse communities within new music.  This programming happens under relatively ideal circumstances, with significant financial backing, proper facilities, and cogent marketing teams representing the programming to the public.  Often this work manages to create pairings of artists that would otherwise not be “possible.”  That said, we have noted that this programming is not substantially expanding the size of the existing audience for new music.

One of the greatest assets that institutional support brings to the endeavor of audience cultivation is the ability to provide respectable fees to musicians. However, rather than being used to incentivize artists to engage in otherwise unlikely collaborations, funding may serve better if used to reward artists who engage in self-elected collaboration. By shifting the allocation of funds from the financing of unlikely collaborative projects to the support of existing collaborative projects, festivals and institutions will foster an overall valuation of cross-communal collaboration within new music.

There are many examples of large institutions opening their doors to a broad array of practitioners from the DIY underground. There are far fewer examples, however, of members of the institutional new music community coming to DIY venues and concertizing there.  Institution-based new music groups who wish to expand their audience base would be well served by performing in such settings, however familiarity with institutional support leaves many practitioners expecting to be compensated at rates which are unfeasible in many DIY situations. Of course it is possible to write grants, appeal to patrons, and lead Kickstarter campaigns in order to secure what is regarded as the required funding to make individual concerts happen, however I recommend against this. Musicians in a given ensemble being compensated at a rate that differs from that of other musicians on the bill at a DIY show creates social distance which defeats the purpose of this exercise.  Where the institutional new music practice is chiefly premised on aesthetics, methodology, and philosophical bent, the DIY scene is, fundamentally, an expression of something social, a fellowship among people, a community.  In order for the institution-based new music practitioners to cross over and gain awareness in this world, they must find a way to participate as a member of that community.  Accepting the terms of the DIY community—financial and otherwise—is one way for classical and institutional new music practitioners to expand social depths, form relationships with musicians in bands, and expand their audience base.

Unfortunately, there are often other obstacles for institution-based new music groups that would like to concertize in the DIY setting.

I have spoken with multiple new music groups for whom audience expansion is a priority, but whose hands are tied due to extreme exclusivity clauses imposed by large-scale classical presenters, or who face management and publicists resistant to the notion of concertizing for so little money and even less prestige.  This resistance is of note: it highlights that while there are many people within institutional new music for whom younger, broader audiences are of central concern, in many cases, the question of whether or not the general public likes new music is simply not of value to many involved.  Institution-based new music practitioners who are concerned about expanding audience size must do some campaigning within their own milieu if they wish to experience success in this endeavor.

Most importantly, institutional new music must bring an end, at least partially, to its most beloved practice—enforced silence.  There are many people who do not like being forced to sit still and be quiet.  This practice, and some of the other rituals endemic to the concert setting, need to be reconsidered and applied only selectively.  The performance of musical hierarchy described above is also inscrutable if not off-putting to listeners not familiar with the customs of concert music.  A more casual setting and presentation will benefit institutional new music practitioners seeking to expand their audience base. Acceptance, even valuation of these attributes when concertizing in the DIY setting is a good way to begin thinking about bringing some of that spirit to the concert setting.

For DIY Communities and Organizations

The DIY community has its own responsibility in the matter of audience cultivation, and equally as much to gain from an expanded audience for new music.  As far as communities of practice—artistic, professional, and social—go, the DIY community tends to value “openness,” that is, awareness of and curiosity about the values and practices of others. This said, there are sacrosanct core values within the DIY community around which little or no variation is tolerated. For the DIYers to participate in the cross-communal project of audience cultivation, it will first be necessary to reframe the rigid nature of these ideologies as more fluid aspirations that are shaped by the particular projects that they engage with.

Within the DIY community, there is skepticism, bordering on dislike, of hierarchical power dynamics, especially when the allocation of resources is at issue in the context of a supposed meritocracy.  It should not be hard to see why this vantage point presents difficulty for collaborations that pair DIY organizations with official cultural institutions. The DIY community places value on conducting business in a way that is transparent, lateral, and democratic, while the institutional milieu places emphasis on clearly articulated standards for excellence and cogent processes of becoming involved. These two strands have much to learn from each other—DIY communities could stand to become more cogent and efficient, while official culture organizations could imagine new ways of preserving and presenting standards that do not locate the project of determining quality and allocating funds at the top of a hierarchy. Instead, official culture organizations might look more readily to the ground level of their operations where the people most aligned with the audiences they seek to reach dwell. This mutual learning will require a softening of the DIY’s ideological position in order to facilitate dialogue.

Operating within their dislike of the edifice of power, DIY communities at times engage in subtle social maneuvering for devaluing dominant practices, often resulting in a communal habit of “becoming minor,” that is, seeking to frame any given practice as “most other” or “least dominant.” Within a seemingly homogenous community, subdivisions occur over any number of major or minor social differences—those who come from money, those who have been to prestigious schools, those who have good jobs but go to punk shows at night, those who did not attend college, those who are unemployed, those who come from familial backgrounds of little means—each splinter group seeking to become minor. Rather than fostering a broadening of social depths to include more and more cultural actors—a task we have seen is necessary for the project of audience cultivation—this practice forecloses on collaboration with entities outside of the DIY and causes discord within. The attitude of “becoming minor” is complexly associated with questions of power and privilege, but it is important to note that anyone who is in a position to be able to entertain the concerns expressed in this essay is already in the category of the extremely privileged.  Whether university professors or crusty punks who have renounced the shower and covered their hands with tattoos, we all exist within and embody the ostentatious wealth of our nation, replete with its power and influence. These assets can advance the agendas of communities of practice, and for this reason, divergent communities such as DIY and institutional organizations are well-served by identifying points of similarity and overlap rather than engaging in the factionalizing attitudes that value becoming minor.

*

The discussion of obstacles and best practices in this section is far from comprehensive.  It is easy to imagine further discourse on matters including the architectural space, geographic location, gender dynamics, ethnographies, or more nuanced discussion of the socio-economic dimensions of cross-communal collaboration.  My hope is that this essay will help to begin dialogue around all of these subjects and many more not named here.  Cross-communal dialogue is our first best hope for addressing the matter of audience expansion in new music.

Recently, I was on tour with ZS in Europe, where the distinction between grassroots communities of practice and institutional communities of practice is much less pronounced, and of lesser import to practitioners.  Our booking agent, a master at negotiating between these communities, informed us that the new prevalent slang was not DIY (do it yourself), but DIT (do it together).  Yes!  What an excellent and obvious evolution for our thinking about cultural musical action in the world.  As Americans, we do not have cultural homogeneity of participants in our communities of practice.  The word “American” itself connotes a lot.  However one interesting take on being American is that the designation implies that somewhere in your relatively recent past or ancestry there is “someone originally from somewhere else besides America.”  This makes the project of American DIT more compelling, and more important!  Through dialogue, the interrogation of assumptions, and by not turning ideals into expectations in the cases of our core values, new music can arrive at hybrid forms of practice, both aesthetically and in terms of mechanical production and generative practice.  These hybrid forms can lead to bigger audiences for American new music, if we are willing to do the often uncomfortable, often exhilarating work of getting to them.

See you at the performance!

***

Special thanks to Hannah DeFeyter for her assistance with this article.

31 thoughts on “Audience Cultivation In American New Music

  1. Kevin Erickson

    Sam, this is a phenomenal article. As a side note, I’m delighted to hear that “Do It Together” is taking hold. It’s a phrase that I think has been partially popularized by its use in the book In Every Town: An All-Ages Music Manualfesto, although I think my first experience was the term was the avant-electro-pop musician Anna Oxygen circa 2005.

    Reply
  2. Andrea La Rose

    Thanks for writing this. I was discussing these kinds of issues with my work colleagues — arts educators at an international school. The points you bring up are pertinent to pedagogy and I’m excited to find ways to expand upon and apply the suggestions you made.

    Reply
  3. Ant

    Intelligent as I am, I had a very hard time digesting this wordy, dense article. It doesn’t seem to be geared towards comprehension, which is a shame, because it’s [reportedly] right up my alley. Also, the video clips highlight some very chaotic, inaccessible performances.

    As with most modern art, it loses some of it’s value when artistic skill, and the attempt to communicate an idea, is abandoned in favor of simply “doing something different.” Why not do both?

    Reply
  4. S

    A very good article, but I rather disagree about a few key points.

    First, I’m very skeptical that it’s possible to unify new music audiences at this point. I think the fractious nature of new music audiences is a direct result of genre and dissemination changes. Just as listeners on the internet are able to find music which most closely fits their needs, so too can the new music community find contemporary work that fits their needs for live performance. Aside from the questions of how to make this model successful, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with small, fractured audiences. I disagree with the idea that it’s possible to combine new music communities in the first place, because while two groups might have similarities, there are also disparities that are just as important, which is why the groups are separate in the first place.

    Second, I dislike that you shame concert music for requiring silence. Yes, it can be oppressive to be forced to silence, and it is silly at times, but concert music is listened to for different reasons than a show. A show has more of a social aspect. You’re going to meet people, you’re doing to drink, and you’re going to talk. That’s expected. It’s the social standard. A concert implies that you’re going to listen to a piece, or the performers realizing the piece. You’re not there to socialize, at least not during the music-making — and I don’t see anything wrong with that. The point of concerts is to focus on the pieces played, not on anything beyond those. You wouldn’t go to a dance performance and wander around the stage while performers were dancing. Similarly, at a store, you wouldn’t cross out words in a novel, write in your own, and then put the book back on the shelf, just as you wouldn’t bring a film projector to a movie screening and then proceed to screen your own film. These are all disruptive actions, and we wouldn’t excuse them, so why must music tolerate them?

    Reply
  5. Sam Hillmer

    Hello readers!

    Thanks to everyone for reading, and for the comments.

    For the first two, thanks for the good looks, glad the article was valuable to you guys! For #3, sound like it’s not your thing. Fair enough, I definitely wonder if it’s my thing some times! HA!

    To S! Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. I agree with you that it may not be possible at present to combine audiences, but I must believe that it may be possible long term. I see that you are at peace with an array of discreet audiences, and I respect that position. My personal concern has to do with the impact progressive culture is able to make beyond the millieu in which it is created. I believe that if we were not so fractured among ourselves, we’d have greater reach beyond the ghetto of experimental music. Furthermore I’d say it is our responsibility to at least make this music accessible and attractive to people outside of our rather insular group, given the amount of resources that goes into creating it. But of course that is just me.

    As to the 2nd point, I think there is an important qualifier that you are not addressing. I am NOT shaming classical music in general for insisting upon quiet. What I am suggesting is that IF you are interested in expanding your audience, and only IF you ARE interested, in that case it may be a good idea to let go of certain core values. I think it is fine to just straight up do classical music and not make some kind of overture to it being like something else. That is not what I am into personally, but I respect keeping it real. But if you ARE going to go out on a limb and say things like ‘we’re doing classical music with a rock vibe’ and what not, which is a fairly hot trend these days, then it is a good idea to address the core values of those who you seek to reach, and question some of your own. But none of that is to shame classical music.

    I happen to love classical music, which means that I afford it the scrutiny I would afford a family member.

    Thanks again to everyone for the read! Sorry for butting into your thread! But that last post did end with a question mark… :)
    Sam

    Reply
  6. JM

    Great article– these have been relevant and unresolved issues in the new music community for the past 25/30 years– come the late 1980s- early 1990s when the NEA was under attack and funding cut to individual artists, new music was also targeted- the least funded of all the arts at the time lost even more support and recognition. The battle to reach larger audiences and move away from academia has long been underway, Bang on a Can is a perfect surviving and thriving example but new music has a long way to go, the question is, will it ever get ‘there’? whatever ‘there’ is…

    Reply
  7. Alex

    “What I am suggesting is that IF you are interested in expanding your audience, and only IF you ARE interested, in that case it may be a good idea to let go of certain core values. ”
    But why are you so sure this would expand, merely than change, your audience? For its core constituents, the silence in which to contemplate a performance as it unfolds is a relief and a privilege, not a straitjacket. Lincoln Center isn’t exactly a cloister: if you want to drink and socialize and check your phone, well, there are intermissions and lobby bars. But those theaters are designed and built precisely so they don’t, acoustically, resemble your warehouse club. Get rid of the silence and the attention it presumes, and you may lose as many new listeners as you gain.

    Reply
  8. Sam Hillmer

    To Alex.
    It’s not an either or. What I suggest in the article, is that in the context of efforts to expand your audience, wherein one specifically seeks to reach people who are not currently going to attend Lincoln Center, that it is wise to consider questioning one’s own core values. As I commented to the last reader, I am not against Lincoln Center as is, or the classical milieu as is, it is specifically the efforts of organizations like Lincoln Center to expand audiences that I am commenting on. Am I sure this will work? Of course not! But we are sure that current strategies aren’t working. I suggest other ways of moving forward, and there are many many other ways that I don’t discuss. It’s really just a conversation starter.
    Thanks for jumping in!
    <3
    S

    Reply
  9. Pingback: http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/audience-cultivation-in-american-new-music/?utm_source=feedly | Survey of Arts Management

  10. John Borstlap

    LACKING CONTEXT
    When someone begins saying something in a context, formulated or implied, all that follows will be understood within this context. I stopped reading after the first paragraph because of the unpondered assumptions it exposed, like the first sentence: ‘Historically, new music has sought to confront general audiences with unexpected sounds and forms.’ What is meant by ‘historically’? The last 20 years? Or the last 50, 100, 200, 300 years? Before 1800, composers merely sought to fulfill their commissioners’ wishes and tried to do this in the best possible way. In the 19th century, new works – also when they were different from what audiences were used to hear – were naturally and gradually absorbed into the repertoire filling the official concert halls and opera house; also then, composers sought to be understood. The idea that composers ‘sought to confront general audiences’ only developed during the 20th century, and only from the perspective of musical modernism, the history of which was projected backwards from the post-WWII-period to Schönberg and beyond, towards Wagner’s Tristan, all wrong and all biassed and ideologically distorted. Almost all composers in the past whose works have survived because of their artistic qualities, and NOT because they successfully ‘confronted’ their audiences, sought to share their personal vision with the listener, and often this was quickly accepted, and where not, audiences soon learned to understand the personal styles which could deviate to a more or lesser degree from what they were accustomed to.

    As long as this puerile and unmusical idea of ‘confronting audiences’ with the ‘unheard’ is circulating, there is no chance to address the real problems of contemporary music, of which the one of audience building is merely the result of other problems, like the disappearance of perception contexts or the misunderstandings surrounding sonic art forms.

    Reply
  11. Sam Hillmer

    John, You make a series of excellent points! It is true, confronting audiences is essentially not musical in nature. That doesn’t bother me, rather it represents musicians taking on responsibilities outside the area of music. We all make music, but we also all make products, assuming some responsibility for how that product does or does not integrate with general patterns of consumption, though not musical, is a responsibility of any professional, including musicians. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that.

    As for contextualizing new music, again, you make great points. That said, the article is written for a specialized group of people who generally accept a working definition of new music in parlance. It’s too bad this lack of explicit historical context stopped you from reading after the first paragraph prompting you to write a multiple paragraph critique! Your commentary is so insightful, imagine the response I’d have gotten if you’d read the whole thing!
    :)
    Thanks for reading what you read!
    All the best!
    Sam

    Reply
    1. John Borstlap

      Thanks for the friendly comments Sam… Concerning the consumption of music: I think that since music is not an object, but a form of sharing a musical experience – which can be seen as a form of communication – it is necessary that both producing and receiving parties share the same receptive framework, otherwise communication, or ‘consumption’, is not possible. Another word for receptive framework is: cultural tradition. If you look at the musical field with this idea in mind, you see different cultural traditions, all with their own basic norms and values, however vague or flexible or changeable. The idea that new music should ‘confront’ audiences then can be seen as inappropriate and, in fact, self-destructive… ANY art form exist as a whole in which producing, transferring and receiving parties form an organic whole. Audiences are a natural part of this whole and from this follows that composers and audiences should share the same cultural traditions if they want to be effective, i.e. if they have something of value to ‘say’ that they want to share and to be received and understood by their audience. It seems to me that audience building can only be possible on the basis of this vision of a whole in which different parties function effectively.

      I just come back from a trip to Vienna where I talked with people running the most important musical institutions (Vienna State Opera, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra etc.) which are often considered ‘conservative museum culture institutions’ because they mainly perform old repertoire that their audiences want to hear, audiences who are much less interested in new music which happens elsewhere, forming their own ‘progressive’ scene and attempting to build their own ‘progressive’ audiences. But if you understand that this is not a matter of conservative versus progressive but the existence of different cultural traditions (the new music scene everywhere is already quite old itself), and if you see the differences in terms of receptive frameworks, then it becomes clear that the difference between a performance of a Beethoven symphony here and a work of Xenakis there, is a difference in terms of cultural tradition. Both works are ‘old’ or ‘modern’ in a real sense – that’s why so many contemporary people want to hear Beethoven.
      Cultural traditions develop over time and they offer trajectories towards artistic achievement by way of examples from which artists can learn. This is something different from the urge to break down boundaries, confront audiences, explore new soundscapes, transgressing limitations, which are all part of modernist rhetoric now half a century old. The novelties in the past were results of a musical vision but never conscious goals to strive after. Where audiences are supposed to be curious for new musical experiences, it is the personal vision of the composer, not so much the ‘newness’ of the actual sound of the vision, in which they are interested. Because the actual newness on the level of sound is no longer new the second time, while a personal vision can be enjoyed many times and actually grow on the listener. Audiences want ot be touched, and the psychological / expressive touch is deeper and more interesting than the purely acoustical one.

      If you are interested in this kind of questions, I would like to refer to my website where information about a book I recently wrote can be found: http://www.johnborstlap.com

      I think that so much real talent is wasted because of barriers of ideology which have been built in the last century, from which we have to liberate ourselves as soon as possible to make new music relevant again.

      Reply
      1. Sam Hillmer

        JOHN,

        I’M IN ALL CAPS.

        Thanks for the friendly comments Sam… Concerning the consumption of music: I think that since music is not an object, but a form of sharing a musical experience – which can be seen as a form of communication – it is necessary that both producing and receiving parties share the same receptive framework, otherwise communication, or ‘consumption’, is not possible.

        THIS SEEMS TO ME TO BE AN ARGUMENT FOR ENFORCED CULTURAL HOMOGENEITY, OR AT LEAST A STRONG SUGGESTION THAT ONE EDUCATE THEMSELVES IN THE NORMS OF A SPECIFIC, IN THIS CASE DOMINANT, CULTURE. THE FACT THAT I FIND THE OUTCOME OF SUCH STRATEGIES TOTALLY UNDESIRABLE AND A BIT CREEPY IS BESIDES THE POINT, THIS IS LITERALLY NOT POSSIBLE IN AMERICA. THERE IS NO NORM, THE ACTUAL CULTURAL CONTENT OF OUR POPULATION CHAGES FROM ONE MONTH TO THE NEXT, AND WHO MIGHT BE IN ANY AUDIENCE IS ANYONE’S GUESS, ESPECIALLY IN A METROPOLITAN CENTER LIKE NEW YORK.

        Another word for receptive framework is: cultural tradition. If you look at the musical field with this idea in mind, you see different cultural traditions, all with their own basic norms and values, however vague or flexible or changeable. The idea that new music should ‘confront’ audiences then can be seen as inappropriate and, in fact, self-destructive… ANY art form exist as a whole in which producing, transferring and receiving parties form an organic whole. Audiences are a natural part of this whole and from this follows that composers and audiences should share the same cultural traditions if they want to be effective, i.e. if they have something of value to ‘say’ that they want to share and to be received and understood by their audience. It seems to me that audience building can only be possible on the basis of this vision of a whole in which different parties function effectively.

        BY ENLARGE I TAKE YOUR POINT HERE. LOOKING AT THE ARTIST, PERFORMER, AUDIENCE CONTINUUM AS ONE ORGANISM IS A MORE POSITIVE FRAME FOR THE WORK WE ARE UNDERTAKING. THAT SAID, NOTIONS OF CONFRONTATION DO NOT NECESSARILY DESTROY THAT, RATHER, IN MANY COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE, IT WOULD BE ARGUED THAT THEY STRENGTHEN THAT. IN THE ARTICLE I REFERENCE THE NOTION OF INTERROGATING ASSUMPTIONS, THIS IS A KIND OF CONFRONTATION THAT ORIGINATES IN CORPORATE CIRCLES WHERE AUTHENTIC DIALOGUES IS REGARDED AS THE CENTER PIECE OF SUCCESSFUL CREATIVE ORGANIZATIONS. IN THESE SETTINGS CONSTRUCTIVE CONFRONTATION IS SEENS AS AN INTEGRAL ASPECT OF TAKING CARE OF THE KIND OF CONTINUUM YOU DESCRIBE. ANOTHER SUCH EXAMPLE I HAVE WORKED WITH DIRECTLY QUITE A LOT IS THAT OF HIP HOP COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE WHERE THE NOTIONS OF ‘KEEPING IT REAL’, ‘REPRESENTING’, AND ‘RESPECT’ FORM THE SPINE OF ANY PROPER GROUP OR CIPHER. IN THESE SETTINGS BEING ABLE TO PEACEFULLY CONFRONT SOMEONE WHO TREADS UPON YOU IN CONVERSATION OR ARTISTICALLY IS A PREREQUISITE FOR FOSTERING SUSTAINABLE RELATIONS. SO THERE ARE TWO EXAMPLES WITHIN AMERICAN CULTURE (BY THE WAY THIS IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT AMERICAN NEW MUSIC) WHERE CONFRONTATION IS BUILT INTO THE TYPE OF CONTINUUM OR ORGANISM YOU DESCRIBE. I BELIEVE THAT THE CHALLENGING AESTHETICS OF NEW MUSIC COULD BE SEEN AS SIMILAR, A PEACEFUL, CONSTRUCTIVE CONFRONTATION OF THE LISTENER OR AUDIENCE, THAT DEMANDS REFLECTION, AND THEREFORE STRENGTHENS DISCOURSE IN AND AROUND OUR MILIEU. THOUGHTS?

        I just come back from a trip to Vienna where I talked with people running the most important musical institutions (Vienna State Opera, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra etc.) which are often considered ‘conservative museum culture institutions’ because they mainly perform old repertoire that their audiences want to hear, audiences who are much less interested in new music which happens elsewhere, forming their own ‘progressive’ scene and attempting to build their own ‘progressive’ audiences. But if you understand that this is not a matter of conservative versus progressive but the existence of different cultural traditions (the new music scene everywhere is already quite old itself), and if you see the differences in terms of receptive frameworks, then it becomes clear that the difference between a performance of a Beethoven symphony here and a work of Xenakis there, is a difference in terms of cultural tradition. Both works are ‘old’ or ‘modern’ in a real sense – that’s why so many contemporary people want to hear Beethoven.
        Cultural traditions develop over time and they offer trajectories towards artistic achievement by way of examples from which artists can learn. This is something different from the urge to break down boundaries, confront audiences, explore new soundscapes, transgressing limitations, which are all part of modernist rhetoric now half a century old. The novelties in the past were results of a musical vision but never conscious goals to strive after. Where audiences are supposed to be curious for new musical experiences, it is the personal vision of the composer, not so much the ‘newness’ of the actual sound of the vision, in which they are interested. Because the actual newness on the level of sound is no longer new the second time, while a personal vision can be enjoyed many times and actually grow on the listener. Audiences want ot be touched, and the psychological / expressive touch is deeper and more interesting than the purely acoustical one.

        JOHN! YOU MAKE A SERIES OF VERY INTERESTING POINTS HERE, THEY ARE VERY WELL ARTICULATED, I FIND THIS INTERESTING AND WILL SPEND QUITE A BIT OF TIME THINKING ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY. THAT SAID, THERE IS ONE VERY IMPORTANT DIMENSION OF YOUR INSIGHT THAT DOES NOT GET CRITICAL ATTENTION. YOU TALK FREELY HERE ABOUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT, WHAT AUDIENCES WANT, AND WHAT MATTERS AND IS INTERESTING IN MUSIC. IF ONE DIDN’T KNOW BETTER THEY WOULD ARRIVE AT THE CONCLUSION THAT YOU ARE IN FACT OMNISCIENT. IF I WROTE ON THIS WEB SITE THAT I HAD ‘RECENTLY MET WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT MUSICAL ORGANIZATIONS (PITCHFORK, VICE, AND REDBULL)’ I WOULD BE LAUGHED AND HARANGUED OFF THE INTERNET (EVEN THOUGH THESE ORGANIZATIONS REACH FAR MORE PEOPLE THAN THE ONES YOU REFERENCE), BUT IN THE CONTEXT OF TRADITIONAL CLASSICAL MUSIC DISCOURSE, THIS KIND OF ASSUMED SELF IMPORTANCE, AND THE FURTHER ASSUMPTION THAT SUCH SELF IMPORTANCE IS OK, IS THE EXACT SUBTEXT THAT LEADS TO THE STRATEGIES I CRITIQUE IN MY ARTICLE. YOU ARE RIGHT, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BEETHOVEN PERFORMANCE HERE, AND A XENAKIS PERFORMANCE THERE, WHEN ONE TAKES INTO ACCOUNT NOTIONS OF CULTURAL FRAMEWORK. BUT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MYOPIC SELF REFERENTIAL CULTURE OF ASSUMED IMPORTANCE AND DOMINANCE EMBODIED BY MUCH TRADITIONAL CLASSICAL MUSIC DISCOURSE, AND COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE THAT VALUE RIGOROUS STRATEGIES FOR COMBATTING RELATIVISM AND CULTURAL AND SOCIAL SOLIPSISM, AND THAT DIFFERENCE CAN IN FACT BE DESCRIBED AS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CONSERVATIVE AND THE PROGRESSIVE.
        OF COURSE I AM VERY INTERESTED IN HEARING YOUR THOUGHTS, AND ALWAYS WELCOME THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE PROVED WRONG!
        I’LL READ YOUR BOOK, IF YOU FINISH MY ARTICLE…
        ;)
        S

        Reply
        1. John Borstlap

          I think I understand your concerns Sam, and thanks for the feedback, but what I meant to say refers to a background behind the foreground of ‘discours’ as implied in your capitals.

          To begin with, the central performance culture is definitely not homogeneous, but diverse, albeit within a certain cultural framework which hold the thing together, nothing wrong with that. Besides this culture, there are nowadays – and certainly so in the US – other scenes, with different frameworks. There should be room for all kinds of music and that seems to be the case in the present cultural situation. But what is wrong with, in the midst of this pluralism, an island of musical culture that is indeed an important product of Western civilization? If in India, Indian culture has a central place, is that then a ‘dominant culture’ in India? And if so, is this wrong in the very place where this culture has developed and where it has become an expression of identity? Here we enter a quite different discussion, and I suspect that your concerns come from the awareness that we in the West do no longer have the typical European-Western culture which was taken for granted some 100 years ago. I believe that in the multiculti Western world (of which the US forms at least the half!), there should remain a central place for Western culture as it has developed as an expression of Western values. That much postwar contemporary music has chosen to follow another path, cut from its historical roots and thus, from its original identity, means that much new music has become international and intercultural in character. Nothing wrong with that – but it should not be reason to complain about traditional musical culture which still carries this identity symbolism and call it domineering.

          Then, the model of ‘conservative’ versus ‘progressive’ is mythological, and not real, and – as I am convinced – destructive: the model distorts certain aspects of music life and produces what Adorno called ‘false consciousness’, in this case I would translate that loaded term with: looking at things through glasses that give a distorted picture. To see established musical instutions of classical music as conservative leaves out the fact that its core repertoire was never conceived as something monolithic, classic and static, and that very often this repertoire is performed on a very high level to wide audiences, keeping it intact, which has nothing to do with cultural domineering: it is simply considered as something of importance. And to be of cultural importance does not mean counting the number of people who find it important, or who do enjoy it. For instance, the immense evolution that lies behind present-day symphony orchestras in the West has resulted in something very special and precious, the product of a high civilization. That this is sometimes misused as a means of ‘domination’ and ‘stultification’ and ‘exclusion’ etc. etc. does not dinimish the essential meaning of the cultural product.

          I am all for progress, but the question is: what do we mean by ‘progress’? To use a metaphor: the increasingly sophisticated techniques of dentistry are progress, but they are applied to conserve something that cannot be replaced. Contemporary music has created its own space within the cultural sphere and rejected the achievements of the past; but the ‘pastness’ of past cultural ‘products’ may be a gross exaggeration, especially since music has to be recreated time and again from existing scores: because it dies immediately after performance, it is created ever new. It is the forced historical perspective as cultivated in contemporary music since WW II which has created all those distortions, and which resulted in a certain jargon: renewal, confrontation, progressiveness, challenging, transgressing boundaries, etc. etc. which is – to my opinion and as it is also widely felt in what you would probably consider conservative performance culture – the wrong emphasis. Music is not about progressiveness but about artistic vision, with whatever as a result but never as a goal.

          When you mention hip hop in the context of a discussion about contemporary music, I ask myself: would there be any comparison between serious music making and American street culture? Do they not inhabit different receptive frameworks? They cannot be compared at all without distorting the reality of both phenomenae. American cultural life is, as far as I have understood, multicultural, pluralistic, etc. etc., serving different communities for different reasons, and that seems OK. This cannot possibly mean that all cultural expressions have the same artistic value or meaning: hierarchies of meaning do not exclude pluralism, since hierarchical values are part of a pluralistic culture: in the garden there are high, lower and small trees, weeds, flowers, bushes, and the occasional cesspool. But serious music (new, old, or in-between) should shield itself from so-called ‘realities’ which would only damage its substance, like you would not hang jewelry unprotected at the garden gate or use – as a preference – the bible to support a wobbly table. Everything in life has its context. The modernist mythology produced something comparable to the communist world view: certain aspects blown-up to absurd proportions, other totally ignored, the whole propped into a fixed ideology with which infinite damage has been done in the real world.

          Then a word about ‘authority’…. since you seem to be a bit irritated by the tone of my comments. But I merely say what I think and did not mean to sound as a vicar. Every utterance about culture, art, music should be tested against reality and that is, taking it into the real world of real experiences, and see what happens – this has always seemed to me the best way of finding-out about the nature of reality, especially in the arts. If gifted with an independent mind, one could see that so much new music since WW II, the meaning and ideas of which have been pumped-up to unprecedented dimensions (like the ‘avantgarde’ in the fifties and sixties), is artistically inferior to very very much music of the past. If such an interpretation of music can only be ‘conservative’, and could not possibly have any objective meaning, then we can never detect inferiority in new music, out of fear to be ‘conservative’. And if we cannot detect inferiority in something new, how could we then find quality in something new? Because if there is something good, this means that there is also the possibility that something is bad. Detecting something bad is not necessarily ‘authoritarian’, like asserting that 2 + 2 = 4 is necessarily authoritarian… although there are many people out there who are convinced that logical argument is there to suppress them. As there are many people, within and outside Western music life, who think that cultivating artistic quality – in whatever form – is in fact an insidious way of cultural domination. In this way, we destroy the best we have, like smashing one’s furniture because in developing countries they have none.

          The entire modernist project was meant to ‘clear away’ the presence of the past, as ‘codified’ in the established musical institutions, and to open-up a space free of preconceived artistic frameworks. Very understandable! But after some time, it may appear that many things from the past aren’t so bad after all, that is: when they are no longer a ‘threat’. In our present time I don’t believe that the established cultural institutions like opera houses, orchestras etc., form a domineering ‘threat’. They represent merely a culture different from established contemporary music, and claim to be a central point of Western culture, and I think justly so. I found these discussions with people on a high level of established institutions – as mentioned in my earlier comment – an eye opener because these people had absolutely nothing whatsoever of authoritarian, neo-colonialist, bourgeois, suppressing, arrogant etc. etc. mentality. In contrary: they were much dedicated and concerned to maintain the highest standards of performance and programming, knowing that they are exposed as focus points in musical culture as a whole. And mind you, the Wiener Phlharmoniker also perform works by Boulez, Widmann, etc., which go totally against their performance culture (therefore I don’t think they should do that). As far as I know, American quality orchestras like the Dallas orchestra, regularly perform contemporary music – that is, music which is not too far from its own culture, and that is not conservative but a normal reluctance to insert sonic interventions which simply do not blend with their performing practice. (I happen to know about this since I know its principal conductor, who – again – is the opposite of conservative, authoritarian etc. etc.) THIS is the reality of musical life, and not all kinds of sociologically-driven ideologies which distort what really happens on the floor. I am not idealizing, and know that there are many things that can be criticized in music life, but we should not forget where that culture is about.

          That is why I have problems with words like ‘confrontation’ etc., and the criticism of ‘assumed self-importance’ if some great value is conferred on some cultural product. It may be just true, you know? Comparisons with hip hop seem to betray a confusion of cultural values, which are different from anthropological or sociological values…. If contemporary composers want to really create something of value, they should simply look to what we already have of great value and draw their conclusions. Building new audiences by crossing boundaries, confronting audiences – peacefully or otherwise – seems to me not the right mentality with which to deal with questions like how to build audiences and how to preserve the idea of a musical culture in our contemporary world where it is increasingly seen as a dispensable, irrelevant luxury and without any meaning for Western civilization as a whole.

          Reply
          1. Sam Hillmer

            John!

            You are a gentleman and a scholar!

            We do not entirely agree, but that is precisely why it is enjoyable to have this back and forth. I’m going to reread this last bit after some time, as I think you make some excellent points, many of which I could not concur with you more about! So I will not be providing a comprehensive response at the moment. But I do want to make a couple of things clear.

            I in no way fetishize modernity, and I am a tremendous fan of the past. If I had to chose between the works of Stockhausen, or even Nono or Lachenaman, and Josquin, or even some minor 15th or 16th c. character like Walter Frye or Jaque Arcadelt, it would be a no brainer, I’d jump to have the renaissance as my first choice!

            Also, I find your notions about the coexistence of pluralism and hierarchy to be quite compelling and true in my lived experience in New York, which is itself a mesh-work of hierarchies.

            What I think is most telling about our differences is your critique of my inclusion of hip hop in our discussion. What I hear when I hear every kind of music is durations, textures, pitch relationships, rhythmic vocabulary, harmonic rhythm, formal sensibility, and of course style, which is more of a cultural construct than a purely musical phenomena. But the purely musical is present in all so I never draw a distinction. You talk about jewelry on the one hand, and cesspools on the other, but I don’t believe in any organization that seeks to determine which is which.

            It is great to agree to disagree. I admire your intellect and your willingness to jump in on the discourse here. Really admirable!

            I am in Holland with relative frequency, so perhaps sometime I can catch up with you, and, if you’re a drinking man, we can line up some Jenever and Amstels and put this to bed once and for all! Ha!

            But really, a pleasure talking with you.
            S

            Reply
  12. david friend

    great article. don’t agree with every point, but it is thorough and well-argued throughout. there is not enough writing of this level happening about our community! thanks!

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Miscellaneous | Annotary

  14. Aaron

    In general, I think you were very balanced in your approach, though as a reader I perceived a slight bias towards the DIT (love this shift) approach. You do take the DIY community to task about a couple of inflexibilities, but you ask much more from the institutions, something I know you don’t necessarily believe, but in writing have expressed. Also, this could be because the institutional community has more to give, but also it makes sense that you yourself might not be ready to shift your practice. Quick example, and a really little thing. Might the DIY community work to start shows at the published times? If the show is really going to start at 9:00 instead of 8:00 then this should be indicated upfront. A little thing, but it is a big deal to audiences who link published start times with their schedules and would be discouraged from attending future shows if this basic premise in the audience/performer pact is not respected.

    I would also push you to imagine what it would look like if these two communities were less separated and audiences were more unified. Is this necessarily a good thing? What do we lose from such a scenario? Would this affect the bottom line of continued investment and sustainability? I think it might, though haven’t given enough thought to how it would to know more.

    Very excited to see such a forthright take on a complicated and layered issue.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hillmer

      Aaron.

      Hello! Thanks for your reply. Some thoughts…

      Firstly, I want to make it clear, again, that I think both communities in the absence of an audience cultivation initiative are just fine as they are. My personal feeling is that audience expansion should be perceived as a responsibility of anyone doing progressive culture, as preaching to the choir is simply not progressive. In order for something to be progressive, it must reach someone who might not agree with you. Obviously we could problematize what is meant by progressive ad infinitum, but let’s not, I think we are understanding each other. So all of my commentary needs to be understood in the context of organizations, communities, individuals, who ARE trying to expand audiences. Outside of that, I don’t have a critique per se, at least not one that I’d write an article about.
      So with that frame, I think yes, you are right, there is a weight in the direction of the institution. This is largely because institutions are more often in the position of promulgating strategies around audience cultivation, as they are more often in the position of needing to defend the social reach of their programming vis a vis granters, funders etc… Interestingly, I see this as a strength of the institutional milieu, that they are actively trying to crack the audience cultivation nut, and a short coming of the DIY, that they just happily indulge in the left overs of capitalism’s juggernaut on the fringe whilst not thinking about how to get more people at the party, even when those people are literally right next door. So it is a bit unfair that my critique comes off as being deeper in the direction of the institution.
      The thing is, though the institution is better about strategizing to cultivate audiences, they are not as good at doing it as DIY/Indie organizations are. The main critique of the DIY/indie side is that there is value in expanding our reach in surprising directions, like there is something beyond the scene worth relating with, while the critique of the institution is, A for effort, but a lot of what you’re doing simply won’t work.
      But I take your point, and will take a gander at the article with that in mind. One area where we differ is around the notion that the institution has more to give. In terms of green money capital, yes, often that is true, but in terms of social, cultural, ethical, and political capital, that is very much not true, and my experience working inside of institutions tells me that the heads of institutions world wide know this and would like to do something about this. No? I mean, the secret back room conversation at every concert hall and museum in America is ‘OH NO! HOW CAN WE SEEM RELEVANT!’ At least there is a lot of that, and a lot of pursuing that agenda will have to do with forming relationships with non institutional communities of practice, so I think it is untrue to say that institutions have more to give.
      Thoughts?
      Thanks in general for the deep thoughts! Always good to build…
      S
      PS – Dude, I am 35 and I have a 6 year old, I think every show should start at 7, and that I should be in bed by 11, like every night of the year! Ha! That’s how they do it in Japan, and it rules, not that I was in bed by 11 in Japan, but that’s another story for another time… ;)

      Reply
  15. Daniel Waitzman

    Audiences enjoy and appreciate over a thousand years of Western music, yet they bridle when confronted (and I use the word “confronted” advisedly) with music from the post-1900 era. It is not merely a question of style–for what could be more different than an Ars Antiqua clausula and a Schubert string quartet? I submit that it is a question of intent and of underlying musical values. I submit that the music of the last few generations departs from these values; and that as long as we fail to re-espouse the old intent and values, we shall not be taken seriously by music-lovers: and, quite frankly, I cannot see any reason why we should. Surely, it is past time for a re-evaluation of the aesthetic and spiritual guidelines of the World-War -I generation that continue to dominate so-called “serious” contemporary music. Camp and Dada may be amusing; but they fail to satisfy the soul and the ear. Or so I believe. “The fault . . . is not in the stars, but in ourselves….”

    Reply
    1. John Borstlap

      True. And the problem has also something to do with the increasing tonal complexity, as pursued in the last century: there are natural limits to what, for an average music lover, is experienced as coherent musical language. Then interrelatedness of tones in a combination is a natural phenomenon, functioning within every musical style, and erosion of this interrelatedness inevitably led to musical languages which fail to communicate. Somewhere at the beginning of the 20th century the boundaries were reached… but let us not forget that the most dissonant styles in the twenties and thirties (Schönberg and his circle, Ives in the US) were only a small part of a much wider range of styles which kept within these boundaries, like Stravinsky’s and Prokofiev’s classicism. Music history from after WW II has projected a line of progress backwards, rooted into Tristan, going over Mahler, Schönberg, Webern to Stockhausen and Boulez in the fifties and beyond, which is a false perspective, as if other options were somehow ‘irrelevant’. All that comes down to modernist rhetoric and justification of music types which did not fit in the regular performance culture.

      Reply
    2. Sam Hillmer

      Couldn’t agree more, though I don’t agree that the post world war one crowd dominates ‘serious’ music. Increasingly those cats are relegated to the libraries and the towers, anyhow, I agree with the points you make here, and well said.

      Reply
  16. Sam Hillmer

    The conversation here is amazing, I am very happy that I’ve been a part of engendering it. Just want to make one little intervention here. The content of my article has nothing to do with tonal ‘complexity’, nor is it relegated to notions surrounding concert music. I’m all for the conversation, and have a lot to say about these kinds of ideas about ‘complexity’ and what not, but it’s not part of what I talk about above. Not that y’all shouldn’t talk about it! Go nuts, just didn’t want to come off as though I was advocating for more tonal ‘complexity’ and what not. For the record, I think serialism, especially post world war II serialism is one of the biggest aesthetic and philosophic missteps in music history. But whatev, I said I wouldn’t get into this. HA! MOore soon…

    Reply
  17. Gregory Kyle Klug

    “And if we cannot detect inferiority in something new, how could we then find quality in something new? Because if there is something good, this means that there is also the possibility that something is bad.”
    One of the best things I’ve read in a while. Goosebumps. #johnborstlap
    I like what you commented, Sam, about hip hop culture as an example of healthy, peaceful confrontation. It’s an example, like the other one you gave about corporations, that shows the value of challenging one another. Frankly, I think the comments to this article exemplify that. “Let’s challenge one another to think. Why? Because we have the ability to, and we get closer to the truth by doing so.” Music can function in the same way, as in, “let’s challenge each other with musical ideas we haven’t thought of before. Why? Because we can.” And there’s no reason why we can’t–in fact we should…it’s the task of criticism–assess the value of such “altercations.” But I do think it is best done with an acknowledgment that there are objective standards by which artistic value is to be judged.

    Reply
    1. Sam Hillmer

      I like Donna Harraway’s notion of ‘stronger objectivity’ and generally don’t think that is a word that should be thrown about with lots of qualifications, but I completely agree with the sentiment you express here! Challenging our core beliefs, this is the most important part of strengthening practice.
      I’ve loved having this dialogue with all of you!
      Soon…
      S

      Reply
  18. Pingback: MENZA PRI KORITU, Metelkova mesto, Ljubljana - Diamond Terrifier (ZDA), Glacies (Slovenija)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.