The human ear reacts to acoustic waves between 20 and 20,000 oscillations per second. While wave frequencies outside of this narrow band certainly exist, they are entirely outside the scope of human experience. We humans live our lives within a narrow band of sonic possibility, and to us it is everything. Until the last few hundred years, we weren’t even aware of these sounds lying beyond our perceptions.
What would it be like to embark on a composition that is released in serialized movements, with the intention of building a structure that might last several hours and take years, if not decades to complete? And with memorable, recurring musical ideas capable of sustaining recognition (and interest) between installments?
This past May, NewMusicBox contributor Andrew Sigler and I each covered Austin, Texas’s “Fast Forward Austin” festival, and those looking for an audio snapshot of that city’s emerging new music scene would do well to give Line Upon Line Percussion’s new album a listen. This trio of percussionists—Adam Bedell, Cullen Faulk, and Matthew Tedori—formed at the University of Texas at Austin in 2009, and the four composers whose works are featured on the album are all Austin-based as well.
How many ways are there to end a piece of music? If we take “to end” as referring only to the most obvious musical punctuation, it seems that there are precious few options: despite great variety and nuance, most endings either “fade out” through some manipulation of dynamic, texture, or activity, or else they build to a kind of rhythmic singularity that assertively marks the music’s conclusion.
One of my favorite things about music is its capacity to sharpen and enrich our perceptions. Perhaps it’s the sensation of time that becomes most heightened during music performance and listening—and to me, time certainly is a sensation more than an immutable facet of external reality, so much so that it might be considered more akin to our other five senses.
Some recent comments on these pages regarding the future of streaming and downloadable music have reminded me how difficult it can be for composers to convince normal, right-thinking people that their work deserves payment.
I routinely receive emails (often from younger or beginning composers) asking me what equipment I use for such-and-such, and while some pieces of equipment are more necessary than others I always write back trying to find out what that composer has available, now. Waiting until we have the “right” equipment to start can be a form of procrastination and a missed opportunity to discover our own resourcefulness.
This might be one of the meanings of Picasso’s famous utterance, that “Art is a lie that leads to the Truth”—that in order to express the essential we must commit occasional (or even very grave) sins against our primary perceptions; or rather, we must (momentarily) abandon the confines of consensus reality in order to uncover the deeper reality underneath.
The Glimmerglass Festival in bucolic Cooperstown, New York is about the only place I can think of where one can kayak in to a performance of contemporary opera—or where people are actually encouraged to do so! Newly-appointed Glimmerglass Artistic Director Francesca Zambello has said in an interview that she’d even welcome anyone who arrives in a bathing suit if they swam here to see an opera.