Articles by David Smooke
For the past two years, I’ve been serving as the Peabody Institute representative on the organizing committee for the “Music Anywhere, Anytime” conference, also known by its more official title: International Symposium on Synchronous Distance Learning.
In my view, one of the more insidious terms that often crops up in discussions of experimental music is The Audience. People who talk about The Audience generally seek to appease this mysterious beast, with sacrifices of artistic integrity and psalms in a language they believe their deity will find pleasant and simple to comprehend. I strongly believe that they have the right to compose music in whatever style they find most satisfying, and I will fight for their right to do so.
In his recent book, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed, Howard Gardner—MacArthur Fellow, Harvard professor, and public intellectual associated with the Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions—grapples with some of the most important challenges faced by people who aspire to a life as a moral citizen in a changing world.
In 1995, the Dia Foundation commissioned an internet project from Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid. These artists created a survey in which they asked participants from various countries what they like most and least in art. The duo then created paintings to these specifications, the Most Wanted and the Most Unwanted paintings for fourteen countries. An additional Komar and Melamid survey about music led to the creation of a Most Wanted and Most Unwanted song by David Soldier.
This summer, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time at two different artists’ colonies: the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Ragdale Foundation. These communities provide composers and other creative types with a studio, a place to sleep, and meals. I find them to be an ideal place for me to produce new music and to connect with the greater artistic community.
On Sunday, The Guardian newspaper in London published this story, detailing some very sad consequences for the new music community. The flutist Carla Rees, a true friend of experimental music, had her residence burned to the ground, and in the process lost her two cats, 10 flutes—several of which were specifically designed for her—and her library of over 600 scores, including many originals of works commissioned by her and her ensemble, rarescale.
One of the more satisfying aspects of being part of a music faculty as a full-time job is the fact that there’s always room to improve and new challenges to be met. I have a colleague who’s been teaching keyboard skills for roughly 40 years, who told me a few years ago that she finally found a better way to help students master a concept that had been part of the curriculum for her entire tenure. I am still inspired by her example.
Last week, I finally made the pilgrimage to Mass MoCA to see their exhibitions and to hear performances from the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. It was inspiring to hear experimental music in the same room as a giant Joseph Beuys sculpture, drawing clear associations between the musical and visual arts of our time. This cross-pollination—which extends beyond the simple act of performing in a gallery space to include installation pieces by BoaC artists—can help call attention to experimental music’s place among the contemporary arts.
Last week in this space, I professed my love for endings that don’t end—those closing moments that imply continuation into infinity and that transcend the boundaries of the performance space. In the spirit of such endings, this week, I’m continuing the discussion of this phenomenon, looking into different aspects of this beautiful artistic conceit.
I love endings. I’ve always been drawn to music that ends with a sigh instead of a bang; music that attempts to transcend the finality of the page and to evoke the possibility of continuing into infinity.