The 800-pound gorilla in the room is how popular culture is determined and disseminated. Not so long ago, composers ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Thelonious Monk graced the cover of Time magazine. John Cage even appeared on nationally broadcast television programs. Yet it seems like a pipe dream for anyone other than a million-dollar-grossing pop star to get similar attention now. Why?
My response to reading all of the diatribes against 2012 Nobel Laurate Mo Yan has been to go out and buy some of his books and start reading them. I’m totally smitten, but also reminded of a key difference between literature, which is all about what the words mean, and music, which, by its nature, is inevitably ambiguous.
Making sure all the elements in a piece of music fit seamlessly together is extraordinarily pleasurable, akin to the delight of completing an elaborate jigsaw puzzle, solving a Rubik’s Cube, or (as I can only imagine since I’m terrified of needles) knitting a scarf or a sweater. Coming to the conclusion of such a process, when everything seems to be all lined up correctly, is somehow its own satisfaction.
According to Adrian Hamilton, the emerging visual artists are more concerned with “craft and their ambitions to become professional” than with “being revolutionary.” I’ve heard the exact same comment made about many millennial composers. But such assertions are difficult to corroborate since determining whether something is “revolutionary” or “reactionary” at this juncture is as subjective an undertaking as determining whether something is “beautiful.”