Articles by Frank Oteri
Frank J. Oteri, New Music USA's Composer Advocate and the Senior Editor of NewMusicBox, is an outspoken crusader for new music and the breaking down of barriers between genres. Frank’s own musical compositions reconcile structural concepts from minimalism and serialism and frequently explore microtonality.
Glenn Branca has had a deep and lasting impact on several music scenes, but he was never really a part of any of them. With Theoretical Girls, he created a new kind of punk rock music that came to be known as No Wave. Later on, he redefined what a symphony could be. Making music that was more visceral and louder than anything in the new music scene, he even frightened John Cage. Thirty years later, he’s still making waves.
In Guy Klucevsek’s Polka from the Fringe, which is similar in spirit to the roughly contemporaneous Waltz and Tango Projects, composers directly engage in the squeezebox’s more quotidian roots. The next time someone comes up to you claiming to be able to define new music, tell him or her to listen to these recordings.
Although I tend to listen to music in the foreground even when it is intended as background, I’m still aware that optical components are part of any auditory experience, whether they are conceptually part of the design or not.
While Joseph C. Phillips Jr.’s music sometimes incorporates improvisation and his ensemble features several prominent jazz musicians, he does not consider himself a jazz composer. An adept multitasker who balances creating music for film, dance, symphonic bands, and his own 25-piece ensemble with teaching music to kindergartners, Phillips creates very clearly 21st-century music—incorporating a broad range of styles while being ultimately beholden to none.
Clapping is undeniably a tremendous sonic phenomenon—a spatial microphony of non-aligned irregular rhythms which can be as complex as anything in a Henry Brant or György Ligeti score. But imagine if there could be other viable ways to use everyone in attendance as part of the performance.
Late on Saturday afternoon I completed the remaining song of a twelve-part song cycle I have been working on for most of this year. But since then, I’ve been wondering if the piece is actually done. No one’s heard it yet. Some might argue (along the lines of that tree falling in the forest) that until other people hear it, it doesn’t really exist.
While the myriad details that are crammed into Sebastian Currier’s scores are reminiscent of the elaborate layers found in the Romantic music of the 19th century, and his detailed conceptualizations for pieces seem as thoroughly plotted as those of a post-War total serialist, Currier writes music that very much belongs to our own less certain times.
Over the years I’ve heard Gene Pritsker’s music both in symphony orchestra halls and clubs. In another era, it would not have fit comfortably in either setting but now it’s at home in both. And yet Pritsker’s chamber opera, William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, recently released on Composers Concordance Recordings, still manages to sound unsettling to me.
One of the biggest differences between performances of standard works and premieres is the opportunity for performers and audiences to probe deeper into interpretative issues rather than trying to suss out a completely new experience. It’s very nice to have a profounder understanding of something, and it’s very gratifying when that something is a relatively new work, which was my experience when I attended my third live performance of Einstein on the Beach.
Two performances I attended over the weekend were particularly noteworthy in that they were both devoted exclusively to the music of living American composers and—in both instances—all of the composers were there and spoke to the audience.