One of the most important tools for a composer to develop is an intuition about material, about its possibilities for manipulation and development. But now that I’ve had enough practice turning off that intuition, I can see and hear how it’s not necessarily the material, or even the choice of material, that makes or breaks a piece of music.
There’s a certain phase in the career of a composer when a commission or a request for a piece of music reverses time and causality: what seems like a hire actually ends up feeling more like a job interview. I think almost all composers have been faced with writing a piece in which there was also the pressure to prove oneself, to work in a complete survey of the composer’s skill set.
The HONK! Festival identifies itself as a festival of “activist street bands,” and while some participants still fit squarely in that category—preaching revolution, buoying the oppressed, putting the call-and-response of political protest to a drumline beat—others seemed fired up less by demonstration than by musical immoderation: the sheer multiple-forte thrill of brass and percussion with the leash off, or the welcome-all-comers triumph of volume over precision.
Carter and Dargel make a virtue of musical disruption, showing that the most interesting narratives don’t necessarily project well onto music of smoothness and ease. The characters might vary—Carter’s voluble and acerbic, Dargel’s defiantly damaged—but both dramas spring from the same conviction: that the get-together only starts to be really interesting once things get broken.
Martin Pearlman’s Finnegans Wake: An Operoar did right by James Joyce’s garrulous tumble of language. What success the work produced could be traced to two fundamental decisions: not cutting the text (the piece sets the novel’s first seven pages in whole), and opting for a reciting actor (Adam Harvey) rather than singers.