Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels is a glorious mess. In some ways this makes it the perfect thing to put on to celebrate the 10th anniversary of LA’s Walt Disney Hall and its already turbulent history. As for the score itself, it is—how should I put this?—spectacularly over-orchestrated, bordering on near-cacophony with unsettling frequency. I mean this as a good thing.
I think we have a duty beyond simply teaching the material. We must also justify it and show how the knowledge we’re imparting is vital, interesting, and beautiful. Yet while music theory, and the fascinatingly intricate way it interacts with actual music, is all three of these things, four-part voice leading exercises are often none of these things.
Almost 35 years ago, Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach album first came out. It’s hard to know exactly why this particular combination of Baroque music and synthesizers became such a popular phenomenon, but to me it seems inextricably connected to a certain optimism about the future. But as society became more concerned with earthly things, the fashion for space age classical synth covers faded. Now they seem a bit like majestic old ruins, simultaneous evidence of great talent and great folly.
Sculptor Richard Serra condemned Stockhausen’s infamous remarks on the September 11 attacks for what he saw as “the aestheticization of terror.” But violence and terror are already thoroughly aestheticized–in music, movies, books, television, video games, and so on. After the fact, others have come to find a kernel of meaning in Stockhausen’s oddly detached musings.