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Space Age Synths

Isaac Schankler

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.

Stockhausen and Terror

Nicholas Isherwood

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.

Two Strains

Sometimes it seems like there are two competing strains of experimentalism in new music. In my mind they should be allied, since they both hang out around the same fringes, but more often than not they studiously ignore each other.

On Repetition

Repetitive music often gets maligned as background noise, encouraging passive listening, but it can also encourage the listener to actually confront the musical materials they’re faced with.

Listening to the Unknown

If you’ve read a few of my posts you may have noticed a common refrain of “context matters.” So I decided I would test out this hypothesis in a live setting and see if my cherished beliefs would hold true.

Derivative Works

Almost everyone I know second-guesses themselves when creating something that references the work of the recent past. It’s true that this often doesn’t stop people from creating, but it does often affect what we can do with those works once they’re created.

Polystylism in Pop

One of the common complaints about current pop music is that it’s all hopelessly retro, and that we haven’t seen anything genuinely new in about 20 years. Pop music is eating its own tail. The irony is that this kind of self-aware self-referentiality is exactly what was prized and heralded as a savior of concert music a few years ago.

Mutually Exclusive

Practically everyone in new music feels like the victim of some kind of persecution, often while being completely oblivious to the persecutions they themselves are perpetrating.

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