I guess extended techniques have kind of a bad reputation these days. They don’t make a piece better, the argument goes. Instead they distract from other, more important musical parameters like melody and harmony. They’re a crutch that composers fall back on when they’re out of ideas.
Somehow I don’t think I’m the only artist in the era of late-stage capitalism to experience infrequent bouts of mild-to-moderate depression. I hesitate to do this because it’s such a fraught topic, but I wanted to write about the art of composing while depressed.
In The Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, Anna Anthropy defines a game as “an experience created by rules.” While the rules themselves can be simple, the interaction between them is generally more complex, and this is partly what makes games interesting. By this broad definition, is a piece of music ever a game?
During a talk about non-game inspirations, Naomi Clark described music as a “car crash of math and feelings.” I have a hard time coming up with a better description for music, games, or my experience at IndieCade this year.
When the stage lights go up, the windows go down, and the fans go off, before long the concert hall becomes a fiery crucible more suited to doing Bikram yoga or baking a pizza. Invariably, this makes the musical experience more intense than it would otherwise be.
The Rite of Spring serves as a kind of signpost, marking the boundary between the traditional and the avant-garde, and I have the feeling that it will always be there. Musical borders are changing all the time, but Stravinsky may have staked out that territory for good.
This week I’ve been consumed by preparations for Trees and Branches, a concert I’ve wanted to do in some form for years now. For me, the legacy of John Cage’s ideas is even more fascinating than his music. Everyone seems to learn a different lesson from Cage, making the shape of that legacy vast, diverse, and constantly changing. I imagine it as a forest of trees and branches emerging from Cage’s sonic landscapes, radiating off in countless directions.
In the world of concert music, performance and composition are regarded as elite professions that demand decades of highly specialized training. What it would be like if we were a little more welcoming to others outside of the profession, not just as audience members but as potential creators?
Many of John Cage’s scores seem to allow performers a degree of freedom that often leads to interpretations that, by the composer’s own admission, do not reflect the spirit of the work. This is a problem of both attitude and notation. If we are to continue or reconstruct the tradition, we must look to the one performer in particular who defined and was defined by the performance practice of Cage’s music – the pianist, composer, and electronic musician David Tudor.
Learning the rules before breaking them can breed a certain timidity of thought, and it can actually teach students to mistrust their ears and instincts, which may be telling them something contrary to what the rules are saying.