There are few opportunities these days to hear live performances of the deeply felt, sonorously shaped music of the New England composer Walter Piston. His colleague Aaron Copland called Piston “one of the most expert craftsmen American music can boast,” which has become a standard assessment. It has also boxed him in. While intended as a compliment, this appraisal suggests Piston to be something of a technocrat, a musician of the mind rather than the heart. This impression is far from the case.
Imagine the question from a friend when asking what you have on your device and unabashedly answering something to the effect of “everything that’s ever been recorded.” Although not impossible, the shame of having it “all” but at a quality unworthy of the potential our ears have to hear it would be hardly worth it.
I want to thank Noah Weber for his thoughtful comments on Emily Howell’s music. Beneath a lot of what Weber says about Emily Howell rests this notion of humans versus machines. I find it confusing that when we use computers for bookkeeping, Internet shopping, email, and so forth, it’s called a tool. But when some people use computers for creative work, computers suddenly become beings in their own right, apparently operating as something far greater than tools.
Technology evolves at such a fast pace that it is often difficult to discuss a new innovation critically without fearing that the argument will be anachronistic before the discussion is even complete. Yet we must consider the software and hardware around us as they relate directly to the moment we live in, for any attempts at trying to write about the evolution or limitations of the technology of the future is a folly. To date, there is very little by way of critical analysis of David Cope’s computer programs “Emmy” and “Emily Howell” outside of the relatively esoteric field of research into artificial intelligence, and thus I hope to offer one as best as 2011 will allow.
There are no typical divas in Object Collection’s operas, no heroines or heroes in the traditional sense. This is opera that, while distinguishing itself as such, takes into account the cross-pollination of media and art forms following the radical aesthetic transformations that began over half a century ago.
As Cassidy talked me through the many stages of planning, sketching, and composing the quartet, it occurred to me that each step was carefully designed to advance the music’s richness without, first, sacrificing the structural propositions of the previous step and, second, requiring him to resort to the limitations of his human imagination.
Ironically, the avant-garde might be the old guard’s best bet for bolstering the audience for classical music, and vocal music might lead the way.
The technology of the 21st century may have numbed the exoticism that comes with living overseas and rendered the sense of national rootedness more fragmentary and ephemeral. But the creation of identity—a trigonometry of closeness and distance, allegiance and rejection, composition and reception—remains an essential one for any artist.