A thought experiment: you’re a performer, opening a score for the first time. On the first page of music, in small print, just under the title, a phrase catches your eye: “To Milton Babbitt.” Really? “Oooh,” you might think, or, “Yikes!” But deeper reactions follow. “What’s the story here?” you wonder.
In just three years, the fledgling Chicago-based EveryPeople Workshop has asked this question about the jazz quartet, the big band, The Nutcracker, and the string quartet, and there is more to come. The EveryPeople Workshop is a collective arts organization formed by Mikel Avery with the assistance of Nick Gajewski, and Nick Mazzarella to produce the original artistic work of its members and to build community through creativity.
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.
I’m sitting outside, picnicking with my family in a beautiful spot, sharing a view of a gorgeous river with 5,000 fellow residents of my rural community at southern Maryland’s River Concert Series. I see lots of young kids, teenagers, multi-generational families, people from all walks of life. I see a hillside just behind the stage, full of children running and playing. We’re watching the Chesapeake Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Silberschlag. The River Concert Series has been uniting my community for thirteen seasons.
The Dutch government is slashing two hundred million euros literally overnight from the country’s arts budget. As a result, STEIM, along with many other arts organizations and music ensembles in the Netherlands, is losing funding in a drastic and devastating blow to the culture sector (read The Dark Age Netherlands). Despite all of STEIM’s activities and generous service and support to the international community, on January 1, 2013, it will lose its entire structural funding.
I am what is known in certain Asian circles as a banana: yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Yellow as a product of Chinese parents; white as a result of my being born in Canada to parents who immigrated to Canada before I was born. And as it is for many second-generation Asians, the question of my identity includes a complex web of issues that have no easy resolution.
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.
The wonderful, astonishing truth is that the arts are utterly useless. You can’t eat music or poetry or dance. You can’t drive your car on a sonnet or wear it on your back to shield you from the elements. This “uselessness” is why politicians and other painfully literal-minded people during times of budget crises (which is pretty much all the time now) can’t wait to single the arts out for elimination. They consider that what we do can’t honestly be compared to the real business of life.