New Music: A Product of Modernity (and Capitalism)


As long as music is supplied in exchange for economic capital, musicians participate in the logic of capitalism. The question is whether this is perceived as an issue that needs to be addressed or, on the contrary, if it is an inevitable consequence that cannot be tackled through the music itself.

Cultivating a Sense of Belonging: Our Debate over Electroacoustic Music Terminology

A table with a variety of electroacoustic music gear. Image courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates for NYCEMF and the New York Philharmonic Biennial)

I most often still catch myself calling it electronic music, even as that term has been appropriated by popular music. But I find the term electroacoustic music works best. It distinguishes what we do from “other” music, while attempting to encompass many modes of production and performance. The term has also come into wide and less controversial usage over the past twenty years (though not without some continued confusion).

The Rush of Performing vs. Merely Being a Witness

Close up of a concert poster for the 10-piece ensemble live concert of Gretta Harley's Elenet 115 on a pole with other concert posters.

I get a rush when I perform, especially premiering a new piece in front of an audience, or when the musicians that I’m playing with sound exceptionally good—when we are all gelling, the stars align and we’re breathing together, and that exact moment is the only moment and it is perfect. It’s a different feeling than when I’m in the audience, listening to others play the music I write down on paper. My heart races. Time slows down and I hold my breath. I am merely a witness to the music.

Creation is Messy

Record release show for Gretta Harley's Element 115 (Uup) featuring Mettle. (Photo by ML Naden)

Creation is messy. Artistic inspiration without the mess (and an incredible amount of work and planning) will never see the light of day. Our finished work is only as good as it is because of the untidy part. Art needs us to bravely embrace our inner slob, even though most of us prefer a little primping before going outside.

New Music for Chinese Instruments

A quartet from Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, a Taiwanese group performing on traditional Chinese instruments. Photo by Chen-Hui Jen.

In my opinion, the most exciting new music being composed and performed in East Asia is for traditional Asian instruments. I’m particularly intrigued by the new music people are writing for Chinese instruments. The best works engage with these instruments’ cultural associations as well as contemporary thinking.

I don’t have to choose, do I?

A guitar surrounded by a pile of leadsheets and scores

Professionally, I identify as both composer and songwriter. I don’t have to choose, do I? I can have both, yes? What is the difference between songwriting and composing anyway? When does a songwriter call herself a composer, or the other way around?

Classical and Contemporary Cambodian Music and Dance

A group of traditional Cambodian sculptures.

From ancient stone idiophones to singing kites, Cambodian traditional music offers tons of fascinating possibilities for contemporary composers. But the music is no longer developing and now more closely resembles a museum rather than a living art. Chinary Ung hopes to change that through several initiatives he has organized there.

The Slow Listening Revolution

Gretta Harley sitting on the floor examining the cover of a Bill Withers LP (with a David Bowie's LP Hunky Dory nearby) and listening on headphones attached to a turntable in back of her. (Near the turntable is an LP of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.)

Why vinyl? Commitment. In this mid-second decade of the 21st century, music is being taken for granted on a collective scale. An entire generation of music listeners will never pay for music, nor do they believe that they should. The long form music medium has taken a back seat to song culture, yet the average person only listens to a song for approximately 24 seconds before deciding if it’s worth their time to continue to listen.

Classical and New Music Culture in Taiwan

A view of Taipei

As a composer, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to live in and personally get to know many different musical cultures and communities. Eight years ago I met two people who have given me a personal connection to the broader new music community in Asia. I have now been living in Taiwan since last August, teaching composition and music technology at National Chiao Tung University.

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