In its 15-year history, composers, musicians, and industry professionals have shared countless pearls of wisdom with NewMusicBox, but these are some that have become particularly quotable quotes around the office, starting with one I used to keep on a sticky note posted above my desk.
Tania Leon on composer camps:
Despite of our talking about Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, whatever town you’re talking about, the point is that there are some people who are completely out of town, even when they are in town.
Ornette Coleman on love, war, and music:
The sound is made from the instrument. The ideas are made from your brain. The ideas and the sound actually meet. They don’t necessarily meet to make love. Sometimes they’re meeting to make war.
Brian Ferneyhough on label avoidance:
No, I don’t put a label on it because when you put a label on something, you’ve canned it. I know that the present-day world of commerce cans things and I’m sure it’s very good that they can things for us. They radiate them and do various things to normalize them and make square tomatoes that fit more adequately in the boxes available to them. That’s not my concern. Art is about questioning how things fit together, it’s not about making them fit together better.
Nico Muhly on being a “classical” composer:
The best way to make there not be that much of a distinction, even if you feel there might be a teeny one, is to put your fingers in your ears and say, “La-la-la-la-lah.” I’m so uninterested. It’s essentially like being from somewhere. I feel like I’m very proudly from the classical tradition. It’s like being from Nebraska. Like you are from there if you’re from there. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a productive life somewhere else. The notion of your genre being something that you have to actively perform, I think is pretty vile.
Milton Babbitt on encounters with new genres:
I don’t even know what hip-hop is, to be honest with you. Do you understand hip-hop? What is all this scratching of records?
Elliott Carter on minimalism:
I have a feeling about it that is very strong and it’s probably not correct. And that is that we are surrounded by a world of minimalism. All that junk mail I get every single day repeats; when I look at television I see the same advertisement. I try to follow the movie that’s being shown, but I’m being told about cat food every five minutes. That is minimalism. I don’t want it and I don’t like it. And it’s a way of making an impression that doesn’t impress me. In fact, I do everything to avoid it. I turn off the television until it’s over. I refuse to be advertised to.
Philip Glass on success:
The main thing is to love the work that you do because you may get no other reward. And if you don’t need any other reward except the satisfaction of the music, then you’re always winning. And that was true for me when I was 30. I was out playing music and I thought I was successful when I was 30! I had an audience. I had an ensemble. I was going from city to city playing music. I couldn’t make a living, but that was not the issue for me. People always say, “Well, when were you successful?” and I say, “Well, I always thought I was!” They said, “No, no, when did you make money?” “Oh! Much later.”
Mario Davidovsky on popularity:
I think there is a certain danger when we say, “Did you write a book? How many books you sold? Two. Well, then the book stinks. How many books? Two million; yes, that’s a great book.” This is a completely zombie consumerism way of judging, which we are going to pay for.
John Luther Adams on career and creativity:
No one ever told me that I could have a career as a composer. No one ever told me I couldn’t. I just didn’t think in those terms, and I made all the wrong choices every step of the way. I made all the wrong career choices and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I think the music knew where it wanted me to go. By a series of happy accidents, and a few conscious choices and maybe the peculiarities of my own psyche, I kept making all the wrong choices, and that’s turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened for the music and for the composer.
Charles Wuorinen on descriptive opinion:
There’s no embarrassment about using the most primitive forms of description and in committing every form of that basic fallacy which says, “My reaction to a composition, or any artwork, is a property of that work. So, if I think a piece is ugly—if my response to a piece is ‘It is ugly,’ then it is, objectively.” That’s an impossibility, it just is! I thought we had been through that many, many decades, not to say centuries, ago, but now it’s all back. And so, “If I think a piece is sad, then it has the property of sadness.” That’s asinine!
Glenn Branca on improvisation:
Would you want to read an improvised, collaborated novel? I mean, I don’t know if you read. I read a lot. And I can tell you right now, I would not want to read something that was written by five people improvising.
Willie Colón on where life meets the music:
[W]e get into a big bar fight. We’re out on the sidewalk. … By the end, me and Hector [LaVoe] are fighting in the middle of a circle. Long story short, everybody gets beat up pretty bad and I get thrown in the alley in the garbage. The union delegate is making his rounds and he says, “Hey, that’s Willie Colón there.” And they say, “I don’t give a hell if he’s Willie Shit.” Anyway, he cleans me up and takes me back to the hotel. The place where that happened was on Calle Luna. So that’s where “Calle Luna Calle Sol” came from. It was after a real good bucket of whoop ass we got. It made me think chromatically.
Sxip Shirey on effective experimentalism in music:
If you take a child from the city and show it a horse, that’s an experimental moment, but the child doesn’t go, “Hmm, let me think about the entire history of evolution and how horses came to…”—No. What they do is say, “Oh my God, that’s so huge and frightening and I want to get closer to it.” So I want to create music and art that is totally huge and frightening, but also so delicious and wonderful that it makes you want to be part of it.
Wendy Carlos on the fundamental role of music:
An essential part of music is to connect with our shared inner feelings, to recognize the connections and know that you’re not alone. We’re born alone; we die alone. In between we have music, and a great gift it is, too. It’s in there with our social structures: families and friends and loved ones, a shared humanity. I like to think of it as the old metaphor of two ships at sea. We flash our signal lights as we pass one another. It makes life less lonely. It’s wired into us. If music were taken away from us, I do believe we would invent it again. In a few generations, we would develop it all over again.