July 21, 2005


I'm a big fan of examining the preliminary work that leads up to the completion of a creative project. It was a pleasant surprise to find a little collection of that work not for music or painting, but a computer program. Sitting at the bottom of this interview is a chronologically arranged set of sketches and mock-ups for Delicious Library, a media library program for the Mac. I'm stuck behind a PC keyboard, so I haven't had a chance to try it out myself, but by all accounts it's sensitively designed with a fine eye towards detail. It's terrific to get a peek at the creative process behind it.

July 20, 2005

Some Good Record Store Advice

"Would you say that this is political music?"
"No, there's not a lot of screaming about Che Guevara or anything like that."


There have been a couple posts (no permalink, see post "Quotes") made recently on complexity. One of the defenses of yer complex high modernism is that life is complicated, so we must make music to match its complications. This is a weak defense because it entangles two unrelated issues: complexity of language and complexity of expression. Consider Milton Babbitt's extremely florid prose. His baroque diction takes some adjusting to when you sit down to read one of his articles, but after you become acclimated to it, it reads fairly smoothly. One of the reasons, I think, is that what he's saying isn't all that complicated. His style sets your mind on the defensive, ready to receive a long stream of thorny thoughts. There's some confusion when you realize that stream's not going to show up, but afterwards you can almost coast through his text. The elaborate constructions provide a kind of cushioning for your eyes. On the other end of the spectrum is Morton Feldman's prose style, where the nonchalant delivery belies the knottiness of his thoughts.

The danger is assuming that these two elements, language and expression, are tied. While the type of language you use does indeed express something, it is not the core of the expression. My perspective is that it provides a context for the expression itself. Having to acclimate to a foreign language puts your mind in a certain state, which can assist in the ultimate expression sought by the composer. I would hesitate to say that all of yer complex high modernism needs to slim down a little, because the overall expression would change significantly.

The rotten side to this is when language replaces expression. It's rotten not because nothing is expressed ("We have nothing to say and we are saying it - that's poetry."), but because it veers away from art into mere intellectual flattery. Listening can too easily become a game of connecting syntactic dots, picking out allusions, and affirming coherency. An overly complex language can, ironically, encourage intellectualizing and simplifying. While these are certainly elements in the modern world, whether they are elements that one wishes to express is a question left to the composer.

July 03, 2005

July 4th Heads-Up

WHRB gets a decent bit of attention in the blogging community for their comprehensive orgies. Tomorrow, in honor of Independence Day, their programming from 1-10pm EDT will be devoted to American music (how rare!). In the past, they've aired unusual selections like a few art songs/ad jingles for toothpaste and Virgil Thomson's ballet Filling Station. They don't touch the American experimental tradition much (the on-air announcement for the program yesterday mentioned the inclusion of modern composers like Piston and Harbison), but it's definitely an event worth tuning /streaming into. If only they didn't need a holiday as an excuse to play so much American music.