A Beautiful Glimpse

A Beautiful Glimpse

In the context of my highly amateurish exposition of Chris Anderson’s “long tail” last week, a reader suggested that recordings of new music can grant access to listeners who are located far from active ensembles and presenters. Although I think that the former is a pale imitation of the latter under ideal circumstances, the reader makes a good point. I’m writing this from Fargo, ND, where new music offerings seem fairly slim, and the same is certainly true of western Maryland; I don’t know how an aspiring aficionado in Hagerstown, for instance, would ever get the chance to hear Cage unless it’s being transduced to him 44,100 times a second. If he does, though, and he really digs, maybe he’ll start trying to recreate the experiments that led to the pieces he’s hearing. Maybe he’ll even stage a happening or two. And if they’re not quite like the ones that took place in Manhattan in the ’50s, so much the better.

The more I think about this idea, the more excited I get. As a composer, helping people understand new music is necessarily part of my agenda—but if it’s done creatively and open-mindedly, misunderstanding new music could be almost as productive. Look what happened after the Sex Pistols shows at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester—the half-formed impressions of punk taken away by the audience hardened into a range of variously close and far-flung endeavors from the Buzzcocks to the Smiths. It’s endlessly tantalizing to wonder what would happen if a recording of Le Marteau—to take a piece which presents itself very well on CD—fell into the hands of some kid who has no idea what to make of it but loves the way it sounds. I suspect a lot of composers got their start this way, in fact (although Stravinsky seems, anecdotally, to be the catalyst more often than Boulez).

In my response to the aforementioned reader comment, I said that I like to think of music as a service rather than a product. That’s all well and good, but the nice thing about products is that you can put them in boxes and send them all over the place. The challenge, as I see it, is using “music the product” to make “music the service” more available.

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4 thoughts on “A Beautiful Glimpse

  1. gregrobincomposer

    Le Marteau
    My wife, not a musician, heard me listening to Le Marteau. She asked what is was because she thought it was very beautiful and relaxing. She is not well listened in classical music past Beethoven. So, even though she is not a kid she presents a unique look into the non-musician mind. She has recently fell in love with Davidovsky’s music. So lets not give up hope yet :)

  2. Lisa X

    The Aquarium in Fargo
    Hey Collin, new music in Fargo can be found at The Aquarium. Not exactly a world class venue but occasionally some really great groups stop there. My single favorite guitarist in the world Mary Halvorson will be there September 7th opening for Xiu Xiu.

  3. msargent

    I actually grew up in Maryland as well (Annapolis) and had much the same experience of “the kid with the CD” that you describe. In high school, the website epitonic.com suggested Henry Cowell as a related artist when I typed in Sonic Youth. I still have the site (though this was about 10 years ago now, the site looks much more flashy these days! http://www.epitonic.com/index.jsp?refer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.epitonic.com%2Fartists%2Fhenrycowell.html)

    That site sent me looking after a fellow named John Cage, and at that point I saw a new direction in my musical life. I think many experimental-minded composers at my age (24) have a similar story.

  4. curioman

    Fargo. Cool. I was born in Bismarck. Now I live near Atlanta. With 4 million people and an active new music scene here, there are plenty of opportunities to see/hear new music, which is fantastic. But being around 4 million people… I miss the sparse beauty and civil pace of the Midwest.

    This makes me think that “ideal circumstances” are relative and depend on your perspective. You may be closer to new music ‘services’ but you may not like what being closer to those services entails.

    Perhaps a compromise/innovation, would be to make ‘music as a product’ more like ‘music like a service’. For example, watching live concerts remotely over the web in real-time while commenting, chatting, interacting with participants (or performers) at the live location.


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