Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up

Sonic Brew, the marketing ploy of the moment brought to you by the Da Capo Chamber Players, combines two things I really like: new music and beer (not necessarily in that order). The promotional postcard (which you can view on their homepage right now), features a cold frosty bottle and the phrase, “A refreshing blend made from the finest ingredients: laughing gas, potted meat, hip-hop, and other choice intoxicants.” Granted, I’m not a fan of Spam-like canned products, but the second-rate sentiment behind it all has me sold. Seriously though, I find it much more enjoyably to be able to sip suds while listening. To me, it’s like when that proverbial chocolate accidentally fell into the peanut butter.

A trip to Munich’s Hofbräuhaus clearly illustrates the intimate connection between pilsner and music. Beyond the raucous drinking songs traditional to beer halls like this across the globe, imbibing has crept into experimental classical music. Daniel Lentz’s Bacchus even managed to make it past the gilded vestibule and onto the stage of Carnegie Hall with a piece where four singers basically get tanked during the performance. Tom Marioni’s sonic-based conceptual art practices include a beer-drinking sonata for thirteen performers. And there must be a score out there somewhere that instructs the cellist to pound a 40. Given the lengthy relationship between music and booze, it’s amazing that there hasn’t been a thoroughly researched book or article on the subject and how it relates to modern composition (please correct me if I’m wrong about this). I’ve got dibs on this dissertation topic if, that is, I ever decide to go back to the ivory tower to grab a PhD. Regardless, it seems a full account of contemporary music that utilizes hooch as part of its composition would be interesting.

Of course, too much beer can create problems. Over the holiday weekend, I got into a little skirmish with a guy in a rock band over—of all things—John Cage. Long-story-short, he was dissing Cage without ever having heard his music. I felt a bit like a Mills College zealot, but I had to defend my misunderstood hero. While I understand why a piece like 0’00”—which Cage once performed by slicing vegetables, tossing them in a blender, and drinking the juice—might infuriate someone with more ridged ideas about music, any composer who incorporates drinking into their music is golden in my book.

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5 thoughts on “Bottoms Up

  1. JKG

    Go for it…
    Get your Ph.D. describing the relation between music and beer and then do what I see numerous doctoral degree holders doing regularly on Friday and Saturday nights – staying stone drunk! Then it won’t matter about the music – and if it does, why not write a piece for circus elephant and pipe whistle which requires the elephant rider to have a certain level of alcohol inebriation before playing Berg’s Violin sonata on the elephant’s back? While not particularly good for the name of “modernism,” I think most folks would get a good laugh!

  2. RT

    with or without the elephant
    I’d love to hear Berg’s Violin Sonata. Would you like to share your score or recording with the rest of the world, JKG?

  3. SonicRuins

    I don’t think JKG cares very much about Berg.
    Nor do I of his little tonality revival movement–cuz it doesn’t need reviving.

  4. jbunch

    But Berg did write a really charming sonata for circus elephant and pipe whistle. It’s based on a cantus firmus taken from popular 1921 rouser “The Sheik of Araby.”


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