In the race to keep new music sounding, well, new, somehow things just end up stagnating. A recent blog post by Kyle Gann suggests that young composers are to blame, partly for fetishizing the wrong set of elders—namely Ligeti, Carter, Xenakis, Berio, and Boulez, rather than Adams, Lentz, and Meredith Monk—as well as lacking a good ol’ sense of rebellion. But haven’t we heard what rebellion sounds like already, say, ad nauseum over the past 60 years?

Although I don’t really consider myself all that young, I certainly do pass for what’s being called a young composer these days. As such, I can honestly report that most of my colleagues tend to lump the previously mentioned composers into one simple category: the past. Personally, I’m tired of hearing about Uptown, Downtown, academic, non-academic, blah, blah, blah. Yes, clearly there is an historical lineage to all this, but it doesn’t weigh too heavily on this generation’s shoulders—thanks in part to folks like Kyle Gann.

Our generation seems to be listening from within while developing our voice. We go to each other’s concerts not only for moral support, but to listen and learn. Certainly we’re influenced by the philosophies of our mentors, but more often than not, our work extends well outside any level of encroachment. A rebellion against an assumed establishment (which in actuality may only really consist of several already-frayed sub-factions) feels like an affectation at this point. Or perhaps we’ve reached the point of affirmative nihilism—you know, with a positive spin.

Admittedly, there is an establishment. But if you’re looking for the “Under 30” crowd of new music fans in New York, don’t even bother to look at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. You’ll have to venture a little bit off the beaten path to places like the Cake Shop, Issue Project Room, Barbes, Zebulon, The Lucky Cat, Monkey Town, Deitch Projects… need I go on? (And no, I didn’t accidentally forget to list The Stone.) Maybe our elders’ idea of where the establishment really lies is mistaken.

As always, revolution starts underground. Here, the music is usually accompanied by the hissing of beer cans opening and any blue hair you see in the crowd is, in fact, on purpose. But now, even this seems like a bit of a cliché. Especially considering all the desperate, failed attempts by musicians in the classical music camp at attaining thy holy hipness. That’s just not cool. Yesaroun’ Duo blasting their Crom-Tech transcriptions at Merkin is. New Human’s cock-punk-minimalism at P.S. 1 is. And Zs’ Lachenmann-inspired rock (old guy, sorry Kyle) that’s gigging all around town certainly is. But like they used to say around 30 years ago, don’t trust anyone over 30.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

4 thoughts on “Post-Anti-Antiestablishment

  1. jwerntz

    Hi Randy. I’m glad to see this being addressed. Even your title alone makes a good point. But I’m unclear: by “lumping” those composers into the “one simple category: the past” do you mean that you feel your “young composer” colleagues have already buried, wholesale, Boulez, Carter and others of that generation and tradition, thanks to people like Kyle Gann, and so people like Kyle Gann should stop worrying about it? And that those composers have been rejected by your generation mainly because their music (and they) are old?


  2. randy

    Hi Julia. Thanks for asking… I should have made my point a little clearer. All I’m really saying is that the stylistic rifts of the past no longer impact younger composers quite so strongly. There’s no longer a need to choose sides, so to speak. A present day, 20-something Boulez isn’t likely to be so dogmatically opposed to work by a fellow collogue which explores different, if not seemingly oppositional, compositional concerns. In the end, both composers will probably find something that they can appreciate in each other’s work, as well as the latest Sigur Rós album.

    I’m not suggesting that ideas forged by Carter, Boulez, et al, (or Reich and Meredith Monk for that matter) have been left for dead. On the contrary, there are many youngsters carrying the torch for many of these elders. But really, there’s no need for Kyle Gann of the worry. He makes academically sanctioned music sound like the avian flu. But all the isms out there seem to be loosing their hypnotic power to draw young, unwitting composers into their jowls. Haven’t we been composing in a post-pluralistic milieu for decades? Composers have been using stylistic properties as they would pitch and rhythm to construct music which embraces a spectrum of compositional approaches.

    Maybe it’s this distillation (or elision) of the past into oneness that’s really causing the lack of revolutionary music that Gann’s laments. However, the Boulez/Carter disciples are not to blame. We’re in the midst of quite a long period of conceptual permissiveness, balanced by our current state of social conservativism—so, the pot is boiling. Something radical is bound to happen, or may already be happening at an alt-venue near you. However, don’t expect it to have the riot gear guise of the ’60s. It might just have a more “Why can’t we all just get along?” vibe going on. Or who knows, maybe we’ll finally get one of those weapons of mass destruction after all, albeit sonic, thankfully.

  3. fred frith

    hello Randy,
    couldn’t resist asking, since you deliberately drew attention to it: why not The Stone? Do tell.

  4. randy

    Maybe I’m Stoned, but…
    Hi there Fred. Yeah, I had a feeling someone would call me on that. I’m just lucky it turned out to be someone as friendly as you. Not much to tell, really… While spewing my original post, I surfed over the The Stone’s website to checkout the goings-on over there. After perusing the calendar of upcoming gigs, I was left with a sinking feeling. For the most part, The Stone seems to be a revolving door for fairly well known acts which most experimental music fans have already seen play before. We know we’re going to enjoy show before we get there. Despite all the alt-hip buzz around the place, and the Spartan facilities that only add to the sense of underground chic, to me The Stone is just a comfort zone (in need of better air conditioning). It’s certainly not a testing ground. Most who perform there have nothing to prove. Not that it matters, but it’s starting to feel a little bit cookie cutter. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Stone. In fact, it’s probably the best venue in the East Village right now. I just don’t expect to see anything too different or revolutionary inside.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.