Jay Pritzker Pavilion at the millenium park in Chicago
Why the 21st Century is the Most Exciting Time for Music

Why the 21st Century is the Most Exciting Time for Music

This essay will appear in the program book for the Ear Taxi Festival (October 5-10, 2016) in Chicago.

At only 16 years in, it’s still a bit presumptuous to make sweeping statements about the 21st century, but I’d like to posit a grand claim: our new century is the most exciting time to be making and listening to music. And unless all our channels of communication suddenly get destroyed, either through an unforeseen force of nature or some man-made catastrophe, the sheer number of possibilities and opportunities for access that have been steadily growing for decades will continue and most likely increase in the coming years. Our current state of ubiquity should remain “the new normal” for the foreseeable and forehearable future.

For listeners, there’s more music to hear than ever before–and it’s happening all over the world. Of course, it always has, but nowadays, it’s not limited to “national” “styles.” Also, global travel has become much more convenient, relatively speaking, and so with enough time, money, and overzealousness, a fanatical fan could actually trek the globe to hear extremely exciting music every day of the year. Much easier, we now can also experience a great deal of music happening in all these places without leaving our homes. And when we do, we can keep listening on our smartphones! Since music from literally any place and time can now be equally with us in the here and now, the once seemingly impenetrable dichotomies of domestic vs. foreign, new vs. old, and us vs. them have become completely porous and ultimately meaningless. It is all equally ours to enjoy, as well as to be the source of inspiration for our own creative impulses.

As interpreters and creators, we can literally do anything we want. In such an environment, it is no longer possible to be out of step with the zeitgeist. We no longer should feel stifled by so many of the other binaries that used to divide us aesthetically–e.g. old-fashioned vs. out-in-left-field, traditional vs. avant-garde, non-commercial vs. popular. There are few anecdotes that encapsulate today’s omnivorous catholicism more effectively than something Seth Colter Walls wrote about 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Henry Threadgill back in 2012:

Asked about what’s caught his ear of late, he identifies some recent Elliott Carter music for piano, as well as a Beyoncé song that his daughter brought into his life.

While exciting music is now being made everywhere, some places have been transformational loci for decades. It’s no small coincidence that Threadgill was born and raised in Chicago and that his career began there as one of the original members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), who were pioneers of 21st-century music as early as the 1960s. AACM’s founder, composer Muhal Richard Abrams, epitomized the AACM philosophy when I spoke with him for NewMusicBox earlier this year:

If we say music, it could be anywhere. It’s just music. The next question, what type of music? Okay. No type of music. Just sound.

Though both of these two maverick elder statesmen moved to New York City decades ago, and therefore neither will participate in the Ear Taxi Festival in Chicago, their all-embracing spirit pervades this unprecedented week-long musical immersion. Over the course of six days, the music of 88 different composers will be presented. More than half of them (56 to be exact) are emerging composers.  The only common ground they share is that they all transmit their ideas through music notation.  Among the works being performed, 53 will be world premieres. All in all, it comes to more than 8 hours of totally brand new music.

Over the short span of time that we call the 21st century, a new breed of interpreter has arisen—polyglots who can speak and be understood in any musical language. It’s no surprise that given Chicago’s legacy as a hotbed for open-minded creativity, it is now one of the epicenters for such interpreters and more than 300 of them (soloists as well as 25 ensembles) will be involved in these performances. It is why of all the places in the world I can be, this week I am here!

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.

15 thoughts on “Why the 21st Century is the Most Exciting Time for Music

  1. Michael Robinson

    Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy, whose lecturing eloquence and content I found comparable to Leonard Bernstein, would have loved the thoughts presented here. He was fond of pointing out that the polyglot of musics and other cultural visages competing for our attention today was a great boon as opposed to a negative situation watering down our senses. Some thoughts about Nazir are presented here: http://www.azuremilesrecords.com/Finding_Nazir_The_Precious_Generosity_of_Nazir_Jairazbhoy.html

  2. Anne Fennell

    Thank you for one of the most positive articles about the future of music that I have read in years! Wonderful! Yes!! This positive viewpoint alone, can move the industry ahead – take note, everyone!

    Thank you!

  3. Sage

    (Sage, MVHS Music Comp Student, Oceanside, CA)
    I wish I could be in Chicago for this! But I totally agree with you on the 21st century being the greatest century for music, especially with all the new technology emerging. We can even make music anywhere with the new technology too! It’s awesome to think there aren’t any limits to the music people can access now. It makes me happy knowing that more and more people are producing their own music and they actually have a chance of becoming known. Can’t wait to hear all of the new music in the future!

  4. (Joshua, MVHS Music Comp Student, Oceanside, CA)

    I very much agree with your statement about the 21st century being one of the “most exciting times to be making and listening to music.” The amount of new technology is helping increase the infinite amount of possibilities for music creation and the ability to listen to new music. Although not new styles or genres are created every day, the way people interpret and combine them help create very unique music, which increases the variety. With many articles about music production being more negative about issues about copyright and revenue, it is a good change of pace for someone to produce a more positive article. Thank you for your very positive and thought provoking article.

  5. Alondra

    Hello Frank, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your most recent blog post “Why the 21st century is the most exciting time for music.”. What interested me the most in your article was the mention of the various connections humans have access to music and others through social media. Different styles, languages, and ideas spread across the globe in less than a second because of the internet. This has come to building new identities, cultures and lifestyles. Thank you so much for highlighting the greatness this century has given us so far. Only 84 more years till the next one.
    Best Wishes,
    Alondra Mendoza
    MVHS Music Comp 2 students
    Oceanside, CA

  6. Christopher Phelan

    I agree that it is astounding that we have practically the entire world of music just at our fingertips! I also appreciate the quote provided from Walls about the juxtaposition between genres and eras. It’s just so hard for me to define my tastes to one specific kind of music when there’s so much to appreciate from everything, especially when there’s blending of genres everywhere. The thought of a festival full of entirely new music is definitely exciting, with so much talent waiting to be revealed to the world; I hope it didn’t disappoint!

  7. Matt MVHS Music Comp 2 Student Oceanside, Ca

    Frank Oteri, I think your opinion about our century is outstanding. The way you describe our availability to technology and listening to music anywhere is really showing all positive sides of our technology today, and it gives the option of more composers world wide. Leading in to my next next comment, the communication worldwide lays in the notation, recording and other variations of music with similar ideas. How you mention the amount of people at this event is crazy compared to the amount of composers in the world creating brand new music every single day for people to listen! Thanks for this post again, very positive and inspired me to keep creating more and more.

  8. Ethan Awh

    To Frank J. Oteri
    I have read your blog, “Why the Twenty-century is the Most Exciting Time for Music”, and I am intrigued by your views and perspective on how “the now” is the most exciting time for music. First, I believe the information on how music can be heard almost anywhere with a smartphone or device capable of accessing the internet is a great touch to your blog. Being able to access music almost anywhere really adds to the mood on how music has become something far more than it used to be. I think this adds to the reason why it is an exciting time for music. Next, you retained a positive tone during the whole blog creating a positive atmosphere that also makes it supportive. In conclusion, I agree with how the twentieth century is the most exciting time for music, and how modern life styles and positivity support this claim.

    Ethan Awh
    MVHS Music Comp 2 student
    Oceanside, CA

  9. Nuel

    MVHS Music Comp 2 student
    Oceanside, CA

    The 21st century is the most exciting time for music. It’s crazy to think that only a little over a decade ago, we didn’t have the amount of connectivity to other types of music around the world as we do today with the internet and the technological advances in phones. This has led us to drastically see music in another perspective; a perspective they didn’t see in the 20th century. With the lack of knowledge of different types of music being created around the world, an interpreter that could speak and be understood in any musical language was not possible back then. But little did they know this new breed of polyglots interpreters was only a century away.

  10. Josie Doan

    You are absolutely right Mr. Oteri! The 21st century is definitely the most exciting time for music. From the new developments of music softwares that allow you to compose music on the go, to the rapidly increasing music genres around the world. With the increase of new music and the use of technology, it allows people to explore and enjoy new varieties of compositions created by other people around the world. Music is the universal language of the world, with or without lyrics, it is something that brings joy, sorrow, even life to everyone. Someone should not be judged based on what type of music they listen to or where it is from.

    Josie Doan
    MVHS Music Composition 2 Student
    Oeanside California

  11. Olivia, MVHS Music Comp Student, Oceanside CA

    The article describes how all the new methods of communication are breaking the boundaries in the music industry. The music someone could listen to used to be limited by their location and its culture. The radios would play popular music, and live shows would play what they knew would get people in the door. Now the chains of capitalism in music are melting before our eyes! Now people can put their music out into the world with no repercussions! They don’t have to worry about what the modern sound is or how many people will listen. Becoming a popular artist is another beast, but as a consumer, I can listen to old music, new music, Korean trap music, 1820s gospel music, and the dozens upon dozens of Space Jam mashup songs on YouTube at any time I want! That’s nuts! Plus, artists can find each other and collaborate from across the globe. This musical interaction between cultures will beget new and interesting music that couldn’t have been created otherwise.

  12. Levi Widmark

    I think it is very astonishing that we are able to make and listen to music like tying a shoe. It is extremely helpful that music is so easy to share and make with people this century, it is amazing how far we advanced in this technology. Before technology, it was challenging to share and create music with other composers. Now because music is so easy to make there are even more songs in this world than before. Using technology saves people a lot of money, like watching someone in a concert on your phone instead of having to pay money to hear them perform. We can listen to all types of songs like foreign, past, and new music. I personally think this is amazing because music gives people a career that they will enjoy and possibly become famous easier.

    MVHS Music Comp 2 student
    Oceanside, CA

  13. Andrea Martinez

    Andrea Martinez
    MVHS Music Comp 2 student
    Oceanside, CA

    In the article ‘Why The 21st Century Is The Most Exciting Time For Music,’ it made me aware of the vast varieties of music available to me, and how easy it is to acquire it. I agree with the article when it states that the 21st century is the most exciting time to be making and listening to music. Now in the 21st Century, making music does not require having extensive knowledge in playing an instrument because technology and software are constantly advancing and modernizing, making it simpler and more accessible to make music via computer technology. Also music now is not only heard on the radio or television but offered through music streaming services, YouTube, CDs, and so on. The article inspires me more now than ever to take advantage of the opportunities music has to offer me and to my future career in music.

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