The Denial Rebellion

Why are we always rebelling and isn't rebelling against the rebellion just a rebellion?

a response to the SoHotheDog blogpost
which is a response to this NY Times post

How loopy can we get with this concept? And yet, here we are, wondering what the future of classical music is going to be, with the educational establishment still clinging to the atonal/pitch class set/avant gard of 50+ years ago. Then again, establishment is just the kind of thing that gets railed against, so "down with the educational quest!" and on to something new... Reich, Glass and Adams are all rebelling against their own classical roots and yet they, too, have become the established.

Perhaps the state the classical music industry is in will be explained when the psyco-babble of the philosophers of our day become part of everyday thought. It took René Descartes' Je pense donc je suis (I think therefore I am) of 1637 nearly 200 years to become absorbed into common thought which promoted a host of radical self-determination thinkers to spur rebellion around Europe. Although the seeds of this self-determination were certainly in the minds of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and signed the Mayflower Compact of 1620.

So, maybe it wasn't Descartes who thought it first. He was just spouting what was already in the minds of the masses, but had yet to be formally printed. Democracy certainly has its seeds way back with the Greeks of Athens (although their form of democracy didn't allow women, slaves, and others --basically 80% of their society, to vote). Once the human mind discovers something, it can't un-discover it. But the history of where an idea comes from isn't always obvious.

Getting back to music, the problem with trying to determine if a generation has "it" or not still comes back to the problem of viewing lasting success while you're still in the moment. Matthew Guerrieri of SoHotheDog has a great point (although you have to read to the very end to get it), the composers of NYC are creating their own successes, a network of support and attempting to forge in directions their predecessors (composers like Matthew and myself) failed to do. While it may not make them the next great composers, it is affording them successes that the previous generation didn't enjoy. Our generation of composers tried to find something new, but doing so through the educational systems definition of what good music is suppose to be - intellectual and "ground-breaking." The "art" music most of my generation churned out was anything but music.

Although I find it funny that "our generation" actually also includes Reich, Glass and Adams which I mentioned previously and who are enjoying their share of success.

We were (are) trained to think of "art" music as something crafted, something which is ever changing and which continually creates moments unexpected. So much so that much of the art music of the 80's and 90's is so unexpected, it's forgettable. There is nothing which the mind can grasp and retain.

Bach wrote thousands of pieces of music, hundreds of which are recognizable to pretty much anyone in Western society even if they can't tell you who wrote it or the name of the piece. Bach spent years playing and studying the music of other composers until he amalgamated them together into his own style. Haydn was music by transcribing scores of great composers before him. He then wrote music that developed into something new, but he also "recapitulated" material so there was a sense of familiarity. Haydn uses the same methods on Beethoven, who continued this process of minute manipulation of a core idea creating endless varieties, and yet the original kernel is still present. It is this interplay of memorable and developed music which really stands the test of time, taking what came before and making something new. But it isn't always the composers who create great music who are remembered.

The work of Luc Ferrari, Karlheinz Stockhausen and other composers of their electro-acoustic ilk strove to find meaning in sound, musical expression in something other than "classical" music means. While it's impossible to "hum" any of their tunes, these composers have etched a lasting impress on the world of music. Their experimentation led to a host of electronic gadgetry that is revolutionizing the way music is created. You can't listen to a contemporary album today without hearing (whether you notice it or not) the effects on the original sound. Sounds are constantly being manipulated in the studio to create an ever changing sonic palette.

Who are the great composers of today? It's hard to say who will be remembered 100 years from now. But I'd be willing to wager some of the record producers of today will among those hailed as visionaries.

Listen, really listen, to the most popular urban tracks of today. The music is constantly changing, shifting, developing. While the original beat may remain, the timbre of the sound doesn't remain static. While the lyrics may repeat the same three words over and over again, the subtle shift in the effects on the vocals is in constant motion. Yes, the music might be only three chords on paper, but the music of modern pop artists isn't about what's on the paper; it's about the experience the listener goes through --and listeners of the best of the contemporary artists are taken on a sonic journey like nothing classical music has to offer. What sound engineers are doing today is similar to the Schoenberg concept of klangfarbenmelodie, tone-color-melody, shifting the tone and color of a note to create a melody rather than shifting the pitch.

I'm not a huge listener to commercial music, but I can respect what these artists are doing. I envy them and their skills. I wish I had their knowledge, their ability. Combined with what I know about classical music, I think I could create something truly new, unique and lasting. Someone will - and that someone will be the next Bach, or Beethoven, the next composer whose name (and music) will live on for centuries.

It isn't about rebelling. It's about combining the different forces around you to create something new.

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