Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll?

I can't tell if this is satire or not: Wife of Man Who Started Midlife Crisis Band Wishes He’d Just Had an Affair.
ALLEN, Texas. — Annette Martin is allegedly tired of her husband’s foray into live music as a band-aid for his mid-life crisis, telling friends she wishes he would “just sleep with another woman already,” sources confirmed.
“I get it. I do. A guy passes 40, and he wants to feel young again,” said Mrs. Martin, moving a box of her husband’s demo tapes into the garage. “But why did he have to start this awful band and interrupt my life? Now I have to spend every Friday at the Lakeside Tavern, listening to him struggle his way through Goo Goo Dolls covers. If he was having an affair, at least I’d get some nights to myself.”
It has to be a satire, right? Yes, it is. Here is another item from the same site: Autographed Morrissey Album Valued Less Than Unsigned Copy. Well, maybe not?
PORTLAND, Ore. — An autographed, vinyl copy of Morrissey’s album “You Are The Quarry” sold on Discogs.com for 30 euros less than an unsigned copy on the same day, stunned record collectors reported.
“Frankly, we’ve never seen anything like this. No artist has ever become so maligned as to tank the value of signed versions of their records,” explained Discogs.com creator and CEO Kevin Lewandowski. “At this point, people are so averse to being viewed as a diehard Morrissey fan that they would spend more money on a fresh copy, rather than risk looking like some hateful Morrissey stan who thinks Nigel Farage might have a few good points.”
Ok, satire...

Weekend Ruminations

New commentator Maury is working his way through my back pages here and offering a lot of intriguing comments to which I try to make response. It makes me go back and read old posts. There are, by the way, nearly 2,800 posts here at The Music Salon, many of them fairly substantial, so I encourage new readers to go have a look at them. In the last couple of years, for various reasons, I have been posting less often, two or three times a week instead of at least once a day. But you can rectify your musical rumination deficit by looking back at the archive. The search function works pretty well, but in the early days I didn't put many tags on posts. Also, there are a whole bunch of posts where the topic was so hard to characterize with a short tag that I just slapped "aesthetics" on a bunch of them. So if you search for "aesthetics" that is likely to keep you occupied for quite a while!

* * *

I have left hanging two ambitions projects, one a series of posts on composer Sofia Gubaidulina that reached seventeen separate posts before going into hiatus. I have a lot more to do as I find her perhaps the most interesting living composer. So at some point soon I will get back to that project. The other one is the more recent series on composer Luigi Nono that I started because I realized that he was a lot more interesting than I had previously thought. So look for some more posts on him before too long.

* * *

The long nightmare that is Venezuela somehow keeps on keeping on. At Slipped Disc we find the story of a clarinetist who had a job offer with the national orchestra withdrawn. When she tweeted a complaint about this, she was arrested and has been in jail for a month. The thing that I find most remarkable about this is that Venezuela still has a national orchestra despite the collapse of the economy, food and water shortages and mass emigration. Does anyone still have time or energy to go to the symphony in Venezuela?

* * *

I think this is one of the signs of the Apocalypse. Surely we are in the End Times if Sony is signing Chloe Flower as a, cough, cough, classical artist. Let's cue the fulsome praise:
Sarah Thwaites, Label Head UK, Sony Music Masterworks said: “Chloe Flower is one of the most exciting artists on the planet and I’m unbelievably stoked to share her talent with the world. Whether it’s original compositions, classical masterpieces, unexpected collaborations or virtuosic covers of today’s hottest hits, Chloe’s incredible talent, passion and style shine through.”
Over at Slipped Disc, some of the commentators are unbelievably stoked as well:
My anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t…
Nicky Minaj meets Fifty Shades of Gray
Who packages these things at Sony? A committee of pop culture professors watching videos from 5 years ago?
And who’s the target market? Middle aged men with an Asian fetish, I guess…

The label of Horowitz, Rubinstein, Gould, etc. Oh Lordy!
 On the other hand, she does tend to make Yuja Wang and Khatia Buniatishvili seem far more sober, serious artists in comparison.

* * *

This is a very sweet story: Jennie Litvak resigned from the World Bank to play the shofar at synagogue:
She resigned from the World Bank and joined the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, dc, where in 1876 Ulysses S. Grant became the first American president to attend a service in a synagogue. There was meditation every Tuesday night, yoga every Wednesday night, lessons in Jewish mindfulness all through the week. But it was when she held aloft the shofar that she really found her voice.
After every morning service through the month of Elul, then through Rosh Hashanah—Jewish new year—on to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, her friend, would call out: Tekiyah. She would respond with a single note…
If you follow the link and watch the clip, she is not playing a single note, of course, but two notes a fifth apart.

* * * 

There is an historic instrument in Western music very similar to the shofar, the gemshorn, traditionally made from a goat horn. Here is a sample:


Which sounds remarkably like a recorder. The cornett or zink is made of wood covered with leather, but sounds more like the shofar:


What the heck, since we've got the cornett handy, let's listen to some of that wonderful Gabrieli music written for the San Marco in Venice:


Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Most of the so-called "memes" we suffer through each day are missable. But here are a couple I couldn't resist:






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I just ran across this box at Amazon: all of Esa-Pekka Salonen's recordings with Sony, sixty-one discs! And no reviews? Well, there will certainly be one as soon as I have listened to the box.


* * *

We are sure talking about creativity a lot these days. Here is a piece over at Nautilus:
Is creativity a skill I can beef up like a weak muscle? Absolutely, says Mark Runco, a cognitive psychologist who studies creativity at the University of Georgia, Athens. “Everybody has creative potential, and most of us have quite a bit of room for growth,” he says. “That doesn’t mean anybody can be Picasso or Einstein, but it does mean we can all learn to be more creative.”
I kind of doubt that. I'm pretty sure that one aspect of creativity is the quality of being very open. A lot of artists have said that ideas just come to them, float by, and all they have to do is grab them. This depends on being really open to that possibility. Also, they are leaving out all the work. Once an idea drifts into your ken you have to recognize what it is and figure out what to do with it. I suspect that not only can you not teach yourself to be creative, 6,000 self-help titles notwithstanding, I rather doubt that anyone can teach you. A lot of composers have stated pretty clearly that it is not possible to teach composition. Though you can certainly pretend to do so...

* * *

Over at the Wall Street Journal there is an article about pianist Chloe Flower who, apparently, invokes the spirit of Liberace in her popular crossover efforts:
Ms. Flower grabbed attention online by posting videos of herself covering hip-hop hits by Drake and Kendrick Lamar in the style of Bach and Beethoven. She performs for her 237,000 Instagram followers in eye-catching outfits at her 63rd-floor apartment in Manhattan.
More than a musical and stylistic influence, Liberace has been an accompanist of sorts to Ms. Flower’s career. She has the support of his estate, which lent her one of his bedazzled pianos. The co-star of her videos, it is a Baldwin with a see-through top and a 9-foot housing covered in mirrored tiles.
Let's have a look. This video is titled "Get What U Get":


For some reason Blogger won't embed. Well, that was certainly less, uh, interesting than promised. It is like a parody of bad crossover: take a prelude by Chopin (this is the E minor), use it as an introduction, then move to an upbeat tempo with a lot of gratuitous arpeggios. The video has every silly gesture and pose imaginable. And all the commentators love it! You know how sometimes critics talk about how a piece or a composer eliminates all the surface frivolity and goes right to the heart of a musical idea? Well, this is what it looks like when you do exactly the opposite.

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I check in over at Musicology Now every now and then, just to see it they have anything new up. Right now there is a new post attempting to nuance or problematize or something, country music with rap (or trap) influences or (t)rap music with country influences by black artists: Lil Nas X, the “Old Town Road,” and the (f)utility of genre labels.
 Lil Nas X insists that his song is both country and trap—not one or the other<6>—Billboard is perhaps correct that, despite the eclectic mix of generic signifiers in the song, it is more of a hip hop/trap tune with country topoi (in both text and music) than the other way around.<7>  We might use the same “it’s more blueish-green than greenish-blue” reasoning to argue that Run-DMC’s “Rock Box” is a rap song with prominent rock elements while Rage Against the Machine’s “Testify” is rap influenced rock.  Yet conflating genre with style is of course a mistake; genre labels are notoriously unreliable at grouping music into coherent stylistic categories. True, if one uses historical style markers like the use of steel guitar and fiddle as a barometer, “Old Town Road” seems a poor fit for country radio.  But the same can be said of songs by Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line, whose recent hits are indistinguishable from contemporary pop.
There is a whole lot more similar prose, but it never seems to get close to talking about what genre and style are, let alone what the elements of a particular genre or style are. Is it just a reluctance to use musical terms or examples? That seems odd for someone who is an assistant professor of music theory:

Click to enlarge
* * *

Alex Ross has a new piece up at The New Yorker that might be worth a look: Meredith Monk’s “ATLAS” and the L.A. Phil’s Extraordinary Season.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s centennial season, which recently ended with incandescent performances of Meredith Monk’s opera “atlas,” has no peer in modern orchestral history. More than fifty new scores shared space with classics of the repertory. Fully staged opera productions alternated with feats of avant-garde spectacle. The L.A. Phil, colossal in ambition and experimental in spirit, has redefined what an orchestra can be.
I'm sorry I missed it! To cite just one example: "Esa-Pekka Salonen led one of the finest, most ferocious performances of “The Rite of Spring” I have heard". I'll bet it was something!

On one occasion, reviewing an Alex Ross review of the Ojai festival I averred that he was more likely to punch knitting needles through his ears than give a critical comment on a piece of new music. But he seems to have overcome that failing:
Not everything was a triumph. One commission, Philip Glass’s Twelfth Symphony, meandered interminably through material derived from David Bowie’s album “Lodger.” Bryce Dessner’s “Triptych,” another première, attempted to make an oratorio out of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, with murky and often uncomfortable results. Tan Dun’s “Buddha Passion” wavered between visceral sensation and saccharine kitsch. Even when the L.A. Phil fails, though, it fails memorably. What the season resolutely lacked was the sort of cautious complacency that smothers so much of the classical world.
Yes, let's not settle for cautious complacency!

* * *

Something from the steady hands of Esa-Pekka Salonen would seem to be a logical envoi for today. Here he is conducting his own piece for orchestra Nyx (2011) with the Finnish Radio Symphony:


Sunday, July 7, 2019

What I Like About Moment Form

Sometimes I find myself saying, in conversation, that these are difficult times for music. I was having dinner with friends last night and it came up. Now understand that these friends are business people, have no particular connection with music and do not play an instrument, though their middle son has taken up the guitar. So they are uncorrupted by any actual musical knowledge! I mentioned that money was one complicating factor in music. Ed Sheeran is the biggest earner these days so I asked them to guess what he was earning on his current concert tour. They speculated it was a few million dollars. The correct answer is a few hundred million dollars (from here):
In total, Sheeran's tour sold 4,860,482 tickets for 94 shows across 53 cities. He earned a whopping $432 million, effectively shattering the record for the highest global tour revenue by an artist in a single year.
I didn't know much about Ed Sheeran's music, but I said to my friends that his music is rather, well, innocuous. Let's have a look/listen. This is the song that comes up at the top on YouTube (Blogger won't embed):


Not to do any real analysis, but the most salient features are: a brisk, tuneful musical setting, a beautiful and very fit black woman is the love interest, Ed himself is portrayed as an amiable goof who gets seriously in shape and gets in a match with a Sumo wrestler (only to be rescued by the aforementioned black woman), and the underlying values are black is great, fitness is great, eating properly is great and, presumably, don't get in the ring with a Sumo wrestler! All these are the mainstream values of our day. So "innocuous" is probably the right word.

My concept of musical art is contrary to that. For me, what is worth doing, musically, is to go outside the mainstream values, aesthetic or otherwise. A new piece of music needs to be, in some way, new. I tried for quite a while to reconcile traditional music aesthetics with composition today and was not quite successful. At the same time, I reject the more extreme trends of modernism because they seem to me empty of humanity. I was very happy to discover that the solution, for me, was to be something of a synthesist. In other words, there is a great deal of genuinely new music expression to be found in sifting through the trends of the last hundred years and sorting out the potential gems therein. Some of the greatest composers of the past like Mozart and Bach were really synthesists rather than innovators.

One of the musical ideas that was discovered around sixty years ago, was moment form. There are some very interesting examples that I was talking about the other day, but my feeling is that the surface has barely been scratched. For example, the Klavierstücke XI by Stockhausen, one of the earliest examples, can sound a lot like an ordinary piano piece (though in avant-garde style) even though the narrative continuity is shattered. There are, as I recall, nineteen moments that are played in a largely random order. The form of the piece is like that of a mobile by Calder.

Other examples of the form bring out different aspects. In a piece for more than one instrument you can have the possibility of counterpoint, for example. The aspect of the form that has most powerfully attracted me, oddly enough, is the rhythmic element. The one thing you cannot have with a moment form piece, is a score. I suppose you could create a score by transcribing a performance, but every performance will be different so that doesn't really capture the piece. There is no score because there is no vertical integration! The musical score, showing the vertical integration of the parts in an ensemble piece has been the foundation of Western music from the sixteenth century. Prior to then, pieces for ensemble were often or usually written down in parts only. The invention of the barline made integrated scores possible.

As we let go of the vertical integration of the parts of the composition we gain a whole universe of open, freely flowing sound. This is more appropriate for certain kinds of musical moods than the march-like narrative of a traditional score. The whole idea of a unified pulse is banished. This has strong appeal to me because perhaps the core foundational element in most music today is the unifying pulse. Steve Reich has built his whole musical language on it, and very successfully too. But I find that, by letting it go, it frees me from all sorts of hidden Procrustean beds.

A few years ago I wrote a piece for solo guitar titled "Chant" that was based on the idea of no pulse. Here is that guitar piece. I get away from pulse in two ways: first by thinking in terms of Gregorian chant where the music flows, but does not have fixed beats. So I use very large note values in a fluctuating meter, so you hardly feel the meter. Then I insert a lot of grace notes that further dilutes the metrical aspect.



In order to write for an ensemble and have no pulse, you pretty much have to use moment form. Even without pulse, you can have structure and I integrate harmonic structure into my new piece for string quartet in a couple of ways. First of all, there is an overall harmonic structure that consists of four chords of four notes each. The piece begins with the four instruments playing the four notes of the first chord. Then they move through six moments at their own pace. As each instrument reaches the next note of the chord, they will pause until the other instruments also reach their notes. Then everyone proceeds through another six moments to the next chord. As they will reach the chord at slightly or significantly or quite different times, the chord will seem to "bloom" over time. After the four players have reached the end of the music (the moments are spread out over a spiral shape) they then return to the beginning. So the piece is also its own retrograde, which gives us a contrapuntal element as well as a harmonic element.

Here are the violin II and cello parts so you can see how this is written:



So why are these difficult times for music? The prominent musicians of our day are becoming wealthy in ways that previous generations could only dream of. The most successful musician around 1800 was Joseph Haydn and even though he was one of the first free-lance composers (in later life), toured very successfully in Europe and published his works in several countries, compared to what Ed Sheeran and others earn today, he was impoverished! No, the reason these are difficult times for music is that all the incentives push musicians toward the innocuous, the tuneful, the expression of only those things that are mainstream platitudes. Referring to his time as court composer to the Esterházy family, where much time was spend at their country estate, Haydn said:
I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Weekend Ruminations

Which are way different from a Friday Miscellanea! First up, I ran across this account of an interview with David Letterman and Kanye West in The Spectator:
It’s the most extraordinary few minutes, a minuet of death. Letterman affects to laugh, the audience laughs, Kanye laughs. But behind the smiles and the apparent bonhomie, a vicious duel is taking place and Kanye is winning hands down. I can’t think of a single other celebrity in the world who would have had the balls to do what Kanye does in this interview: challenge the entertainment industry’s oppressive left-liberal consensus; speak out for Donald Trump; rail against the stifling constraints on freedom of speech that is rendering so much unsayable. Maybe you need to be a huge rap star to get away with such things. But how many other huge rap stars would have had the originality of thought even to try?
As you have undoubtedly noticed, I have found Kanye West to be one of the most genuinely creative musicians in the contemporary pop world.

UPDATE: Afterwards I took the time to watch the Letterman interview and I think Delingpole really overstates the case. Sure, there was a little tension around the #metoo discussion, but it wasn't so fraught and was followed by a little film of Kanye's Sunday Services which are sort-of like a musical church with a lot of improvisation. So really, no hard feelings, no "minuet of death." Who comes up with this stuff? I think my favorite part of the interview was when Kanye dresses Dave up in a new wardrobe. Most talk shows I can't watch and that includes the old Letterman shows. But this was very watchable. Dave is better interviewer than he used to be. Mind you, I like Craig Ferguson, so bear that in mind and take my comments with a grain of salt!

* * *

I have been catching a few of composer David Bruce's videos lately--he is quite prolific. I go back and forth on them. He seems quite hip and cool, using terms like "negative rhythm" and "gateway drug" to pique our interest. He covers a lot of interesting topics. "Gateway drug" comes from this video about ten pieces of contemporary classical music that might get you hooked:


And then he kills my interest right off the bat by picking that dreary sludge of virtue-signalling, Become Ocean by John Luther Adams. Then a piece by Osvaldo Golijov, whose name he consistently mispronounces. Then John Adams and another landscape piece consisting of characterless washes of sound, remarkably similar to the John Luther Adams one. He then almost redeems himself by choosing two excellent pieces by Steve Reich: Different Trains and Music for 18 Musicians. Next is a weird choice of a weird piece: Les Noces by Stravinsky. Yes, interesting piece, but I very much doubt it is going to be anyone's choice of a gateway drug into contemporary music! The very obvious choice would have been The Rite. Then a really inspired choice, almost winning me over: the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Messiaen. Unfortunately he immediately says Messiaen is like Prince, which may be hip, but is remarkably unfair to both! Other picks are Thomas Adès, sure, why not, and Kevin Volans, another inspired choice. All right, let's give him a gold star for putting in Conlon Nancarrow and maybe half a star for his last pick, a piece by Ligeti with an absolutely unpronounceable name: Síppal, dobbal, nádihegedüve!

Two things that turn me off about his videos are the interjections of little snippets of pop culture from time to time just to show us he is actually cool and not a boring old classical composer, and his re-naming of long-familiar musical techniques. "Negative rhythm," it turns out is just a fancy new name for, wait for it, hocket!

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I'll tell you right off the bat that if you have the gall to turn your back on a truncated, bleeding chunk from the last movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, you will get nothing but disdain and disgust from The Guardian:
Yesterday, Brexit party MEPs led by Nigel Farage turned their backs while the anthem of the European Union played at a ceremony to mark the opening of the European Parliament. Their behaviour has been met with disdain by many, with #notinmyname trending on Twitter. This was an emotionally provocative act at a time of political sensitivity, and there is something about the shunning of the anthem itself, an instrumental arrangement of the Ode to Joy from the final movement of Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony, that makes the demonstration particularly inflammatory.
Read on for a recounting of how the symphony has been used as propaganda by both the right and the left over the last couple of centuries. Perhaps the best thing ever written about the symphony was the essay "Resisting the Ninth" by Richard Taruskin. Look, for various reasons, musical and non-musical, the piece has become a warhorse of utilitarian propaganda. As such, I think that anyone would have the right to resist its use in a political context.
The image of the Ninth as a powerful symbol of European unity was perhaps claimed in most iconic fashion on Christmas day in 1989 when Leonard Bernstein conducted the last movement of the Ninth to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall with an orchestra consisting of members from East and West Germany as well as the four allied powers: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the US.
However, as a matter of fact, Europe is not now and never has been a "nation" in the sense of a geographic, linguistic, ethnic, cultural and economic unity and the very fact of Brexit demonstrates that.

* * *

Let's have a little musical palate-cleanser. Here is a movement from Kevin Volans White Man Sleeps played by the Kronos Quartet:


You can find the other movements on YouTube, but Blogger won't embed for some reason.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

I've been thinking of billing myself as the "World's Most Obscure Composer" but Jessica Duchen has an article on someone else in running for the title: At 82, composer achieves a first.
Erika Fox’s coffee mug is emblazoned with the title of HG Wells’s The Invisible Man. One can’t help noticing, because this extraordinary composer has for too long been an almost invisible woman. Today, her first-ever commercial CD is released, featuring a selection of her chamber music. She is 82.
Musical cognoscenti reacted with horrified astonishment to the realisation that Fox’s music has not previously been recorded. Its style is tough yet mesmerising, highly individual, with a strong undertow of unsettling emotion. “Some people have said it’s challenging, but because it’s mine, I don’t think of it that way,” Fox remarks. “To me it’s ordinary. It’s what I do.”
Read the whole thing.

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There is a debate going on in Australia these days about the depiction of women in opera: 'Difficult to renovate': Opera's struggle to move with the times.
The "call to action" co-authored by Sally Blackwood, Liza Lim, Peggy Polias and Bree van Reyk urged "respect" for "creators who are female, non-binary and from diverse cultural backgrounds" and ask for "safe inclusive spaces for people with diverse voices and abilities to set the agenda".
Operas written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are products of their time with the portrayal of women sometimes limited to that of a tragic heroine. 
Mr Terracini rejected the assertion that bias and sexism was only an "opera problem", arguing the discussion should involve all art forms.
"If we want to seriously examine the cultural history of Western art, let’s examine everything that constitutes the making of a civilisation based on the history of art," he said.
"If people are serious about doing something like this, it would need to involve an examination of painting, sculpture, ballet, everything.
This points out one strategy to push back at the people advocating "equity." You need to point out the hypocrisy in just calling for equity in the glamorous, sought-after areas and ignoring the equity in all the other areas.

* * *

There is a post at Slipped Disc on this same initiative: LET’S BAN VIOLENCE FROM OPERA, RIGHT?
That’s the cry from 190 ‘leading Australian composers, directors, musicians, and vocalists’, who have signed a petition ‘to remove gender bias, sexism, and dramatised acts of violence against women in opera’.
What is most entertaining over there are the extensive comments. Such as:
Oh, I see. Then we’ll have to make some changes. First, Otello and Desdemona seek marriage counselling; then, Fasolt and Fafner draw straws over who gets most of the gold; Don Giovanni gets kneed in the groin by Zerlina; bad news for the Duke of Mantua for yes, it IS he who ends up getting knifed by Sparafucile, thus providing Rigoletto with that rarest of opera house phenomena: a happy ending; Brunnhilde gets done for animal cruelty in Gotterdammerung and Butterfly slaps a paternity suit on Pinkerton and wins a million bucks a year in child maintenance. Trust the politically correct maniacs Down Under to try and alter an entire art form to suit their loony notions….
* * * 

The New York Times takes a look at the problems of classical music in the Age of Streaming: In Streaming Age, Classical Music Gets Lost in the Metadata.
When Roopa Kalyanaraman Marcello, a classical music aficionado in Brooklyn, asked her Amazon Echo for some music recently, she had a specific request: the third movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.
“It kind of energizes me, motivates me to get things done,” she said.
But the Echo, a voice-activated speaker, could not find what she wanted. First it gave her the concerto’s opening movement; then, on another try, came the second movement. But not the third.
Exasperated, Ms. Kalyanaraman Marcello gave up.
“Just play something else!” she recalled saying.
Her frustration may be familiar to fans of classical music in the streaming age. The algorithms of Spotify, Apple and Amazon are carefully engineered to steer listeners to pop hits, and Schubert and Puccini can get lost in the metadata.
One reason I have not been tempted to give up CDs for a streaming service. It's also personal: most streaming services just don't have a metadata field for "composer." As a composer, I rather resent that!
* * *

Woody Allen is directing Gianni Schicchi at La Scala.
The film director, hounded out of Manhattan by his former wife and stepchildren, is staging Gianni Schicchi at the home of Italian opera, courtesy of Alexander Pereira.
As always with Slipped Disc, the comments are worth a look.

* * *

Composer David Bruce has a number of videos over at YouTube. This one, about the uses of silence, is quite interesting:


* * *

 Yuja Wang has a unique approach to practicing:


That's how to get a really fortissimo chord!

* * *

For our envoi today, let's listen to a track from the new CD of the chamber music of Erika Fox. This is On Visiting Stravinsky's Grave at San Michele played by Richard Uttley. Blogger will not embed, so follow the link.


(When I accessed this clip on YouTube it had only nine views!)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Note on Moment Form

I have been playing and composing in moment form for almost forty years. Good heavens! That's longer than Mozart was alive. But it turns out that moment form is not so easy to understand for players or composers. Let's do a little history. Here is the definition from Wikipedia:
In music, moment form is defined as "a mosaic of moments", and, in turn, a moment is defined as a "self-contained (quasi-)independent section, set off from other sections by discontinuities."
Heh! Like the definition of "ontology" in philosophy, that confuses as much as it clarifies! Ontology: the study of being qua being. Heh, again. The Wikipedia article has some background, but it is still confusing. Let me give my take on the subject. The first moment form piece I played was, as I said the other day, Night Rain by Tony Genge. In this piece each player has several little "cells" or "moments" meaning little melodic fragments or phrases. How they come together is different with each performance and so there is no rhythmic co-ordination. However, the two players are listening to one another and shaping how they play and what moment they choose according to the context. The effect is of an open, floating kind of atmosphere. You can't get this effect by writing down notes in a row in a rhythmic pattern.

One piece by Stockhausen that I always found interesting is his Klavierstüke XI which is described as follows:
Klavierstück XI consists of 19 fragments spread over a single, large page. The performer may begin with any fragment, and continue to any other, proceeding through the labyrinth until a fragment has been reached for the third time, when the performance ends. Markings for tempo, dynamics, etc. at the end of each fragment are to be applied to the next fragment.
This is rather different from how his other moment form pieces are structured and also rather different from how Tony Genge's is structured and how mine are structured. What they all have in common are two fundamental things: there is no fixed linear "narrative" and the performance will be different on every occasion. For me, the appeal is that instead of marching through the piece in a measured way, the feeling is of being in a space where events are occurring in somewhat unpredictable ways. Why this is appropriate for my string quartet movement is that I am trying to re-create a specific, unusual atmosphere that I experienced in an Old Growth forest. You are surrounded by enormous trees, like being in a great, natural cathedral, and you hear various levels of sound: a very indefinite soughing of the wind in the trees, the occasional creaking of branches, an isolated bird song and so on. The light is subdued, like dusk, as the sun rarely breaks through to the forest floor.

I am structuring this movement in certain ways so it is largely free within organized boundaries. What I am trying to do is cultivate the right atmosphere but doing it within a harmonic structure.

I hope this helps a bit to understand what moment form is all about! Oh, one final thought. Moment form brings out an interesting ambiguity in the concept of musical notation. Notation in Western music got established when Guido de Arezzo came up with the idea of orienting the notes around a line that specified a pitch. This developed into the five-line staff we use today. The idea is that standard musical notation, sometimes called "vocal" notation, is a kind of transcription of what a performance will be. Oh, those are the notes they are playing! But there are other kinds of notation, particularly tabulature. This looks like vocal notation because it uses staff lines, but instead of dots there are numbers or letters. Tablature, used by the lute and guitar, shows you where to put your fingers, but it does not show what sound will result. So tablature is a set of instructions, not a transcription. Moment form notation, which looks like regular notation, is in a sort of grey zone: it is kind of a set of instructions to the players: you do this and you do this. But it does not show what the result will be. There cannot be a moment form "score."

Here is the aforementioned Klavierstüke XI by Stockhausen: