Music on Main composer-in-residence Jocelyn Morlock recently interviewed me and a series of other composers, ranging from Louis Andriessen to David Lang, Gary Kulesha, and Kaija Saariaho. The result is her fascinating Compendium of Ideas About Form in Music, which I would encourage you to read in full.
In Morlock’s words:
I asked some of the leading composers of our time to tell us their thoughts on form in music: what form means to them, how they structure their music, if/how they make formal plans, thoughts on repetition, audible structure from the listener’s viewpoint, and how their ideas on form have changed over the course of their careers.
Her narrative weaves together bits and pieces of the composers’ responses. She also includes the full responses at the end, though they’re a little hard to navigate, so I’ve reprinted my answers here as well: Read more ›
Tags: David Lang
, david pay
, Gary Kulesha
, jocelyn morlock
, Kaija Saariaho
, Louis Andriessen
, music on main
, music theory
We live at a time that prizes entrepreneurship above all else, and this is bad for art. Not that entrepreneurs are out to destroy the arts, it’s just that artistic and business innovation are fundamentally antagonistic. Yes, entrepreneurs have unquestionably created value for the arts, but the actual business is always one step removed from the actual art. At best, entrepreneurship provides stuff for artists to sell and then gets the hell out of the way. At worst, entrepreneurship turns art and artists into disposable commodities.
Unfortunately, our societal love affair with entrepreneurship has confused this relationship. Suddenly all artists are expected to be business innovators, as if coming up with a marketing plan were the self-evident first step in the artistic process. Read more ›
, hans abbing
, mason currey
, mass markets
, miley cirus
, richard strauss
The National Music Centre‘s Nathan Schmidt interviewed me recently and put together an interesting profile. The discussion goes into depth on some my influences and philosophies about composition, as well as my thoughts on the role of classical music in today’s society and how it connects to other types of art. Check it out:
For decades now, classical music proponents have tried to make their organizations more accessible in order to attract audiences. This has always been a misguided and ineffective technique, and in fact I think it’s part of the reason we’ve seen shrinking interest in classical music even as other “high art” forms gain status and popularity.
The failure of classical music versus other art forms really hit home for me recently when I read this article: a young, cultured non-musician goes to hear an orchestral premiere of a composer he knows in another context and grapples to try to understand the music. He feels he “should” get it, but his lack of experience with classical music prevents him from enjoying the performance. If making music accessible were relevant this wouldn’t have happened Read more ›
, cold war
, dancing with the stars
Some friends of mine were having an interesting Facebook discussion around Ellen Cushing’s recent article in the East Bay Express, about crowdfunding, philanthropy, and what the young and well-to-do of Silicon Valley mean for the future of the arts. The issue was whether or not crowdfunding was replacing traditional arts philanthropy and what this means for the long-term viability of arts organizations. Kickstarter campaigns are great for early-stage artists, but they couldn’t reasonably sustain something like the San Francisco Symphony, or even smaller chamber organizations like SFCMP or SFSound. So if young people with a lot of money are eschewing the traditional philanthropic route in favor of crowdfunding, what does that mean for arts organizations?
Nothing. Crowdfunding is a new category of fundraising, and it draws a different set of people for reasons unrelated to traditional philanthropy—each addresses a separate “need” for the donor that the other doesn’t. The reduction in philanthropic support for the arts right now is not tied to crowdfunding, but rather to larger shifts in cultural priorities. Read more ›
, public good
, robert moses
, silicon valley
Ta-Nehisi Coates had an interesting article recently in the Atlantic about being asked, as an emerging journalist, to write for free. He got his leg up in the industry that way, and he makes the argument that there’s no ethical problem with asking people to write without paying them (as in, for the exposure). Obviously, there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and I found myself pondering the question anew in relationship to composing, though really it holds true for any artistic endeavor.
The more I think about it, it seems you can make an ethical argument on either side of the debate depending on if you see yourself primarily as an entrepreneur or a professional. That’s because the arts are neither businesses nor professions in the true sense of either word, and neither model fits that well—whatever path you choose, it’s going to be a compromise. In my own case, I always try to get paid and I usually succeed, but if it’s a project I really care about, I don’t let a failed grant application stop me. Read more ›
This is the second in my installment of mini-composition lessons based on non-classical music, this time on the topic of how to write for voice. Today, I’m going to take a look at “Police Story” by the Dirty Projectors, which I think is a fantastic example of how to use timbre and word-music placement to great effect. “Police Story” is practically an instructional guide on how to fully and effectively use voice in composition. It’s also great in a lot of other ways, but we’ll focus on the vocal elements. Read more ›
I saw a meme on Facebook a while ago, the one with the fake greeting card and custom text: “‘Yay! It’s the weekend,’ said no composer, ever.” Funny yes, but completely wrong. Bravado aside, if you consistently work “weekends” (meaning, you don’t take planned days off on a weekly basis), your art will suffer.
Composers think they’re being tough by never taking structured breaks and working at any time of day or night. Sometimes they use the excuse that composition doesn’t pay very well to justify this type of constant working attitude. More often, they do it as a part of the mystique of being an artist: you are so driven and inspired that you have no desire to take weekends off, you’d rather be constantly immersed in the creative process.
Unfortunately, every profession makes the same kinds of bullshit excuses, from CEOs to stockpickers. Read more ›
David Pay of Vancouver’s Music on Main asked me to write a composer’s profile of Ana Sokolovic. The article, Ana Sokolovic: Made in Canada (Sort of) is now available. In it, I talk about the national character of Canadian music and how Sokolovic’s approach to composition finds a very Canadian way of dealing with her Serbian musical roots.