Culture no.1 is the first in a series of three pieces that deal with the changing role of music in culture, and I wrote it while working on my Master’s degree at UC San Diego. The impetus for the piece was a series of four unrelated samples (and one derivative sample) that I found on my hard drive, left over from other projects. The samples play at various points in the music, and in one way or another, the instrumental parts derive their material from them.
In Culture no.1, I wanted to focus on several issues that I saw as particularly relevant to our rapidly changing culture milieu. These include an immediate and simple presentation of material, clarity of purpose, the highest possible degree of simplicity in the organization of material, and musical ideas that can live “in the moment”, without the need to reference large sections of the piece on multiple levels. These are themes that have remained important to me since and have also figured prominently in the subsequent two pieces in the Culture series.
When I first wrote Culture no.1, I thought of it in terms of a dichotomy between popular music and the Western classical tradition. However, in the subsequent years I’ve tempered my interpretation. I no longer see a conflict between traditions, only a reflection on the rituals of music-making. It is also, to a point, a testing of cultural conventions particular to the concert-music ritual. This focus on ritual and cultural convention is what I think makes the piece successful in the end. I’ve gotten a lot of strong reactions to Culture no.1, from “incomprehensible” to “masterpiece”. For me, that kind of polarization always speaks to the cultural resonance of a work of art, and cultural resonance is certainly appropriate to the theme I wanted to explore.