Infinite Interest

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I was just speaking to a friend who was saying how she finds everything interesting in that everything is an expression of the infinite combination of things. (Yes, she’s a poet.) I found that thought to be very refreshing.

To that end, here is what I found particularly interesting today, the 3rd to last day of 2007.

Over on his weblog, composer Daniel Wolf wonders what if…

We all wake up one morning having forgotten music, what music is, and what music does to us. Three things can happen: (1) we re-invent music, more or less as it was before, or (2) we re-invent music, but it differs in substantial ways from what it had been, or (3) we get about with our lives but without any music. What have we lost and what have we gained in each scenario? What does this suggest about the nature and value of music? To what degree do these three possibilities reflect the working methods of a composer?

I lean towards #2. If fact, that is my modus operandi as a composer. I try to re-invent music with every new piece and every new improvisation. A daunting task, certainly, but there are, after all, infinite possibilities to be explored. Earlier this year I performed with John Duykers in a song festival at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (hear it here). At the post concert reception I found myself talking with 3 other composers. We were discussing how there is no longer any defined “school” to be a part of. It seems at one point you could either follow Schoenberg or Stravinsky, then Cage or Babbitt, but now it’s “every man for himself.” One fellow (a very academic composer) said his solution is to compose music similar to the music he likes to listen to. Being a bit of a rebel (and thinking of Xenakis), I said “Well, I prefer writing music that I can not imagine listening to.” The unimaginable is where I’m most comfortable.

Mr. Wolf’s premise can also be explored when a musical instrument that has been developed for a specific music tradition becomes part of a drastically different music tradition. Like the use of the western violin in Indian Carnatic music. Or, most strikingly, the use of the piano in traditional Burmese music. Just as it is fascinating to imagine what sort of new music human beings would come up with upon losing all known music, it’s amazing to hear how western instruments are played by folks who have zero knowledge of western music. Here is the incomparable U Ko Ko, Burmese pianist.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

kac attac January 5, 2008 at 1:09 am

I think it’s healthy to strive to write your own favorite music, music that you would want to listen above most all else if given the choice. I’m not sure the idea of “composing music similar to what [I] like to listen to” quite has the same resonance; they’re not really the same thing. Also, I think it’s almost equally important to be filling holes in the body of work that already exists, i.e. as an issue of being original versus being derivative. If it’s not “unimaginable,” we can at least strive for “unimagined.”

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