The World Is Flat, eh….

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Okay. Not the world, but Toronto certainly is. And no major bridges; or at least not like the George Washington or Golden Gate. That was my first impression flying in over TO in my first visit back in 5 years. Toronto was the city of my 20s. It was the place where I learned to be an active performing composer. I was still spending time in the NYC/CT area, but TO was the place in which I paid rent for a good 9 years. But this is only the third time I’ve visited since 1986. I occasionally think that my attitude toward being a composer in society is still quite Canadian. I still hold on to the idea, despite much evidence to the contrary in the USA, that being a composer of new and unique music is a valued profession. When I lived up here, the Canadian gov’t was actively trying to find it’s own unique Canadian Culture and they poured $$ into the arts. It’s not quite like that now, but government support is still way more than any artist in the US is used to. I do believe Canada would still rather support it’s artists than build tanks and robot jets.

I think it’s also a question of education. As far as I know the arts are still a valued part of public education up here. I think the reason why there are so many people listening to music on their cell phones (at least in NYC) is because people are no longer taught how to listen to music. Sure, Cage said all sound is music, but that worked because at some point he was taught how to listen to music and could then appreciate those same qualities in all sound. Without some sort of guidance at a young age (or at least hearing live music at the community level) music gets reduced to a snappy rhythm, a melody with a hook, and a brand name. All things adequately conveyed over the dime sized speaker of a cellphone.

But I digress. Actually, not really. It seems, on the surface anyway, that the general aesthetic standards in this small but large country called Canada, or at least this city of Toronto, are of a higher standard than what I’m used to in the USA, or at least NYC. Maybe I’m just being a Toronto-phile, or seeing things through 20 year old memories, but things just feel quite different up here than they do in The States.

There are two dear composer friends I have stayed in touch with over these many years. One is the pluderphonicist & altered sax player John Oswald, and the other, bassoonist turned suling (Indonesian flute) master Andrew Timar. John takes every opportunity to do something new and absolutely unique (while still managing to coax strange and wonderful sounds from his plastic reeded saxophone as he did 30 years ago). Andrew has dedicated himself to Indonesian music, specifically the suling, even to the point where he no longer composes on a regular basis. But, damn, that guy can play suling, and is a wellspring of knowledge about most things Indonesian.

Here is a bit of Andrew Timar playing suling (with the gamelan I helped start 25 years ago, The Evergreen Club), in a piece by Lou Harrison (google readers see below):

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And here is a video excerpt of John Oswald’s one-person “opera” (with the wonderful Susanna Hood performing).

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