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Musings of an Obscure Composer

The Nagual Composer's periodic musings on the milieu of "New Music," and other topics that cross his mind.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

“Beautiful soup! Who cares for fish, game or any other dish?”

"Only the pure of heart can make good soup" - Beethoven


The last three months have been even more of non-summer than usual in the Bay Area. Decent tomatoes only recently arrived. It’s not a great year for tomatoes. Still there are some ripe ones out now. The cheapest tomatoes at my local farmers’ market are the slightly overly-ripe tomatoes that will be too soft at any moment. Get them for song and make gazpacho rojo.

Gazpacho rojo is often considered an Andalusian dish, but the recipe I use comes from the version made by the Catalan chef, Antonio Buendía, which was published in the Chronicle. Buendía owned and operated Vinga, a great Catalan restaurant in the then-rising South of Market in San Francisco. Alas, he went on to an easier life teaching cooking in Puerto Rico.

I use more almonds than are called for in Buendía’s recipe. I suggest peeling the almonds before blending. To peal the almonds, just blanche them in boiling water for a moment and pop them out of their skins. Then toast them in 350 degree oven.

I add more and pimentón than his recipe suggests. I have a Mexican passion for Capsaicin, rather than a Catalan sense of restraint about it. The original recipe doesn’t call for as much pimentón as I like.

Take the quantities with a grain of salt. Maybe you’ll want more tomatoes or red pepper. I’ve added croutons to the dish, which may upset Catalan purists. In the interest of passionate excess, I use more red and yellow peppers then are called for in the original recipe.

You can strain the soup for a more elegant presentation. Personally, I like the texture and I don;t strain it.

If you are making double or triple recipe (and why shouldn’t you?) and will eat it later, add very little water. the soup thickens and in the refrigerator. Before serving shake some water and crushed ice in a cocktail shaker and thin to the desired consistency. Then empty the shake, add more crushed ice and make the Floridita Cocktail, the recipe for which can be found in one of my previous blogs.

Suggested music to accompany your soup: Mompou Piano Music, Stephen Hough piano, Hyperion, ASIN: B000002ZZP

GAZPACHO ROJO



Serves 6 to 8.



Ingredients


4 slices stale, toasted baguette
4 thick slices of baguette, cubed drizzled with olive oil and toasted until brown
2 lbs. very ripe tomatoes
1 medium green bell pepper

2 medium red bell pepper

2 medium yellow bell pepper

3 cloves of garlic

1 large seedless cucumber or 4-5 small cucumber (seed them if they are heavily seeded)

2.5 oz. peeled and toasted almonds

1 tbs. bittersweet pimentón
3/4 tsp. hot pimentón
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup sherry wine vinegar

½ cup iced water

2 Tbs. salt, to taste



Method


In batches, puree the ingredients, except for the croutons in a blender. Chill for several hours. Thin to desire consistency with iced water before serving.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The meaning of things for an artist

"Simplicity is not a goal, but one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself, as one approaches the real meaning of things." - Constantin Brancusi

Friday, February 26, 2010

If I were a praying man, I'd implore the muses ...

How is that some parts of the musical world have come to value a piece of music based solely on whether it is deemed to sufficiently advance some technical aspect of what is assumed to be an inevitable musical progress  There is progress in computer processing speed because there is an objective standard by which to measure progress.  Our society believes that there is PROGRESS in life, but the quality of inner life is not subject to accurate and objective measurement.  The ghost of the 1950’s technocratic view of music has joined with popular cultures lust for the next new thing.  One can hear it comments after improve concerts.  The improve concerts I attend seem to sound much like the sort of silly “free improve” people perpetrated more 30 years when I was a student.  Why is new so important?  New Music is unlikely to join the realm of mass-marketed culture – or at least it is likely to be highly unsuccessful if does try to join mass consumer culture.  The new no longer shocks, it merely comforts by the sameness of its recurrence.  There is not avant-garde.  It would be a fun and glamorous thing if there were, but the revolution before last eliminated all the rules.
 
Do I imagine it or, too often, is the measure of whether music is “serious,” or should be taken seriously, whether it is sufficiently grim, or contains the requisite level of dissonance or chromaticism.  I am not against dissonant music.  Dissonance is useful tool to express many things.  It is  a tool not an end.  Audiences can close their minds to difficult music that has something important, or something painful, to say.  That is no reason that the composer who feels compelled to say something difficult should not say it.  Neither is at a reason to indulge in the complex or the agonized.
 
Is it possible for that uses simple means and works with the utmost clarity to be profound.  I think it is.  It is no easier to say something profound with a simple language than it is with a complex musical language.   Writing music is so damned hard.  The craft of composition alone is daunting.  There are no guarantees that one will accomplish anything.  I only can hope that I will not confuse craft with methodology, or complexity or a grim demeanor with profundity.

THE AGONY OF OVER-SPECIALIZATION

 It must be painfully difficult to be a composer in academia.  Composition isn’t physics. One does not compose according clear unvaried eternal rules.  Music is a cultural artifact. Teaching composition is, however, a practical, not a theoretical endeavor. The pudding is tasty or it is not.  I’ve recently read some articles in academic “humanities journals.”  Some of the dreadful doctrinaire nonsense that I have read in various journals for the humanities is frightening. If reading is the stuff is painful, I can only imagine the agony of writing it.  In American universities, the proof of mastery is not in the pudding but in a certificate that entitles one to theorize interminably about pudding.  So, in honor of academia I present lectures on pudding.
 
American Music Theory Professor:  “It is clear that Beethoven's pudding was entirely derived from the essentially gelatinous Ursatz.  We can only speculate as to the bone-like source of the Master’s gelatinous core motive from which the entire structure flows inevitably and logically.  Schenkerian analysis reveals the formal shaking rhythm as the bowl was brought to the table.”
 
American Political Science Professor (liberal branch):  “What after all is a “pudding” but a term created by the European aristocratic and managerial classes to apply to an essentially peasant concoction, in order to apply a glamorous sounding term to some often gelatinous gloop, and thereby keep the lower classes happy with their lot.  Indeed in Britain, this “pudding” was even sometimes a chunky concoction created by the bourgeoisie in imitation of what they thought the aristocracy ate, and which with their increasing economic power, the bourgeoisie demanded as a sign of their new-found authority over the laboring masses.”
 
American Professor (Neoconservative variety): ”Pudding, students, is not something you know.  It is something of your great-great-grandparents generation. It is something that was known before the Roosevelt Administration began 80 years of relentless liberal regulation.  If the economic system were to be freed from the burdens of regulation, True Pudding could make its return.  If it were freed from liberal orthodoxy, entrepreneurs might create new concepts in pudding.  However, as long the oppressive FDA regulation and the capital gains tax continue to disincentivize pudding innovation, you young people shall not know real pudding.  It is liberal orthodoxy that people need Big Government to protect them from the “dangers” of pudding.  Liberalism teaches that liberals know what is best for people and that people need to be “protected” from additives to pudding like strychnine and plaster of Paris.  If the experience and teaching of Friedrich von Hayek teach you nothing else, let it teach you that man is an economic animal and the market will cure the what ails economic man – so long as the pudding or market discipline don’t kill them first.”
 
American Philosophy Professor:  “What then does Neoplatonism tell us about pudding.  Not just that stuff that Bill Cosby advertises, which is a mere, corrupted shadow that has emanated from true pudding, but true pudding, the quintessential pudding, that lies at the core of reality?  You may think that this issue is best left in the past, back in the middle ages.  But, I suggest that the battles of Logical Positivism. Structuralism and Phenomenology are the same effort as the ancient search for the true pudding.  They are in their essential form the arguments of Aristotelian-.Abelardian Realism and Plotinian Nominalism.  Merleau-Ponty brought us the realization that Cartesian dualism could not explain the concept and perception of pudding.  Levi-Strauss teaches that pudding is not a thing but a cultural construct by which man relates the myth of creation to refrigeration.  The very concept of pudding is an effort to explain how refrigeration came into being.”

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We Owe the Catalans So Much

“bailan tregua y Catalá …”
- Julio Cortázar from
Historias de Famas y Cronopios

Think of all we owe Cataluña? They are the folk who gave us that gentle, elegant, dance of resistance, the Sardana. The Catalans gave us the music of Mompou, the architecture of Lluís Domènech i Montaner (which I prefer to the lunatic opus dei wet dreams of the right-wing Gaudí).  The Catalans gave us goose with pears in cava. But for Cataluña we would not have, the great novel of the Spanish civil war, Mercè Rodoreda’s La plaça del diamant. The Catalans produced some of Europe’s finest Romanesque art works. They gave us Barcelona, that golden town. They are an admirably industrious culture. They match the Basques dish for dish in kitchen.

What a peculiarly eccentric culture the Catalans created for themselves. They sit between France and the Carmenland of Andalusia. They resist the cultural dictates of imperial Castilla and long for their days of Mediterranean primacy under the Aragon-Catalan empire. For me, there is usually something in Catalan art (Picasso and Dalí excepted) that is somewhat reticent even it its most expansive and baroque moods. Mompou embraces that reticence and quietude whole-heartedly. But, I find it too in Miró and Montsalvage.

Not all Catalans stayed at home and of those who left, they didn’t all go to Paris. One who left for greatness in Cuba was the legendary mixologist, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert Ribalaigua, who for many years owned the famous La Floridita bar in Havana. Someday Fidel and Raul will die, the politics of Cuba will change and I will be able to visit Havana. It will probably be too late for La Floridita. Fidel already installed a statue of Hemmingway in the writer’s favorite corner of La Floridita. It’s now museum, a place of reverence. It’s now probably a rotten watering hole. Constantino is gone, but he left us my favorite cocktail the Floridita. Let us drink to Catalans everywhere!

El coctél La Floridita

1 ½ oz. white rum (use a good rum like Mathulsalem)
½ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice (put the rind in the shaker too)
½ oz. sweet vermouth
Splash of grenadine (real grenadine if possible, rather than that died sugar water)
Splash of white crème de cacao

Shake all the ingredients over cracked ice and strain. Serve in a martini glass with a slice of lime for garnish.

Keep It Simple and You May Still be Stupid

Keep It Simple and You May Still Be Stupid!

When young lawyers are about to try their first jury trial, their mentors often tell them to follow the KISS Rule - that is Keep It Simple Stupid. A good ten years ago I made a sharp turn in my compositional approach. Regarding my change of course I’ve often asked myself “What the hell were you thinking?!!” I embarked upon what I think of as my period of enforced simplicity. For a long time I wrote much more dissonant and complex music than I have done for about 10 years. It was a sort of therapy, perhaps, from which I soon began began to move on. Fortunately, it’s not Freudian, Jungian or Cognitive therapy so there are no therapist bills or expensive pills. It was a long ear cleaning, removing the historical wax. I was never some integral serialist or radical avant-gardiste, but simplify my music I did.

The simplified music was not really romantic, or even Neo-Romantic. Composers like Aaron Jay Kernis, Richard Danielpour and David Del Tredici (who keeps his sense of humor in the same tool bag as his grand statement), produce often tonal music with big romantic sweep and gravitas. What they write is very hard to write. Few people can do it, and they do it very, very well. I enjoy what they do, but it’s not something I could convincingly pull off without my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek. Who am I to adopt la style grand chef de oeuvre? I opted for what I call my Toy Romanticism.

Why would I do such a thing? Why put myself up to the ridicule of my intellectual betters. I’m certain that even many of my friends in the New Music world think my music is a farce. What did I hope for? I was weary of the angst over pitch selection and need to find innovation harmony that I had acquired twenty years before in college, and from which I had never quite recovered. All of those things had “gone about as fer as they can go.” I couldn’t stand any more music that constantly declared the composers profound suffering and distress at existence. I actually like living and enjoy a good time. I realized that unless one had the reputation of Pendercki or some rising star, performers were not going to suffer difficult music that required large amounts of rehearsal time. If fifteen minutes of rehearsal time is what performers give, we composers had better give them something that can sound like something in fifteen minutes. Most of all, I held the foolish hope that a few of my non-composer friends might enjoy my music.

Haven’t any of the composer out there who think of themselves as members of the “avant-garde” ever wished that your grandmother, your sister or non-musician friends might really enjoy a piece of your music without straining to “understand.” I am haunted by the words of long deceased grandmother who used to say; “Why don’t your write something with a little pep, like that Klezmer music.” I came to think that was really pretty good advice.

In my day job I am lawyer. I sit I in a government office with another 50 lawyers. Each has been graduated from some university and and from some over-rated trade school called a law school. Yet, if I walk down the hall and ask them one after another “whether they know the music of Ligeti, Elliot Carter, Milton Babbitt or (even) Steve Reich, they will look at me with blank stares and shake their heads saying ”Tony, I love the way you’re off in your own artistic world. But I don’t know anything about that stuff.” If I try playing some of my favorite music, say for example the Ligeti Requiem, one or two will comment that it sounds like music from a science fiction movie. One might even say that “it sounds like 2001.” Most will tell me to turn it the hell off. The middle class and professional class of today is not the high culture mad bourgeoisie of 19th Century Vienna. America’s superrich don’t want to commission string quartets. they want to own JImmy Hendrix’s guitar or Kurt Cobain’s sweaty tee shirt. I have only intermittent contact with the New Music world. We g to school and learn a musical culture to which we cannot belong, and which no longer exists. It’s very hard to stick with dissonant or complicated music when nothing in one’s social milieu says it makes sense. We admire Charles Ives for his doggedness in the face of a world that didn’t case, but it was one of the things that in part broke him. Just being difficult is no guarantee that someday “postmen will whistle” one’s tunes, as Schoenberg predicted. Schoenberg was wrong. The postman may ring twice but he doesn’t whistle a tune from Schoenberg’s “A Survivor from Warsaw.” That isn’t to say Schoenberg’s music doesn’t have value, but it’s value is not that it will be useful as a tune and sales device for the ice cream truck. If the ice cream truck is playing “Pierrot Lunaire,” you and your children should run, because you’ve stumbled into the view of a psycho ice cream man with murder on his mind.

I hoped that my music might appeal to somebody in the world in which I live. Well, it didn’t but we’ll come back to that. It was still a valuable effort for me. I even like much of the music I wrote. This hideous populist intention to please people, of course, violates the Prime Directive of certain composers which states in pertinent part: “To worry about whether anyone likes it is to try to be “accessible,” and to be “accessible” is to sell one’s self cheap and write trash.” I just can’t accept the Prime Directive. While I’m not about tot try and write the next hip hop hit (are there still hip hop hits?). I do think that music is a social function. There is no “great music” in an absolute sense or in a vacuum. It’s always a part of some lingua franca or tradition – even if nobody really likes it arises out of a tradition, even if it’s a brief tradition.

One would think that Steve Reich and Terry Riley fought and won the war of tonality and clarity in the 1960’s but I’m not convinced that it is over. Perhaps I simply needed to fight it with myself to clear out any remnant sense that I must write “academically serious music.” We are taught in music school that we must look to the “Masters,” the Germanic Masters to learn the necessary lessons for writing music. [I was always bother by “the Master” thing. It sounds too much like Igor talking to Dr. Frankenstein.] I think we are taught the wrong lessons about what we should take away. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget argued that every child, in learning math and science. was reinventing the knowledge and processes that were developed over hundreds of years. So every artist my him/herself re-fight at least some of the battles of our fore-bearers. The snobbery and faux Hegelian historicism of our academic training is not easily overcome. We feel guilt if our music does not try to extend some previously established technical trick or seek to out grim the grimmest of the “Masters.” My decision to sue a few triads and virtually no harmonic motion, and the homeliest of musical materials gave me a way to learn more about who I am as a composer. Unsurprisingly, just as as it had for Reich, Riley and Glass in the generation before me, rhythm became more important; my music got a “little pep.”

I hoped that if I radically simplified my music that if what I was composing complete crap, that the music would have the virtue to allow everyone to know it’s crap at first sight. I did take the advice of my grandmother, and looked to the model of the minimalists and emphasized rhythm. I don’t write minimalist music, but one must often learn the most important lessons for those very different form one’s self.

Composers can resolve some factors of their over-all stylistic approach rationally, but the over-riding factors are composer’s emotional response to her/his own music balanced against the anticipated appeal to others. We cannot completely reason ourselves to satisfying music. Composers in the European concert tradition are not wholly free of the demands of what the composer perceives as the tradition, They (we) are not free of the desire taught by that tradition to innovate and alter the tradition. Some composers may try to bend to a large degree to what they believe is an inevitable course of the tradition. In fact none of us can respond to the whole of the tradition we pick and chose what parts we think are important. Serialist composers in 1950‘s America responded to what the perceived to be the high art demand of chromaticism and increased complexity - an easy trap for we Americans with a built-in sense of cultural inferiority to Europe. Let’s call it Freudian high art envy. The tried to justify their approach by attributing one line of thinking back to Mozart and even beyond. Like Marxism, hyper-capitalism and the Christian religion it posited that there was progress towards some allegedly know or perhaps unknown end. For such utopian ideologies history cannot be a circle, but must be a line. Utopianism always ends up with someone else paying the tab. In their obsession with complexity and its snob appeal they rejected the notion that a composer might amuse or entertain or give pleasure. But Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven made money precisely because they did “amuse” people, to use the term in a broad sense. They were not embarrassed to be showmen, though Beethoven’s showmanship involved renouncing his showman status in the loudest possible manner - and the people with money found the show very amusing.

I made my music simpler only in part because I speculated that it might be more appealing to the folk of the wold in which I live. I have always found the reductionist quietism of Satie and Mompou to very emotionally appealing. Another blog someday may involve what music we would like to look down and hear at our funeral. Satie’s nocturnes would be one of my choices, but I’ll be dead, so play whatever you want.

Cycles of complexity and simplicity are always occurring in music and culture as a whole. We each need a break for complexity form time to time. In our need for simplicity we go camping, throw out old pairs of expensive shoes or write tonal music.

I rejected much of the more complex music because it seemed to use the extreme language of expressionism without having anything particularly compellingly angst laden to say. What were all those comfortable tenured professors trying say caused the great angst they seemed to want to express, and expressed in such a pallid manner. If I am again moving towards more dissonance and tension it is probably because like the rest of America I am anxious about the long continuing decline of the American empire and what that will mean to me and my family. I suspect China’s art will be increasingly optimistic. Perhaps the time for expressionism is once again upon us. That’s not a happy thought.

If my return to extreme simplicity and use of the common place music idiom did not result in overwhelming popularity, that is not surprising. People in a consumer society want what they know because that is what is expected of them. They are entitled to like what they like and we needn’t take umbrage if they don’t like our music. People don’t want sort of normal music. They want exactly what the are used to. They want Bruce and Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Simplification was not a waste. I re-learned things that I had long forgotten. I learned the importance of clarity of gesture. My music didn’t become wildly popular, but it helped me face myself and my own limitations. I re-learned the hard lesson that people usually understand what contemporary music has to say, if it is to the message they want to hear. I learned the lesson of Ricky Nelson’s silly song “Garden Party.” I learned to please myself. I strongly recommend the tonic of enforced simplicity - at least for a little while.

Let's Try this Again

Let’s try this again.

“O know to end, as to begin”

Well, we shall see if this blog begins. I’ve tried to commence a blog four times previously. Each time I have lost the courage, the drive or lost the flash drive with the writings. This blog will concern “New Music,” the struggle of composing and occasional odd notions that flits through my befuddled mind.  

I intend to jot my thoughts about the “New Music” scene and my own compositional journey. Why do I call this blog the Nagaul Composer? An ancient Mesoamerican tradition holds that each of us has within the essential nature of some particular animal. Some people, nagulaes, have the ability to transform themselves into the animal of their inner nature, and so go about at night as jaguars, monkeys, coyotes or other non-human animals. By day I am a mild-mannered bureaucrat, sitting in my office producing paper. But, by night, after my daughter is put safely to bed, I often become the Nagaul Composer, scribbling music of vast, wide-spread unpopularity. It is that second nocturnal life that leads me to blog.

“So what new music are you blathering on about?”

So it seems that I ought to be clear about which type of music I intend to write, and what might be a good name for it. If one picks up a copy of the magazine “New Music Connoisseur” (and I’ll assume you don’t regularly pick up a copy) one would most likely want to know, generally, what the magazine what is about before coughing up hard earned cash. What is this “New Music?” I’d better be clear on what the term means and . Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be possible. If you’ve just stumbled upon this bog and are not an adept in any of the various cults of “New Music,” you may reasonably assume that the term refers to the latest Lady Gaga cd,. Every week I get Emails from amazon.com urging me to buy “New Music” from Britney Spears (she’s really famous, for the next 15 minutes so no hyper link is required), Lady Gaga (the outfits call for a hyperlink) or Shania Twain (I’m tired of hyperlinks). “New Music” does not pin down a style, or at least the styles I’m concerned with. If the music of the centenarian Elliot Carter and that of the al most as ancient Milton Babbitt whose music is rooted in early Twentieth Century Vienna, are classified as “New Music,” then the term is so broad as to tell very little, except that it doesn’t refer to Lady Gaga, except in the context of an Email from amazon.com. But, who knows whether even that limitation means anything. Perhaps some conservatory-trained composer with one foot in electronica and one foot in the orchestra, somebody like the Bay Area composer, Mason Bates, will step up and create the Lady Gaga suite for Orchestra and oddly dressed conductor. However, I really do not want to see Pierre Boulez in a black leather swimsuit with yellow feathers. I’m not sure that most Lady Gaga fans would take well to an evening Milton Babbitt’s music. Some things are best not mixed.

I can’t even figure out a good name for the stuff that occupies my thoughts. Terms for art are always problematic. It’s the same problem we got when academics decided that “modern” meant T.S. Elliot and Stravinski. One can’t even use modern to me contemporary or music of our time. Stravinski and Elliot are long gone but they remain modern. Some historians use “modern” to describe the time from the Italian Renaissance to 1945. Now modern can mean anything from the Renaissance to the time my grandmother’s youth. We’re just Postmodern Post Toasties – or is the stylish and useless term “postmodern” now out of style.

The term “New Music” is a dreadful and misleading name for the type of music about which I intend to write. The term jumbles together everything from the obscurantist splatter of Brian Ferneyhough, the free improvisation followers of the John Zorn school (what my wife calls “random saxophone honking”), the academic über-serialist crowd, the neo-romantics, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, several varieties of electronic strangeness, John Adams. (Check out Adams’ blog because he’s much funnier than I am and he’s clearly THE most successful composer of “New Music.”) and a thousand isms between. At the same time it excludes Britney Spears, whose musical oeuvre whatever its quality is as newer than Steve Reich’s 1970‘w ecstatic and masterful “Music for 18 Musicians” (I merely make a verifiable observation and do not intend a snide swipe at the Reich work, which is one of my favorite pieces of music.). Mind you, many members of some of these groups think they have the Holy Grail and wouldn’t be seen in the room in which a performance of some other cult’s guru was being performed.

The alternative nomenclature is even worse. “Serious music” implies that the creators of those other types of music aren’t serious or don’t deserve serious consideration. George Clinton, of Parliament/Funkadelic, certainly is a musician who has worked very seriously for many years creating a brand of funk of incredible complexity; though plainly he doesn’t belong in the “new Music” category, because his public image doesn’t seem to require that he posture and be depicted in photos as grim, heavily intellectual, and deep. Someone should do a doctoral dissertation on the photos composers chose to put on their publishers’ and their own websites. Someone is probably at work on one now in the hope that it will lead to a tenure track job at the Southern North Dakota Remedial Community College and School of Taxidermy.

“Art music,” another term sometimes thrown around, implies either that all “New Music” is high art, or that it has some amorphous “artistic value” greater than all those other types of music that aren’t “art music.” All groups have to define themselves by exclusion from others, so why should the “New Music” folk be any different from the rest of humanity. The real problem with the term “Ahhhhhhht Music” is that it sounds like Mrs. Thurston Howell III is talking down to somebody. If it’s “artsy” then maybe it will be appreciated by guys with goatees, bongos and berets. “Paging Maynard G. Krebs.”

“Contemporary classical music,” another term bandied about, says more about some composers’ academic training than it does about their music. In point of fact I don’t think that there is such a thing as “Classical Music,” but I’ll address that another day. Just because we had to analyze Mozart Symphonies in college doesn’t mean our music has that much to do with 18th Century Vienna.

Even worse is the term “modern classical music.” My music marginally fits into the “New Music” world. However, say “classical music” and people think of the German canon. But, I do write music with that tradition behind it. I’m just pocho from Southern Arizona and was not born to the high art European culture that holds those musical values. I do not endeavor to continue a great and powerful intellectual tradition to which I do not belong. "Classical music" once referred to the literate or notated tradition. More and more composers of New Music are finding notation to be unnecessary if not a detriment to their music.

Dennis Báthory-Kitsz (Dennis deserves a hyperlink), a Vermont-based composer and promoter of “New Music,” uses the term “Non-Pop” for what interests me. I’m not sure that some of the music he applies it to isn’t closer to what we generally consider Pop music than what I’m trying to get at.

But, I digress, but perhaps I haven’t digressed far enough. Why am I going to the effort of this blog?

Great Silent Majority of America: Why do you mention this minor digression now? All you do is digress, you half-witted lout. Why don’t you go write some music with nice beat that could have gotten at least a 7 on American bandstand. Do ya think foot tapping is beneath your mighty intellect?

Me-self: Shouldn’t you folk be silent and true to your Nixonian name? I feel as though the ghost of Spiro Agnew were after me.

Great Silent Majority of America: His ghost is after you. Why should a composer write a blog?  

Me-self: None of them should. But nobody has figured out means of stopping them. So many do. Why should I play high and might and pretend I’m any better than those other composers? [Gads, that’s not an answer! It’s another question!] I guess I have no answer for that one.

Great Silent Majority of America: Why should a middle aged, rarely performed, highly unsuccessful composer with a day job write a blog? Oh my where shall we start?  

Me-self: I will answer that one. I am often rather isolated from other composers and the musical world. Perhaps someone smarter and wiser than me will pop in occasionally and offer some wisdom that will put me back on track. (Smarter and wiser? Hell,. that could that could be almost anybody). I need the opportunity to clarify my thoughts. Hell, I need to get it off my chest.

“Highly unsuccessful” that hurts. Perhaps extraordinary lack of success is itself a form of supreme success. Satie claimed that he was freer than Debussy because of the paucity of his professional success.  

In this respect, I myself had a great advance over him: no "prizes" from Rome, or any other town, weighed down my steps, since I don't carry any such prizes around on me, or on my back; for I am a man of the type of Adam (from Paradise), who never won any prizes - a lazy sort, no doubt.  

Satie was in fact not lazy, as is shown by his systematic explorations and his sketches with dates and times appended. Satie didn’t seem to mind “success” when it arrived late in life.  Neither did he seem to know what to do with it. He became bogged down in the inane tribunals of the surrealists, bought collars and umbrellas he would never use and developed an unseemly interest in proving his own originality and priority in innovation.  I cannot compare myself to Satie in any meaningful way. I cannot claim any work as beautiful as the fourth Nocturne, as ravishing and unassumingly radical as the three songs of 1886, as haunting as Socrate or as clever as the dances from Le Piege de Baron Meduse. I won’t engage in declaring grapes sour. I’ll admit that I wouldn’t complain to loudly if suddenly my poor compositions won awards, commissions flowed and ensembles clamored to perform my works. Obscurity does leave me free to follow my doubts about much of the “New Music” scene. I hope that through this blog I can bring my thoughts into some coherent vision by which I can guide my composing when I find myself lost in a dark wood.  

Great Silent Majority of America: Why shouldn’t you spend the time trying to write better music? We take that back. We’ve heard “New Music” and we don’t want any more of it.  

Me-self: I’ve heard that line before. You want what you’re used to.

Great Silent Majority of America: Of course, listen to whatever you want. But there are good reasons I should write this blog. Sometimes I get stuck and need to talk it out. I might as well talk to the electronic void as the wall. Why aren’t you folk more silent? Is Sarah Palin putting you up to this?

Before the good folk of America distracted me, we were defining what I mean by “New Music,” or at least what we ought to call the stuff about which I intend to write. Some years ago, I heard a lecture by the late James Tenney. He said, that when the curious asked him what kind of music he wrote, he said that he wrote “unpopular music.” I’ve adopted that term for my own music from time to time. About 12 years ago I saw Tenney at a concert, and walked up to and apologized for pilfering his term. He graciously said that he didn’t mind in the least. So, I have continued to use that often too true term for my music.  So, “unpopular music” is the thing.
 
I intend to write about my struggles with my own “unpopular music” and that of others. I hope that occasionally someone may write with a useful insight or a suggestion on getting ones’ composing out of the doldrums. 

So, I can’t tell you precisely what the music is about which I intend to write and I can’t even give you good name for it. Sometimes there is no short way to say “hell if I know.” Visit again and maybe you’ll find something interesting.

“Say good night Gracie.”