Class 9 Contemporary Music
Class Announcements • Listening for Wednesday: Some on DAR, some not • http://dustedmagazine.com/features/749 • http://zzzsss.com/media (watch first YouTube video) • If you want to turn in your paper Wednesday, I can grade it for you by Friday • Turn in listening logs on Wednesday
Complexity and Drone • (“Drone” maybe not the best word)
Performance Practice • Remember last week, when we discussed changes in performance practice? • Performers becoming more robotic • Less inflection, vibrato rubato • Some music attempts to combat this trend
Brian Ferneyhough • 1943- (England) • Associated with “New Complexity” movement, but didn’t invent that term himself • Currently teaches at Stanford University; used to teach at UCSD
Brian Ferneyhough: • “It of course can be argued that the amount of detail that one puts in a piece, or that I at least put into a piece, is far higher than that which can be realized. But that's because I don't expect that the performers are going to be exposed to my music all the time. If you learn a Beethoven piano sonata, you don't learn and play only those things that are in the score. You learn and play the twenty generations of piano teachers who have learned from their teachers about how interpretation means not diverging from the text in front of you, but maintaining a fidelity to the text which might require you to play something differently from what is written in the score. Rubato is a case in point.
(continued) • “Look at any score from the Renaissance and you'll find something that looks really rather simple, two or three lines. But if you listen to a recording of so-called authentic performance you will find wild flourishes, you will find decorative embellishments typical of a period and of each type of instrument. The composers didn't think it worthwhile writing these things down because they were dealing with the instruments and the instrumentalists available, and the instrumentalists themselves were very often composers. But today that's not the case.
(continued) • “We've divided up the various tasks of music making much more than is perhaps ultimately good for us, but nevertheless it's what we're faced with at the moment, and so I'm attempting to provoke a consistent awareness in the performer when learning and playing the piece of the very mobile but rich relationship which different sorts of visual conventions may generate with respect to how one puts a piece across to an audience. So it's not as if I'm trying to create a sort of instamatic snapshot of a piece, but I'm interested in providing the steps, sometimes the interlocking and rather self-contradictory steps, via which a performer may ascend to an adequate performance.”
What Ferneyhough is Saying • Performance practice traditions in earlier music add complexity to the information in the score • Earlier pieces are thus much more complex than they appear • With the demise of performance practice traditions, this complexity disappears
So: • Ferneyhough loads his scores with musical information in an effort to make up for that loss of complexity • Also does this to put the performer in a sort of “state”--when the performer isn’t in complete control of the situation
Listening log: Ferneyhough, Bone Alphabet • What might be difficult about this piece? • Does the performer sound out of control to you?
Free Jazz • Free jazz was created by Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s and developed throughout the 1960s • “Free” from the beat of bebop • “Free” from any pre-existing form • Usually atonal • Often completely or almost completely improvised
Cecil Taylor • 1929- (New York)
Cecil Taylor • Pianist who described instrument as “88 tuned drums” • Typically plays very loudly and percussively, using lots of clusters • Classically trained • Early recordings indebted to bebop • But recordings throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s become increasingly “free”
Listening log: Cecil Taylor, Almeda • How are the two players interacting with each other? • What aspects of this music are like jazz?
Anthony Braxton • 1945- (Chicago)
Anthony Braxton • Background in jazz • Composer, and plays saxophone, clarinet and several other instruments • Music combines composition and improvisation • Strongly influenced by Stockhausen, as well as Afro-futurists like Sun Ra
Taking a Wide View • In part because of influence of Stockhausen and Cage, Braxton sees the boundaries of his music as almost limitless • For example, has piece for 100 tubas • Often speaks of writing music that will be performed in huge outdoor spaces • Staged a huge recording session with 50 musicians playing for 8 hours in an ice rink
Blurring boundaries • Braxton seems to see all his music as being part of a common pool • That is, any piece can go with any other, and improvisation can join with any piece • (Braxton also has a complex system to organize improvisation)
Listening log: Anthony Braxton, Comp. 59 • What is going on here? • Which parts sound composed? Which sound improvised?
Morton Feldman • 1926 (New York)-1987
Morton Feldman • Meets John Cage and they bond over performance of Anton Webern’s music • Cage, Feldman and two other composers known as “New York School” • In early career, makes indeterminate music
Late pieces • Late in his life (beginning in the mid to late 1970s, Feldman’s music changes • Long • Fully notated • Doesn’t “go anywhere” • “Drone” not really the right word, but lots of slow, inexact repetitions that don’t head in any particular direction
Kyle Gann in “Painter Envy”: • “On the surface, his music meets most modernist criteria. It is atonal. It is highly chromatic, rippling with dissonant intervals. It rarely articulates a steady beat. Its rhythms are complexly notated, even if they don't sound complex when played.What sticks in the classical-music craw is the stasis of Feldman's music, its absence of drama, direction, or virtuosity. What it has instead, and what sparks its influence, is its mood, a subtle and intricately etched melancholy found (as Feldman noted) in Kierkegaard, Van Gogh, Beckett, Rothko - but almost never in music...
Gann (continued) • “Because his pieces usually have one dynamic marking throughout, Feldman has been called a minimalist, and even, in an implied slap at Glass and Reich, the real minimalist. But how can a work as bristlingly complex, as difficult even follow its score, as For Samuel Beckett be considered minimalist? The idea is absurd. All Feldman's music shares with the minimalists' is its flatness of surface, and his pensive moods, nuanced via reminiscences and slightly varied repetitions, couldn't be more foreign to the mass-produced impersonality of minimalist music and art.”
Listening log: Feldman, Piano and String Quartet • Feldman was a great admirer of Persian rugs. In what way is this music like a Persian rug?
Eliane Radigue • 1932- (Paris)
Radigue • Studied electronic music with Pierre Schaeffer • Uses tape loops as well as synthesizers • Music is notable not for its use of technology, though, but for what we bring to it
Listening to Radigue • When we listen to most music, the music offers a sort of path--it takes us by the hand • But Lucier’s music, the early “gradual process” music of Reich, etc. offer a different way • The music is slow to change, and changes are subtle • There are rarely any obvious changes that would provide clues
So… • The form of the music is, essentially, provided by you • Maybe you think you hear things that aren’t there • Your attention wanders
Listening log: Radigue, Adnos I (1974) • Don’t write until after the example is played • What changes do you hear?
AMM • English improvised music group • (Their music is spontaneously created, without notation) • Created in 1965 • Inspired in part by free jazz, but disliked entertainment roots of jazz
Instead… • AMM sought to create long pieces that had no melody or harmony • Focused on texture instead • Very noisy early in career, then become quieter and more Feldman-influenced in later years
Listening log: AMM, Generative Theme II • What instruments do you hear? • How do the instruments interact with each other?
AMM • Pioneer of improvised music based around extended techniques • Improvised music around extended techniques becomes a major trend in improvised music in 1990s and 2000s
Musical hierarchies • By burying themselves within texture, AMM avoid hierarchies • Toop: “A traditional rock band--the Rolling Stones, say--represents a fairly simple hierarchical model: vocalist Mick Jagger sharing the top of the heap with the Tommy Hilfiger logos, the rest of the band strung out below, followed by the hired hands--bass and keyboards--then an army of production functionaries and anonymous crew members packed down into the base of a vast pyramid.”
Hierarchical Model • Hierarchies also present in contemporary classical music, with composer at top • In AMM, what are the hierarchies? • Everyone fits into a collective texture • Players avoid virtuosity, thereby preventing differentiation • Extended techniques disguise identities of instruments
Hierarchies and technology • Summarizing Toop in Haunted Weather: • There is a world of sound out there that comes mostly from machines • (Think of Russolo and Cage)
The environment • Cage and musique concrete encourage listeners to embrace the sounds of their environment
Machines and music • Increasingly, machines are also used to make music • These machines reduce individuality by: • Masking virtuosity--you can’t see someone doing something technically impressive • Reducing real-time interaction • You can’t see what actions produce what results
So… • In much recent music… • Individuality takes a backseat • For example, businesspeople struggled to market techno music in the 1990s because they couldn’t associate a face with it • Much music comes to embrace this absence of individuality
And… • The performer, and often even the music itself, fades into the background • Music often becomes hard to distinguish from other sounds in its environment
Nakamura • Japanese musician, played in rock groups • “When I stopped playing the guitar it’s like I noticed, I found out I can’t play the guitar anymore because I felt the guitar is not my instrument anymore. Because you need something to express, you need some movement to play the guitar.” • Claims he wants to remove emotion from his music
No-input mixing board • Nakamura plays no-input mixing board • Think about the symbolism of that
Keith Rowe • 1940- (England)
Keith Rowe • Guitarist for AMM • Plays guitar on its side • Prepares the guitar • Uses it to make droning, sustained sounds