écouter la nouvelle musique

by pieces of moments


There has been a layer of fog over Boston and Cambridge the last couple of days. At times the fog becomes over saturated and wrings itself out in spurts of showers, otherwise it just hangs there defying gravity, making the city even more low to the ground than it already is by hiding the tops of the few tall buildings in the city. It was the perfect day to sit with a cup of tea and take a rare moment in the middle of the day to watch Ina make something delicious for her friends. You may have guessed by that last sentence that I was not in the office today. I took the day off to do catch up on a few things and mostly just to have a three day weekend. I very, very rarely just take time off for no real reason, so it seemed extra exotic and therefore something to savor slowly.

I did spend a little part of the day trying to figure out what to do about my taxes. I know, it’s a bit last minute, but with everything going on lately, it just got pushed back and pushed back. Also I hate figuring out self employment tax stuff. Ugh. Why can it not be easy? Is anyone an expert at self employment taxes? This might be the first year I just give up and hire someone. I need to stop talking about this. It makes me feel disjointed. I’m on staycation for crying out loud.

My one venture out into the world was to Trident to meet up with Kent, a classical saxophonist/sound artist/multimedia artist colleague of mine from NEC. Over some lattes and Russian Caravan teas he showed me his new multimedia projects. We got into a super interesting conversation about how audiences intake information in a concert setting. It’s a topic that has captured my curiosity for some time, now, so I was glad to mull it over with him for a couple hours. The issue is part of his doctoral dissertation proposal. It isn’t an easy task to envelope the audience and make them feel immersed in the experience, or maybe it is and the standard methods just make it hard? I know one thing: I am sick of passive audiences. What ever happened to dialogue? Not spoken word, but like, that transcendent state of being there together, artist and audience, creating the moment together? Artist and audience need each other, so why do they so often exist so autonomously? Makes no sense. Is it society? Maybe citizens are all too often taught to sit and observe, or worse yet, to not even observe but just watch rather than interact?

My Djembe drumming professor at NEC said something that I hear again in my mind from time to time. He was discussing the repetition of rhythms and how some Westerners complain that they become monotonous and thus boring. Apparently according to the tradition it is said that the listener has to bring something along to meet the sound, not just passively listen. The idea being if you have nothing to bring to the sound it must mean you are empty. I have taken that and contemplated it within the parameters of our Western “classical” music tradition. At what point is music a one way process? Um, try never. An active performer and a passive audience is equivalent to the sound of one hand clapping. Right?

Okay, let me refine my statements here. I guess I’m thinking more specifically of works not traditionally performed – works by lesser known composers of a given era, or lesser known works of “famous” composers, or totally new music that contains patterns, techniques, and sounds that might be totally unfamiliar to the audience. These are often the works where the general concert going audience gets derailed. I know, I get it, not everyone is going to like to listen to some of the more recondite and abstruse stuff to which I listen. My ears have been at this for decades and I have spent countless hours studying and performing so naturally I am going to find an intellectual interest in certain types of music where the general audience is only going to hear sounds that make them say “what was that?” I’m okay with that…to some degree. I just wish more people would strap on their curiosity before entering a concert hall. More often than not I feel general audiences go to receive music therapy – to calm their nerves after a long day, to hear something “pretty”, or conventionally moving. What ever happened to a sense of adventure? I don’t care if you “like” or “don’t like” what you hear – the point is you heard it! Maybe the elitist complex of the traditional “classical” scene has made it difficult for audiences to feel free to say they just don’t “get” what they heard?

You know what I want? I want these days to return – the days when avant guard “classical” musicians got to be on network tv. Check out John Cage on the old game show “I’ve Got A Secret” (note how the audience laughs at the list of “instruments” and at the performance itself at times):

WHAT HAPPENED TO THOSE DAYS!?!?! Cage’s appearance was not an isolated incident, either. Can you imagine flipping on NBC on a Friday night these days to see John Zorn, or hear the Arditti Quartet rip on some Lachenmann? Maybe Boulez in discussion with Pierre-Laurent Aimard?

We can’t even get MTT on network stations and that dude is way ready for his close-up.


I don’t have an answer. I’m still trying to suss it out.

Well, now that’s off my chest…

Speaking of new, did you see this rockin’ list over at Pitchfork? Save your $$ and circle your favs…

So I watched De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”) this evening.

I recommend it.

The film includes the Brahms Rhapsody in G Minor, which for one reason or another has been floating around in my blood for the last couple of months. I really don’t like Hélène’s interpretation of the piece, I think she totally botches the haunting section with the repeated minor second motif between A and B-flat. I get why she does it – the staccato markings in the score – but she gets a little too adamant about the staccatos if you ask me. Actually, it’s more that I think her tempo is waaaaaaaaay crazy fast in that section. Totally is not how I play it. I hear them as whispered murmuring agitations – the kind that float to the surface of your thoughts in a moment of solitude, trapped in your mind as if in a slow motion pinball machine. But, that’s the beauty of music, is it not? I hear it one way, Hélène hears another, Martha another, and you might hear it totally different yet.

Frankly, I think Hélène is at her best with more modern works like Arvo Pärt’s “Credo”….but that’s just my opinion…and another topic for another time.