I went to Meijer Gardens, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is an impressive place.
Let me say that (1) it’s weird to be in a place emulating the public space of a museum or botanical garden that is not actually a public space but a monument to private wealth; also (2) if this is such a great country, and such a rich country, why can't we make all such spaces free for everyone? and (3) as though the art world isn’t elitist enough, it’s hard to imagine any medium more inaccessible and undemocratic than bronze sculpture.
With that out of the way, let me now admit that I loved, loved, the giant horse.
This must be some sort of transition point in my personal appreciation of art. For so long I’ve gravitated toward the abstract, the mysterious, the esoteric. Today I prefer a multi-story horse. Here is a piece of art that is not seeking to confuse anyone. This piece will tell you exactly what it’s about, and I admire that.
Still though, there are problems with accessibility and aims. Certainly it is a far cry from the avowedly non-commercial art I saw on the walls at the Grackle Gallery in Fort Worth.
Sometimes you think you want a little bit of silence, but that isn’t what you actually want. You don’t really want silence.
Evidently Louis Andriessen would tell his students not to measure a grand pause by seconds in notated ensemble music. Keep in time: metered rests only. This maintains the tension.
A pickup is not the same as a silence.
An inhalation is not the same as a silence.
Sometimes you think you’re hearing silence, only to be surprised by the disappearance of a very quiet texture you didn’t realize was there. Now, you think, now surely I am listening to silence. But you still aren’t.
I was delighted to participate in Infinite Futures, a two-cassette compilation out today on Full Spectrum Records. The releases celebrates the label’s tenth anniversary. It’s a lovely concatenation of weirdos, placed together in collaborative pairings. I played some piano with Shaun Sandor, aka Promute. We booked out Keller Hall on a Monday morning and he brought a prepared guitar, a bass, and a zither board. Full Spectrum is good music and it’s good people. Give it a listen next time you’re on a bus, train, or airplane.
I have climbed sixteen of Colorado’s fifty-some fourteeners. The first, in 2005, was Longs Peak. I had no idea what I was getting into. Since then I’ve only chosen easier, less technical summits. In spite of much increased experience, I haven’t attempted a climb of that difficulty again.
Even J.S. Bach and Joni Mitchell will one day be forgotten.
Say what you will about classical and experimental music; there are many things wrong with them. But at least they still foster an environment where the audience is actually listening.
The more you think about what music actually is, the less obvious the answer becomes.
In different writings, John Cage made a distinction between structure (“the division of the whole into parts”) and form (“the expressive content, the morphology of the continuity”). These being distinct again from method (“the note-to-note procedure”) and materials (“the sounds and silences of the composition”.
I’ve been listening to two solo viola recordings by Jessica Pavone: Silent Spills, In the Action. In one composition, pizz chords effluviate into plumes of sound, little clouds. In Cage’s Dream, a strict textural limitation, a single line, expands into sweeps of sound at careful moments.
Here are two reasons to use notation: (1) complexity of texture or technique; (2) complexity of form/structure. If you want to say something specific in either of those ways, you might use notation. If what you want to say is simple in both of those ways, you might be better off teaching the music by rote.
Once or twice lately I’ve been told that my music is “deceptively simple.” I suppose this is meant as a compliment, betraying an assumption that “simple” by itself is necessarily pejorative. I want to insist, though, that I seek to deceive no one.
One of my Chatter collaborators recently encouraged a musician to go onstage in jeans. “I don’t think you should have to wear special clothes to play classical music,” he said. At the time, my reaction was measured. I do like the performance ritual around classical music, and concert dress is part of that. But actually he was right, and I’m ready to go a step further: I don’t think you should have to be a special person to play classical music.
I have long hated the idea of “talent.” I remember hearing a pianist perform some flashy Chopin and seeing an audience member in front of me shaking her head, evidently in astonished disbelief at the abilities of the performer. I don’t want to be “impressed” by music. I don’t want music that makes me shake my head; I want music that makes me nod it. I don’t want to feel separation from the performer; I want to feel affinity, joy, recognition. I want communion.
My early antipathy to classical music exceptionalism was grounded in personal insecurity. I was not a prodigy, so I leaned toward philosophies that did not emphasize early or inborn talent. This was a survival strategy. I have also argued that talent does not exist, and I tend to stand by those arguments. But either way, the truth is that talent is boring. I’m interested in work. Talent tends toward safety and talent wants to be acknowledged. I care about what people do, not how they rate. Now my hatred of “talent” is political. We can no longer afford a musical culture based on invisible subjective hierarchies. I care about what people do. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It doesn’t matter who your teachers were or what they thought about you. Music belongs to all of us. Go out and do something.
I don’t usually post articles here, and I don’t know if these are real, but Chuck Jones’ nine rules for writing Road Runner / Coyote cartoons are too good. Number three is especially poignant, in light of Andrew’s tweet mentioned above. I’ve always had an inexplicable fondness for these cartoons, since well before I fell for the Southwest, developed a love for canines, heard Hejira or read Rebecca Solnit. Some versions of Jones’ list contain a rule number ten: “The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.” I hope so.
Whenever I finish a tour, I find myself thinking back on it like the cut scenes that sometimes play over movie credits. I see a medley of fragments: of people and experiences, lines and laughs, weird food and bad sleep, sometimes a free beer or unexpected falafel. When Andrew and I arrived at Project Project in Omaha, our hosts were drinking Miller Lites, prepping the space for the show, and blasting All Things Considered over the PA. In Fort Worth, we played at a house gallery whose owner was embroiled in a legal fight with the city over whether the shopping cart hanging from a tree in his front yard was art, or hazardous storage. In Chicago, we heard about a cigar smoking race where the competition is who can smoke their cigar the slowest.
This of course squeezes out the boredom, discomfort, and disappointment. But actually I remember all of that well enough. The blessing is the people you visit, seeing slices of their lives, catching up for a few moments and flitting on; the blessing is also the bored moments of rolling countryside and rolling patterns of thought. This is where ideas come from. Andrew’s tweet says it all: “It’s tight how on tour you can plan multiple future tours and threaten to quit music entirely forever in the same sentence.” That’s the fertile dynamic right there. On the one hand, ideas are limitless and possibility is infinite. On the other, one day it will be over, and we don’t know when that day is coming. Both of these things are true. Look closely, at both at the same time.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues