I had a leading question about Crumb, Cage and Lutoslawski, but I decided the discussion has been so good that I didn’t want to limit possible topics.

Soooo”¦ What did you think of those guys?

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Does Michael Daugherty’s “Dead Elvis” pay respect to Elvis, mock Elvis, or both? How?

Other Comments?

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The first work we studied in Music and Culture was Louis Andriessen’s Racconto dall’Inferno. A remarkable performance, the concert was also notable in its quick distribution on iTunes. A majority of our guided listening focused on text painting. It is easy to note that Andriessen is adept at text painting, but that leaves the following questions:

1) Does the piece have merit as music, without consideration of the text?

2) Is an experience of the piece valid if you cannot understand the text (or do not have a translation)?

Also, any comments or questions about this work, or Steve Reich’s Check it out”¦ from City Life are welcome.

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I occasionally find myself hired to teach what is essentially a Music Appreciation class. This year I’m teaching a 200-seat version of the beast called “Music and Culture” at Millersville University in Millersville, PA.

I’m always trying to sharpen how effective the class is at increasing awareness of (so-called) art music as well as increasing the students’ ability to listen with depth and concentration.

This year I’m approaching the class from something closer to my interests. The class will deal with music and its relation to other arts, and its relation with technology. The first work to be studied will be Louie Andriessen’s Racconto dall’Inferno. This provides an opportunity to discuss modernism, tradition, literature, iTunes, and politics. Wow. From there we will process in a roughly reverse-chronological fashion, taking a more topical, rather than historical, approach.

Some other novel things:

1. No text. Each student will have an iTunes account and will purchase about $50 worth of music. Quite a steal compared to a music appreciation text. I’m also thrilled that the L.A. Phil and other organizations will have a 100-200 hit spike in their digital sales. Just think if there were 10 class like this across the country!

2. Examples of visual art as parallels (a staple in such courses) will come from regional art museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art rather than, say, the Louvre. For that handful of students who really want to experience the material more fully, the opportunity will exist.

3. The class will be blogged on S21. The class topics will get a brief summary in my blog-space here, and extra-credit will be given to thoughtful comments. In a 200-seat class, discussion is more likely to occur this way.

4. Emphasis will shift away from common practice period music. I’ve always found it odd that the two most stylized eras, Baroque and Classical, often receive more class meetings that 1900 ““ The Present. Since there is a greater scope of style in music after WWII, shouldn’t there be more time spent on it? Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music will receive a few classes each, at the most. Most of the class will deal with music after Debussy.

If anyone here has tried such things in a class as such, I’d love to hear about it. I’m also open to suggestions/reflections anyone has on this subject.

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The electric guitar is hardly exotic. So ubiquitous had it become, that acoustic music was a novelty by the 1980’s. Neglected in this pendulous swing between acoustic and electric was the humble gut-stringed beginnings of “The People’s Instrument.”

Berlioz called the guitar “an orchestra in miniature” but perhaps it is better described as an orchestra of nuance. But can we hear nuance these days?

Combining the classical guitar with electronics affords us beauty beyond what either could accomplish alone. Now the guitar can crescendo. It can appear behind the audience. It can change the size and shape of the space it occupies.

Classical guitar may be the “real” guitar, but classical guitar and electronics constitute the “surreal” guitar.

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I have a new work that is the product of several wants:

1) I like for live versions of tunes to be different from the studio versions.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones come to mind. Their albums feature digestible nuggets that are great for driving, cooking, and getting ready for their live shows. The live shows take these little gems and develop them into full-blown works of art. The live version of the work will use boomboxes spread through the room, and will be a small part of a larger, modular work.

2) I wanted to write something that would make sense on an iPod.

Not that I want every piece to be this, but I wanted to write one, or perhaps an “album” for this type of listening. Something with a bit of groove”¦ something not driven by development as much as it is driven by pulse and timbre.

3) The pieces I listen to on CD or mp3 aren’t necessarily my favorite works.

I tend to listen to recordings of works that work as recordings. The pieces I like to hear live usually don’t transfer to recordings very well.

4) I wanted to create a work in a more layered fashion.

Typically, I fully compose a piece for instrument and electronics before I start to realize the parts in a studio. This time I tried an approach a bit more like producing a pop tune. I recorded the guitar part, then starting “over-producing” it. I first added some percussive elements, then added some noise, then copied some of the sounds and reversed them. I’ve found this layered approach to work well for me lately. Last year, I took a solo guitar work and reworked it into a piece for guitar, strings and alto flute. This was not merely an orchestration of the work, but a new work built on that material. It’s a great way to begin a work with some reflection already in place.

How do you create? How do you push yourself out of your intuition? Does one need to do that?

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I just got back from Philadelphia, where I saw a rehearsal of Gerald Levinson’s “Toward the Light” for organ and orchestra. It’s a great piece being played by great orchestra featuring a great organist.

For the most part, I find organ and orchestra to be incompatible, but Levinson navigates this problem deftly. At times the work seemed like a piece for orchestra and electronics, or organ and electronics, with one monster being the ghost of the other. The use of color (Levinson’s specialty) was not only interesting but also meticulously crafted. Timbre changes were paced the way romantic composers might have paced harmonic rhythm, providing a sense of direction and destination to an otherwise atmospheric, yet intense, work.

Afterwards, I had coffee with the ever-passionate Eric Bruskin, and the extremely amicable Jim Jordon. We discussed acoustics, Taoism, music education, and professional dancers’ abilities in fist-fighting. It was a good time.

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I love it when an audience responds well to a work of mine. That’s because there is a lot of “me” in the work and hearty applause (with positive and meaningful comments afterwards) is a sort vindication that my technical skills supported this transaction.

When I write music for commercials, I suspend my “voice” and provide what I think may strengthen the visual message. In this case, failure to reach the audience is indeed failure.

But for my concert music, I invite the audience to meet me half-way. I think it’s fine for composers to be critical of a close-minded audience. To be un-thinking is as dangerous as it is undesirable.

I say this, having gotten almost all positive reviews and comments and applause for presentations of my work. Whenever I am programmed on a concert the presenters love to point out that I’m “modern”¦ yet listener-friendly!” which is far too apologetic for my tastes.

On Seq21, or any new music site for that matter, there is always talk of how our audience became alienated after WWII and whatnot. Personally, I’ll be glad when animosity for the audience is hip again. Not that I really hate the audience, or write music that is not listener-friendly, I just don’t understand the pressure to bend towards the wants of overly-broad focus groups. What’s the point of making decisions based on likeability? Shouldn’t composers make choices based on clarity of idea?

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Recently, I attended a church service where the speaker offered this as a qualification for art: it has to stand the test of time. Indeed, this is fairly conventional wisdom, but I propose that it is time to challenge that wisdom.

We still have “Flight of the Bumblebee.” We still have that painting of Dogs Playing Poker. Years from now will we be able to find the Greatest Hits of country super-group Alabama? Probably. Art? Not to my mind, but it depends on whom you ask.

What about works written for the now? It seems reasonable to me that a work reflecting a current situation could have powerful meaning in a specific moment, for a specific crowd, in a specific place. Then the same work could be meaningless in a different context. To say a work must “stand the test of time” is really to say it must have mass appeal to be art.

Since when has art had that?

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My wife (and my first-call woodwind specialist), Christy Banks hosted a single reed symposium at Millersville University a few weeks ago. I had a couple of works performed, and some members of Lincoln, Nebraska’s New Music Agency came out to play. The crowd was the kind I most enjoy– between fifty and a hundred fairly curious listeners, some experienced in new music, others completely new to it. The pieces were played well and there was good conversation afterwards.

It made me realize that I have something in Nebraska and Alabama that I don’t have in Pennsylvania yet: Performers who champion my music. That will change soon enough, but for now I’ll be leaning a little harder on me, my wife, and my electronic music chops.

At least the projects are coming. I’m currently nursing the following: a commission with a choreographer as part of the Susquehanna Arts Trail, a commission for a trombone quartet’s performance at a convention, a meet-the-composer residency in Nebraska, and a performing tour from here to the southeast. That stuff doesn’t happen until 2007 though, so for now I’m doing a lot of meetings. Man, it takes a lot of meetings to get projects going.

And I do like the “meeting” part of it to an extent, but if anyone wants to be my Nadezhda von Meck, I’d totally say yes”¦

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