Thursday, June 23, 2011

New LDS Musicians Blog

So, a group of us young LDS musicians are starting a new blog for that topic at 
I've already contributed the second article, which in case you don't care to follow that blog, I'll re-post here:

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Modern Boy in a Postmodern World

So what in the world kind of music do you compose when 'Modern' music refers to the early to mid twentieth century and 'Post-Modern' refers vaguely to everything since? Post-Postmodern?

This was the topic of a discussion I had recently with my peer at BYU, Joseph Sowa.

In our discussion, we worked up to a very broad and unforgiving definition of these terms for ourselves, and hypothesized about  what 'the next big thing' in music is/will be. (That is to say, 'contemporary classical music' - apparently the next big thing in popular music is 'electroclash bubble-goth' and that is a discussion for another day)
Modernism: music composed to be a self contained unit of itself, employing all the latest techniques. Its approach asks, 'How can I make this all make sense?'

Postmodernism: see the wiki. This is music composed with a sense of irony, using any available musical materials. It challenges traditional notions of music in every way it can think how. Its approach asks, "Anything goes, so what do I want?"

Joseph and I both agreed that our generation (roughly composers maturing from the 90s to the present, but also including a number of older composers whose styles are moving beyond

Modernism/Postmodernism) is distancing itself from trends associated with either school of thought. The general mood is one of synthesis: 'Anything goes, so what do I want, and how do I make it all make sense together?'

Joseph called composers of this new trend 'Synthesists'. A term I have previously heard (in a slightly different context) is "Maximalist" (Though that term already has some baggage) In either case, the idea is one of collecting techniques, ideas, materials, and aesthetics from a broad range of influences and bringing them together into a unified, expressive whole.
In other words, exactly what I've set out from the beginning to do as a composer. Its encouraging to see that I'm not alone. It is definitely okay that I'm not the first. Is it wrong to want to be one of the best?
I realize that this has the whole copyright thing going on, but I liked the image: is the urbanism of Postmodernism rising up to a new kind of Modernism, or is Modernism falling into a morphed breed of Postmodernism? I did track down the quote featured, it is from an interview with artist Milton Glaser.
Of course, I can't help but wonder - could there be yet another logical next step in music, a quantum leap of progress, a new viewpoint radically different from my modern/postmodern heritage? And if so, would I want to be part of it?

And the raised-on-science-fiction, matured-on-the-wave-of-the-Internet-era, technological-optimist in me wonders: does the future of new music lie in technology? (Two concepts to be explored in a later post: Music that is only possible thanks to 21st century technology and music that uses technology to challenge and change the very nature of music...)
The Modern 'Synthesist' has only very little to do with the now ancient concept of a 'synthesizer'. Probably.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Youthful Idealism

Some people seem to think that ideals are something to be grown out of in the face of the harsh realities of life. Forgive my youth of 26, but I do think I have grown exponentially in my understanding of the world since I was 18. It was then, 2003-2004, that I set off on this path to become a composer. At the time I kept an interesting journal consisting of almost daily epiphanies about music. Although in the intervening years I've come to better understand the world of music, it is clear to me now that some of the 'epiphanies' of those heady days were lasting nuggets of truth. So, an ongoing series of blog entries will focus on bite-sized pieces of young wisdom taken from these visionary files. (I've got to do something with this stack of papers!) As a starting point, I reprint here, with my own hand-typed permission, my 2006 post-mission reevaluation of these early compositional-philosophical musings. Personally, I hope to reconnect with my roots and bring my earliest recorded thoughts on composition to light for the first time.
A Youthful Visionary, circa 2004

From Sunday; August 27, 2006:
Over the last three [now eight] years my understanding of musical history and of the current state of the music world that surrounds me has taken a wild ride. I remember those early days, when I came to the general and not entirely true conclusion that classical music was 'good' and popular music, 'bad'. I remember studying searching, reading all I could about what happened to music in the 20th century, trying to figure out what was going on right now in the world of the modern composer. Again I came to the not-entirely-true conclusion that music as an Art (with a capital 'A') was dying or dead. It was not until I began to buy lots of recordings of the actual music in question while serving in St. Petersburg on my mission that I really came to understand. Who am I to be as a composer? What is my place amongst the composers of my time?

So, half-a-decade-ago self, how did you answer? Let me edit your five paragraphs down to one:

The young composer of today stands on the backs of giants, or he can if he will. More composers have gone before, than ever before. (The same is true, of course, for each generation) There is so much to draw on, so many sounds, so many ways of writing music, so many textures. So many doors have been hardly opened by the experimenters of the 20th century that the composer of today is faced with the unprecedentedly monumental task of exploring these avenues, taking it all in, making conscious musical decisions to incorporate and work on certain elements in his music. He forges ahead and looks back at the same time. The greatest opportunities ever are open for the composer. The difficulty is creating your own rules to make music in a world where anything goes. That is where the study and application of what has gone before comes in. Each composer finds his own sound in the world. Each leaves his own distinct mark in some way. The last 50 years have taken music to literally unheard of places, completely altering the musical landscape. I think that the mark of of the great composers of the present will be determined largely by how they assimilate and express and advance the ideas of the last century. So it will go until our grandchildren will do things that will stagger us.

Now back to June 2011. Is assimilation of the past the only mark of future great composers? No. But there won't be great composers who don't to a large extent acknowledge their debt to the past. There are no great jazz musicians who have completely original styles who didn't pay their dues first learning to emulate other greats. (That may be the first direct reference on this blog to jazz, about time since my undergrad degree is in Jazz Studies) I would also note that I feel quite satisfied that I have done my best in the past five years to make sure that I am engaged in just the sort of compositional education that I feel is a necessary for a composer. When I talk with my peers at BYU, I often ask them what they are listening to lately. It is very telling when somebody tells me that they don't listen to much recent music. Bach and Brahms are great, their contributions to music should be learned by every composer, but you can't expect to be relevant, well-rounded, or fully developed as a composer unless you have a pretty good idea of the contemporary musical scene. How could you set out to be a non-movie composer and not know what kind of professional field you are entering? Its like trying to become a meteorologist but only reading books on meteorology from the 1800s, and having no idea what good, modern meteorology is all about. Of course there are music history classes, etc, but I believe that you've got to have a passion for this art if you want to succeed at it, and that means meeting everybody from John Cage to Osvaldo Golijov.
John Cage, 1912-1992
John Cage is a controversial and influential composer from the last half of the 20th Century.
I consider his main contribution to the art to be his questioning of the traditional role of the composer.
Osvaldo Golijov, b. 1960 
Grammy-winning Golijov represents a new direction of composers whose music is an accessible crossroads of styles and techniques.

I find my 2006 statements pretty much still in line with my present 2011 views and would only add the solid conclusion that I believe there is amazing new music in store as composers continue the great musical tradition of advancing the art. What do you feel are the main challenges for new composers/new music?