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Ryan Manchester » 2009 » January


Archive for January, 2009

Performing Arts Alliance

January 31st, 2009

Whether you are a musician or not, everyone enjoys music.  From new composers to innovative performance groups, the US has quite a number of artists continually advnacing American music as we know it.  Through government funding, composers and performers have transformed the United States into one of the most fertile environments for musical development in the world.  Now it’s time to give back to the arts community by showing your support.  Congress has begun the debate for including the National Endowment for the Arts in the American Reinvestment Recovery Act of 2009. Under the House of Representatives plan, the NEA will receive a $50,000 supplement to further the arts, but under the Senate’s plan, the NEA is not included.  The Performing Arts Alliance has sent out mass emails encouraging everyone to write their Senator. They even include a place to do it electronically. In a time when the world’s view of the United States is less than favorable, we need artists now more than ever to contribute to the world’s culture as a whole. Submitting the electronic letter takes about five minutes to complete and is very user friendly, so please take action today and help further the good in American culture.

Expanding Tradition

January 29th, 2009

Yesterday, I commented on the Educate Audiences aspect of the Taking Note report.  I mentioned that most non-musicians were fascinated by new music and usually approached it with open minds.  I also referred to composers Iannis Xenakis and Helmut Lachenmann and I found an interview with Lachenmann in which he discusses his music in relation to audiences. Here’s a short exerpt:

Your unique discourse of unpitched sounds or noises is often considered a rejection or critique of what you have called the ‘bourgeois aesthetic apparatus’. Yet in your recent work from Ausklang onwards there has been a distinct project to re-integrate conventional tones and intervals into your music - as well as some almost familiar types of musical gesture. What led you to re-introduce these things into your work? Is the sort of complete rejection that typifies a work like Gran Torso no longer necessary?

I do not agree at all. From Wiegenmusik from 1963, through Ein Kinderspiel from 1980 and up to my recently written Concertini you can find music without unpitched sounds or noises. I never wrote against the ‘bourgeois aesthetic apparatus’ – but I enriched it, I opened it, and writing a piece like Gran Torso was a wonderful trio of discoveries. Another form of beauty.

The so-called polemical aspect always came from an audience which preferred to stay in the cage of their habitudes. In this sense my music is part of an old tradition, from the wonderful chorale harmonisations of Bach which were shocking in his time, through Beethoven’s banalities in his last works until Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra, which even today are not really swallowed by society. Each authentic creative act which opens the aesthetic horizon just by a certain creative enthusiasm could be considered as an attack ‘against’ the society, but it is not. It is a serene invitation to open one’s mind.

So my problem was never ‘new sounds’ or new elements such as noises – my problem was to stipulate another context for a liberated way of perception. To work with extended playing techniques and noises or deformed sound elements was a helpful method to approach this idea. And I love my works like Gran Torso, Kontrakadenz, Air, Pression etc. because in a lazy society they got a quasi-heroic aspect. They provoked eclats, scandals etc. But they never had to do with rejection – except that the bourgeois audience rejected them. Now these pieces are more successful than all the more moderate pieces – because they still are ‘fresh’.

But provocation today is a medium of entertainment. And I am about to find new horizons by going into the cage of the lion: it is fascinating to take a minor third, played totally normally, and to make it sound like an unknown acoustic experience. There is a big difference between to look back – which is sometimes necessary – and to go back – which I never did. Only very superficially-thinking people could be disappointed by my development. They want to see me in a certain corner and now they cannot find me there again. I smile about it. And I hope.

It is interesting to see that a composer that has turned music upside down in the ways that Lachenmann has view his technique of expanding a tradition, rather than going against it.  The remark of his music as a serene invitation to open one’s mind shows how Lachenmann believes that people are capable of understanding art to varying degrees. This comment echoes what the Taking Note report revealed about audiences. Many composers seem to adopt this view as well, and the standpoint of the composer as an artistic martyr is becoming quite antiquated. Evidence of more symphony orchestras commissioning and advocating music from living composers suggests a public interest in new music and the want to expand the artistic experience.

Taking Note

January 29th, 2009

The American Music Center and the American Composers’ Forum have commissioned an artist reasearch from Columbia University called Taking Note.  Composers ranging in age from 18-97 took surveys on various topics concerning the compositional climate in the United States today.  Overall, 75% of the surveyed composers are more successful now than they were five years ago.  While that is a positive figure, many composers are still not finding the kind of success desired. The study offers suggestions to composers and institutions programming music in order to get composers more in the public eye.  A few highlights include:

  • More imaginative financial support–composers need money. Composing takes time and energy that can be non-existant when working a job. This is true, however, I would argue that composers (including myself) need better time management and social skills. It would be nice to not have to work and make composing a full time job, but with the amount of other composers wanting the same thing, it is simply not always possible.  Many successful composers had to work other jobs until their music could pay for everthing. Philip Glass drove cabs in New York and didn’t start making enough money from composing until his 40s.  Increased grants would be great, but these types of programs are reactive solutions: composers need money, so give them a grant to write a piece. That increased financial support could allow one to take significant time away from their job and focus on music, but what type of job ouside of a univeristy would allow for a significant amount of time off? Then what happens when the grant money runs out? I feel a better way to do things is to either start a performance ensembe as many great performers and composers have done, or do all you can to support these groups by attending concerts and submitting scores  to them directly, if they allow. One of these groups, or your own, is bound to like your music and play it. Performances increase your visiblilty and someone else may want to play it, and so on.  ASCAP pays royalties for performance and soon you could be looking at commissions from specific groups that will keep growing from there. Look at how rock bands make it and those prinicples can be applied to any music.  Through developing a working relationship with performance ensembles, composers will get feedback from people playing the work and a real friendship can form from this, and everyone needs friends, right? This discussion has bled into the topic of More Personal Commissions, found later in the article.
  • Educate the Audience–in my experience, the non-musicians I know aren’t stupid. Though they may not understand everything about it, the overall experience of going to a concert or listening to contemporary classical music has been enjoyable to them.  They may not want to listen to Xenakis or Lachenmann everyday, but most people can appreciate new things without us warning them to not be scared by what they hear. Increased dialog between composer and audience would be helpful in sharing with the audience the intended aesthetic and for them to see you are a real person living, breathing, and answering their questions.  I don’t feel the composer necessarily needs to act as a tour guide through a piece of music, but, as previously stated, increased dialog would be a nice thing to see.
  • Space to create, work, and perform–this is very important! It would be nice to see workspace rented out to all artists for a small fee.  The New York State Council on the Arts helps dancers, writers, and visual artists with space rental and it would make sense to bring composers in as well.  More states should invest in the arts as part as a well rounded education system.

These are the main points that caught my eye.  It is helpful to read about what other composers are saying about funding, etc. from all parts of the US. and to know that others are concerned about the future of new music.   Read the executive summary for other points and statistics.

Punahou Marching Band

January 28th, 2009

The band from Punahou School was asked by President Obama to participate in the inaugaration parade! Not only that, but they were the second band in the parade, which is considered a place of honor. Nice work guys!

Art of the States

January 27th, 2009

Recently, I stumbled upon Art of the States, a website that streams recordings of American-based composers. Listeners are able to search by composer, performer, instrumentation, time period, or genre and listen to FULL recordings for FREE. They also accept submissions from composer and have a section included for donations, if you feel so compelled. Here’s a little about them in their own words:

Since 1993, Art of the States has been expanding audiences for United States-based composers and performers through its international radio music distribution service.

Art of the States began as a production in association with WGBH Radio Boston participating in musical exchange with broadcasters of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

For the past 14 years we have collected performances and recordings of a wide range of music from across the United States, focusing on new, unusual, and lesser-known repertoire. We present selected works in monthly program offerings which are organized thematically and accompanied by notes on the music, composers, and performers. These are distributed to radio broadcasters in over 50 countries, who produce programs based on this material in their own language and broadcast style.

Through the medium of radio, Art of the States has provided an international audience of tens of millions of listeners worldwide with a deeper and more diverse view of our country’s musical life.

Launched in fall 2002, the Art of the States website offers this service to web listeners in both the United States and abroad. With high-quality audio streams, extensive program notes, and links to related websites of composers, performers, publishers, and record labels, we hope to expand domestic audiences for this music just as our radio service continues to do for international audiences.

Art of the States is the recipient of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Broadcast Award in radio for 1997 and awards from the Shanghai International Radio Music Festival.

String Quartet (1979)-Morton Feldman

January 27th, 2009

Feldman on his strategy(or lack thereof) in composing String Quartet.

Mel Powell used the word at his talk the other day, a  term which I feel very important to me. The term is strategy…I don’t like to give things a name. This is my compositional strategy,  I don’t want to give things a name. If I have repitition I don’t call it repetition. It looks like repitition, it doesn’t sound like repitition…

I would never let a student of mine put in a repeat sign. I would say, “something’s happening, what if you wanted to change your mind?”

I copy like an idiot. Until finally I put a double bar line in  and I just write fifteen times, seven times, nine times. But even that became a great concession. It was really a concession to my eyes, because I want to copy my own music

So I don’t call things a name, because I repeat things for different reasons…

For example, when asked the question, “isn’t there a certain type of material that you can repeat and can’t repeat?”  “What’s repeatable material?”  “You just can’t repeat…”

What I think of it now is that I’m watching some bugs on a slide, and I’m just watching how I feel…

So the String Quartet has a lot to do with that kind of watching and letting go. And the reason the piece is so long is that I got into dangerous territory.  I let things go

Many of us (composers or not) can take away a great deal from Feldman’s insights.  The ability to let things go, as Feldman puts it, would and has proven to be an important compositional tool.  It seems that too often composers try to fit themselves and their pieces into specific (often self imposed) roles and fight to defend their decisions.  This need to fit in can be detrimental to an emerging composer’s development, or cause stagnation for professional composers.

Americans have always been comfortable with making their own way, but sometimes we all get caught up in the who is going to play this new piece? Does it fit in to the scene I’m in? How many times can I get this piece programmed? or Where is the new commission going to come from? It is understandable to want to be successful, but who measures our success? Feldman didn’t fit in to the compositional scene of his time (Darmschtadt and Europe’s complexity), so he created his own.  That’s where June in Buffalo came from (see previous post).  Feldman didn’t fit in and he didn’t care.  He and his friends (Cage, Wolff, Brown, etc.) had their own support group within their circle and success found them because they wrote what they wanted to hear, or what they wanted to forget, and changed American music forever.

But this doesn’t mean that they didn’t force themselves into roles because composing any music or doing anything in the public eye will do this as a byproduct.  It simply means that they weren’t necessarily concerned with what their peers thought about their work.  Stockhausen publicly berated Feldman’s work, but at the same time embraced Cage’s philosophies. True, it probably did phase Feldman to have such a famous and incredibly ingenious man call your work garbage. It did not inform a change of style for Feldman, however. He continued to write how he chose, and I’m grateful he did. He has written some painfully beautiful music and it deserves a much higher platform in programming (which is currently happening everywhere this year!!).
Feldman speaks on repitition as well, and as I will say a few words on it as a final thought. Feldman says he copies like an idiot, which I find untrue. What I do find true is the statement dealing with the lack of repeat signs in his music. The view that although something appears to repeat, but doesn’t sound like repetition, speaks volumes on how much work went in to his writing. Students, young composers, etc. (myself included) have trouble letting things repeat and letting ideas evolve naturally. Not to say that all ideas must be explored ad nauseum, but what’s the rush? Why not take some time developing strong material, and have other material enter and exit as needed? As Feldman says, “Something’s happening,” which is true. Even in his most static of passages, there is always something happening, growing, changing slightly, but always developing. We could all take a page from Feldman’s book on the art of “repetition.”

June in Buffalo

January 27th, 2009

Although June is still a long time away, the deadline for submitting applications to one of the most important music festivals in the U.S. is quickly approaching.  Applying to June in Buffalo is not an easy task, but while many composers manage to make the February, 16 deadline, most of them do not make it in. Sounds quite intimidating, but the faculty (including festival-reviver and artistic director, David Felder) make a great attempt to include as much diversity in styles as possible.
The festival is only a week long, and given the amount of opportunities composers have to “study with the greats,” one could quite easily be overwhelmed with information. That’s where the diverse styles of students come in. Equally as important as having many different professional opinions is the opportunity to discuss with other students aesthetic concerns, etc. Many attendees report experiences verging on, if not including, life changing from this process. Having the chance to hear other peoples’ music (as well as your own) played by phenomenal performers creates a level ground upon which each work can stand, and will force most of the composers attending to question their own style, or challenge their beliefs/preconceptions of other styles. Speaking of fantastic performers, these works are performed by world renown interpreters of new music, which can result in a working relationship with the performer and composer, or give the composer a chance to hear his/her music the way it was intended and written.
Along with all of the opportunities in development for the composers in attendance, comes the chance to hear the faculty’s music. These concerts are open to the public, so interested people not associated with the festival can hear music they may not have encountered otherwise. Presenting concerts of the faculty also allows all of their opinions and advice to young composers to take shape in the context of concert music.
Each festival is also programmed around a central theme, and this theme also helps in the process of deciding which guest composers to bring in to the panel, which guest ensembles/performers to bring in, and who the attendees should ideally be. Although this year’s theme hasn’t been officially named yet, it appears it will have something to do with solo writing (this is pure speculation, of course).
June in Buffalo takes place from June 1-June 7 this year, and it is advisable that anyone living or visiting New York(state or city) should make an attempt to go to at least one of these concerts. I mailed my application packet today, so hopefully I’ll be one of the lucky few to experience the festival first hand.

Toy Piano?

January 27th, 2009

Why compose for a toy? Why not use the real thing?

When considering whether or not to use the toy piano, these two questions haunted me for a long time.  Then I came across one in a Nordstrom one day while my girlfriend was shopping and asked,” Why use the real piano when I can use this?” Since I was already considering writing a percussion piece and then a solo trumpet piece, I decided to combine the two projects and add toy piano.  Although it is tuned to A440, the metal bars in it produce quite a different sound that has a lot of potential in an ensemble of equal tempered instruments (pitched percussion, trumpet).  By accepting this as  a tool instead of a limitation, one could produce very dense textures as well as thin, hollow textures by pairing it with other instruments or having it play a solo section.

Using the toy piano in conjunction with the pitched percussion instruments and trumpet will (hopefully) activate other partials and overtones not usually perceived otherwise. I am hoping the different timbres will produce waves that will add and subtract from each other in unique ways.  After hearing John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano, it gave me the idea to approach melodic writing in a rhythmically diverse and almost virtuosic manner and contrasting that idea by including static, colorful harmonies to give the piece a chance to breathe.  So far this approach is working extremely well to provide a natural ebb and flow for the piece globally.  By assigning the role of “punctuation” to the toy piano, it has created a natural pace to the piece as well as to the process of actually writing it. So far, I’ve completed about one minute in this manner.

While I was researching the toy piano as an instrument, I came across,a site dedicated to providing information to further knowledge on the toy as an instrument. You can find links to composers and performers who use them. I would also recommend listening to Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano.  It’s early Cage and it has some great writing in it.

Breaking Ryan Manchester News!

January 22nd, 2009

The website is up and running!! Thank you to Joe Drew from Analog Arts Ensemble for designing the site.  More news, updates, etc. to come.  I also plan on reviewing albums of composers and ensembles, and giving a daily update on a new piece I’m writing for trumpet, toy piano, and percussion. If there is anything that interests YOU, utilize the comment section to give me feedback. While you’re at it, subscribe to the blog for instant updates to the site.