A few years ago I started a composer's salon here in New York City to foster discussion on topics dealing with music issues. I wanted to create a forum where a group of composers would sit down together with good food and drink and talk (and argue) about various ideas and questions in a collegial atmosphere of learning. The talks were quite interesting and often lead to insights far a field from the original topic and subject; the recommendations and listening of various recordings was also a wonderful component to the Salon.
So I thought I'd revive my Salon (sans food and drink) here on the Pulse blog. I'll post a new discussion topic mid-month. I'll present questions that hopefully will provide manna to a good discussion. While it is geared toward the composers out there, please feel free to chime in if you are a performer, critic, or listener in any genre or style. Also, if you would like to discuss different aspects of the questions, don't hestitate.
Now gentlemen and ladies, let's begin the blogging.....
PULSE Composer’s Salon #1
“The public is a thick skinned beast which must be continually beaten to let it know you are there.”—Walt Whitman
“Historically, the artist has been a slave, an unregarded wage earner, a courtier, clown and sycophant, a domestic, finally an unknown citizen trying to arrest the attention of a huge anonymous mass public and compel it to learn his name.” —Jacques Barzan from The Use and Abuse of Art
I. In an interview (New Voices by Geoff and Nicola Walker Smith, Amadeus Press, 1995), Laurie Anderson says that her work/composition is not complete until it has been observed or heard [and subsequently] evaluated by an audience. She goes on to say that the measure of a good work of art is one that (as you experience it) “makes you want to jump up and get out of there” and go and create something yourself. How do you view this statement (especially in relationship toward how your own compositions are received by the public)?
II. One premise of the book Hole in Our Soul by Martha Bayles (Free Press, 1994) is that with the rise of modernism (in art) in the early 20th century, there came a disconnect with audiences—an “antagonism” between the artistic creator and the consumer of the art. Before this perverse (her words) turn of events, the relationship between creator and consumer was not so great. (At least in jazz) high art and the commercial and popular were not always mutually exclusive. As Gary Giddins states, people like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong had the “…ability to balance the emotional gravity of the artist with the communal good cheer of the entertainer…” However, with the advent of such movements as Dadaism or Abstract Expressionism in painting, the literary explorations of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolff, and James Joyce, and in music the dodecaphonic and serial explorations of Arnold Schoenberg, chance and aleatory music of John Cage and in jazz the rise of bebop and free jazz, large audiences mostly tuned out. Jazz critic Philip Larkin is quoted in Hole in Our Soul stating, “To say I don’t like modern jazz because it’s modernist art simply raises the question of why I don’t like modernist art…I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by (Charlie) Parker, (Erza) Pound, or (Pablo) Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor to endure.”
Do you agree or disagree with Bayles’ and/or Larkin’s statements/premises? How do you as a composer/performer, balance artistic and commercial viability in your own work? In the presentation (i.e. performances) of your works? What other composers/performers do you feel balance artistic and commercial viability well? Is this even necessary?
General things to think about:
-As a composer and/or performer how do you generate audiences for your performances? How does audience reaction to a piece affect your future writing? your programming? Do you think about the audience when writing?
-Can you recommend any composer, group, or recording that balances the artistic with the popular (or at least commercial successful)?