toward a synthesis of the new music dialectic by rich gold marina la palma
...BUT... Among the New Musics there is experimental music: music which deals with procedures whose outcomes are uncertain but whose ideas and processes are interesting. To the composer and audience, as in science, it is the cultural purity of the experiment that determines its success or failure. No truth value is assigned to the sounds themselves.
...ON THE OTHER HAND... At critical moments the World changes so suddenly that familiar objects with high invested interest are shifted to new purposes so that little is left save the name. I mean the word music.
...STILL... there is, in fact, an unbroken musical tradition that rambles back to Bach; but New Music isn't a new finger on that old monster, it's a new dragon finding its sources in modern Art, contemporary technology and the metaphorical content of science.
...BUT... no art form leaps from here to there; art, like words, evolves. New Music is traditional music, particularly when criticizing traditional music. Western music, with its emphasis on studying with established composers (the resume syndrome) and carrying with it a vast body of trained musicians, forms, as its wake, a link to the past. Whatever else changes, the stance of the composer does not.
...ALTHOUGH... Almost all of what we call Modern Art was formulated in the early part of this century, with only a reworking of the ideas of the Futurists, Surrealists, Constructivists and Dadaists since. The Futurist/Dadaist tradition of sound-event was picked up 30 years later by Cage et al. It was the path from Paris 1919 to California 1949.
...ON THE OTHER HAND... Cage bonded Dada to Oriental religion (I Ching, ego eradication, etc.) producing a chemical that reacted strongly with the modern science/math/technology complex. His paradigmatic success can be attributed to both his talent and the fashionability of these ideas.
...STILL... Religion in music is not new nor is randomness in itself a transcendental technique, following as it does the immutable and measurable laws of statistics.
...IN ANOTHER VEIN... Conceptualism legitimized the realization in sound of ideas not necessarily based within a specific medium. Conversely it allowed musical ideas to be realized in other media. The failure of conceptualism was that it never produced an art that required no talent save that of thinking.
...BUT... The structural equations: beated measure/vanishing point; tonal scale/color wheel; melody/image, have collapsed not only between the media but within the media themselves. The word "music" has spread so that it includes not only sound but sound producers, the vibrations of the environment, lifestyles and belief systems (including rituals).
...CONVERSELY... Without limits or boundaries there is no art. But in an infinite field there is choice. If the entirety of the field is not known, then there is creation. The selection is thoroughly historical, being influenced by the training of the composer, the training of the audience and patron, the availability of the technology and the existence of previous works. In fact, the infinite choice boils down to a relatively few materials and techniques, most of which would have been easily embraced in a much older definition of music.
...BUT ALSO... Within the pantheon of music, New Music is a folk music being practiced by a relatively small number of people who both play and listen to the music (unlike, say, popular music with its clear distinction between performer and audience) at home or in small gatherings, on homebuilt or modified instruments. It is passed from person to person fairly directly with only a small percentage of the practitioners making a living wage--and not a great one when they do. Further, the community seems to take precedence over the music itself (not unlike in bowling) allowing its members to produce non-sonic art and yet still be regarded as composers.
...IN ANOTHER VIEW... Each Saturday night one of the tribe steps to the center of the circle and makes his or her music. While part of the ritual involves each member of the tribe giving approval or disapproval of the performance--and not all performances are given equal weight--the standing in the tribe is determined primarily by the member's ability to hustle.
...IN CONTRAST TO... Within the plethora of musics in this most poly-musical of all cultures, New Music is the court music supported almost entirely by the money of the rich and the powerful; the wealthy and the government. And supporting it without liking it. It is to them only an extension of European classical music--much of which had been the court music of that context--and so status giving. But the support is never quite enough to free the artist from the patron or the N.E.A. lottery. Music, without a plastic output, can't achieve the level of income that the visual arts do, for it is too transient a commodity to appreciate in value. This is not to say that some of the World's great music isn't court music.
...BUT... An elite music with a populist bent, new Music borders on the moralistic. A piece is not only performed, it is defended. Grounds can include democracy, anti-fascism, feminism, humanistic used of technology, anti-commercialism and beauty.
...STILL... New Music, largely ignored by the mass media, is also obscure to intellectuals, art collectors and visual artists. Being a New Music composer seems to be one of those things that one falls into largely by accident. Money is earned by working in electronics firms or doing other kinds of music. The few jobs available are often held by those able to teach at least one subject other than New Music. Funding is small and sporadic. The spaces in which it is performed are actually for the visual arts, performance art, dance or film.
...O.K. BUT... With its large sweep (instrumentalists, instrument builders, tape musicians, computer-composers, free jazz composers, multi-mediasts) New Music forms a major current in the art world far heftier than its size would suggest.
...THOUGH... Despite tape and computer music which freed the composer from working with others (and despite film and performance art which opened collaboration to the visual artists) playing together is still central to music and peripheral to art. This structural difference is deeply ingrained in the philosophy of New Music.
...ON THE OTHER HAND... Not being a commodity has left little financial ground for the mediocre in New Music to stand on. And the expense and complexity of the medium argues against the dilettante or the art-for-therapy crowd (unlike poetry, say).
...BUT NOR... There needn't be a "new music" in every culture as it is not simply contemporary music; it is a certain set of ideas that can be used to treat any medium
...IN CONTRAST WITH... All art has subtle and refined languages that take time to master before anything may be contributed to that medium. And not only must appropriate ideas be developed, but those ideas must be translated into the medium itself--a process that is specific to the medium and part of it. The skills and laws of the sonic realm clearly differentiate New Music from new art.
...BUT... Electronics distinguish New Music from traditional music in the same way photo-chemicals distinguish photography from painting. Even when not used directly in a piece, new music is judged and created within the electronic framework. The ability to see sound as a system of parameters (a synthesizer), as a unified whole (a varying voltage), as a capturable entity (recording), and the ability to listen to and compare all world music (records) are the foundations of New Music.
...BUT... The actual connection between the various schools of New Music is an illusion brought about by the use of the same spaces, and kept alive by the misperceptions of the critics and art agencies. Each branch has its own logic, classic pieces, heroes, history and definitions of music (some or which exclude entire other branches).
...ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN... The birth of recording IS the birth of New Music, not only allowing reproduction and documentation, but the production of music as an object. Furthermore it reduced music to a single parameter--the varying voltage controlling the in/out motion of a speaker--a Rosetta stone of all sound.
...ALTHOUGH... It is not correct to call electronics the seed of New Music. Its role is perhaps closer to that of acrylics than of photochemicals--a good tool to realize the ideas which were already being explored: repetition, juxtaposition, world music, sonority, etc.
...AND NOTWITHSTANDING... New Music, like most art forms, uses the available media and technologies--pottery, stone, electricity, whatever--but recording is often so non-integral to a piece that that part of a piece which records itself is given the special name: documentation. It is also a sign of New Music that documentation of an art form often receives more funding than the art form itself. (Parenthetically, the organizations that support New Music often receive more funding than the practitioners of New Music.)
...BUT... Documentation extends the number of persons able to view a piece, allows a dollar value to be assigned to the work, limits and defines the actual performance and often simply replaces it.
...AND IN ANOTHER VEIN... New Music isn't a single music at all, but rather a certain intellectual segment of the cutting edge of each music brought together by certain ideas, techniques, knowledge and a circle of friends.
...STILL... It is tenable to classify new Music as an auditory form of the issues and ideas of visual art. It is art using music as its subject matter. An artist's view of what music should be: dry, thoughtful, something to be figured out from rules and precedent; as opposed to something physical and aurally-kinetic.
...HOWEVER... In a polymusical culture each kind of music need not represent all possible uses of music. And the physical effects of sound, in any case, are only a tool for the actual use of music: the maintenance of culture. Curiously however, the physical quality of music follows its use within a group, and to the New Music composer and listener, the music is felt in a precisely physical way.
...BUT... A music's charm may be missed by those not involved in the culture that produces it, or conversely, one may find music charming for reasons completely foreign to the culture that produced it. In particular, a music, common enough elsewhere, may be compelling here only because it is exotic.
...AND BUT... Unlike most music of America, very little of New Music is derived from the African music transplanted here through the slave trade. It is rather a music whose history lies in Western European music and Western intellectualism. It differs from most other musics as well by not carrying with it a collection of "songs" or pieces which are passed from generation to generation, changing with each performance yet remaining essentially stable. New Music is obsessed with the modern (which is but a heritage like any other).
...CONVERSELY... African music influences New Music directly lending it rhythmic patterns, percussion instruments, scales, continuous forms and a certain attitude towards music. It also has certain modes in common that make transference compelling including variations within a pattern (both inter and intra-pieces). And there is no sense in which the cutting edge of African music itself isn't New Music.
...BUT STILL... The smallness of the New Music world, so small that most of the composers are familiar with each other, combined with the minimal income variation (tens of thousands from top to bottom - in the art world the variation is millions from top to bottom) transforms New Music into a micro-culture operating with a separate philosophy and perspective.