GO PLANETARY: BY LOU HARRISON
For myself, I cannot imagine how it would be possible to be an American musician and not have an interest in world music. At least a grown-up American; for when we were a young nation we did indeed use and need the cultural nourishment of "back home" countries. But for a long time now we have been fully adult, while at the same time practicing a shameless and studious provinciality. One imagines that this falseness has somehow served a national need superior to the need for straight-forward expression--how else explain that John Knowles Paine is unplayed while the inferior symphonies of Robert Schuman are played, and often. Somewhere along in the last centuries the U.S. matured artistically, decided it was too risky (for what?) and began a systematic "cover-up". Except during the times of centennials the history of the U.S. music is untaught, the works of its many composers but rarely heard, and the average citizen convinced that the only American music is Pop music.
One by-product of this curious mechanism is that a young composer can (and often does) conclude that he is "on his own", and may develop a lasting distrust of the old European "back home'. In the great supermarket of the record store, and in some universities, he may encounter the musics of India, China, Japan, Java and Bali, or Africa. He may decide then, that after all European music is just one more ethnic music, although Europeans never tired (until recently) of telling us that Europe is not an ethnic--it's the "real thing." His "good music" radio station will only play classic European music of the last several centuries, no "world music" at all--thus listening, he will be made "good". Our young composer, however, may realize that he is heir to more than the local symphony propounds, may suspect that the latter is mostly a foreign propaganda machine, or even a museum-church as well, but that "outside" a beautiful big world awaits him--the neighbors! is there something a little incestuous, beyond a certain age, in too constant and exclusive an interest in the parental world?
Then there is the sensuous aspect. Is there any large orchestra anywhere on the planet so beautiful of sound as the Javanese or Balinese gamelan? No, there isn't. The tones of recent European preference are muggy, brutal, and clumsy when heard against Chinese chamber music (naturally I mean the true old stuff), or against typical Indian instruments. Again, tuning is more interesting, often more beautiful, and certainly more varied outside the recent European ambit. How are you going to keep them "down on the farm: when they can hear (and study and use) all this? Thus more young musicians find themselves studying music beyond the "received opinion".
They follow a few countrymen who over the last century have likewise accepted the wider heritage--Gottschalk, Eicheim, Griffes, Cowell, McPhee, Hohvaness and others. Cowell, especially, in this century, stood for and by a world music usage. Himself widely acquainted with extra-European musics through studies in the Hornbostel collection in Berlin, and the compiler of many record albums of world music, he often studied first-hand; as when he worked with kotoist Shinichi Yuize before composing the two concerti for koto and orchestra which constitute his last major works. Previously, in the technical "apologia" preceding his "United Quartet" (1936-37 in California) Cowell was at pains to point out the "trans-cultural" nature of the methods he used and the intent of the composition as rooted in a vision of social cosmos. In all this he preceded many of us who have found in various aspects of world music structural principles,forms, styles, and ornaments richly stimulating to further composition. Even the traditional and academic avant-gardist occasionally uses in his "phrasing" or "chance" pieces some Oriental or African instruments.
A full and wide learning about the human music does indeed widen the mind. Mozart felt that travel was broadening for everyone but insisted that it is essential for an artist. World music is high intellectual travel in this sense. Now, too, the attitudes grown in such adventure begin to be told. David Reck in his remarkable book Music of the Whole Earth tells of all the human musics, and we learn from him new ways of listening (and thus of thinking) and get some beginner's understanding of the immense riches of our planetary art.
The Overtone Series is the Rule, World Music the Font. Cherish, conserve, consider, create. p.1