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Class 9 Contemporary Music Class Announcements Listening for Wednesday: Some on DAR, some not http://dustedmagazine.com/features/749 http://zzzsss.com/media (watch first YouTube video) If you want to turn in your paper Wednesday, I can grade it for you by Friday

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Class 9

Contemporary Music


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Class Announcements

  • Listening for Wednesday: Some on DAR, some not

  • http://dustedmagazine.com/features/749

  • http://zzzsss.com/media (watch first YouTube video)

  • If you want to turn in your paper Wednesday, I can grade it for you by Friday

  • Turn in listening logs on Wednesday


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Complexity and Drone

  • (“Drone” maybe not the best word)


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Performance Practice

  • Remember last week, when we discussed changes in performance practice?

  • Performers becoming more robotic

  • Less inflection, vibrato rubato

  • Some music attempts to combat this trend


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Brian Ferneyhough

  • 1943- (England)

  • Associated with “New Complexity” movement, but didn’t invent that term himself

  • Currently teaches at Stanford University; used to teach at UCSD


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Brian Ferneyhough:

  • “It of course can be argued that the amount of detail that one puts in a piece, or that I at least put into a piece, is far higher than that which can be realized. But that's because I don't expect that the performers are going to be exposed to my music all the time. If you learn a Beethoven piano sonata, you don't learn and play only those things that are in the score. You learn and play the twenty generations of piano teachers who have learned from their teachers about how interpretation means not diverging from the text in front of you, but maintaining a fidelity to the text which might require you to play something differently from what is written in the score. Rubato is a case in point.


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(continued)

  • “Look at any score from the Renaissance and you'll find something that looks really rather simple, two or three lines. But if you listen to a recording of so-called authentic performance you will find wild flourishes, you will find decorative embellishments typical of a period and of each type of instrument. The composers didn't think it worthwhile writing these things down because they were dealing with the instruments and the instrumentalists available, and the instrumentalists themselves were very often composers. But today that's not the case.


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(continued)

  • “We've divided up the various tasks of music making much more than is perhaps ultimately good for us, but nevertheless it's what we're faced with at the moment, and so I'm attempting to provoke a consistent awareness in the performer when learning and playing the piece of the very mobile but rich relationship which different sorts of visual conventions may generate with respect to how one puts a piece across to an audience. So it's not as if I'm trying to create a sort of instamatic snapshot of a piece, but I'm interested in providing the steps, sometimes the interlocking and rather self-contradictory steps, via which a performer may ascend to an adequate performance.”



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What Ferneyhough is Saying

  • Performance practice traditions in earlier music add complexity to the information in the score

  • Earlier pieces are thus much more complex than they appear

  • With the demise of performance practice traditions, this complexity disappears


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So:

  • Ferneyhough loads his scores with musical information in an effort to make up for that loss of complexity

  • Also does this to put the performer in a sort of “state”--when the performer isn’t in complete control of the situation


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Listening log: Ferneyhough, Bone Alphabet

  • What might be difficult about this piece?

  • Does the performer sound out of control to you?


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Free Jazz

  • Free jazz was created by Ornette Coleman in the late 1950s and developed throughout the 1960s

  • “Free” from the beat of bebop

  • “Free” from any pre-existing form

  • Usually atonal

  • Often completely or almost completely improvised


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Cecil Taylor

  • 1929- (New York)


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Cecil Taylor

  • Pianist who described instrument as “88 tuned drums”

  • Typically plays very loudly and percussively, using lots of clusters

  • Classically trained

  • Early recordings indebted to bebop

  • But recordings throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s become increasingly “free”


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Listening log: Cecil Taylor, Almeda

  • How are the two players interacting with each other?

  • What aspects of this music are like jazz?


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Anthony Braxton

  • 1945- (Chicago)


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Anthony Braxton

  • Background in jazz

  • Composer, and plays saxophone, clarinet and several other instruments

  • Music combines composition and improvisation

  • Strongly influenced by Stockhausen, as well as Afro-futurists like Sun Ra


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Taking a Wide View

  • In part because of influence of Stockhausen and Cage, Braxton sees the boundaries of his music as almost limitless

  • For example, has piece for 100 tubas

  • Often speaks of writing music that will be performed in huge outdoor spaces

  • Staged a huge recording session with 50 musicians playing for 8 hours in an ice rink


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Blurring boundaries

  • Braxton seems to see all his music as being part of a common pool

  • That is, any piece can go with any other, and improvisation can join with any piece

  • (Braxton also has a complex system to organize improvisation)


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Listening log: Anthony Braxton, Comp. 59

  • What is going on here?

  • Which parts sound composed? Which sound improvised?


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Morton Feldman

  • 1926 (New York)-1987


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Morton Feldman

  • Meets John Cage and they bond over performance of Anton Webern’s music

  • Cage, Feldman and two other composers known as “New York School”

  • In early career, makes indeterminate music


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Late pieces

  • Late in his life (beginning in the mid to late 1970s, Feldman’s music changes

  • Long

  • Fully notated

  • Doesn’t “go anywhere”

  • “Drone” not really the right word, but lots of slow, inexact repetitions that don’t head in any particular direction


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Kyle Gann in “Painter Envy”:

  • “On the surface, his music meets most modernist criteria. It is atonal. It is highly chromatic, rippling with dissonant intervals. It rarely articulates a steady beat. Its rhythms are complexly notated, even if they don't sound complex when played.What sticks in the classical-music craw is the stasis of Feldman's music, its absence of drama, direction, or virtuosity. What it has instead, and what sparks its influence, is its mood, a subtle and intricately etched melancholy found (as Feldman noted) in Kierkegaard, Van Gogh, Beckett, Rothko - but almost never in music...


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Gann (continued)

  • “Because his pieces usually have one dynamic marking throughout, Feldman has been called a minimalist, and even, in an implied slap at Glass and Reich, the real minimalist. But how can a work as bristlingly complex, as difficult even follow its score, as For Samuel Beckett be considered minimalist? The idea is absurd. All Feldman's music shares with the minimalists' is its flatness of surface, and his pensive moods, nuanced via reminiscences and slightly varied repetitions, couldn't be more foreign to the mass-produced impersonality of minimalist music and art.”


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Listening log: Feldman, Piano and String Quartet

  • Feldman was a great admirer of Persian rugs. In what way is this music like a Persian rug?


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Eliane Radigue

  • 1932- (Paris)


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Radigue

  • Studied electronic music with Pierre Schaeffer

  • Uses tape loops as well as synthesizers

  • Music is notable not for its use of technology, though, but for what we bring to it


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Listening to Radigue

  • When we listen to most music, the music offers a sort of path--it takes us by the hand

  • But Lucier’s music, the early “gradual process” music of Reich, etc. offer a different way

  • The music is slow to change, and changes are subtle

  • There are rarely any obvious changes that would provide clues


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So…

  • The form of the music is, essentially, provided by you

  • Maybe you think you hear things that aren’t there

  • Your attention wanders


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Listening log: Radigue, Adnos I (1974)

  • Don’t write until after the example is played

  • What changes do you hear?



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AMM

  • English improvised music group

  • (Their music is spontaneously created, without notation)

  • Created in 1965

  • Inspired in part by free jazz, but disliked entertainment roots of jazz


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Instead…

  • AMM sought to create long pieces that had no melody or harmony

  • Focused on texture instead

  • Very noisy early in career, then become quieter and more Feldman-influenced in later years


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Listening log: AMM, Generative Theme II

  • What instruments do you hear?

  • How do the instruments interact with each other?


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AMM

  • Pioneer of improvised music based around extended techniques

  • Improvised music around extended techniques becomes a major trend in improvised music in 1990s and 2000s


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Musical hierarchies

  • By burying themselves within texture, AMM avoid hierarchies

  • Toop: “A traditional rock band--the Rolling Stones, say--represents a fairly simple hierarchical model: vocalist Mick Jagger sharing the top of the heap with the Tommy Hilfiger logos, the rest of the band strung out below, followed by the hired hands--bass and keyboards--then an army of production functionaries and anonymous crew members packed down into the base of a vast pyramid.”


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Hierarchical Model

  • Hierarchies also present in contemporary classical music, with composer at top

  • In AMM, what are the hierarchies?

  • Everyone fits into a collective texture

  • Players avoid virtuosity, thereby preventing differentiation

  • Extended techniques disguise identities of instruments


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Hierarchies and technology

  • Summarizing Toop in Haunted Weather:

  • There is a world of sound out there that comes mostly from machines

  • (Think of Russolo and Cage)


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The environment

  • Cage and musique concrete encourage listeners to embrace the sounds of their environment


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Machines and music

  • Increasingly, machines are also used to make music

  • These machines reduce individuality by:

  • Masking virtuosity--you can’t see someone doing something technically impressive

  • Reducing real-time interaction

  • You can’t see what actions produce what results


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So…

  • In much recent music…

  • Individuality takes a backseat

  • For example, businesspeople struggled to market techno music in the 1990s because they couldn’t associate a face with it

  • Much music comes to embrace this absence of individuality


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And…

  • The performer, and often even the music itself, fades into the background

  • Music often becomes hard to distinguish from other sounds in its environment



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Nakamura

  • Japanese musician, played in rock groups

  • “When I stopped playing the guitar it’s like I noticed, I found out I can’t play the guitar anymore because I felt the guitar is not my instrument anymore. Because you need something to express, you need some movement to play the guitar.”

  • Claims he wants to remove emotion from his music


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No-input mixing board

  • Nakamura plays no-input mixing board

  • Think about the symbolism of that


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Keith Rowe

  • 1940- (England)


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Keith Rowe

  • Guitarist for AMM

  • Plays guitar on its side

  • Prepares the guitar

  • Uses it to make droning, sustained sounds


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Listening log: Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura, Weather Sky

  • How does this compare to the Eliane Radigue piece?

  • What sounds “improvised” about this?


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Nmperign

  • Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley


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Nmperign

  • Based in Boston

  • Rainey grows up studying jazz, Kelley studies classical music

  • Rainey: “I was always interested in timbre…The main bridge to the music I do now was microtonality… [T]he search for microtones on the saxophone brought out timbres that became closer to me than the microtones themselves.”


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Listening log: Nmperign

  • What instruments?

  • What is the interaction pattern like?


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To me…

  • The pattern of interaction is like passing clouds

  • For the most part, jazz is built on moment-to-moment interaction, but Nmperign does little of that

  • It is like environmental sounds bouncing off each other


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Matt Taibbi, Spanking the Donkey

  • “This is the tenth time I have heard Dean’s speech in the last three days, and I’ve developed a code system to describe it. Dean’s stump speech has fifteen or sixteen interchangeable parts that vary slightly from venue to venue, but contain the same punchlines each time.


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(continued)

  • “After the third time I heard the governor speak, I broke the speech down and numbered each of the parts, memorizing the numbers so that I could record each speech simply by writing down the numbers in sequence. My notes for Portland, Oregon, for instance, read, “PORTLAND: 4-5-1-6-3-7-8-9-10-11-15-12-13.” The abbreviated Town Hall address the next morning, on the other hand, reads, “SPOKANE: 7-9-2-6-3-10.”


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Question:

  • What application to music might this have?


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Absence of narrative

  • Think of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, with its continual re-setting

  • Or think of Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, which jumped from idea to idea without regard to transition

  • Dean’s speeches are much the same way: they need not be in a particular order, because one idea does not flow to the next


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Absence of “substance”

  • Taibbi: “While Dean in the background pushed through 12 and 13--“Blah blah blah John Ashcroft!” [hooting and boos], “blah blah blah send him back to Crawford, Texas!” [cheers and raucous applause]--we exchanged contact numbers…


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(continued)

  • “As I found out on the Sleepless Summer tour, no candidate with ‘momentum’ looks good up close; and the realities of modern campaigning make it hard to spot a mirage, even at close range.

  • “The first axiom of campaign journalism, one that should be memorized by any reporter who tries it, goes as follows: Substance is impossible.”


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Andrew Hamilton

  • 1977- (Ireland)


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Andrew Hamilton

  • Music is fully composed

  • Influenced by minimalism

  • Prefers tonality

  • And yet his music is not (intentionally) pleasing

  • “I also think I use these types of material as they are familiar objects, in a way comforting, so that it makes the play with structure more audible. I want the listener to be concentrating on this instead of wondering how a sound was produced by an instrument.”


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But I would contend…

  • That Hamilton’s music is not comforting at all

  • To me, his music sounds is reminiscent of the alienating repetitions of advertisements and political talking points

  • The audacity of saying something ridiculous over and over

  • Like a song you can’t get out of your head


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Listening log: Andrew Hamilton, Music for People Who Lose People

  • Is this enjoyable or not? Why?


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The Threshold

  • As with much of the music we’ve listened to, something funny happens when you listen for a long time

  • You reach a threshold where the point stops being how annoying it is, and becomes about the audacity of how annoying it is



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Zs

  • New York-based

  • Began as a collective of composers with classical training

  • Plays rock music, but mostly notated

  • Play from music stands

  • Charlie Looker described the influence of rock as a “sonic aesthetic”

  • I take him to mean that he likes music to be brutally loud and harsh


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Zs

  • Music tends to be extremely repetitive

  • But not repetitive in the pleasing way minimalism is


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Listening log: Zs, trio piece

  • How are the players interacting with one another?

  • How might you describe the structure of this piece?


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Zs and Hamilton

  • Their music sounds different, but they share a similar approach to repetition

  • Repetition is not pleasing

  • Mirrors the crushing repetition of advertisements and political campaigns

  • In that sense, this music has a lot to say about our world


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Conclusion

  • Oliver Kamm, The Guardian: “An impressionable writer last week quoted one of Stockhausen’s acolytes: ‘Stockhausen gave us the courage to think anything was possible in music.’ But not everything is possible in music, any more than it is in poetry. If you read a poem you need, at a minimum, to be able to understand the language in which it is written, the conventions of the genre and the tradition of the art form. Musical appreciation does not depend on the ability to read a score, but it does require the ability to hear sounds in relation to those that precede them.”


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Is this true?

  • Well?

  • Overall, does modern music go too far, too fast?

  • Does the average listener have to like it for it to have value?


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Why did art music change the way it did in the past 110 years?

  • Bernard Goldberg: “If you want to make believe it doesn’t matter what kind of songs people write, then when they write that women are nothing but bitches and hos, let’s just sit there and say, hey, it’s no big deal, it’s only the culture. It’s either a big deal or it isn’t.”

  • Jon Stewart: “Nah, I disagree with that. I think that it is the general detritus and static that exists in a world that is complex.”


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Rapid change years?

  • Not suggesting that modern music is the equivalent of misogyny in hip hop

  • Simply that it is a byproduct of a world that is becoming increasingly complex


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How is it becoming more complex? years?

  • Russolo: World becoming increasingly noisy

  • Predicts that music would also eventually become more noisy and machine-like

  • We see this throughout the 20th and 21st centuries


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(continued) years?

  • From musique concrete, to Lachenmann’s exploration of extended techniques, to contemporary improvised music like that of Nmperign

  • Relatedly, we see musicians trying to converse with their environment, and understand the sounds around them

  • Think Cage, but also, again, contemporary improv and musique concrete


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Changes in Technology years?

  • Contemporary music, in its quest for progress, alienates many listeners

  • But is this really surprising? Aren’t we all a little alienated by the rate of technological progress throughout the world?

  • We worry about the environment, and are annoyed by the noise that surrounds us, annoyed by development, annoyed by crappy mass-produced food, annoyed by highway congestion

  • We worry that someone might blow us up, or that the planet might heat up to a dangerous degree


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Our relationship to progress years?

  • …is a troubled one

  • So maybe it’s not surprising that contemporary music troubles us as well

  • It is tense and confusing music for tense and confusing times

  • Not saying that it’s bad, only that if it annoys you, there may be a reason for that


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Reminder years?

  • Final exam review session, tomorrow at 6PM, Mandeville 127

  • Here’s one of your exam questions:

  • Describe Luigi Russolo’s argument in The Art of Noises. Is the argument convincing? How well does it foreshadow what happened in art music since it was written? Describe the music of at least five composers discussed in this class in making your argument.


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