Re: Academic? Long Posting

Subject: Re: Academic? Long Posting
From: John Nowak (
Date: Sun Jun 06 2004 - 07:53:15 EDT

On Jun 6, 2004, at 6:46 AM, Kevin Austin wrote:

> On several occasions questions around memorability and great/good
> pieces have appeared here, and will continue to, as is a central issue
> among those interested in art. In hockey, there is a numerical result;
> maybe longevity is a 'numerical result' for art(ists).

Tell that to a Dadaist.

> One of the points raised is that the 20th and 21st centuries are not
> the first to produce "less than wholly captivating art".

All centuries have produced captivating art. Most of my favorite art is
from the 20th century (and on). Alright, all of it is.

> Given a finite amount of time here and limited resources, as an
> individual I need to take decisions about what I will listen to, once,
> twice, or regularly.

Perhaps you have issues with mortality.

> There are tens of thousands of symphonies from the late eighteenth
> century. Among the 'second and third tier' of composers, there are
> many hundreds of 'interesting' works (Cannabich, Paesiello, Stamitz,
> Pleyel) that titillate my ear once or twice, and I am ready to move
> on.

I'm glad you've been titillated.

> There were (quasi-)academic composers that most student pianists have
> met (Boccherini, Clementi, Cramer, Dussek, Hummel) to name a few, but
> what is it that makes Beethoven more engaging than (say) Hummel or
> Boieldieu? Why Stockhausen and not NNnnnn?

Well I assume you'll tell me!

> For me, it relates to the 'density' (and breadth) of the (musical)
> thought.

Ah ha.

> Sounds which I find quite predictable or 'un-engaging' do not draw mt
> my mind back. Kontakte still 'speaks' to me; it has this kind of
> density of identity in which I continue to hear things new (or anew).
> There is another 'layer' to the thought that engages me on each
> hearing.

Perhaps you'd like my music then if you enjoy unpredictability...

> I find 'student works' to be interesting in terms of how the
> individual student is progressing on their own path. My expectation
> for an 'in depth' (thought) experience is tempered by the context of
> their being a student.
> When the student composer rises 'above' this condition (when they show
> signs of speaking with an individual voice), their work begins to be
> recommended for others to hear.

If the student doesn't have an individual voice before they begin
college, they're often screwed. If you don't have at least somewhat of
an individual voice by the age of 18, what the heck are you doing in
art anyway?

> This process of selection is a bit like going to a new restaurant.
> Many people I know suggest pieces for me to listen to. I will listen
> to some of them and determine if I agree with the assessment. If the
> work sounds like any of the thousands of student pieces I've heard, my
> level of 'trust' in the person suggesting the piece goes down.

Well that's just common sense now. No sense in taking advice from
someone who doesn't give a very good variety of it.

> And slowly the student composer's name gets "passed up" through the
> network. Performers and producers come in contact with the work and
> ask for more pieces, in time, starting a cycle of commissioning works.
> (This is not to say that the system 'works' for all "original voices"
> (Cowell, Ives, Partch, Nancarrow and Ruggles come to mind immediately
> as voices that were not commissioned).)

Networking is hell.

> The next step was to have performances without the presence of the
> composer -- the music had interest beyond being a vehicle for the
> development of the composer's career. It is my experience that this is
> the type of work that has acquired the 20th and 21st century
> appellation of 'academic' -- it is frequently more of a stage in a
> career than a designation of where the composer lives.
> Beyond this lies recording and publication -- as assertion that the
> work stands on its own, as those who will play it (or listen to it)
> will have little or no direct knowledge of the composer as an
> individual.

That is an assertion of nothing. Plenty of people pay for crap, and
plenty of great work goes unrecognized. Van Gogh never sold a single
painting remember, yet his works stood on their own quite fine. Many
psychologists think that interest in a piece of art often has to do
with how that art relates to the artist. If there was art, but no
artist, people would not find it interesting. I think there is at least
some truth to this, as very few people will except art entirely done by
computers as interesting. Not because its boring... but because its
done by a computer. You could argue that people commission those works
in hope of getting great music from a new composer, but not just
getting great music. There's a subtle difference.

> Over time, this model has become somewhat standardized,

Your classical training has baffled me. I thought the standard model
was wear a wig, act really crazy, and sell the persona over the
product. Worked for Worhol anyway.

> and the stages of the career can be seen as:
> -- student: supported by teachers and friends on the basis of personal
> development
> -- commissions: someone wants to hear more, in the form of 'new'
> creation
> -- wider performance: the 'works' interest performers and producers
> -- recording and publication: some group (other than the composer or
> their immediate associates (vanity publications)) pays for the
> production and dissemination of the composer's work.
> The "academic" composer often stalls in close proximity to the
> "commissions / wider performance" steps. The well-known question for
> composers is about the "third and fourth" performances of a work away
> from their immediate environment. Is there enough 'abstract' interest
> in the work, that others will seek it out to be heard, performed and
> distributed.
> A look through the Canadian Music Center's catalog of 15,000 pieces by
> more than 600 composers reveals that probably only 3 or 4% per year
> get more than a few (momentary) performances. The American Music
> Center (with less support funding) has 30,000 titles by 2,500
> composers. Given the population ration (1:10), there are likely more
> than 150,000 titles and more than 6,000 composers in the USA. At the
> rate of 5 new pieces per day, it would take more than 80 years to
> listen to this output.
> Using the model presented before, in the Americas and Europe, there
> are probably 1500 to 3000 ea sound arts crafters regularly producing
> works. The web has changed the paradigm of how a composer (and their
> works) becomes known.


> While there is still some (slight) amount of commercial publication,
> there are few ea CDs produced that do not involve (1) the individual's
> own resources,

You sure?

> (2) arts council or government funded agency,

Ah, try getting arts funding in the US. It's fun. Especially if your
art can be used to hunt terrorists.

> or (3) 'academic' assistance, but the web has altered the place of
> this physical CD.

Not quite yet.

> Every day there are more and more 'virtual' sources for ea
> distribution. It is the listener's decision whether to make the
> 'virtual' into 'real' by recording off the web and burning a CD.

Who's to say what's virtual and what isn't? Digital data is digital
data. "Virtual" data is just stored further away from you.

> This change has disrupted the distribution model, and the consequences
> of this are not yet being strongly felt, but certain projections make
> a number of points clear.

CD sales are so far not disrupted.

> Firstly, listeners have become accustomed to not paying the composer
> for what they listen to.
> They will pay the internet service provider (who does not pay fees to
> the 'content producer'), and think that they are getting music for
> "free". Hmmmm

Those people won't be buying the music anyway. Personally I am 100%
against copyright infringement and I have no illegal mp3s, but I don't
think its such a huge issue. The RIAA here in the US is a bunch of
fucking nuts. They want to have mp3 players with thumbprint scanners to
make sure you are allowed to play the music that's on it.

> Secondly, in academia the methods of assessing 'recognition and
> distribution' of creativity are challenged by a non-peer reviewed
> system. Tenure and promotion systems are attempting to 'tighten up' to
> show the necessity of third party recognition and this continues to
> fuel the ever hotter debate over Intellectual Property (ownership and
> transfer obligations).
> So .... to summarize, I do not take "academic music" to have a simple
> or narrow definition, and having read several years of the term being
> loosely applied to sorts of things, I have proposed a relatively
> complete context from which to understand my usage of the term.

That really was long posting, wasn't it. Whew.

- John

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