Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson (was: Re: Computer chicken))

Subject: Re: Quick guide to postmodernism (was: Re: Gibson (was: Re: Computer chicken))
From: Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (
Date: Mon Oct 03 2005 - 00:57:11 EDT

At 10:14 PM 10/2/05 -0700, Eliot Handelman wrote:
>The hypothesis was, "children who are presented with 12-tone music,
>rather than 'tonal' music,
>will grow up with an intense affinity for 12-tone music, preferring it
>to 'tonal' music."

To me that's very different from what you said previously:

>>12-toners that if you grew up with 12-tone music, it would be to you
>>what Elvis was to
>>other people, instinctual, basic, a "language" of expression that gets
>>you right there.

Maybe you meant the same, but I read different. Webern got me, but Elvis
never did.

>It's not that no one likes 12-tone music. It's just that at one time
>12-tone music was going to replace all other music -- remember that?

No. I wasn't in academia. I just listened to records and eventually went to
concerts. The whole politics of it was something I only heard about and
never experienced -- yet it seems to me that music keeps being tarred with
stupid statements made about it. Wagner was supposedly artwork of the
future, said he, right? So because it was a stupid statement, what? We keep
reiteratating that stupidity? Or do we just listen to the stuff? And what
about all the music-in-glory-of-God statements? Because I'm an atheist, I
should somehow treat Dominator-Domino or Es Ist Genug as suspect music?

>"any composer who does not feel the NECESSITY of 12-tone music -- he is
>USELESS! and I will
>FART in HIS DIRECTION!" said Big Boulez. Boy, he scared a lot of people.

Boulez was a politician, Feldman a used car salesman. Lousy ones, both, but
somebody got scared. I suppose from my particular path through time and
sound, the politicians and sales, um, 'associates' of styles and techniques
were embarrassing rather than scary. Composers just don't know when to shut
it sometimes, but reading any given set of program notes can be
dispiriting. For example, I love Anthony Braxton's music, but the
obtuse/hyperinflated writing? O. My. Gawd. And Stravinsky comparing and
concluding that, how'd he say it, a simple modulation was more creative
than birdsong?

So using words to bludgeon the music says nothing about the music. But
we've been there, I think. Over and again.

>The issue isn't whether the music is any good or not, or whether the
>theory adds up (it's hardly a

I see. Since it's not my issue, I suppose I've jumped into a discussion
about a discussion about a way of discussing music, but not a discussion
about music. I didn't think that's what it was, but I say uncle.

>"Bad-sounding" meant "oh you're not advanced enough" or "you
>have to grow up with
>it," "this will be the next 100 years of music", etc, whereas the
>probability is that anybody who went for
>this music found something they liked it in it right away, or they were
>intrigued by it,
>or they found it unusual, or they wanted to be more advanced than their
>friends or parents, or
>whatever. They were not drawn in because they understood that's how the
>metanarrative went,
>and how, in consequence of which, their proclivities were to be disposed.

You seem to continue to assert that music has something to do with what is
said about it. I can't imagine folks actually being naive enough to believe
this kind of prattle, but selling a product is what it's all about, no?
Since we're in the free market age, we don't need a metanarrative because
you can't price it, rfid it, and replenish the inventory.

But I can never tell when your tongue is in your cheek. You started the
fork with this QGtPM subject above by saying, among other things...

>Schoenberg was modern. Glass is postmodern. One has an inner system of
>secret codes. The
>other put his system on the surface.

...and ...

>In the
>future, we won;t have to
>worry about this: the distinctions between "the right art" and "the
>wrong art" will be crystal clear. very definitive terms. I don't believe either composer has a system
'on the surface' because the surface is visible (audible) to those who can
see (hear) through information. But that's just me. I can't prove it, nor
do I care. But I got disaffection playing either one to adult mainly pop
listeners, and enthusiasm playing them for elementary school kids.

I think we have entered the begging-the-question twilight zone.


>I am saying this: :
>The notion that you can train people to like 12-tone music is to me

Does your orwellian include, say, artichokes, Catholicism, table manners,
boot camp, liverworst, Little League, and neckties? There's some pretty
successful training there.

>I'm adding: I like some 12-tone music. ACtually, I;ve been getting into
>the so-called
>"free atonal" music that preceded 12-tone, Sche. op. 16 eg, which I find
>more chaotic and
>complex than, eg, the violin concerto, though perhaps one day I'll get
>into that too.
>Do you find these statements incompatible?

Inverted. :)

Look, I'm not staking a claim to false simplicity. I am constantly in
questioning mode, which gets worse when I turn on my own creative process &
products. My objection is made to point out that bashing the 12-tone
repertoire and composers is now in fashion. False and specious arguments
are presented and history is reconstructed with prejudice. I recently wrote
to a well-known critic and composer who was happily bashing away at formal
atonality and thumping for postmodernism, and have pasted some excerpts below.


[In my work you can see] 12-tone music standing equal with the rest.
Several of my pieces over the years have been in this style, albeit
sometimes modified to cast off the formalism -- as is my 25-minute "Rough
Edges" for piano from the late 1980s [formal atonality + minimalism] -- but
without any academic influence ... unless you believe that LPs in the
cutout bin constituted that kind of influence.

No, I did it because it was exciting to me, a vivid kind of air-based way
of working, where two snowflakes could never -- must never -- be the same.
It created beauty nonetheless. Did it often sound the same? Of course, in
some hands. But then tell me about Vivaldi.

Somehow in this rewriting of musical history that's currently in progress,
the very vitality and excitement of 12-tone music compared to any other
approach of its time is being ignored. Whether or not my reaction was
typical, it was nonetheless the reaction of a musical novice -- and my
response to the 12-tone pieces and the formally architected pieces such as
Stockhausen's was a visceral thrill and a screaming "yes!"

That you're about my age and apparently did not feel this -- and I do mean
'feel', and not 'think' -- is confounding. You know I am by no means some
sort of unreconstructed postmodernist. From one of our first encounters
[...] you probably haven't heard the sound of a Schoenberg acolyte's
musical voice.

That 12-tone music is stone dead, I won't admit, because, as Schoenberg
himself might have said, there's a lot of great music still to be written
in dodecaphonics. And if it is largely dead and barely twitching, so much
the better, because it means music is moving on. (Yet, remembering your
previous lament about younger musicians missing the Riley-related era, I
can only think that your comments reflect our very human desires for music
to stay back in our [own] eras of greatest commitment.)

But rewriting history is another matter. Though I am extrapolating from
personal experience -- always a dangerous occupation, but one which I do
shamelessly -- I simply cannot be unique, the single composer whose life's
work included an enthusiastic use of dodecaphonics but who came to that
life's work outside the academic world. It seems to me that, should you
look deeper outside the academy, that you'll find composers who were
shivered nape-to-small by the alternate reality of 12-tone composition ...
with its set of rules, yes, but rules which allowed the sickening muck of
tonality to be dissolved. I remember -- and still hear on public radio --
those composers who made me feel that revulsion ... Sibelius and
Rachmaninoff and Strauss and Puccini and even mid-era Stravinsky and all
those dull Americans like Copland and Grofe and Gould. Next to that
normalcy, how can Webern and Babbitt and even old Schoenberg *not* create
an unearthly sense of transport? A sense of freshness, of freedom, of
transparency and vitality?

I try to remember those days as I write this. I'm no longer thrilled by
them in that way (for I no longer listen to older music), but rather have a
sense of deep warmth in the memories, and a sense that can be aroused to
recall those feelings in a kind of physical manner. It's not in any way an
academic exercise or intellectual defense. And, in order to further my
musical credibility (as I think some might be doing), I do not offer a
politically correct apology for having written formal atonality. It was
part of the world view, part of the excitement of this composer's life &

Of course, in the 40 years since, I have had other moments of transient
rapture, from "Music for 18 Musicians" as I sat at the premiere, or those
New York Avant Garde Festival moments with Laurie Anderson, or first
hearing "Clouds of Forgetting...", or sitting spellbound with McGuire's "A
Cappella". And there's Partch and Saariaho and Phil Kline. Transcendent
experiences, all -- but none in need of exaggeration.

If it's exaggeration you seek, I think it's the tone of the Tonalists
Triumphant, as if the attitude of we-were-right-all-along makes any sense
when they were so rightly overshadowed by the dramatic significance --
inside or outside academia -- of the 12-tone composers for the better part
of a half-century. I do not defend the frauds that followed in that school
of creation, nor can I defend a three-generation assault by lazy and
hostile performers that helped turn audiences away.

But it's all history. And a history that, I hope, will not be rewritten
without exploring the minds *and* hearts of the composers who, at the time,
found liberation and joy in that work.

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