Re: the electronic arts prize

Subject: Re: the electronic arts prize
From: Dennis Bathory-Kitsz (
Date: Thu Jul 01 1999 - 15:10:32 EDT

At 19 42 07 01 1999 +0200, Alexandra Hettergott wrote:
>Larry Austin wrote:
>>they think (and pay big money) in terms of the "product" and
>>its saleability to the mass culture.
>Apart from "them" and their making big money, however, I don't see
anything so bad in
>this distribution and putting at disposal of "true" art products to the
masses (yet
>this might rather be a political item...); I am, however, still of the
modest opinion
>that the offer does also determine the demand, hence, an increasing of the
"level of
>the common (and the commerce)" might rather be a task worth being
pursued..., isn't

I have to agree with Alexandra here, if I understand her correctly. I also
agree with Larry sense of being offended, for other reasons.

The whole 'product' idea is the problem, but sometimes we can put it aside
if we simply re-define the vocabulary into terms which suit us. There's a
commodity issue that can't be avoided unless we return weaving clothes and
carving log drums with stones. So the offense comes in two ways: the
appearance and the exchange. The appearance (the marketing) is the hard
part, as I don't hear too many artists turning down the exchange -- prizes,
royalties, or even remuneration for day jobs that make their art possible.

Having completed that vague introduction, I will say that marketing -- the
presentation of something in an appealing manner in the hopes that it will
be desired -- can indeed be offensive. I will also say that it doesn't
bother *me*. Aside from being a composer, I also wear a media hat --
writing, editing and (closer to this community's work) radio/cyber host.

Every week I try very hard to think of ways in which our show will make the
most difficult music appealing -- not the music itself, but the
surroundings, the atmosphere, the understanding, the excitement, even a
certain level of fiction that keeps a listener tuned in. Some call it
presentation. Presentation can be thought of as a subset of marketing,
because what I have to sell (the listening experience) is purchased with
the buyer's currency (the listener's attention). I can't play two hours of
music end-to-end. The listeners would leave. I have to market. I even have
to lie a little -- in other words, to re-interpret the music I know for the
listener who doesn't.

Where does it get tricky for me? Most often in two ways: when the music is
extremely difficult to 'get' the first time around, and when I don't have
faith in the music's quality or imagination. The latter happens, but isn't
my point here. The music's difficulty is, difficulty that has probably
arisen over time. So often I ask composer guests how listeners can 'get
into' their music. The response is invariably, 'just listen'. Dear
colleagues, this is the *least helpful response* for a listener. It's
demeaning for the listener who can't get into the music. It's
information-free. It is the composer at marketing worst. A company
marketing a product no one wants or needs does better than many composers
'marketing' a work of art that can change the listener's life.

(I have no particular opinion of the electronic arts prize per se. It's
conducted with cultural and commodity biases. So what. If you know them,
you know what to submit to have a chance. I don't think it really matters,
unless you want the money. They, yes, you have to market -- to them, with
presentation and material they might want. I don't care about that. I
submitted something the year before last, but hadn't done enough research
to realize my 'product' and their needs didn't match, and I had marketed
badly in my presentation to them. My fault. But I don't really care.)

I certainly *do* care about composers whose work is astounding, but whose
presentation is obscure, dismissive, self-indulgent, and dull. (That
includes a lot of composers!) Alexandra says, "I don't see anything so bad
in this distribution and putting at disposal of 'true' art products to the
masses." Quite right. But many artists, I believe, fear the pressure it
might put on them to produce more of the same, fear being misunderstood and
misrepresented, and fear not being taken seriously. (A minority, I would
guess, also fear that their work is too fragile in competence, craft, or
imagination to withstand a public eye, but that is another matter.)

Sorry to be getting to the point so slowly.

As composers, our art is the music, but our product is the *experience* of
our music. We have, by and large in this century, done a remarkable job
with our art, but presented only our music, our sounds, our architectures
and theories and analyses and techniques. For whatever reasons, we have
dismissed concern for the experience, as if ashamed by it. If there's
anything I've learned after doing hundreds of weekly shows, it's that
listeners will engage in the larger experience and -- hate it or love it --
they will at last *listen* to the music.

By rejecting 'marketing', we avoid the heavy lifting required to give
listeners the opportunity to hear us. 'Just listen' isn't an answer,
whether to the Prix Ars Electronica or the neighbor whose music never
exceeds three minutes.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b27 : Wed Jun 11 2003 - 13:09:01 EDT