from Saturday, July28th of the year2007.
A quick note to everybody ““ if you’re interested in music, you should all check out this NewMusicBox interview with Charles Wuorinen. It is completely fascinating; I found myself agreeing with him on a lot of things. Like a lot of composers of that generation (Reich, et al), he turned out to be also what we used to call A Big Meanie. That’s sort of part of his charm, though, and he is one of the few people willing to aggressively and undiplomatically address issues in the classical music scene, such as it is. He is also charming because he poses with his cat, although I think our cats are way hotter (see Duane, at left). Listen to this pretty concise explanation of his pitch material:
Often the actual sets I use are, in some sense, scalar, or interpretable in a scalar fashion, so when I want that kind of thing, it’s at my disposal. I also often use what essentially are rings, rather than sets, that is to say, orderings that, at the most fundamental level, return to the beginning, which is perfectly in keeping with everything else I’ve said. So, I don’t know how helpful any of these designations or descriptions are, in a broader notion of music, let’s say, that uses the total chromatic.
See, if he sets his mind to it, he could be such a great model for younger composers; who doesn’t want to hear about rings of notes? Totally fascinating. A lot of what makes serial music so interesting is the mise-en-place required to make it go; you have to figure out the order in which you are going to need which ingredient, and you really need to have your technique for chopping up pitches in good shape or it’s going to fall flat on the page. Say what you will about the taste combinations (…is that organic candied dust?) ““ Wuorinen’s music is always brilliantly prepped. I’ve heard a lot of 12-tone music made with gritty leeks and garlic germ left-in and let me assure you that There Is No Imodium Strong Enough (for lion’s roar and antiphonal brake drums).
That opera of his, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, was way more awesome than I expected. It was also littered with diatonic harmony nuggets, an issue he addresses in the interview (although not specifically in the case of the opera). He says, “I found a lot of inspiration, as I’m sure you know, in the late works of Stravinsky, which were full of diatonic puns, or puns on diatonicism, and I’ve continued to incorporate those both in the surface of my work and in the fundamental materials for any given piece.” What he means is that his music sounds like you’re in Mathmagic land, and then suddenly there’s a Bright Red Apple, or a slice of Apple Pie or some other iconic thing that we remember from childhood. I vacillate between thinking that this is “genius” or “cheating;” it doesn’t really matter, though, because it works.
Really do check out the interview even for a brief skim. (NewMusicBox is so great; the questions that Frank Oteri asks are really appropriate. When they interviewed me last year I was really impressed with the questions). Parts of Wuorinen’s are spot-on, other parts are a little bit “Bitter, party for one? Bitter, party for one?” and other parts are 100% over the top. I totally agree with him that big institutions need daring stewardship; I am conceptually excited by what Jimmy is doing in Boston even though I’m not crazy about the way it’s turned out. It’s better to have something to think about, I think, than the body-temperature bath of boring programming. I like Wuorinen’s arguments about pop musicians (“…no recognition of any sort of higher forms of musical discourse or musical practice…”) because they are actually quite airtight but completely disconnected from reality. I wonder what he’s listening to, actually. Do you think somebody is sending him examples and counter-examples?
This one’s for you, CW. This is Smog’s Teenage Spaceship. Listen to the lyrical trick: the verslets end with a note, and then an awkward, voice-cracky angled gesture downwards. Emotionally, this is most effective on the lines, “people thought my windows were stars” but also, “teenage smog.” Good stuff.
[audio:05 Teenage Spaceship.mp3]
Smog Teenage Spaceship
from Knock Knock