Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Listening Horizontally

Professor Dan Becker, who teaches composition at the all-naturally air-conditioned San Francisco Conservatory, has written an article for New Music Box on how to teach composition. Never one to shy away from the biggest possible issues, Dr. Becker calls for a restructuring of the entire higher-education-in-music system. Fortunately, he quickly realizes that he cannot revolutionize the system and still expect to receive tenure, so instead he tells us how he, as an individual Professor, approaches his duties.
What I find most remarkable about Dr. Becker’s essay is his advocacy of “horizontal” listening. His contention that students should listen simultaneously to a wide variety of disparate musics smacks of a John Cage MusiCircus [sic]. Has Dr. Becker been hanging out at Haight and Ashbury a little too often? Come on, Professor! Everyone knows that not all music is good for you, yet we are forced by political correctness and cultural sensitivity to refrain from pronouncing any one kind of music better than another. Such egalitarianism is unfair to those composers whose music has greater integrity.
Furthermore, to encourage students to listen to music “horizontally” is to ignore the very foundation of music notation. How do you expect them to learn to read an orchestral score if their ears cannot discern a vertical sonority? They can write solo melodies ‘til kingdom come, but they will never appreciate harmony and counterpoint, and they will be forced to save all their MIDI files in “format zero.”

As a composer of Electronic Music, I will concede that there is sometimes a value to generating music “horizontally” (especially when working with the TANDY programming language MONOFONIK), but we must also acknowledge the fact that much modern music is far too complicated to be fully appreciated on a single plane. It must be heard horizontally and vertically.


Blogger Daniel Wolf said...

I insist on listening horizontally. That's why I have a sofa in my studio.

1:36 PM  

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