Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tower Records - Erected No More

Many classical music lovers, including yours truly, are lamenting the demise of Tower Records, one of the last remaining “mom ‘n’ pop” music stores of my generation.
Founded by classical composer, Joan Tower, the corporation has always made sure that each store’s classical music section was comprised not only of newly released reissues, but also of bargain bins and box sets. Tower was one of the only places that sold one-sided blank cassette tapes, which came in handy for some of my composition lessons.
Tower employees were some of the smartest people in the retail business. For example, they could easily explain to my naive and confused young students why there existed so many different recordings of the same piece of music, and why the first recording made wasn’t necessarily the best one.
The employees convinced my students of the frivolity of “packaging” and “album art,” an attitude that, ironically, led to Tower’s demise. You see, one of the most popular genres of downloaded music today is Classical Music. That’s because consumers are convinced that packaging, artwork, and design are not important alongside the historical integrity of Great Music. Years of impeccably innocuous album art has made physical distribution unnecessary, despite the fact that liner notes have been replaced by the inferior PDF format.
The big problem, of course, is that average listeners (who are not trained composers) cannot tell the difference between CD-quality audio and mp3 files. We’ve solved one problem (unnecessary artwork) and created another (compromised sound quality).
Incidentally, for years the Rochester location of Tower Records has been a popular hangout with druglords and prostitutes, two character-types who will never appreciate classical music, even though classical music appreciates them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reasons Young Composers Should Be Thankful This Holiday Season:

- I am about to complete the prototype for my TANDY Ring Modulator, a device that will transform simple-minded cell phone ring tones (as seen in hip-hop commercials) into unrecognizable, and quite nearly unanalyzable, contemporary études.

- My TANDY ASCII-Mate generated this list of 102 suggested musical compositions for Thanksgiving. As you can see, there's quite a lack of modern compositions in the Thanksgiving repertoire, which means this is an opportunity! Young composers, consider writing a Thanksgiving Cantata or a Thanksgiving Suite of Études combining the themes of American Indian music with European Sonata forms and/or an electronic "aural feast."

- The "trendy" and "cutting edge" internet production company YouTube Pictures will be producing a new film about the life of the reclusive, contentious composer Daphnée Kryostovnezskiy who composed only ONE piece of music which he then revised and rearranged over four hundred times throughout his short career. Due to rights issues, YouTube Pictures cannot use Kryostovnezskiy's music, so they are looking for a young composer willing to create new works in the style of Kryostovnezskiy.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Asians and Classical Music

My TANDY-Tracker internet spy engine allows me to observe how web-surfers arrive at my Classical Pontifications blog. You’d be surprised at some of the Google searches people execute. It seems that our society will express ideas through Google that would be absolutely unacceptable to express in public.
For example, yesterday I discovered that one of my readers wanted to know why Asians are so slow to accept classical music. I don’t believe this is true. According to Tom Gulick, Executive Director of the Honolulu Symphony, “[T]he Asians understand what people get from the study of classical music. A training of the brain.”
If anyone is slow to accept classical music, it is the young people of the United States. They’re too busy calling in their votes to Dancing with the Stars to attune to the complexity of intellectual music. Classical music is not easy to dance to. It never has been. That’s why it’s called “classical music” and not “ballroom music” or “boudoir music.” Exercising the mind and exercising the body are two entirely different processes that must be executed separately if at all. You wouldn’t expect a scientist to base his study of global warming on what happens as his bowl of ice cream melts, would you?! For the same reason, we shouldn’t mix music and pleasure!
Young people, when you find the time to put down your text messages and pick up your books of piano etudes, remember that it’s important to analyze the etude before you attempt to play it. Your fingers need a workout, but first you need to exercise your brain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Twenty-Five Years of Electroacoustic Ignorance

The Eastman School of Music, located down the street from my office at the Hotel Cadillac, will present a festival of electroacoustic music beginning this week and lasting throughout the school year. The festival will be open to the general public and will take place in classrooms and other such venues where only students are allowed. The festival celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Eastman Computer Music Center.
The festivities include a performance of electroacoustic compositions deemed worthy by the cautiously insulated ECMC staff in a competition entitled “Electroacoustic Music Competition.” As always, the fine staff is more concerned with musical integrity than stylistic matters (as is evidenced by the fact that they’ve programmed their computers to dress them every morning using algorithms unrelated to recent fashion trends – see photo)
Interestingly, the ECMC fails to define “electroacoustic music,” leading this Professor (and potential applicant) to wonder whether he would be competing against cell-phone rings and Karaoke videos! Even after being in existence for twenty-five years, the ECMC does not know what “electroacoustic” means. Apparently, it does not refer to blending electronic and acoustic instruments since one of the award-winning works – Aubaine by Glechoma Dirk Specht and Gerriet K. Sharma – is scored only for “audio compact disc,” and another is scored only for piano with magnets!
Young composers, it is important to understand what you’re talking about, even when you’re talking about unfamiliar things. There is no excuse for the ECMC’s willful ignorance of the etymology of “electroacoustic.” For a better education, consider transferring to my classes at the Hotel Cadillac. In 2007, we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of my Composer Isolation Chamber with a festival of acoustoelectric music, originally intended to be heard only by its creators. A competition will be announced in January, and you can be sure that the application form will include the requisite definitions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Today I performed a Google search for the phrase “Heebie McJeebie Famous Composer,” and one of the results returned to me was a website entitled “Famous Composer of Marching Band Music.” I was not aware that my back catalog of compositions has been archived on the world wide web, and this brings me to today’s pontification.
When a composer of electronic music allows his compositions to be “streamed” on the internet, not only does he compromise his file size, but he also subjects himself to endless years of cache-ing – a technique used by search engines to subvert the New York Times’ strict copyright rules. As I’ve said before, I am not one to shun technological innovations. In fact, just yesterday I was able to cast my gubernatorial vote via the internet. But there is something to be said for biodegradable music.
Take, for example, the composer Steve Reich, who celebrated his seventieth birthday last month. Mr. Reich (who is not a professor) regularly disavows much of his earlier music, but if you look on the internet, you can still find an mp3 of his teenaged composition “Jazzy Marimbas.” This is because Mr. Reich’s agent surreptitiously uploaded it to his own MySpace page with the hope of attracting underage fans. Now, thanks to Google’s cache, “Jazzy Marimbas” will be around forever, and Mr. Reich will never be able to truly disavow it.
Young composers, remember that you are never as wise today as you will be tomorrow. If you stream your compositions on YouTube, you will be reminded of your misspent youth fifty years from now as you grow old and decay.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Composers and Cultural Charity

One of my colleagues at the Hotel Cadillac, Professor of International Business Relations Dr. Wilhelm Emulatto, returned a few days ago after he and his wife adopted a Chinese baby. The Emulatto family’s charity has inspired me to think of ways in which composers have helped to cultivate a kinder, gentler society by mixing and matching cultures from around the globe.
Some composers have attempted to merge the intellectual superiority of Western Classical music with music from a third-world culture. David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus is a fine example. Others like Colin McPhee have used modern technology, such as TANDY Folk-Detectors and Quicktime 8mm cameras, to capture authentic field recordings of music associated with ancient Asian rituals and witch-burnings. And a third subsection of charitable ethnomusicologists, including the esteemed George Crumb, have been working to translate sounds made by all kinds of animals, from sophisticated dolphins to simple organisms such as plankton.
As many of you probably know, for years I have been attempting to outsource some of my TANDY-composing work to India. For example, there is a fellow there named Bruce who helps me translate some of my MIDI music into the European PAL format. I do not expect that my compositions would benefit from intermingling with undernourished foreign music, but I do support foreign cultures by paying foreigners for copying assistance and technological advisement. In the end, these foreigners might learn something, and that would be my charitable contribution to a truly global culture.
In the meantime, I hope to make a TANDY digital recording of some of the strange noises coming from Prof. Emulatto’s Chinese baby.