Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Relying on Inspiration

Many of my students have asked me where I get my inspiration. “What’s your muse?” they ask. I don’t believe the question is meant to offend me, but my students don’t realize that the best composers do not rely on “inspiration” to create music. There are already systems in place to generate material without the need for such new-age nonsense. It’s just a matter of putting oneself in a focused and clinical mindset, being a vessel for the structures and mathematical formulae of music.

For many younger composers, the word “muse” is merely a euphemism for drugs and alcohol. Even the most secluded Professors know that Rochester is the cocaine capital of Upstate New York. I’m aware that some of my students travel to Canada to drink alcohol and gamble. These vulgar activities are not of the mind but of the flesh, just as music composed by “inspiration” is not for the mind but for the ears and the sex organs.

Young people like to get “high” on drugs and alcohol. It is difficult to convince them that they can get just as “high” analyzing the cosmocentric complexity and deterministic chaos of my TANDY compositions. All Professors have a responsibility to discourage their students’ dependency on alcohol, drugs, inspiration, and muses. It may be difficult to go through life with an underdeveloped sense of structure and integrity, but drugs and alcohol are not the answer. Composition students should look to their Professors as role models, and Professors should set good examples as intellectually mature, cultivated individuals for whom drugs, alcohol, and inspiration are not substitutes for structural superiority.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Response to Prof. DeBollox

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to take this opportunity to publicly address some of the comments one reader has left on Classical Pontifications. By taking readers’ comments out of the comment boxes and into the professional blogosphere, I realize I am exposing what has, up until now, been discussed privately. Nevertheless, I feel it is important to raise the curtain on what might be mistaken as interfaculty bickering.

Prof. I.O.U. DeBollox F.E.M.A. provides comments on my post, Academic Welfare. He was happy to inform me that his students would be writing dissertations on my music. I advised Prof. DeBollox that his students would not be allowed to write a dissertation on my music because that privilege is reserved for my students only. I suggested that I might be able to make an exception for a small fee. This statement must have caused Prof. DeBollox to go into a physical state much like a dog in heat, a state in which his intellect succumbed to a primal desire to “mount” another Professor. He has accused me of being unethical, and of indirectly supporting a kind of musical terrorism. I quote, at length, from his original comments:

I was quite discouraged to read your reply. Not at all because of your rejection of my student’s offer; to the contrary! I was horrified at your hint that something as pedestrian as money – or “a small fee,” as you so basely referred to it – would change your mind. Will no one in this gloomy, glutted day and age hold fast to their ethical principles? I have long considered you to be a scholar and gentleman (in that order) of irreproachable and undenigratable dignity, and then – after insisting fervently that only your students have access to cite your work – you backpedal in the most slavish and greedy of ways by indicating that you would accept…a bribe! Yes, let’s call it what it is; a bribe! So in the end, you too are ruled by the free market. I had idolized you as a purist who composed not for the vulgar pleasure of hearing your work performed, but for the beauty of the structure, the ultimate inaudibility of that which is truly musical. Now I fear you resemble the rest of the great unwashed, a pawn of the capitalist system which defaces creation even as it thrusts art forward into the glaring spotlight of the public eye, ear, nose, and throat.
Professor, I implore you: we live in a day of true musical terrorism; those out to destroy our way of life are willing to use any means – rejection, hostility, even parody – to wipe the most exquisitely complex music from the face of the Earth. We must be vigilant; we must be guarded. We must watch what we do, say, and eat. If we begin in the least to betray our principles and veer from the path of absolute certainty, we shall lose the very God-given freedom for which our predecessors fought: the freedom to adhere to a strict empirical system from which we never deviate. Such a fate would make it hardly be worth having tenure any more. Imagine Webern altering the retrograde inversion of a twelve-tone row for “a small fee.” Imagine Ferneyhough disturbing a hierarchy of perfectly nested tuplets for the sake of “a small fee.” Professor: it is a slippery slope; let us remain at the pinnacle, true to our values, blessed in our self-righteousness, a small and proud contingent, comfortably cognizant of our collective wisdom.

Before the next commentator lapses into a similar reactionary state, I should explain exactly why my request of a “fee” was necessary. If students other than my own were to dissertate about my music, they would need to engage me in what surely would amount to hours of monologues in which I explain my compositional techniques. Most dissertations are written while consulting published documents. Sadly, very few serious articles have been written (in this country) about my work. Those that have are only available in the PDF format, hardly suitable for a serious researcher. This will soon change, as The New Yorker magazine plans to publish a five-part “Profile” piece on me and my work starting in late 2007, when I use the Hotel Cadillac’s Genius Grant to travel to the impoverished drumming circles of West Africa and introduce the natives to a more expressive form of music, such as the Concerto. At any rate, even a five-installment profile piece will not be enough material to use to create an original dissertation. Therefore, my “fee” that Prof. DeBollox finds so objectionable is merely what I would be paid to teach my own students about my work. It is not a bribe; it is a salary for my willingness to educate Dr. DeBollox’s students where he cannot.

Of course, I welcome comments from all of my literate readers, including Prof. DeBollox, but I have absolutely no patience for impatience, and my TANDYtracker lets me know when comments are left hastily. Please be sure to leave only the final draft of your comments, and do not burden the regular readers of this blog with ill-considered nonsense.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Prof. McJeebie Quoted in The Times

I’m pleased to announce that Classical Pontifications with Professor Heebie McJeebie has been named the fourth most important website in Classical Music by the prestigious U.K. newspaper The Times. This is quite an honor, as The Times has been in existence since before classical music was invented.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,22872-2333584.html

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.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mr. The Custom TRS-80

This weekend, my personal teaching assistant received an email (meant for me) from the composer, blogger, and radio star Dennis Bárothy-Kitsz. Dr. Bárothy-Kitsz, who according to his email is also known as “Mr. The Custom TRS-80,” insisted that I provide a link from Classical Pontifications to his blog.

Despite Dr. Bárothy-Kitsz’s obvious inclination toward juvenile competitiveness, the truth is I’d been meaning to write about him for some time, ever since he began working on the project We Are All Mozart. The idea is that he will compose one piece per day throughout the year 2007 and secure commissions for each of those pieces.

The “free-spirited” (read: non-tenured) downtown composer Eve Beglarian (whose music I tried to make sense of in my very first podcast-mp3) has a similar project called A Book of Days. The difference is that Dr./Ms. Beglarian does not put a time frame on the completion of her Magnum Opus (because she is “free-spirited” I presume). On the other hand, Dr. Bárothy-Kitsz has committed to finishing everything as quickly as possible and no later than the end of the year 2007.

I require all of my students to compose one piece per day during the Hotel Cadillac’s finals period, and many of them are unable to do so because of their poor notation and programming skills, and their need to “wait for inspiration.” I’m certain, however, that Dr. Bárothy-Kitsz has the capacity (and the skills) to generate and/or derive at least 365 more pieces to add to his list of “454 compositions (in 731 distinct movements)... 222 [of which] have been premiered.”

If I may reciprocate with some unsolicited advice of my own, I would suggest that Dr. Bárothy-Kitsz recycle some of those unpremiered works – give them different titles and perhaps engrave some fresh copies. Since they’ve never been performed before, no one would know the difference!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Prof. McJeebie Attends the BBC Proms

I apologize for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere. I have spent the last week at the BBC Proms in London. I attempted to use my TANDY computer to post to my blog, but I could not access my AOL account because it was registered in U.S. dollars, not English pounds. At any rate, I am back in the land of internet freedom and ready to blog again.

At Prince Albert Royal Hall, those strapping, scholarly London lads couldn’t get enough of the Proms, which makes sense given that they won’t be able to resume their proper academic studies until October. The nightly concerts featured a disproportionately large amount of English music; Thomas Adès’ Symphony No. 812 and Sir Michael Tippett’s Trumpet Concerto No. 57 were particularly well-received. Some Irish and Scottish audience members shouted “Bravo” in Italian as Sir Rupert Murdoch took to the stage to narrate Colin Matthews’ dramatic percussion concerto, The Fast Beating the Slow. Even the Queen herself was on hand to conduct the opening fanfare by Sir William Walton, and she presented Walton’s widow, Gütte, with a royal, golden baton in celebration of her adherence to musical celibacy following the death of her husband.

Yet throughout all the pomp and circumstance, this Professor heard not a trace of electronic music. Why, you ask, would a classical music festival ignore the significant contribution of computers and MIDI to the modern-day canon? The answer is quite simple: Electronic music does not sound very good at the British frequency of 250 Volts. In the U.S., our electricity runs at a much more reasonable 115 Volts, and my TANDY operates smoothly and produces vivid, dramatic sounds. When I attempted to use my TANDY at 250 Volts, the results were unpredictable and jarring, to say the least.

It’s nice that American composers occasionally get standing ovations in England, but this Professor knows that truly American music, such as that made on TANDY computers, will not be performed in the U.K. until the proper voltage is available.