I haven’t added a new blog in almost a year. Actually that’s not true: I’ve written over a dozen, just not posted them. Why? Well, the last year or so has seen an upswell of a strange phenomenon, that of people quoting back to me things that I barely recall having written or said, that date back decades, and were never meant to endure, or be taken entirely seriously, let alone become part of musical discourse. Worse, these people expect me to justify these rags of thought. We old folk all wearily acknowledge that if we had known quite what the internet would have grown into we’d have been much more circumspect in our protestations …never mind our jokes. We never foresaw the demise of the ephemeral.
So, in most cases I politely side-step the question, but I can see from the response that the questioner is hurt, or baffled, or irked, that their enthusiasm has been skirted. The idea seems to have grown up that the sideband of text that we composers produce is somehow philosophically meta-, a parallel literature that is itself canonical. Which is certainly how the writerly outputs of many musicians are treated–but they tend to be dead, and consequently fair game. Let’s be honest, I’m a fairly minor figure in the musical universe and I’ve only relatively recently seized the opportunities given by the occasional interview to promote my work, and discuss the constellation of stuff that lends it context, and yet even my ramblings are creating (small) waves.
The realisation that my texts are subject to frequent close inspection is, I find, inhibiting. The musical works almost certainly make more sense when contextualised, and I will continue to provide such exegesis, but, looking back at the queue of unposted blogs–and some of the more recent website blurb–I’m immediately aware of a stiltedness that my writing hasn’t always had. I’ve spent my life prone to self-consciousness but the above-mentioned revelations of scrutiny are a step too far, and over the last few months I’ve found myself almost paralysed when I sit to write commentary.
Ironically, this paralysis has not extended at all to the music. Quite the opposite in fact, having decided to give a miss to detailing all the minutiae that surround my what I like to think of as ‘creative’ utterances, I find myself musically somewhat disinhibited. It’s liberating to not have to explain myself. But unfortunately, unsustainable; audiences simply don’t seem to trust themselves to decode music like mine unassistedly. This seems to me to be the most worrying aspect of musical life today, at least here in Australia. Audiences for visual arts, literature, theatre, popular musics, do not seem to suffer from the same insecurity, to judge by the robust and egotistical literature that surrounds those arts. We really, urgently, need to address this problem, to reassure those who admire the arts that modern music is just as intelligible, enjoyable–and onanistically glossable–as the rest of it.
That said, there is a reason why my website lacks the seemingly mandatory commentary section. I see material posted online followed by a Finnegans Wake-length postlude of third-party opinion and noise. And the moment you start to read those remarks you realise just how little of the subject-matter genuinely penetrates. And how much is plainly, even willfully, misunderstood. I’ve never really understood who such extensive clusters of cant are intended for anyway; I’m not going to read them–are you? My suspicion is that the writers just like seeing their ineradicable trace upon the cyberslate, and relish the thought that their narcissistic aphorisms will be noticed by their fellows, in sempiternum. Such vox poppery is a disheartening development. Well, sorry, nothing like that to see here.
Our times have seen a huge contraction of musical activity, in which performances of works, new or otherwise, have dwindled to the point of scarcity. I think it even possible that the previous dominant paradigm of Western Classical music as a concert-driven activity might just have become obselete–what will supplant it is a discussion for another day. In this environment, it is inevitable that commentary has to stand-in for unheard–unhearable–new musical works. Andrew Bernard has made some very effective audio versions of a number of scores, but these are automated performances, and consequently–Andrew’s word–approximations. My generation grew up with the constant frustration that we would be enticed by musicology to want to explore repertoire only to find it utterly unavailable–which is one of the glories of youtube, that very little is now inaccessible . So when I post my exegeses of new pieces, I want them to be accompanied by at least some sort of sonic realisation of the work.
So, having got that off my chest, I’m going to start posting at least a handful of those till-now suppressed blog entries, as they cover works I’m both proud of and impatient to promote. Hopefully they will be entertaining, or at least informative. Or cautionary…