Re: so I'm confused

Philly the Kid (
Wed, 18 Jun 1997 17:44:49 -0500

>---------------------------- Forwarded with Changes
>From: Peter Mueller
>Date: 6/16/97 10:14AM
>To: Peter Mueller
>Subject: so I'm confused
> Is a tape piece made out a recording of a four year old banging on a
> toy xylophone inherently not worth the time to listen to it?
> To the kid with the xylophone, what is being done is not valuable?
> How about just the playing of the toy xylophone?
> Even if its not, could it not be to somebody else?
> Does a tree make sound ....?

Good questions but not really what I was driving at. I was getting at how
context and what we think we know about something effects our
interpretation of it. In this case what I was saying is that I would bet
that i could use the 4 year olds toy material and by presetning it in a
certain context - on a particular music program at a particular venue and
with program notes that shaped the audience and for most listeners even
some so called expert, they could not necessarily distinguish it from a
very highly complex compostioin for solo percussionist on a mallet

ANd by the way the tree makes no sound - not in and of itself. Pressure
waves are caused, but with no human ear (mechanism) and no human mind
(interpretation and conceptual translation) there is no sound.

> I know I'm biased, but I have a little kid and I love to listen to
> the songs she invents, and the songs she knows but sings
> "originally". I can listen to her singing for hours.

Thats super and I wasn't disparaging such efforts by 4 year olds nor the
appreciation by their loving family memebers - I wasn't even using the case
where the child was actually trying to make up their own ditty - I was
thinking more like when kids are just running around playing and one stops
and just beats on the thing for a few moments... :-)

> Perhaps the question we should ask, rather than is it good or bad is
> the experience of the object in some way valuable to the perceiver? If
> someone really gets off on listening to their refrigerator who the
> hell are we to say that that is less good than listing to some Cage?

True, but that isn't what we are really talking about is it? Of course in
the absolute - anyone can do and feel and preceive whatever they want...BUt
we have events called concerts, we have categories like Classical, Jazz,
Pop, Folk. WE award grants (less and less )-: ) WE give prizes, teaching
positions, esteem and respect and call some things "masterworks" We call
artists "brilliant", "cutting edge", "innovative", "revolutionary". All
this processing and evaluating goes on. WE screen what new things we may
pay attention to based on critics and descriptive language and past
experience. WE may not all know what the other guy means but we know what
we mean even if it eludes easy description.

You mention personal value to the perceiver. This seems almost utilitarian
at its extreme. The piece/group/style/movement is 'fantastic' because it
helped change myu life, open a block made me laugh.

This kind of valuation doesn't tell me that artist A) has done something I
need to experience or find out about. It tells me that someone had an

How bout those who are moved by Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond or Michael
Bolton. Or those who think Kenny G is the ultimate in Jazz saxophone. THere
experience is valuable to them. Is that all that matters - is that all we
need to know to have further discussion?

I have a term I call "cultural pollution". "toxic culture" ... TO me, John
TEsh performing on the piano is like eating a week old oscar meyer ham and
cheese at 7-11 out of the microwave. It isn't real food, it isn't
nutritious or healthy nor does it foster anything good. But lots of people
will spend money and eat the stuff and even say ti tastes good?

AM I an elitist? Am I just one guy with one opinion?

> Many years ago(about 15), at the Yale Gallery of British Art, there
> was a solo artist show where most of the pieces that were up on the
> walls carefully framed and documented were the dirty diapers of the
> artist's daughter. Each had a note listing the diaper's date and what
> the little girl had to eat. I must admit I wasn't impressed. On the
> other hand it did get me to look a diapers differently.

Breaking open perception and ways of looking at things is definitely a
positive in my book in most cases. Change is almost always resited and so -
though some art is shocking, painful, repulsive or self indulgent I would
put - "cause new ways of looking at" as a positive criteria for valuation.

> Yes there is the political/economic thing, but there are also
> exceptions. Eliot Carter would probably not be doing what he does if
> he wasn't independently wealthy, but there are al those wonderful
> fringe people who give the music world so much vitality. Don't forget
> that HArry Partch was a Hobo for quite a while before he started
> collecting benefactors.

Fringe people. Hmmm. Why are they "fringe"? Because of the power structure
and fiscal dynamics of the art world. Because of the institutions of
learning and collecting and dissemination?

Let's take a simple example. Since many on this list knew Randy, I will use
Randy as a good example. Randy started grad school at Cal Arts in 1986. He
and I and 3 others all started together. They had limited funds for
supporting grad students. Randy was the least traditional of the 5. He had
lots of compositional ideas and energy and dedication. He was meticulous in
his detail and planning and work habits. But my guess is that he was
accepted partly because he touted a Yale degree as an undergraduate. And
when he arrived and didn't have an interest in composing exclusively for
traditional instruments on notation paper, he became somewhat marginalized.
Everyone loved his energy and spirit and sense of humor but the professors
- I felt - did not consider his ideas as substantial as other guys writing
'wind quintets' and the like. AS the years went on, he clearly made his
mark and distinguished himself yet the money never flowed for him from the
school easily. I knew in the first year - who was receiveing how much and
Randy, who in my opinoin deserved the most got less than others.

So this stuff goes on. Differences and interpretation and evaluation do matter.

> Do you think there is the slightest possibility for universals with
> art? Or rather is it what the majority of a particular group says?

Well, of course, to the extent that people have wide and divergent world
views so will go the perspective of art-music-literature etc. Some want
familiarity nad to have their expectations met. Others crave new and
unusual experioences that push and challenge their presumtiopons and
notions. Some seek beauty others seek catharsis.

But it is possible in retrospect to look through history - a fiction though
it may be - and see influneces, trends and evolution and perhaps in the
future if the species can evolve to behave in greater balance and respect
and celebrate differences - there will be room for lots of ideas about
making art and we can learn and develop from each other?

> Be advised that I'm writing this to understand your envelope. I'm
> pretty open about what I listen to, but what I make is pretty
> conservative - I'm basically your average middle class post-serialist

Meaning what? That you are comfortable with the Western Orchestral
Instrument family, and writing for the 12 tone equal tempered system only.
That your structures for combining these tones and their durations are
systemic and linked to a continuum starting with WEbern and Shoenberg and
evolving through Wournen and others from the post-1945 Eurpean schools?

Would you say then that you are a craftsman? LEarned a skill, adopt a tool
box, and make your own version of a family of artifcats? IS your music
"original" within its context? DO you compose for yourself only, for
intellectual gratification, to please others, for fame and fortuen, to get
a teaching gig? To further mankind or to forward the human experience?

> (maybe you could describe most of my music as Ferneyhough-lite ;-) )
> Yes, there is music that I don't enjoy - usually it has to do with the
> volume level (I don't like pain). I also don't like Rachmaninoff - that
> music make me angry.
> -Peter

Hmmm. Nothing wrong with Ferneyhough-lite necessarily, and what's the beef
with Rach? :-) how bout Prokofiev? Tchiakov? Stravinsky? is it all Russians
or all bomastic late

I'm out of time for now...more...