Introduction by Roger Reynolds to the SEARCH Project.
Réalité et espérance (Reality...and Hope)
Copyright © 2002 Vinko Globoka and the Composition Area, Department of Music
University of California, San Diego
Published by Permission
Online publishing and editing by Karen Reynolds
All Rights Reserved.
SEARCH EVENT V, 26 October 2002, University of California, San Diego
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Department of Music, University of California, San Diego for its SEARCH
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Man's desire to predict the future, to tell of good fortune or calamity to come, has always existed. But it was the soul of a poet that enabled Jules Verne to give us his marvellous descriptions of humanity's great dreams -- of travelling to the stars, penetrating the depths of the ocean or the earth. Similarly, today, writers and film-makers of science fiction give free rein to their imagination when they turn to the world of tomorrow. And so this paper will be concerned with imagination and invention, two components of artistic creation without which it would be meaningless. In speculation about the future, the arts do not hold a privileged place. Throughout our Western history, the arts have always been the product of a certain form of society. Their role, that of painting, music, poetry, etc., is to reflect the nature of that society over a variable period of time, to give it expression at various levels of representation, and at a deeper level, perhaps point to its future evolution. But one would have to be able to divine what our society might become, the forms it might take, in order to have some idea of the art forms it might engender. Any attempt at prediction must take into account the political dimension. History has taught us that speculation about future transformations of society has always been confounded by untoward and usually violent events (judging from the present state of affairs it would seem that even Karl Marx got it wrong in the end.)
So, in what I have to say about the future of art, not incidentally one of my major concerns, I shall not try to speculate, nor to assert. I can only dream what I would like to see happen, transmit latent wishes whose mainstay is hope, a vision almost certainly Utopian.
But before elaborating that theme, I must review the latest scene in which I find myself as composer, performer, teacher and someone who writes about music. By reacting to what I find there I might perhaps be able to define what I hope to see accomplished, without, naturally, deluding myself. The subject is vast, I can offer only a summary analysis of current problems and trends, and I would also point out that most of my considerations concern the music we call "art music", the music whose forefathers are Monteverdi, Beethoven, or Schoenberg.
Many people claim that tonality is a natural phenomenon. It developed with modality, evolved freely, passing from chromaticism only to disappear in serialism, proving beyond doubt that it is in fact a cultural phenomenon. Today we are faced with a multitude of musical languages, each composer develops his own, some even invent a new language for each piece they write. The fact is, musical language has quite simply been exploded. And yet we find nostalgically-minded composers turning back to tonality, in its simplest form of course, who are thus obliged to express themselves in our contemporary society in a language produced by an aristocratic society in the eighteenth century.
After acoustic instruments, we turned to electronic devices and to the use of any sound source capable of emitting a sound, from pieces of scrap metal, toys, domestic utensils, to objects of nature. Today, everything can be used to make music. The search for new materials has become such a major preoccupation that one could almost believe that sound material alone constitutes sufficient justification for the existence of a work.
Music has usually been invented by composers, professional or amateur. Today we also have machines that develop compositional concepts and algorhithms. And, just as significant as the advent of the machine that composes is the affirmation that every individual is also a creator. It's a notion not easily accepted which provides a nice counterweight to the sophistication and elitism that are inclined to mar the musical scene today.
Art music has moved out of the concert hall into new venues, into any kind of enclosed space (art galleries,sports arenas, factories, apartments...) It has also taken to the streets, the open air, and is even played underwater. Some composers now are interested in going on line, diffusing their music on the web, seeing this as also a means of offering other users a chance to transform the music, to interact creatively. We can't complain about a lack of democracy after all.
In this situation where "anything goes", with its hypertrophic plethora of sound material and the possibility of presenting one's music wherever one chooses, the composer is bound to face certain questions: "Who is he composing for?" If the answer is: "For Anybody and Everybody", he might as well throw his work, sealed in a bottle, into the ocean. Why not? The answer could also be: "For my own pleasure" or "To establish my place in society" or perhaps "For the outcasts of society in prisons or psychiatric institutions". One composer might feel that the role of music is to "entertain", thus automatically placing himself in the position of servant. Another would like his music to have a critical function, it would express his opposition to all that he finds negative in the habits and worn-out chichés of the musical world, or, widening his focus, he would also scrutinize political and social events tainted with injustice and seek to denounce them through his music.
Creative musicians display two types of attitude. Some speak exclusively in terms of "I", others in terms of "We". The "We" implies a form of collective creativity and projects the image of a life in which confidence in the inventive capacities of others results in the creation of something one could not have imagined alone. The "I", on the other hand, indicates the lyrical desire not to be one of the flock, not to be tied to a central core where one might play second fiddle. But the "I" often also finds himself in an undesirable, fatal situation. The radical composer is rejected, he becomes a wandering, rootless element in a society given over to commerce and entertainment.
Forty years ago, collective musical creation was in full swing. Composers met with performers, joining forces in their search for something new. Curiosity and the excitement of risk propelled them. Their projects were full of enthusiasm. Twenty years later society changed and gave birth to what is called "post-modernism." The term "We", once emblem of the avant-garde, acquired a new owner, an owner whose interests are different, directed rather towards history and restoration, and expressed in the creation of various "neo-this" or "neo-that" schools. The aim is to please not criticize. It is quite acceptable to flirt with the media, paying no attention to the fact that it's the media who precipitate ever more rapid changes in style, all geared to the profit motive. So, what is the composer to do? Either he follows the trend and wakes up one day to find that the train transporting the changes in style is hurtling too fast for him to keep pace; he is cast out into a spiritual desert. Or, he maintains his aggressive stance, pursuing his own aims, but risks being ignored by the media thus finding himself isolated. But he can be proud in his isolation. It's all a matter of backbone. One composer possesses a backbone that can only bend pliantly forward, another's is resolutely straight, but stiffens with sclerosis, and a third thinks that his job is to react intelligently to everything that comes along.
Books about the arts are almost always full of debates centered solely on aesthetics. But since the media's scandalous takeover of power and their intrusion into the domain of artistic creation, a new debate has finally opened up; at a mild stage as yet, it proposes the consideration of ethical and moral dimensions in the analysis of relations between creators and society.
I said earlier that there were now various and multiple ways of producing sound waves, but let's take a trip to the annual Musical Instrument Fair in Paris or Frankfurt. One of the twenty or so stands still displays a few violins or clarinets. The rest devote their space to musical technology -- synthesizers, samplers, sound processors, etc.... Who visits these stands? Mostly very young people. It is not difficult to conclude that a profound change is occuring in the way most music is produced, and consequently in the way it is perceived. But it is much more difficult to imagine what the function of music will be in future societies. Will it still be a question of "art for art's sake" or will the dream of an "art for man" finally be realized? Or will it simply become background music?
But let's stop thinking about this mysterious future and for a moment come back to the composer. Today we live in a world that tends to categorize the individual, and in a society that advocates specialization. Art is perhaps the only realm in which it's still possible to escape imminent, blinkered compartmentalization. We can take a helicopter and rise above the variously colored fields of poetry, painting, or the fields of different sciences that surround the field of music. From that height, it becomes apparent that any natural or cultural event can be the spark that generates a new music. If this is the case, looking into our neighbors' fields can be most useful. And yet if Leonardo da Vinci were to return to earth he would be categorized as a charlatan: a dabbler, dissecting corpses to observe their insides, designing blue prints for a flying machine, weapons and military defences, and on top of all this he had the nerve to paint the Mona Lisa!
A stimulus for creation can also come from other cultures. Approaching the art of a distant culture with respect, studying it to enrich our knowledge and widen our horizons is legitimate and praiseworthy activity. On the other hand, any attempt to integrate and assimilate another culture, or to effect some sort of musical cross-breeding strikes me forcibly as being redolent of a certain latent colonialism. In this sphere the one who invites the other to join him is always the one who benefits from the amalgam. "World Music" illustrates the point. It's like the sales of postcards to tourists in the far corners of the world.
I felt I had to mention these current problems, which are matters of interest and importance to me before plunging into the following reverie devoid of all responsibility and not, therefore, to be taken too seriously.
Fourier, the Utopian, planned a future for men in which roast chickens were to fall from the sky into their mouths. The philosopher, Ernest Bloch said Fourier was paranoid, probably because he really believed it. It's not then a programmed Utopia like this that would appeal to me. The horizon I would invoke encompasses ideals such as peace, freedom, and equal justice for all, which become realities. Art would then parallel a society that had made such a world possible. For the creator in music for example, looking at the past would merely be an unconscious gesture without a trace of nostalgia. The opinion or judgement of others would no longer have any value, since we are talking about freedom. The creator would become irresponsible, not to say impudent in his lack of respect for all limits, or for what is thought to be impossible. The composer would thus be an agitator, a disturbance ensuring that society doesn't fall asleep...but, of course, not just by keeping it amused. His mission would be to pose questions, and to answer them by asking another question. The starting point for creativity should be the crest where all the difficulties accumulate. It is there, at the point of rupture, where all hell breaks loose, that the idea lies. Speaking of ideas, it crossed my mind that Gustave Doré needed about thirty engravings to depict the "Heaven" of Dante's Divine Comedy, but he made nearly three hundred to depict "Hell". There can never be a definitive version of a work, it continues to evolve, for a goal achieved is but the starting point of the next one. In Schoenberg's music there was still a principal voice (Hauptstimme) and a secondary voice (Nebenstimme.) From now on, instead of speaking about a principal and secondary voice, we shall use the term "behavior". The coexistence of a major behavior and a minor behavior would be absurd since we're dealing with equality. That's why anarchy is so close to Utopia. Competitive exams in music are indeed the cancer of music with their cutthroat, not in the least sporting competition to be selected as BEST. In the future, this word will be erased from all dictionaries.
The search for something new, original, bizarre, shocking or frankly unacceptable is the composer's drug, his addiction. He has to keep on taking it, otherwise he will be forgotten. It's the price he has to pay. But first he has to clean up, questioning all he has learned before. He must begin by sweeping out habits and clichés from the past, encrusted like ticks or leeches in his memory. He will have to stop admiring instrumental virtuosity when it is aimed solely at managing to play a hundred notes per second, or at reaching pitches on the trumpet that are still in the sky, or intensities that would bring the walls of Jericho down again. His wall stands before him, the wall of the impossible, a wall he must pierce by beating his head against it. Behind this wall lies the idea. But that is not the end of his troubles. Behind the wall he will find an onion. He has to peel away the layers patiently for he has been told that inside there lies, perhaps, a diamond. Only through his tears will he find the diamond turned into idea.
High up in his helicopter, the composer sees spread below, fields scattered with literature, mathematical formulae, architectural plans, machines, animals, men and women whose behavior seems strange. He sees in this information a potential source of ideas for his music. He will have to be inventive, for invention here means the ability to transform information of an extra-musical nature into the logic of music.
The word "BEST" will be replaced in dictionaries by the verb "TO DARE." Composing also means developing a chain based on the consequence principle. The diamond-idea is here. It demands a response, a consequence which in turn will provoke another and yet another. Suddenly two responses appear. One seems to suit the composer, he finds the other strange and unacceptable. TO DARE means choosing the one that is least convenient, being able to deny oneself the easy way.
In free improvisation, individuals get together and, without any preliminary discussion, try to communicate musically. Without even realizing it, each one reacts to the playing or behavior of another player or players. If he hears something he doesn't know, it may be that that player will suddenly invent something he has never done before. Confrontation with the others brings him out of his shell. The individual who improvises alone will do no more than exhaust the stock of possibilities he has more or less consciously built up. The chain of events may vary but the content will always be the same. He plays what he already knows and invents nothing new.
In collective free improvisation, the first idea that comes into your head is the good one. The second always arrives too late, for the train taken by the invention of the others has already gone off in a different direction and your second idea is now totally irrelevant. On the other hand, in composition one's first idea is rarely the good one. You have to go back, weeping, to peeling an onion, a different one of course, until you find the idea that suits you and that takes time, a great deal of time. The difference between these two activities is then quite simply a question of time.
A famous Russian film director explained recently on television: "I made many films that have never been shown. The censor banned certain passages, I had to remake them over and over again. I stubbornly kept the original banned idea intact but presented it in a new guise each time, hoping that one day I might chance upon a censor who was sleeping or drunk. Today Hollywood is offering me unlimited financial backing, with supposedly total freedom in decisions. Well, I don't have any more ideas!" Speaking of the critical role that music should have, I omitted saying that criticism should first be addressed to oneself: never repeat what has already been said; unlike scientists, do not reuse inventions used in previous work and above all remain silent when you have nothing to say.
Whom do I compose for? For the public, of course. But who is the public? It's a group of people, individuals who, by definition, are all different from each other. No two among them have read exactly the same books, travelled to the same places, listened to the same music. Each has his own cultural background. So I'm inclined not to take the public into account when I compose. But this only leads me to work with great seriousness and intent, pushing myself to the limits of my abilities, and when the piece is finished I can only say: "You like it? -- I'm glad." "You don't like it? I can't do much about it -- anyway, I'm already working on my next project." This pretentious attitude is, unfortunately, one that the composer is obliged to adopt. Inwardly he is consumed with doubts, nevertheless he is obliged to say: "I declare that I'm the only one who is right!"
Musical practice is seldom perfect, it's rarely the case, in fact, when a work is performed (a musician missing at the rehearsal, the amplification is faulty, the wrong orchestral material, etc....). This doesn't matter much after all, but it's irritating. What really matters is when the director of a big German opera house asks you to come and see him because he would like to produce your opera, then after ten minutes discussion, asks: "Would you be willing to rewrite the second act?" It had taken years for me to write the piece, weighing each idea time and time again before putting it down on paper, while the director had probably taken three hours to appraise the piece. The answer is a categorical "no" and the opera will not be produced, at least not by him.
There is one heirarchy in the musical world that people prefer not to mention. Without the composer who invents the music, the music stands in the orchestra pits would be empty, improvisers might be happy but all other musicians would be out of work. Without composers, editors would be superfluous, concert agents unnecessary... But the musical milieu feeds on the past, draws nourishment from cemeteries inhabited by geniuses long dead while the living composer is reduced to the status of one who knocks on door after door and has to be grateful when someone agrees to listen to his proposal. In the long run it is a mistake to think that one has to comply with the demands of concert organizers and those who dispense commissions, for the only works likely to survive are the ones that maintain their integrity, refusing all concessions, for they are unacceptable and even poisonous. Such works must also dare to expose 'dirty linen', as in a theatre where a bare stage with no curtains or décor, lit only by a single lamp can be more effective than the most elaborate stage designs. One ought to be able to propose a work that is dry and hard, exposing, in fact, only the bare bones of the skeleton without feeling the need to add paint or excessive ornamentation in the belief that the product will be more acceptable -- easier to digest. It's not a question of trying to shock or to deliberately provoke, but of simply having the courage to say things people don't like to hear.
This kind of attitude obviously constitutes a political stance seeking to prove that whoever creates something new does not have to yield to external demands either of a practical -- or still less -- of an aesthetic nature, if such pressure appears to distort the statement made by the work. It is better in that case to do nothing, to refuse, for later a bitter taste would linger long in one's mouth. This political conscience claims total, uncompromising freedom for creation and it is why radical behavior is sometimes identified with rudeness. Remember, there are times when the composer is actively sought out by the media, when his behavior and his words, perhaps through no desire of his, serve as an example, especially to his younger colleagues. He is therefore responsible for his acts.
We live today under the pressure, economic and political, of what has been called globalization, a process that implies the imposition of worldwide standards and norms and ultimately a uniform way of thinking. We are told that there are good, practical reasons for this but it's clear that the primary reason is profit. Paradoxically the world of artistic creation seems to be moving in a diametrically opposite direction. Individualism has never been so prevalent in art. It seems as if individualism which began to develop long before the concept of globalization appeared, has become the antibody to it. It implies dispersal...scattering. Artistic creation has perhaps never been so diversified. One can only hope that it will be able to protect and conserve the privilege.
There are many other wishes of a different order that I would like to express. The professor of comparative literature, Georges Steiner, distinguishes two types of discourse in art. The original discourse, legitimate and indisputable, lies in the creation of the literary, visual, or musical work. But once the work is completed a number of secondary discourses, in the form of criticism, analysis, commentary, or publicity, come to be grafted on to it. I heartily agree with Georges Steiner's claim that secondary discourses are in fact useless and parasitical. They do, in one way, take the place of the original work. It suffices to have heard something about a work to feel that one knows it and can therefore dispense with the bother of hearing, reading, or seeing it.
We went through a period recently when even composers, authors themselves of an original discourse, felt compelled to give long explanations of the intentions underlying their works simply because they realized that their intentions were not perceptible upon hearing the work. This was especially true of works meant to carry a political thrust. I wish that we would have more faith in the listeners' capacities, and, instead of stuffing their heads with words, leave a little empty space in their brains for them to create their own scenarios. We can not speak of freedom for the creator without extending the same freedom to the listener. If no explanations are given, they are less likely to become detectives occupied, during the hearing of the piece, in trying to spot and identify the things they expect to hear.
As to the teaching of composition, my wish would be to see "cloning" disappear completely. When a student admires his teacher and begins to copy him, he is not the only one at fault. The teacher is also to blame for tolerating such imitation. It's even worse when the teacher takes pride in having unconditional followers. The teacher's role is to develop a student's sense of curiosity, to stimulate the urge to leave the safety of too comfortable surroundings, to go and see what is happening elsewhere over fields of pitfalls and snares. The teacher's role also involves making the student aware of things he admires, but above all confronting him with the things he detests. In the star system of pop music and rock, admiration turns into idolatry. This of course is an insult to any thinking person.
Let's try to imagine a society in which competition between composers no longer existed. Equality would prevail but amongst a rather dull and amorphous mass of people. I don't like speaking to a mass of people for the same reasons that I don't like to play in a hall where, from up on the stage, I can't see the eyes of the audience. Moreover, the majority of speeches, especially political ones, delivered to mass audiences are insultingly incompetent. I only feel useful in small, limited circles where it's possible to address each person separately and to see an immediate reaction. It does not worry me if the hall is not full and I am happy if, on each occasion, I can convince at least one person of the utility of my work. The truly important things only happen in small groups. The most refined and most complicated music has been composed for small ensembles rather than for huge, orchestral masses.
A final word on HOPE: I would like to know whether, one day, art will become the weapon, the force, that will eradicate the political dimension in human affairs. If it succeeds in doing so, art will have accomplished its task and will finally become free.
People often talk about the progress made in music. I don't think music has progressed in the course of history, rather, it has simply continued to present different solutions, another way of saying that each composer must be different from others. Where there is difference, the question of value judgements arises, and today one is led to conclude that it is no longer possible to have just one set of criteria. One could claim that each work is unique, that it has its own criteria and must be judged accordingly. So we have to adopt a new approach for each work we hear or see. It would be absurd to apply the same criteria when analysing an improvisation and a composition using serial techniques. The fact that each work is unique, with its own language and codes, means that it is not easy to decode a piece on a first hearing, hence the necessity for repeated confrontations with the work.
The composer affirms his identity through the differences he establishes between himself and other composers, not through similarities, which is why the student "clone" I mentioned earlier doesn't have a very bright future. The animosity aroused between different composers, each with his individuality, his difference, is a wretched apparition, for art thrives on difference, the more there is of it, the more abundant the creation. Coexistence and tolerance must replace the words "integration", "amalgam" or "assimilation". Let everyone reach for the impossible and all will be well.
Even in music certain projects require the formation of a collectivity. But it would be a mistake to adopt the group organization operating in science as a model -- it is too heirarchical. In projects involving collective musical creation it is absolutely essential that each member of the group bear an equal share of responsibility, and if, for some reason, a conductor or leader is needed each member in turn must -- or has the right to -- assume that role. The notion of complete equality between members is surely the most important element in the relationship of the individual to collectivity.
European history has shown a regrettable tendency to compare other, sometimes distant music cultures with its own and to come to the conclusion that European music is decidedly the best. Here is one example: in the 1920's, South American composers quoted, or incorporated into their art music, local dance rhythms. They were immediately dismissed as mere composers of folk music -- not "serious" composers. At about the same time Arnold Schoenberg used the rhythm of the waltz in his works. To me this seems eminently folk-like, but it was hailed as a brilliant innovation. In what way is the waltz superior to the samba?
But if we turn to world music or commercially used ethnic music one might think that we had become more tolerant of extra-European cultures. Is this really true? When, for example, a concert organization invites a group of musicians from an African village, supposedly to play with a group of French jazz musicians, the French musicians draw enormous benefit from the rhythmic invention they perceive in the African group, but from Paris the African group will only take back to their village the odd microphone or sound processer which will only hasten the decline of their folklore. The transformation or disappearance of folklore is a mark of our time and I don't think there is any way to halt the process. People say: "Oh, but that's progress for you!" I reiterate "no, in art there is no progress."
When it comes to abolishing differences, dictators take first place. In Socialist Russia (the U.S.S.R.), Jadanov installed Social Realism, issuing a diktat to composers: their works were to serve Socialism and the People. In Germany, Göbbels decreed that a great deal of the art of the period was decadent and must therefore be banned. In democratic countries dictators are replaced by institutions that sell and diffuse music. They are now the ones who sort out the differences in order to impose a standardisation that will satisfy the market. In reality there is probably no way to guard against this system. The least we can do is to make certain we are fully aware of the situation. For those who do have some power to make decisions in the musical world I would like to paraphrase the thoughts of the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss on the subject of tolerance: "Tolerance is not a passive act, an unthinking acceptance of whatever comes along. On the contrary, it means taking a responsible stance that allows us to perceive that which seeks to be born and to foster its emergence and growth." Obviously, that which is seeking to be born bears seeds that will contribute to the improvement of the human condition. Is not the realization of this ideal the duty of all art?
I often meet composers who complain that they are not understood, who feel that society is not capable of following them. They claim that future generations will understand them better and that it is for them that they compose. A sad perspective... The reasons for composing are furnished by society, which in return receives from the composer a gift: society's ideas absorbed and transformed in the artist's product. Contemporary composers who dream of transforming society through their works -- by denouncing the injustices of our time, particularly political injustice, deserve to be praised, for their work is based on hope. They certainly undermine nefarious acts in the political world, but they will never have proof that their mines have exploded.
Composing then means leaving a credible and honest account of our time for future generations. A document rendering our concerns through music may perhaps help them to avoid falling into a political situation as dismal as the one we are in today.