Monday, May 23, 2005


Track 12, the "Polka"on this cd is a rare and sweet example of occidentalism in music: a classical Turkish ensemble, here accompanying a Karagöz shadow puppet performance, plays an impression of European music, used to indicate the arrival of a Greek or "Frank" on the stage.

I just stumbled upon this and thought -- inasmuch as orientalism in western arts is such a hot topic -- it might be useful to have an example, however modest, of occidentalism. I'd be very curious to learn of other, more substantial examples.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


I've always enjoyed writing music out by hand, and both musicians and non-musicians have often complimented my calligraphy. Finding and using the right inkpen is a real pleasure. Negotiating the proportions between blank page and musical notations is, in itself, a real, if minor, aesthetic joy. However, I have gradually shifted to doing most of my notation by computer. This was first with a homemade program using Forth and Postscript, then with Masterscore on an Atari, moving to Finale in the late 90's. Now, I use Finale and bits and pieces from other programs, and can do pretty much all I need to do. Interestingly, perhaps, the more I can do with the computer, the less fastidious I have become about notation (at least in comparison with some of the engravers on the Finale List). With the computer, I find that I am more satisfied with an adequate representation of the score for potential players than with the artwork that a handmade score might represent.

As ubiquitous as notation programs may now be, the ability to make a score by hand still carries a certain caché. Many of the so-called "new complexity" composers still insist on handmades. When I applied for membership in GEMA, the performance rights organization, one of the requirements for acceptance as a "professional" in the "E-Musik" (E for Ernst = Serious) division was the submission of a page of handmade notation. Although I was already well-invested in computer notation, getting approval of my manuscript from the authorities at GEMA gave me the feeling that I had gone through an old ritual exam conducted by the masters of my guild: I was now a certified journeyman composer.

This afternoon, my 11-year-old son came home from school with a problem set from his music class at school. To help him out, I needed a page of staves on the quick and re-encountered my old staff-drawing-pen (actually five ball-point fillers joined together in a comfortable holder. I also have the Stravinsky version, with five sharp-edged wheels turning through a trough with an ink pad. I find the ball-point instrument to be cleaner, more reliable, and a better fit for the hand). We rapidly went through the exercises and afterwards, a glance at the page of scales sent me into a bit of near-Proustian reverie for scores past.

Landmarks (4)

Jo Kondo: Standing (1973).

I've had the same experience repeated so often that it no longer surprises: I meet a composer for the first time and then learn that she or he too was under the influence of Jo Kondo. Kondo's earliest pieces include landmarks of minimalism*: Standing, Sight Rhythmics, Knots, An Insular Style, A Shape of Time. (Morton Feldman was famously fond of Kondo's Under the Umbrella, for five percussionists, mostly playing cowbells). Each of his pieces is at once an example of elegance and distinct invention, and he has increasingly come to be a model for how a composer confidently builds a coherent repertoire of music without falling into clichés.

Standing is an example of the simplest of procedures, shaped by the slightest of composerly interventions into an astonishing web of relationships. Kondo identifies his own music with "the art of being ambiguous", and his music stands in an ambiguous relationship to both tonal and non-tonal musics. This score is clear, even simple, in appearance, but contains difficulties in performance that have defeated even the most virtuoso players.