Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Camp

One of the downsides of being an experimental musician is that we don't get to go to summer camp. This hasn't always been the case, as summer training programs with an experimental bent have existed -- ancient history: Black Mountain, Bennington -- and some summer festivals have served a similar function -- somewhat less ancient: New Music in New Hampshire, the Burdocks Festival, the Cabrillo Festival before it became officially "contemporary". June in Buffalo was, in its origins, at the edge of experiment and there have also been summer programs specializing in computer music and algorithmic composition. But the experimentalist is not really at home in Tanglewood, Aspen, Interlochen, and gosh no, Virginia, not Darmstadt. Residential colonies tend to prefer composers with opera commissions to those with soldering irons and yarrow sticks, but even then, they are not an alternative to a group experience with performance possibilities. In High School, I went to an early music summer program, which turned out to be a very good thing as a wannabe composer and was a real welcome alternative to the orchestral, choir and band programs otherwise on offer. Many composers just a bit older than me were decisively influenced by the experience of the Center for World Music's summer program in Oakland. But as important as early and world music may be for composers, it's still somewhat second-best to a program focusing on the performance and composition of new music.

So, we need our summer camp. It should be an attractive enough place and atmosphere that good people are willing to come for little or no pay. Although there is something to be said for a gritty urban experience, I think It ought to be in a pleasant, quiet, countryish place. Accomodations should be rough but comfortable. The food should be good and available at musicianly hours (at the very least, musicians who cook well for themselves and others might have access to the kitchen.) The numerical balance between performers, composers and performing composers should be thought out. As should the teacher/student relationship. Should the schedule be built around formal concerts, lessons or presentations, privately or in groups, or should the basic modus be hanging around together and seeing what happens? (Or how about a refresher program: Invite senior composers as students, and let younger colleagues do the teaching?) The schedule and technical set-up should be flexible enough to accomodate spontaneous music-making, and the emphasis might profitably be less on programming works composed prior to arrival than on composing and realizing new works -- perhaps in collaboration -- during the workshop time. The technical setup should be thought out well -- from ample music stands, good pianos, percussion to beautiful mics and speakers, good amplification, mixing and recording systems, and fast internet connections (or maybe not: maybe radio silence should be encouraged). Finally, I think that it would be useful to end each day with a something to engage the larger community, perhaps gamelan playing -- many experimentalists have serious gamelan chops, it's a form of ensemble music-making that welcomes beginners, and no music fits a summer night any better.

6 comments:

Justin Friello said...

I agree completely. I'm a composition student at SUNY Purchase, studying under Suzanne Farrin, and this past year, she kept suggesting going to a summer camp, but I'll tell you, none of them appeal to me. Sure, I nod and smile at her suggestions, but, I don't plan on attending any of them. It's something about being forced to write under the eye of composers from a time since passed that just turns me off. If only Black Mountain existed in a form other than a museum…

P.S. I love your writing. I was introduced to it by a fellow composer, Marc Chan (http://foundsound.blogspot.com/), and it's one of the finest blogs about music I've read.

Anonymous said...

If you really want an experimental music camp, you should drop you particpants in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but compasses and pocket knives and tell them to start making music.

Daniel Wolf said...

Justin --

Thanks for reading; I think Marc Chan's blog is very good, too. (Maybe so good, I should stop?) I look forward to hearing some of your music, at summer camp or (preferably) before.


Anonymous --

You're absolutely right.

Daniel Wolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johann said...

1) Where´s the Carter song?

2) Do you know Ostrava Days? Definitely worth checking out (www.ocnmh.cz).

Taylan said...

Yes, I was going to say "Ostrava Days". I was there last year. It was unbelievable.