Wednesday, November 11, 2009

...which reminds me of a story, which may or may not be true, which happened in the 12th, or the 13th, or the 17th century...

Heinz-Klaus Metzger once suggested that I write the "secret, underground, history of American experimental music, all in anecdotes".  

While I'm not going to be doing that anytime soon (I'm still waiting for the blackmail checks to clear), Metzger was certainly right about the format.  

Between Ives' Memos and Cage's stories and Diary entries, the anecdote has proven itself to be the form best suited to conveying the feel of musical life on the far edge, and a form more pliable to experimental recycling for new artworks than plain vanilla prose.* One quality inevitably associated with the radical music due in large part to its exclusion from big official institutional music making is that much of the experience can only be captured in the informal discourse, much of it only surviving in messages scrawled on scraps of cocktail napkins or back of envelopes, or in memory, anecdote, and story.  A lot of this information may be of questionable veracity.  Much of it may be not more than gossip or innuendo.  But, the same is certainly true of much official music history and sorting it out requires precisely the same critical skills.   

Laura Kuhn of the John Cage Trust has recently begun a website devoted to the composer.  It includes the inevitable blog, which promises to be very useful to scholarship and general interest, but even more promising, AFAIC, is a page devoted to collecting stories.  At the moment, it's basically a long list of names associated with Cage, waiting to be filled with stories attached to those names.  (The appropriateness of a form, now mostly silent, waiting to be filled in, is not lost.) It would be very useful if the page could be indexed by completed stories as well as names, and — since we're talking John Cage here — there damn well ought to be some way of gaining random access to the contents.  (This was my complaint to musicologists at the Cage conference in '88 — in discussing archival questions, not one of them was giving a thought to the question of the appropriate format for an archive devoted to the work of an anarchist devoted to chance operations.  Random access is a no-brainer.)  And as long as I'm making wishes, shouldn't it be possible to include or link to stories in the form of graphics, audio, or video files?  In any case, praise is due Ms. Kuhn, who is off on the right track. 


* This is also my complaint about composers blogging — how come so few of us have chosen to experiment with the blog as a compositional format?   Maybe it's a lost cause — the verbal experiments on this blog, most of them based on constraints of form or vocabulary — have either been unnoticed or gone down like uranium marshmallows chasing grain alcohol Manhattans — but isn't it a matter of composerly self-respect to play some games of the sort from time to time?

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

I think it's that most folks don't think across categories or genres. I've been doing some things on my own blog not dissimilar to what you're talking about here, but most folks miss what I'm doing completely. Well, a lot of my jokes go over my friends' heads, too, since I tend to think in so many directions that I often make things too obscure. It's the product of being interested in everything, I suppose.

But I think that the blog form itself, like the aphorism, has some inherently useful qualities for devising and experimenting with both new forms and new contents. I like how hypertext, for example, can pull so many things into one dense medium, or conversely scatter the attention to the winds. Both inward and outward tidal momentum.