Thursday, August 13, 2009

letter received by Tom in February 2006

Here is a marvelous letter I received in February 2006 in response to a concert I presented in Seattle. The concert featured three improvisation ensembles I had worked with over the previous 3 years: Doublends Vert, Cipher and The Golden Crackers; and two compositions inspired by my work with these groups. I hope you enjoy...

Below the letter are some thoughts about the things this letter brings up.


At first, after listening to your (so called) ‘music’ on the 19th at Consolidated Works I was upset that I’d wasted the time and the $15.00. But then I realized the value of hearing the worst example of composing (so called) (or improv or whatever) that I could imagine, because at least it makes me better appreciate actual/real composing. It was embarrassing to sit through it though and see people think they were actually listening to something and applauding. And it was also painful to see otherwise probably very good musicians being gullible enough to waste their time and respect (or dignity etc.) playing it.

Other than sitting through a Junior High Concert once, that was the Absolute Worst music (so called)experience of my LIFE.

Do yourself and other people a favor and do something else with your time.

Otherwise all you are doing is degrading people’s music sensibility.


I had gone to the concert there on the 12th with Karen Pollick (& Sokolov) and thought I’d discovered a sort of Gold Mine to hear (great!) music, but now I somewhat doubt I’ll ever go there again. The guy on the phone who gave me your address asked me if I’d heard the part with the drums and violin. I left before that. (I just couldn’t stand it anymore).

But so what if that drums and violin part was good.

It was probably nothing compared to the dullest part of the previous week’s concert,

and no matter how it was, it would not have compensated for the previous hour of drudgery and ridiculousness.
What was especially aggravating was the droning on and on of notes – such as that 1st thing with the accordion, flute, violin, bassoon and/or oboe etc. I was thinking

“OK, so this first piece of ____ is a drag, I’m sure things will get more interesting.”
But then the next ‘piece’ is the same droning and droning (and also a lot of the clarinet and piano at the start of the 2nd half when I finally just left).

Actually I think that’s sort of an arrogant thing to do to an audience – as if you’re some sort of Buddah (sic.) forcing everyone to endure this boring droning – as if it is somehow ‘meaningful’-
I don’t care how much of an audience might be duped into thinking it is. But even the fast stuff was not that interesting, at least not for me.

(This letter is not about your own personal violin playing. For all I know
you might be a very good violin player when playing actual/real music. And I
didn’t stay to hear the drum/violin ‘piece’)


This letter brings up a lot of issues that a lot of us in the contemporary music world consider from time to time.

At the moment I'm particularly interest in Brad's comment: " if it is somehow ‘meaningful’- AND IT IS NOT." I am thinking a lot about what makes music meaningful.

Brad is not lying. This drone music that we were playing I'm sure had no meaning for him because he had nothing to relate it to. Without some way in to this kind of music (or any art really) it will not have meaning for people. For Brad to assume that because it meant nothing to him it was devoid of meaning from an objective point of view is of course very arrogant and ignorant on his part.

One thing I learned in my undergraduate intro to Ethnomusicology class is that music is not a universal language. A friend of mine at Berkeley told me that her father enjoyed Chinese Opera but hated Puccini.

One of my goals as a music educator is to give people a reference point so that all music can become meaningful.

The "droning" music on this concert was in fact, in my humble and subjective opinion, very beautiful. The trio Doublends Vert (myself with Annie Lewandowski, accordion and Adam Diller, clarinet) had been working together for three years and release two CD's. A self titled CD on Present Sounds records and one on Line called Cistern which was recorded in the empty 2 million gallon reservoir with 43 second reverberation at Ft. Worden. We had developed a way of blending our timbres and creating very slowly developing and subtle music. I had never thought that deeply and carefully about sound until playing with that group.

I hate to admit it but I think that Brad's letter was part of the reason that, when I moved to NY a year after this concert, I decided to form a group to play pop, jazz and folk music arrangements and I decided also to try my hand at writing Broadway style musicals. I wanted to create some music that people didn't hate.

I am proud of Brad's letter, however. I feel honored to have provoked this strong of a reaction. I had a feeling that Brad had been introduced to contemporary music the week before in what was probably a slightly more conventional concert with notated music and probably no drones.

Another interesting thing about Brad's response is, although the concert was rather drone heavy (in addition to Doublends Vert, the Lake Washington Woodwind Quintet performed my arrangement of a recorded Doublends Vert improv) the other improv group, Cipher (me with Tari Nelson-Zagar, violin and Greg Sinibaldi and Jesse Canterbury, clarinets) played some very active non-drone music. And Beth Fleenor, clarinet, and Tiffany Lin, piano, played my composition Dubious Diversions which is very driving rhythmically although, OK I admit, the end was slow.

And Matt Crane (drums) and I of course played no drones but Brad missed that part.

In addition to educating people so that they can gain meaning from contemporary music I am interested in composing music that will have meaning even for people outside the contemporary music community. I believe that every sound is potentially full of significance for any listener. I am not interested in pure sound but in sounds that have associations. They may suggest other music or extra-musical sounds. I like the idea of composing with this in mind.

Of course all music has meaning for the person creating it or what would be the point of creating it? I think about that too though. I want to really write music that is full of meaning for me personally. It's easy to just think of an instrument and start to write a bunch of notes for it. I am understanding more now why my professors had me listen to (for example) every oboe piece I could before I wrote an oboe piece. Every time you write for an instrument you are in some way relating to every sound that instrument has ever made.

I like to write with specific people in mind too. This helps me a great deal to know something about the personality of the person I am writing for.

I remember in my lessons with Andriessen he said he is more interested in ideas than in talking about notes. I would just plop down my scores in front of him and wait for him to start talking. Only now am I beginning to understand the concept of writing music about ideas.

I think as I start to discover my own musical identity I will write more and more pieces with a certain idea I am trying to convey. It might be an image, an experience, a processing of some life event, etc.

I wrote a little piece based on this letter. It's a silly piece but found it very therapeutic both to write and perform. And I think it (like the letter) brings up some issues that are worth considering for composers, performers and audience.

1 comment:

massfiction said...

Hey Brad,

check out the song Broken Robot and tell me my man TSwaf isnt a genius....

p.s. get a fucking life.


Ross Andrew Fish