Search Journal for New Music and Culture



Dialogue: Issue 7

Response to Harry Lehmann’s “Digitization and Concept” (Issue 7)
From: David Cecchetto
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To the editors of Search: thank you for allowing me to respond to this article that I find both timely and insightful. In particular, I think Lehmann does well to split the piece into two sections, with the first attempting “to chart the furthest ramifications of the impact of digitization on composition” (2), and the second tightening the first’s conclusions to explain why the digitization of New Music “will lead to a Gehalt-aesthetic orientation of this art” (9). Via this two-pronged approach, then, Lehmann unpacks the pressure that digitization exerts on existing practices and understandings of New Music, thereby implicitly challenging the reader/New Musician to adjust her criteria for evaluating New Music to meet the demands performed by new technologies.

Reflecting on the essay, though, I wonder about the role that categories play in it. That is, to the extent that Lehmann’s thought experiment is aimed at New Music, it depends on the latter meaning something clear and definable both prior to and after digitization’s intervention. Indeed, Lehmann’s careful Gehalt-oriented conclusion addresses this, but how much is this conclusion predicated on a notion of pre-digital New Music that is—if not particular to the author—not as universally accepted as the author leads us to believe? As just one example, the claim that music scenes that have differentiated themselves as a result of musical self-questioning “have not challenged the self-identity of the composed music that is taught at academies and performed in concert halls alongside works from the Classical-Romantic tradition” (11) would seem very much to depend on which concert halls and academies one attends: I cannot think of a single university music composition program in North America that doesn’t give at least as much weight to Cage or New York minimalism or quasi-improvised music (for examples) as it does to Lachenmann and Grisey. Similarly, I have regularly lamented the infiltration of New Music programming by vapid attempts at musical multiculturalism and ill-fated efforts to capitalize on fusions of experimental and popular genres, but these trends are nonetheless certainly part of New Music concert halls today. The point is that, like it or not, it is no longer tenable to insist on a unified narrative of an authentic approach to composition. [Relatedly, I expect that many scholars of popular music would disagree that the latter’s concepts “are not based on any discursive background knowledge that has to be gained by intellectual means” (13).  Indeed, the even provisional separation of intellect and embodiment that such a claim depends on is undermined by the accelerated practices of digital technologies that Lehmann cites earlier in his argument (i.e. when he notes the augmented emphasis on listening that digitization ushers in).]

In short, I wonder if Lehmann’s argument doesn’t build too much into the premises that ground it—in particular, substituting a notion of what New Music composition should be for the multiplicitous practice that it is—rather than engaging the challenges that are particular to digitization. This isn’t to undermine the argument per se, but rather to resituate it as a thought experiment whose aim is to stress-test a hierarchical and culturally specific construction of New Music against the force of digitization.  My point, then, is to insist on the constructed-ness of Lehmann’s history—which naturalizes both New Music and its relation to digitality—in order to ask a simple but important question: what might a different construction of New Music bring to the argument? This question is beyond the scope of this short response, but I expect it would result in our being able to register certain already existing digital music practices that Lehmann does not consider, and whose reverberations are considerably more radical than the “maximum possible impacts” (1) outlined in the first section of Lehmann’s essay.

And isn’t this the point? Rather than fortifying the borders of New Music—a practice that inevitably leads to a reciprocal celebration of the hybridity that comes with these borders’ transgression, which has its own problems—why not place New Music and digital technologies in a feedback relationship that isn’t concerned with categorization? From this perspective, we might begin to learn something from the myriad practices of digital sound that already obtain, ranging from Second Life performance ensembles to tactile musical interfaces for the deaf to medical, military and advertising sound technologies such as “sound bombs” and ultra-/infra-sound [which Aden Evens has argued might actually inform the affective dimension of our listening more than our conscious aural perceptions, and which Steve Goodman has recently connected to a general “(sub)politics of frequency”].  Indeed, why not similarly probe digitization in search of the ways that it supplements the normalizing force of the “finite number of intrinsic aesthetic values in human perception” (10) with the infinite variability of (post)human embodiment? In this, the goal would be to develop new concepts that are open to at least the possibility that digitization might bring with it new modes of sensation, perception, and movement.

Finally, then, investigating digitality might involve not simply moving past categories such as New Music (and its sub-categories of creation, realization, and “the composition process itself”) but actually taking seriously the performative dimension of these categories, the ways in which they always claim more than they speak. Simply put, digitization (like other, earlier, technologies) reveals an alibi character of New Music, but its most impacting consequence is not so much this revelation as it is the new couplings, logics, and mediations which have only an incidental relation to either digitality or New Music taken separately, and which may very well leap into the past to re-construct an alternate history of New Music (and thus also an alternate New Music).

Dialogue: Issue 3

From: Darren Miller
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The two recent reviews of Darmstadt 2008 by Niklas Seidl and Michael Spencer are both essentially accurate on most counts.  Both writers identify the most obvious strengths and weaknesses of the summer courses, in addition to some of the key reasons behind the current state of affairs in Darmstadt.  However, I do feel that both articles fall a little bit short in terms of potential solutions to the more universally recognized problems at the summer courses.  For instance, both authors mention the difficulties faced by young composers in terms of having their works performed at the festival.  Similarly, both authors mention the lack of time for concert and lecture attendance on the part of overburdened performers.  Given that registration, payment, and score submission all take place months in advance of the courses, a simple pre-assignment of works (to performers) should be significantly less than impossible.  Such a system would eliminate both of the previously mentioned problems.  Furthermore, a similar emphasis on pre-planning could also very easily eliminate many of the other problems associated with the Darmstadt experience.  Everything from efficient and comprehensive private lesson booking to more popular meal planning is well within reach, provided that festival organizers are willing to deal with known issues PRIOR to the commencement of the courses.  Aside from the absence of such potential administrative solutions, I also felt that both reviews were lacking in that neither mentioned the late-night activities of Manos Tsangaris.  Not only did Mr. Tsangaris maintain a full teaching and lecturing schedule during the day, but he also took an active role in securing further and more diverse performance opportunities for young composers through his improvised Nachtclub mit Fenster project.  This early identification and creative response to a known problem should not remain simply a fond memory for participants of Darmstadt 2008, but rather, should also serve as an example of creative problem solving and organization for future participants and administrators (assuming that the courses continue).

Response to Seidl and Spencer's Articles, Fall 2008 (Issue 3)
From: Felipe Ribeiro
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Unfortunately, lack of organization is now a major issue affecting the excellent reputation of the Darmstadt Festival for New Music. Everything seems quite well organized prior to the event (application, fees, contact, etc), but upon arrival, participants notice an unusual change. For this reason, it is good to see that both Seidl and Spencer present not only summaries of the festival, but also a critiques of areas in which assistance is required. As stated by both authors, Darmstadt represents a new music program of the highest quality, that all the same, displays several negative facets.
2008 marked my first experience with this particular new music festival, and I must confess that the experience was both positive and strange. I had a piece performed during the festival, but I need to emphasize the fact that the performance occurred only because of my persistence in tracking down players, without any assistance from festival organizers. Oddly enough, the commission had sent me an email stating that one of my pieces was selected for a performance (a different one than that which was performed). However, upon my arrival, no one knew anything about my piece or even where the score had ended up or was.
All organizational issues aside, any festival at which the Arditti String Quartet, Brian Ferneyhough, and Gyorgy Kurtág are all present, already possesses enough reasons for participation. The opportunity to schedule individual meetings with figures such as Wolfgang Rihm, Marco Stroppa, Manos Tsangaris, Vykintas Baltakas, and Klaus Lang (in addition to an average of three concerts per day), is more than any other festival can offer. Furthermore, the cost of the festival makes it accessible to a great number of students, especially in comparison to other such festivals.
I would like to conclude my feedback on the Darmstadt Festival with one of Seidl's phrases: "Even if it is difficult to imagine a perfect Darmstadt experience, it is equally difficult to imagine one that did not present something of worth".





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