Good words on music, for the here and now:
Every note has an end as well as a beginning. The way a note begins is extremely important .... but the way a note ends is just as important.
--- Elaine Fine
We have a duty towards music, namely, to invent it.
...Do I have to tell you about the spiritual
cannibalism of the culture, our culture, which has been bombarding us
with ultrasensory overstimulation aiming to reprocess us into fulltime
consumption machines, stealing above all from us our time (not an inch
of time without an imprint of message), and even our very sense of time
(to be measured in lengths of no more than one message unit each) under
the guise of entertainment, and even of ‘art’, commoditizing the
eternal, hyping the primal? Our time is the sine qua non of our identity. We need to take extreme measures to reclaim it for ourselves and each other.”
In any creative activity, art is madness, craft is sanity. The balance between them makes the work.
...Tonal music had the wonderful advantage of
being stabilized for a long time so that people knew the predictable
patterns. There was a first layer in the education and memory of the
listener upon which a composer like Beethoven could play his music and
say, "Okay, you're all for waiting for that type of modulation, but I
-- Beethoven -- am going to design it differently. So I will trigger a
surprise to the listener." So this game between predictability and
unpredictability, expectation and surprises is what makes time living
and musical. How can we now make such a game between predictability and
unpredictability without an established musical language?
To those composers who use MIDI and drum machines: Keep using them! Realizing your scores via MIDI is not inherently better or worse than hearing them in your head. If you haven't already, you will eventually figure out how to make your MIDI devices do things no one ever thought they would do! And then you might learn how to hear those kinds of things in your head, something that [the conductor] Dennis Russell Davies will never be able to do.
My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards, it is the listener who must experiment.
With me, the plan and the piece develop at the same rate. I don't believe in
making plans. In architecture you have to. If you build a house without a
plan, it will fall down. But in the other arts, you don't need one: those
huge paintings by Brueghel, full of a lot of small figures, do they have a
rigid composition? I don't think so.
Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.
...You'll be interested to know that one Moroccan
on hearing the first tape of Lou Harrison's music couldn't rest until
he'd copied it. He came by yesterday to report the reactions of various
friends: Senegalese, Iraqis and Nigerians, all of whom expressed more
or less the same thought -- that it was music which described Paradise
of one kind or other.
I want to allow the state of the piece to
continue to radiate, and expand itself, to allow the substance to
spread over the surface of time that we're in, in an evolutionary way.
To that end, I've always been fascinated by slow movements in music of
the previous century. Part of it is being able to hear everything, but
I also love to expand time, to make it bigger than it normally is. It's
not slow motion, but intimacy. I want to bring it up very close, so
that it almost becomes your world. You could stand on a beach and look
at millions of pebbles, or you could bring one up very close and it's
bigger than the ocean, with all of its subtlety and nuances and
The New has branches to suit all tastes: there is
the plain New for the brisk vanguardians, the Near-New for the
faltering, the Old New for the laggards. A little ahead and in a
seasonable haze stands the New-New, from which at times, by tremendous
effort, particles of the New-New-New detach themselves, like a helium
nucleus out of radioactive material. All these arrangements have in
fact been brought down to a science. Dozens of specialists will tell
you about any part of the operation you care to examine.
Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can't fail to get the message.
For me, every sound has its own minute form -- is
composed of small flashing rhythms, shifting tones, has momentum,
comes, vanishes, lives out its own structure.
...See the artist has an incredible problem.
Especially if they're young and they're growing up, because everything
is right. Bach is right... Gluck is right, Palestrina is right,
Karlheinz [Stockhausen] is right, everybody is right. The confusion of
a young artist growing up is not the confusion that everybody is wrong
and I'm right, the confusion is that everybody is right.
I don't owe the society anything, because it
ignores me -- as virutally any composer of what I like to call
"unpopular music" is essentially ignored.
What I'm saying, of course, is that you just
can't worry about trying to be completely clear, because it's just not
possible to write music on such a low and obvious level as to do that.
On the other hand, I find that most composers exaggerate in the other
direction. They think that if musical structure is clear the music will
somehow lose its mystery, or people will think the composer is stupid.
I find, though, that the more you understand music the more mysterious
it becomes, and this is even true of pieces that have been analysed to
death, like [Beethoven's] Fifth Symphony. I also find that intelligent
people always respect the intelligence needed to construct a simple
structure in a clear way that really works.
As far as being booed by the general public is concerned, who cares? My wife boos me, my children are frightened by my music...
...How conservative was the avant-garde of the
sixties, and how conservative has experimental music become today? I
could speak about academic experimental music, but then I’m talking
about killing all of the possibilities that an experiment can have. In
an experiment, the end result is very difficult to predict. Certain
processes are unpredictable, but experimental music has become very
predictable. I’m not interested in the old opposition of avant-garde
and rear-guard. I’m a classic example of someone who did things that
weren’t in the mainstream during the time of the avant-garde. To obey
the rules of style, I was always absolutely against that. Pieces that
are written without anarchy, without going against style, against the
stony dimension of style, are more-or-less impossible to hear.
It is possible to make sounds on a piano that are more orchestral than those of an orchestra.
Every tremolo, or interval, or tam-tam noise is
as intensive and new as the context you stimulate for it. To liberate
it, for a moment at least, from the historic implications loaded into
it, this is the real challenge. It's about breaking the old context, by
whatever means, to break the sounds, looking into their anatomy. Doing
that is an incredible experience, full of this ambivalence I mentioned.
You can still see that you knew that sound before, but now it has
changed. The creative spirit did something with it. This is the only
reason for me to make music - to hear, in a new way, what you knew
One of the reasons [I call my music "sound art"]
is that in the past 25 years the public, the people who listen to our
art, don't believe that what we do is music. They ask, "Why don't you
make real music?" It's because of this that I asked myself the
question, and I think it's better to say that we make art. It's more
"sound art" than it is "music". People perceive it this way also,
because it involves noise and other sounds, not articulating a musical
language. Therefore, removing the word "music" and replacing it with
"art" made the statement much clearer. Art can be something new. I
consider that what I do is music, but I find it boring to always answer
the question of why we don't do real music. In the people's mind, music
has a lot of tradition and historical background, a lot of dimension,
such as people on stage, a manuscript, melody, harmony, a beat, and
instruments. None of those things are present in electroacoustic music.
The word art can always be redefined, and is much more broad - it
leaves the door open. (Laughing) Many of my colleagues don't agree with
me on this, maybe because they think that the word "music" is more
noble, and also because there might be performing rights concerns. The
performing rights societies might not decide to represent that art
In my hours of gloom, when I am suddenly aware of
my own futility, when every musical idiom -- classical, oriental,
ancient, modern and ultramodern -- appears to me as no more than
admirable, painstaking experimentation, without any ultimate
justification, what is left to me but to seek out the true, lost face
of music somewhere off in the forest, in the fields, in the mountains
or on the seashore, among the birds?
For me, composing is not about finding the notes.
It's about losing them. The most difficult thing isn't knowing what to
write down; it's knowing what not to write down.
The more original the material, the less it is
capable of calling forth that rich set of inextricably interlocked
associations which is the indispensable foundation of style-specific
interpretation. No, I don't think that composers can off-load this
particular responsibility onto the performer; it is they who, in the
final analysis, are directly charged with providing binding
compositional contexts to be interpreted -- and that means, on some
level, if not a "unified language," then at least an underlying and
apperceivable group of communal assumptions.
Composing for the prepared piano is not a criticism of the instrument. I'm only being practical.
In the course of the past twenty years, the ivory
tower has acquired some pretty audible gaps ... Well and good. In music
there are sometimes similar states of affairs. What was admissible up
to a certain point in time gradually can’t be done any more; musical
means that were once regarded as legitimate lose their credentials...
Reflection on the role of music in the many levels which constitute our
society must not stop. Where clarity is the point at issue, nothing is
clear. There will always be questions enough.
Before I compose a piece, I walk round it several times, accompanied by myself.
...That is one of the main causes of this
arrogance: the idea of power. Then you lose your true power which is to
be part of all, and the only way you can be part of all is to
understand it. And when you don't understand, you have to go humbly to
it. You don't go to school and say, 'I know what you're going to teach
In three thousand years the West has abandoned
values, beautiful and significant things, that in toto are at least as
important as what we have preserved.
So the answer to “What does it sound like?” is:
“What century are we in?” This structure is so evergreen that it
survives and mutates into completely unforeseen possibilities. That’s
why I think rhythmic structures -- which is what I was getting out of
studying Balinese music, which is this guy playing once every 64 beats
on this gong -- what an experience that is, every eighth note is laid
out, the music is going by very, very fast, music is going by
moderately, music is going by incredibly slowly at the same time.
Wherever your attention goes is the experience of the music that you
have. But they’re all sort of sitting there on a plate for you. Do you
want to go fast, medium or slow?
... the first thing you have to face when you
compose music, is how soon, and in what way, you have to reconsider
what you've done.
We represent and imitate all articulate sounds
and letters and the voices of the beasts and birds. We have certain
helps, which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have
also strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times,
and as it were tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder
than it came, some shriller and some deeper... We have also means to
convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.
My compositional system is thinking. I just think
-- listen and think. I feel one shouldn't underestimate the act of just
thinking and listening, especially when structuring a piece. Just
thinking and listening -- very powerful compositional techniques.
A lot of composers in America today cling to this
attitude: what I call a "macho intuitivism". I call it that, because of
the sheer pride with which they announce: "I don't use any maps or
charts. I just do it by 'feel'." I always get the sense that such a
statement is uttered very antagonistically, as if they are daring
someone to claim that they should be using "maps or charts." That it is
quite prevalent in the American composition world today I find, in a
way, saddening. Many composers think that they are composing directly
"from the gut" or whatever, but that's not really what's happening:
they are re-composing the surface habits they've learned from listening
to the music of their teachers and colleagues.
We don't play to be seen. I'm addicted to music, not audiences.
For years, evidently, he [Conlon Nancarrow] lived
on practically nothing but coffee... It's silly, I know, but sometimes
when his music takes on a particular nervousness or intensity, I can't
help thinking of Conlon diligently roasting, grinding and drinking his
coffee. Perhaps Nancarrow's stomach is as "rugged" as his music! Now,
despite being on doctor's orders, he remains unrepentant: "I have no
regrets. Do it while you're young, and can!"
For some time now I have been using
time-brackets; sometimes they are fixed and sometimes not.... It was
part, I thought, of a movement in composition away from structure, into
process; away from an object having parts, into what you might call
Great music is better than it can be performed.
I've come up with another formulation about
style: that it's essentially a manifestation of a certain habitual set
of limitations. It's what a composer does NOT do that defines a style.
What, for me, is very important is to have a sort
of ecological attitude toward different sounds, to just accept them as
they are and try to find the right place or right function for them in
the context of the piece. This is one of the problems composers have --
how to find the right function of the right sound at the right moment.
The second problem is how to deal with time. There is no concept in the
world that can tell you this is too long or this is too short and tells
you exactly why.
Joan Retallack tells the story of a person who
asked Cage the initial idea he'd had for one of the "Number" pieces. As
I remember it Cage said, "I began with the idea of thirty minutes,"
saying nothing further.
Electronic music has liberated the inner world,
for one knows that there is nothing to be seen outside oneself, and
that there can be no sense in asking with what and by what means the
sounds and acoustical forms are produced... The inner world is as true
as the outer.
I like most music unless it's wrong.
A couple years later Ravel finished the Berceuse sur le nom de Fauré...
Do you suppose he was impressed by my interpretation? Not in the least!
All his interest focused on a single note: "How do you make that F on
the E string sound as though it's on the G string?" I could have
massacred the opening of the Berceuse without him noticing.
Each time I played it he waited for "the note" which for him was the
ultimate joy: the revelation of an unknown sonority.
More incredible still than the heavenly flower or
a dreamflower is the flower of the future, that contradictory flower,
made up of atoms that are now in other places and whose arrangement
does not yet exist.
...There are younger composers currently emerging
whose main strategy resembles a game of chicken, in that their means
are intentionally stretched so thin and taut that excess expressive
energy is engendered by the ever-present prospect of them
self-destructing altogether. In a time of relative cultural
complacency, that is surely one legitimate ploy for creating
high-tension resistance in individual circumstances.
People who make music together cannot be enemies, at least while the music lasts.
Something is being made. And to make something is
to constrain it. I have found no answer to this dilemma. My whole
creative life is simply an attempt to adjust to it.... It seems to me
that, in spite of our efforts to trammel it, music has already flown
the coop -- escaped. There is an old proverb: "Man makes plans, God
laughs." The composer makes plans, music laughs.
Death, for example, a supreme misfortune, is a
part of life. We sense it, we anticipate it. But we prudently avoid
speaking about it, as if it were a guest that we must avoid.
Nevertheless, it is there, omnipresent, at our sides. Our organism,
degenerating every second, knows it. Now, this definitive disappearance
can be transposed in the domain of work: choices that I make when I
compose music, for example. They are distressing, for they imply
renouncing something. Creation thus passes through torture. But a
torture which is sane and natural. That is what is most beautiful: to
decide at any moment, to act, to renounce, to propose something else.
It's great. The joy is the fufillment of living. That's what it means
I have to keep reminding my students, asking
them, "What is your experience of listening to this? Don't tell me
about the notes you see on the page, tell me about what you hear."
I soon began to realize that whatever American
character my music had would be the character of myself making
music.... To chart a cultural development here, it seemed to me, was a
waste of time, while what was and is more important is to make the
present, with all its connections to the past and anticipations of the
future, exist more powerfully than either of these.
I’ve been told that my music tells a story, but I don’t know the story.
For me as a composer, the
meaning of music can't be a matter of soothing people and making them
compliant by promising a communal spirit that crosses all frontiers. I
can't make reality any better than it is.
Such Balanchine ballets as The Four Temperaments or Stravinsky's Violin Concerto
are so eventful, so tightly packed with complex movement, that they can
overwhelm the first-time viewer. And you know what? They're supposed
to. Nobody in the world could possibly see all there is to see in The Four Ts on a first viewing, any more than he could hear all there is to hear in The Rite of Spring
on a first listening. You see it, you're blown away, your head is so
full of dazzling images that you can't remember any of them
clearly...and there's something wrong with this?
My music has a very private feeling for me, and
yet I don't see why eighty-three million people couldn't enjoy that
private feeling. Solitude could be a universal treasure in a crowded
I go broke and I get ticked off, but success for
me is measured by the satisfaction of performing and recording, that’s
why I keep doing it. I like my own music, I listen to my friends’ music
and to a lot of music... A lot of composers don’t listen to music, they
don’t have time. I find that odd. I didn’t get into this business to
make a lot of money, but because I love it. Well, sometimes I hate it.
People ask me, "Do you really want to do this? Are you still
composing?" Yes! I’m going to be composing until I die.
All those musics are good, all those musics are
nice. Ah! Pluralism! There's nothing like it for curing
incomprehension. Love, each one of you in your corner, and each will
love the others. Be liberal, be generous toward the tastes of others
and they will be generous to yours. Everything is good, nothing is bad;
there aren't any values, but everyone is happy. This discourse, as
liberating as it may wish to be, reinforces, on the contrary, the
ghettos, comforts one's clear conscience for being in a ghetto,
especially if from time to time one tours the ghettos of others.
(Playing a standard tune is) like having to know
the results of all the changes before you even play them, compacting
them in your mind. So I did that, and once I had it all compacted in my
head I just literally REMOVED IT ALL and just PLAYED.
The abolition of non-harmony leads back to
harmony. But this newly evolved harmony is not the same as the former
harmony -- the historical process is irreversible.... The intervals as
such are the same as in earlier music, but they are handled in a
fundamentally different way: with the sounds of a dead language a new
language is being evolved.
Music, which today is in the full vigor of its
youth, is emancipated, free; it does what it likes... New needs of the
mind, the heart and the aural sense necessitate new attempts and even,
in certain cases, the abolition of ancient laws.
Please don't try to make things nice! All the wrong notes are RIGHT. Just copy as I have -- I want it that way.
In the Western World at the beginning of the
twenty-first century, someone making an abstract painting out on the
street will be observed with interest, but someone playing abstract
music will be ignored (unless he's very loud), and someone reciting
abstract sound poetry will be regarded as out of his mind, and
eventually taken to the police station. To me there is something there
that IS NOT RIGHT.
...the first time I heard a Stockhausen piece was
during the Hungarian revolution, because jamming was stopped. It was on
7 November 1956 and it was the first broadcast of Gesang der Jünglinge.
The Soviets had come in and everybody was down in the cellars, but I
went up so that I could hear the music clearly. There were detonations
going on, and shrapnel, so it was quite dangerous to be listening.
...At the same time, I was studying with Luciano
Berio and writing 12-tone music. The way I wrote 12-tone music was
like, “Don’t transpose the row. Don’t retrograde the row. Don’t invert
the row. Just repeat the row over and over, and you can try to sneak in
some harmony.” And Berio said, “If you want to write tonal music, why
don’t you write tonal music?”
Years ago, I became interested in the idea of
involuntary speech... I had been observing people -- particularly in
New York -- and noticed that many many people were talking to
themselves, publicly. Since I talk to myself privately, there seemed to
be only a thin line between their madness and my madness. (Except that
I thought of mine as music.)
Is this way of fusing music and words -- spurting
out a phoneme when words literally fail us -- no more and no less than
an attempt to organize delirium? "What a nonsensical idea," you may
say, "and what a truly absurd juxtaposition of terms!" Wait one moment.
Are the frenzies of the improvisor the only ones in which you are
prepared to believe, then? Or the powers of some "primitive" rite? I am
increasingly inclined to think that in order to make it really
effective we must not only take such "frenzy" into account but even
It's up to you whether you want to be on this side of the barricades or that one.
He [Egon Petri] actually gave me very little
technical knowledge, but the thing that made him the healing teacher
was that as I walked through his door coming for a lesson, the
questions I had all evaporated. He basically said, without actually
putting it in words, "you could use me in a pinch, but you have the
capacity to figure all this stuff out yourself." When we first met he
said, "I think we'll work out just fine because you came on time, I see
that you have a car out there, and I'm going to teach you how to
prepare my favorite drink."
I don't think we're going to do American opera on
stage at the Met. I might be wrong but I don't think so. I think that
our opera should happen in our living rooms. I don't think that the
moral burden that television puts on you is any different from what is
put on you by the San Francisco Symphony.
I recall a grumpy Louis Andriessen one day
complaining that he now had students who didn't know about Honegger. I
didn't tell him I had heard only precious little of Honegger's music;
instead I pointed out that it's only natural that composers get
forgotten. Andriessen said: "But they shouldn't forget the good ones!"
After my first work, Kruezspiel -- which
sounded very strange to me when I conducted it for the first time -- I
felt that a new era was beginning, with completely different methods of
composition. The music was my state of the soul at the time. I composed
it as if I were an astronomer from the outer world reorganizing planets
and sounds and circuits and time proportions. So I was not so much
identifying with sounds, but creating new sound worlds. Since then I
know that a new music began about 1951.
It's hard to do a piece anymore that lasts less than an hour.
To make music means to express human intelligence
by sonic means. This is intelligence in its broadest sense, which
includes not only the peregrinations of pure logic but also the "logic"
of emotions and intuition. My musical techniques, although often
rigorous in their internal structure, leave many openings through which
the most complex and mysterious factors of the intelligence may
I first played the organ at eleven. We were
spending the summer holidays in a village near Karlsruhe. Somehow I
managed to get permission to ascend to the organ loft, switched on the
motor and played for hours (mostly tutti) what I had improvised on the
piano. Suddenly — by then it had become evening — the motor stopped
working. The inhabitants of the village were so upset by my playing
that they cut out the electricity. That was my first experience of
public response. Until then, my audience had been made up of
schoolmates, teddybears and family — that is, all positively inclined.
The things that I did in Philomel were so
determined by what was possible electronically. Remember, I didn't turn
to the electronic medium for "new sounds;" nothing gets as old quickly
as "new sounds." It wasn't for the superficial titillation of sounds.
It was for, above all, music time, the way you can control time.
There's such a difference between being able to produce a sound as a
performer, being able to strike the keyboard, it's automatic. To
produce a duration, it's totally different. Teaching a child to imagine
rhythm, a succession of durations, is so much more difficult than
teaching someone to put their finger down in the right place on an
instrument. Time has always created problems with contemporary music --
that's why the music wasn't performed and when it was performed, it was
done sloppily. We were tired of this.
John Cage believes that when people today get to
understand and like his music, which is produced by banging one object
with another, they will find new beauty in everyday modern life, which
is full of noises made by objects banging against each other.
Feedback comes real fast. I don't know if you
remember, but before the modern computer there was a very primitive
kind of computer that used cards, punched cards. I think that what
happens is that there is a certain hole -- you run through all these
cards until you find all the cards that have the same hole. There's a
certain moment when these two items are lined up, like on an astrology
chart... So what we have then is the composer who doesn't know
ANYTHING. He's just sitting there stewing. He's stewing. Then there's
the IBM card. He doesn't even know what that is. But he's improvising,
he's improvising. Nothing. Improvising more. Improvising... BOING!
There's a little match for a second. You don't need a huge explosion to
get the thing going. The tiniest little flicker is enough. When you
improvise, when you pretend parts of words in a poem, when you're just
dabbing at your canvas, when you're just sort of stirring up an egg,
you're waiting for that moment when things are lined up, SOMEWHERE, to
give you a handle. It's like using pitons in mountain climbing: you
don't want to step on the poor whole mountain, you just want a tiny
foothold, a tiny access.
A lot of this hand-wringing about the future of
classical music is really stuck on old-fashioned expectations of how
things work, the notion that sophisticated professionals should loyally
patronize some big institution once a month and follow the latest
intrigue in the world of Good Music. But I rarely meet anyone that
narrowly focused on one genre -- everyone's a dilettante. "Success" in
new music belongs to those who know how to retain the attention of a
culture-saturated audience, and remain realistic about what kind of
turnout they will get.
...I have very often been to juries for
composition all around the world. When you look at the scores of young
composers, very often you don't have time to look at the scores
completely. But the most important moment is the first change. The
composer comes and establishes an idea that everybody understands.
Everybody can have an idea. Everybody. The problem is to have a second
one. This is a greater problem. And the major problem is to know where
and when to bring in this second idea. And very often, you realize
after a few pages that he is not a musician.
If you know anybody who knows more popular music
of the 1920s or '30s than I do, I want to know who it is. I'm serious.
I mean, I grew up playing every kind of music in the world and I know
more pop music from the '20s and '30s, it's because of where I grew
up... We heard everything from the radio; we had to do it all by ear.
We took down their arrangements; we stole their arrangements; we
transcribed them, approximately. We played them for a country club
dance one night, and for a high school dance the next. They would be
different tastes, of course.
Deep Listening is listening to everything all the
time, and reminding yourself when you're not. But going below the
surface too, it's an active process. It's not passive. I mean hearing
is passive in that soundwaves hinge upon the eardrum. You can do both.
You can focus and be receptive to your surroundings. If you're tuned
out, then you're not in contact with your surroundings. You have to
process what you hear. Hearing and listening are not the same thing.
…I really write for people… I've never been very
interested in the systematic development of microtonality for the
simple reason that it's not important to me. It's not important to me
to found a school; it's not important to me to have disciples. What's
important for me is to communicate the vision that I have in sound with
the audience that's hearing it. And it really seems to. My music really
seems to do that, if left alone. Not if somebody is lecturing people on
what they should be hearing!
So if you want to explain the secret of Mozart's
music - how can you? You can describe the formulas that he didn't even
invent, because he was a child of his time... you can analyze it
whatever way you want. Then you listen, and you realize that you didn't
speak about what really happened as you were listening to it.
I'm very curious, and I can live as a composer
only once. It's a regrettable fact, but also a useful one, because a
composer above all must know how to make use of time.
I think that what can be learned from rock is the
nature of its appeal, the nature of its imperfection (something
composers and classical performers can't abide), and the nature of its
risk-taking (and its ephemeral nature, as well). Those of us who are in
our fifties have to keep our mental eyes on the garage band past we all
had (even if we weren't in one).
I attempt, as long as I can, to pose questions.
Perhaps I can only hear and understand what I want to hear and
understand… But I do believe I have the talent to be uncertain in a
For years I didn't even ask myself, "Ah, how
could I be a composer and not living a professional life?" But the
Americans I know, even of other generations, never thought of
composition as a profession. Yesterday's amateurs become today's
professionals. Yesterday's professionals become today's amateurs.
It's true that I'm trying to search for new
sounds, but this is not my aesthetic aim or credo as an artist. With
conventional or unconventional sounds, the question is how to create a
new, authentic musical situation. The problem isn't to search for new
sounds, but for a new way of listening, of perception. I don't know if
there are still new sounds, but what we need are new contexts.
I also remember what Xenakis said to me in a
cafeteria at the New York Airport as if it were just yesterday: "Human
beings are bound by their own perception of time and space. Is it
possible to escape from the labyrinth of this sad glass box, and be
awakened to Being which envisages the 'now' as the 'forever', and the
'here' as two-hundred-million light-years away?"
The best things in Bruno Maderna's own music, the
prize moments, sprang from this immediate, irrational musical sense,
and for this reason his most succesful works are those that leave the
most initiative to the players. At the end of his last work, an oboe
concerto, he wrote: "I hope that I have provided enough material for
the soloist, conductor and orchestra to come to terms and enjoy playing
what I have written." In a way he gave birth to a music that he
carried, like a mother, and then absolutely trusted.
I believe strongly in hierarchies, in values. The
fascination of music is that it is meaningful on many levels. It's
wrong to listen for only one element, because there are so many things
going on. There's more than just melody in Bach, and there's more than
just pitch relationships in Schoenberg. The listener's depth of
understanding has to do with the number of relationships he can find.
The ideal listener is the one who can catch all the implications; the
ideal composer is the one who can control them.
I hope that both techno and electroacoustics will
continue to evolve, in parallel with each other. We shouldn't take the
model of the pop music concert, or let popular music become the only
mode of musical expression. There are composers that want to have a
large audience and make a lot of money, and that's fine, and there are
composers/artists that want to be more in the expressive arts and reach
a smaller audience, not necessarily to make money out of it. But those
people that select concert music should not complain that they don't
have an audience, because that is the nature of the form. I am very
happy when 100 people come to my concert and have interest in it. I
find that wonderful.
The concept of line is something performers all
understand, but composers are usually the last people to get it. Line
for me is not melody, or harmony. It’s the succession of one sound
after another, in a manner that the ear can follow the logic, and that
there is some kind of journey involved. There are many levels on which
that can happen. It can be purely visceral, as it would in a pop tune,
or in a highly rarified way as it does in the Boulez Structures.
Nevertheless, there has to be some kind of followable aural logic to
what is going on. Continuity is part of it, but it’s also that the
composer has made sense of why two sounds happen side by side. The
ability to continue that, and make it into something somewhat longer,
is a comparatively rare gift.
What I’m trying to do is something that I love,
what I like, and think I need. In that moment, you have to be very
honest. A few months ago, during a podium discussion in Scandinavia, I
was asked to give advice for young composers, and my only word was to
be honest. If you try to be honest with yourself, and write what you
think you need, not what you think other people need, or music critics,
or colleagues, you will then be trying to communicate your truth. If it
has that truth, then it will be interesting.