As a student of music, there is very little that surprises me musically anymore. It doesn’t mean that I enjoy all music out there but I understand where it comes from and how it gets made and why it has the audience it has. Which is why all music fascinates me.
In the following TEDTalk, Mark Applebaum makes a humorous presentation about music and his take on it.
For those of you that didn’t watch it (and you really should), he asks the question: is it music? But I think his counter-question is just as compelling: is it interesting?
What makes interesting music? In the video he shows a musical instrument he invented, shows scores he’s handwritten that double as graphic art, and performed part of an audio-visual piece he’s working on. There are amplified performance pieces and jazz improvisation.
The entire talk is an interesting presentation of one man’s personal view. Granted, he has a PhD in music composition and is an associate professor at Stanford, so trying not to rely on an appeal to his authority is difficult. He does know what it is he talks about.
This question, “Is it interesting?” is the one that plagues all composers and musicians.
John Cage is famous (maybe I should say infamous) for his piece 4’33”. It’s in 3 movements.
Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.
The music in the performance is not produced by the performer on stage or the instrument, but the music is the ambient noise in the hall itself. At its premiere, people walked out, talked, and stood in an uproar at its conclusion. John Cage remarked “they still haven’t forgotten it”. That experience sounds interesting, if not the performance itself .
From early on, composers and musicians have always pushed the boundaries of what is popularly considered music.
Consider this piece:
Pretty mundane now, but the effect of Richard Wagner’s work was controversial when it premiered. A popular caricaturist drew Wagner slamming a musical note into an ear, gushing blood.
During a performance of Steve Reich’s Organ Music in the early 70’s people nearly rioted and demanded the music stop. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who was one of the performers, relates that the audience made so much noise during the performance the performers couldn’t hear each other, despite the amplification of the organs! One woman came down, shouting “I confess!” begging them to stop.
That certainly sounds interesting. What do you think?
Cecil Taylor, formidable free jazz pianist and controversial figure himself, is quoted as saying, “Part of what this music is about is not to be delineated exactly. It’s about magic and capturing spirits.”
It’s about magic and capturing spirits
So what makes interesting music? Who pushes those boundaries, moves your soul, provokes you to respond?