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The copyright of this lecture is owned by the Estate of Morton Feldman. It is published here with their kind permission. Any further use of this text must be cleared with Rüdiger Meyer and the copyright owners.
I hope you don't mind too much if I circumvent the subject. Of course by doing that I'll probably talk more about it than not. One of the reasons is that if I was about to talk about what is happening in music today in America I'll have a heart attack on the stage. And I don't think you'd like to see that. [laughs] I myself, I'm not too happy about what's happening. And I don't think its a question just of the USA, I think it's happening all over. Let's put it this way - every week in the New York Times there's an article and the article is usually titled "The Death of the Avant Garde." [laughs] There is just something about the avant garde, whatever that was or is, that seems to be annoying everybody when it comes to music. Yet the unbelievable avant garde art galleries in New York. On a Saturday afternoon you can't see a picture. Have to wait in line just to see a Jackson Pollock, more or less. And thinking about this phenomena has affected my own music in the past few years, and I've asked myself some very very devastating questions. A whole series of devastating questions.
The first question that I asked myself: "Is music an art form?" Secondly, if John Cage did the same thing in painting I don't think you would even know his name. He might not have been good enough. Certainly no level of the notoriety. Why music? Why is music so entrenched in its music forms? And the notion ... I speculate the notion, you see I'm just the devils advocate I haven't answered these questions. Remember I just ask these questions. And I've come to the conclusion that maybe music is not an art form. That there are really some things that you can't do that you could do for example in literature, in painting or in the cinema.
I think that one of the reasons it can't be done is quite simply because music is so difficult to write. No other answer except that it's difficult. And we just don't have the talent around to handle new concepts or even think of them. Now I'm convinced about that, and I'm certainly convinced of it more and more in terms of say my own students. I teach students on a masters and doctorate level. I don't teach undergraduates. I'm teaching in a very fine university for the past twelve years. And I came to this conclusion not only because of my teaching but being on various juries. Establishment juries. I'm an establishment composer in effect. Of the International Society of Contemporary Music, other juries, internationally and otherwise. But why is it that I myself give the more establishment pieces by the younger people the award. And that the more "adventurous" ... I'm not that interested.
This happened to me a month or two ago. And the reason is that the young establishment composer was guided in having the right kind of acquired skills to do what he or she wants to do. The one that wants to be original or creative essentially don't know what skills are needed for their originality. Don't know what to use. Don't know, more important, what not to use. Doesn't seem to have the discipline, the focus only because he or she does not have really strong models. It's not like being at Yale university where everybody is trying to rewrite Schoenberg's Fourth String Quartet. So it's a very serious, a very serious problem. Music is very, very, very difficult to write.
So instead of talking about trends which are disquietingly, appallingly conservative, only because there's not a new need for communication. Not because of anything other than music is very difficult to write. Also what has happened is that, well let's put it this way: When I was growing up in music we would hear a new piece and say "What terrific material, Boy that's terrific material." Don't ask me what material is, but you had a sense of the material. Now my students will talk about a piece and they'll say "What a terrific idea", you see. And I think for anybody that teaches composition it rings true. "What a terrific idea". And I could lately tell a certain part of the world whether it's La Hoya in California or Downtown New York, I could tell where the music is coming from only, not because of the material, only because of the ideas in a sense in which it's a kind of community shared. What we have really now all over, dramatized in America only because it's so large, not because it's more gifted, is this kind of folk music of different cities. What we have lost is the fantastic international ... excitement. The international concerns that we had in the fifties and into the sixties.
Now because of this I decided to play a work by a young American, she just hates it when I would say "female composer", by the name of Bunita Marcus. Unfortunately everything is suspicious because I was her major professor. [laughs] And ... I wish I wasn't actually, and in a sense I never really felt I was. Back in 1975 I got a phone call from Bunita Marcus. And she asked if she could visit me, that she was living in Buffalo with her husband. At that time Buffalo was still a very important avant garde music centre. And the reason that she was in Buffalo was that she and her husband really wanted to go to Toronto because he was a classical guitarist and there was somebody terrific for him to study there. But being that rents and real estate were just appallingly expensive in Toronto they decided Toronto is only an hour and fifteen minutes away. She was going to settle in Buffalo. And usually I never saw anybody. Actually I would, if they weren't interested in coming into the university I, for whatever reason, I didn't want to see them. And there was something about her manner on the phone - I said "sure". We made an appointment and she came over and she then entered and got her doctorate about two years ago.
Now rather going along with the axiom that something new is obviously something new, now that I'm in my late fifties I could mellow a little bit and repeat Anton Chekhov when he said "talent is always new" and Bunita is certainly the most gifted young composer that I know of, certainly in America. There are others. There's a young man by the name of Jo Kondo. And he's Japanese and I would say that he's going to be the Webern of the nineties. Very strange stuff. Bunita's is less strange. Her work is upfront, she doesn't really need dynamics, it's almost like Bach the way the work projects itself. And I feel she has an exquisite voice. But most important, getting back to one of my earlier thoughts, she has a sense of material, a fabulous sense of material in almost a kind of Stravinskian sense. And she has incredible instrumental presence, again in a Stavinskian sense. But also, very important to me, is her notation. Notation is a very, very serious problem which I felt - that is handled only superficially, evidently the late Beethoven never helped when he started to get involved with incredible detail as he does in his late sonatas. Didn't seem to really leave any influence. Her aspect of detail is in a sense really quite uncanny and how she expresses it both rhythmically and on the page is unusual.
I think I embarrassed her enough with this lengthy introduction. Obviously I don't want you to make your mind up for yourself. [laughter] I just went through with, when I awarded her a big prize, and I had a very important New York, South American composer living there now - David Davidowsky, where I had to convince him about another piece of Bunita's and he says, "Well Morton, I love you, if you say so, it must be there." [laughs]
But actually it's an interesting confrontation and I'm really presenting it more, not so much to the non-composers in the audience but to the composers - to confront yourself, you know, on the tennis court, with a champ ... that you never heard of, like these thirteen or fourteen year old girls that are coming out of nowhere, you know ... [laughs]
And the music is called MUSIC FOR JAPAN and she wrote it for one of the few and perhaps the best groups in Japan called the Ark ensemble. And she was invited to come over there. Takemitsu who's nuts about her music also saw to it that she was funded to get there. And so it will be the ARK ensemble that you're gonna hear and Bunita Marcus is conducting the group.
[A tape recording of MUSIC FOR JAPAN is played.]
This is probably going to be my only public forum because as I understand it we're just going to be with the composition seminars ... Except my last talk where I talk about myself, so maybe we could talk about you. I once called up a friend and said, "This evening we're just going to talk about you." [laughs] So it might be a very apt time, if you could ask me questions.
Q: There is a painting form known as "post avant-garde" which is quite interesting and does seem to be valid, certainly critics regard it as valid. Isn't there some validity in a music form known as post avant-garde?
M.F: Well, I don't know what it means. I'm pretentious in speaking street talk. And to me post avant-garde means post famous names. Essentially that's all it means to me. Until those names become famous. I mean, just what are you gonna do, for example, after Jackson Pollock's gesture in 1951. I mean what in heavens name are you gonna do? You know. Or just do two unbelievably beautiful colours you know and paint them as well as Rembrandt, the way Mark Rothko did. With his mysterious edges. The same thing in fact, getting back to Bunita Marcus. I went over to her apartment in the midst of her writing this and I noticed she had a big sign right on top of her desk and it said "Feldman - Boulez". And I said "What's that?" And she said, "That's the enemy." [laughter] She says "I just gotta remember, I just gotta remember what I'm dealing with here, to be a composer."
And ... I think we hid in the past twenty five years or thirty years, I think we hid behind this terminology long enough. And I think individually we have to come out be tested in a sense. I don't think these names really help any. "Modernism", "Non-Modernism", you see. Because I think again if we have to find, we have to find the leadership in ourselves and by finding the leadership in ourselves is knowing in a sense how we can, in a sense, develop fantastic technical facility in terms of doing what we want to do rather than Feldman or Boulez, you see. I think that's essentially the problem now.
And the problem is now, is not looking for some new methodology that can make things easier for us to understand what we're doing. There's a big problem about teaching and being a professor and being well known and handling students who feel that they have to know what they're doing. There's a famous ... remarks that I made at Yale twenty years ago when I was invited there to give a big seminar and a concert of my music. A very famous, one of the most famous musicologists after listening to my music and to some degree my vague authoritative way of talking, said, "Mr Feldman, I've come to the conclusion that you don't know what you're doing." And Mel Powell who was the chairman at the time still tells me how fantastic it was because I walked off the podium to where this man was sitting, and he thought I was going to punch him in the nose or something, he had no idea what was going to happen. And I said to him, "Listen, just because I was invited by Yale university to give a lecture doesn't mean that I know what I'm doing."
And I say that all the time, I never ask my student what he's doing. I would say ... you're not focused. I would use general terms like "you're not focused". Or I said, "Your hierarchical notions" I said, "are absolutely ridiculous. For example if you think that melody is a hierarchical notion, look how mediocre your accompaniment is." You know. That's tossed away as if it were unimportant, you know. It was the melody they wanted or something. And I guide them that way. But I never guide them in any way of ... give them a certain type of security in knowing what they're doing. I think that's why ideas have taken over so many aspects especially in terms of university music. And the sense is that they feel that they have to control things, they have to essentially know what they're doing. But I think that's essentially where the problem is.
And also I think the problem, another thing that interests me about Bunita Marcus is that she makes the distinction between "problem solving" and "solutions". And there's a vast distinction between those two words. Now we know that in problem solving you don't have to know what you're doing. We all solve problems in our sleep. And we find solutions when we're awake. So many times my problems, I could be gnawing at a thing, I could be upset for days, I don't know what's wrong. And usually it could be what's wrong is that the instrumental combination is not working, you see, and that I'm waiting a little to get familiar with my material in order to see if some kind of adjustment has to be involved.
And this whole kind of consciousness and this whole kind of control which of course Wagner didn't have and Mozart to some degree had intuitively, you know one of the interesting things is that when you teach is that the best, one of the most interesting periods I like to teach is before serialism. And that's some of the greatest pieces that Webern, Berg and Schoenberg wrote in those years where Webern just had this chromatic scale on the edge of a page and it was just like picking out notes, you know. The more the system became formalized and understood to some degree there was a deterioration in the art. I mean there's a perfect period in a sense. And all history has those periods.
I think we're all on our own now, essentially. Now in getting back to America I feel that the conservatism to some degree is, I don't feel that a country could create an art that outstretches the political climate. I feel that the political climate, no matter how strong anybody is, to some degree creates some unconscious "we must stop here." Some kind of thing and it's very interesting that in America in the fifties and the sixties the political climate in a sense after McCarthy for example created a new kind of radicalism in the art as if to say, "We can't have anything like this ever happen again." I think it affected the art too. And I've seen this happen in other countries as well. That one is programmed. I have a lot of Canadian composers that come to study with me. And that I find that their work is pretty safe only because they get large grants. And they don't want to rock the boat. And they're not, they're being programmed and they don't realise it. This generosity of helping them out as professionals has made them so careful in the kind of music they want to write, has really affected their music unconsciously.
So rather than saying what kind of music is happening in America I'd rather just say that I'm waiting for just strong talent to emerge. What I really think is going to happen, and I'm using Bunita as a model because I see hundreds of scores all the time, an awful lot of music, is that we might go into a period in which the music is not recognizable as either modern or as conservative, as her music is. I never get the feeling that I'm listening to Cologne when I'm listening to her, and also don't get the feeling that I'm listening to West Coast. To some degree I don't know what I'm listening to. I'm listening to a very private voice, with a lot of technique, you see. And hopefully, I'm very interested in creating a kind of intellectual climate, by my colleagues, by my teaching, by my own music as an example, to create that kind of music.
You know history is a burden and the burden is really not to take it on because a terrific musician in this sense has no argument with history and as TS Eliot reminded us we take from it what we need, we all do that. But I think that the burden we have of history is essentially getting it off our back as a safe refuge and I think that that was always one of the problems. I once compared history to, especially people who always bring up history, continuity, tradition, that they're in a bank and they talk about it as if they're in a cathedral. And by a bank I mean that the assets are there to draw on without really putting anything in it, you see. The way Stravinsky had it. I consider this to some degree cultural welfare, you know, a music that just sounds like every other music. "Okay get out cultural welfare and we're going to play you a piece next week."
And I'm kind of fed up, naturally after twenty five years you're waiting and waiting, but I'm certainly not waiting to see this conservatism. Conservatism without technique actually, that's the worst. Then it's a kind of like amateur night of the reactionary attitudes and that's no good either. So rather than "either/or" it's "neither/nor". I don't like amateur radicalism and I don't like amateur conservatism. I wanna hear names again like I did when I was twenty four. Names, when someone came back and said I heard a piece, it was like being at a tennis match. I said, "What do you mean?" He said it was like the sound was going from here to here. That was John Cage talking about Ligeti. Earle Brown coming to me and saying, "Boy there's a guy in Paris, he just came from Greece, boy you ought to hear that stuff it's far out." And that was Xenakis. I wanna hear names again. And I think we all wanna hear names again rather than a return to something ... again.
Sounds like a sermon. Born again. [laughs]
Q: What amount of responsibility do you think the composer has towards the audience?
M.F: None. [laughter] Why? Because if you haven't got the moral conscience, in a sense, that if the humanity is not in you, you see, then what good is it? What good is it? What good is it to manipulate the audience to write someone a letter like Gluck, "I want to write a music as if I'm actually sitting in the audience." All the responses, you know, everything. A lot of that stuff you know was really audience manipulation. That they were involved not necessarily with a sense of time as it was unfolding but a sense of timing, in a sense that will give, in a sense, that will give the right kind of response in the audience. You have no idea of how many really fabulous people were involved with the audience.
Now there's nothing wrong with it. I recently said to somebody, I said, "We have enough music. If we don't have any music for the next five years it will be okay." I said, "What we don't have is enough audience." I'm very interested in a audience and I'm very interested in a new one. I'm not, no longer interested in an audience, in a sense, that wants to hear that which they already heard. This is not an educated audience. And to insist on some interest, you're insisting on interest mind you, you're not asking to take an adult education course, you're asking for interest doesn't mean that the music is elitist. I'm a New Yorker, it's impossible for a New Yorker to be an elitist. [laughter]
You never know who the audience or what it is. This is a very true story. It seems contrived for the moment but it's true and documented. I was having a conversation with my teacher, I wasn't studying at the time. His name was, a fabulous guy by the name of Stefan Wolpe. And Stefan came out of a 1920 Weimar Republic. He was Marxist and he had a studio on at that time, more so now, one of the more proletariat streets in New York. It was on 14th Street and 6th Avenue. And I brought him a new piece. I wasn't studying with him but I was still seeing him, bringing him my music. I brought him a new piece and he says, "Morton" he says, "it's so esoteric, you're so esoteric. Isn't there such a thing as the man in the street?" He was on the second floor. And we're looking down and who's walking across 14th Street and 6th Avenue - Jackson Pollock. [laughter]
The man in the street. Jackson Pollock was the man in the street and he was nuts about my music. A lot of people have problems with it. A lot of people don't have problems with it. What's interesting about modern music is that if nobody likes it they just can't shut it off. They have to go on raving about it, against it. I think that modern music should exist and everybody has the right to just shut it off. Just shut it off. But it should exist like anything. Just like I shut off light music or jazz. I'm shutting it off all the time.
But as far as the audience and the composer ... I mean I don't think the audience really had a chance. I don't know who the hell the audience is. I'm having some very interesting experience. You know I told you earlier that I asked myself some terrible questions. One, is music really an art form? Or is it just a music form? That means - a form that we already know and we feel that the proportions are right and everybody is an expert about it even though you don't know anything about music. Only because it's like everybody else's music. And now if it's not an art form, what is it? Okay, we're not going to settle this at this particular meeting. We're never going to settle it. Another question that I ask myself is "Can we get rid of the audience?" How do we get rid of the audience? I was once sitting with a great friend, they were doing a string quartet of mine many years ago and the audience was fidgety, was annoying. I heard some quiet hisses beginning after ten minutes and I turned to my friend and I said "What's this I hear about a live audience?" I said, "There's nothing like a dead one."
I mean that generously. I don't know who's fault it is. I don't think it's anybody's fault. Someone once described, "Tragedy for me, is when two people are right." [laughter] It's a question of, I don't know, it's just a question of, I think it's a power play really. There's a marvellous Jewish joke I love about Sam owes Ben twenty thousand dollars and in the middle of the night his wife wakes up and sees Sam walking the floor. And she says what's the matter. And he says "I owe Ben twenty thousand dollars and I have to pay him, next morning, I don't have it." "Hello, Ben this is Sadie. Sam doesn't have the twenty thousand dollars so you walk the floor all night." [laughter] So you see. And I think in art too, really, seriously, it's a question of who walks the floor.
I mean I see tourists coming into New York. Going to the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and they see modern art, modern art, modern art, modern art, modern art, Madison avenue, 57th street, modern art - they feel they're in a lunatic asylum ... They're walking the floor in New York. [laughs] Essentially in terms of what's going on here. You see. So I think it depends on the community, who walks the floor. You know, in a place like Cologne evidently it's the audience who walks the floor. Because there's official support for it. Or an element of tolerance.
I consider very much like a newspaper the cultural life of a country. And though I live in Buffalo the reason I get the New York Times is because it's a newspaper. And I sit down for an hour and I'm reading this damn newspaper - It doesn't let up. One section after another on every category. And I feel that a society must make that available. For example if they're counting heads in my university because they spent millions of dollars for access to musical facilities which are not used either by the college students, by the faculty or by the community, everybody's very upset. So the first thing they wanna do is say take away the funding from my music concerts. On the other hand nobody uses the library either. Nobody, I don't think anybody uses anything. In a sense I think we'll just have to close down everything. Essentially [laughter] ... just ride around in automobiles. So again it's a question of who walks the floor.
I think the public has enough. I think the public has everything ... They got it all and I think there's an effort that has to be made. And if they don't want that effort then it's perfectly fine, being that they have it all. It shouldn't deny a public that wants the other. That considers their right to have the other. So it's a big problem. And I don't think it's an artistic problem. I think it's a social problem and I think it's a political problem and ultimately I think it's a financial problem. I have no idea. I don't think it's an artistic problem at all. I have had enough experience to realize it is not an artistic problem.
I don't think that anybody has the right to define, to already, should define what the public likes, doesn't like and should like. I don't think one has that right. I don't have that right even in my selection when I give a concert. I give concerts across the board. Especially in the university. And a lot of people are very upset because of my avant garde position and I keep on reminding them that as far as I'm concerned the university is like a museum. This is not a private art gallery. And I try to keep my university with all kinds of people coming. Conservative. The conservatives when they make a talk usually sound radical. And when the radicals make a talk they usually sound conservative. [laughter] We had John Cage and Aaron Copland come. [laughs] Aaron sounded like some kind of terrorist. And John Cage was more or less modifying his position. [laughter]
The audience. Big, big problem. I mean if you grow up in saying there's an audience. If you're growing up to say, "Who wants to write music if there's no audience?" Music doesn't want ya. "If you need an audience to write music we don't need you".
Again, that was a very long aside actually from the point that I wanted to make. Another question I said, well the only way to really get rid of an audience is to alienate them. And for the first time I ever consciously pursued a course of action only because there were really no problems artistically for me to solve. It was a life problem, it was a social problem. And I solved it number one, by only writing for dear friends, well it turns our that the dear friends were some of the finest musicians in the world and so I wasn't taking any chances there. So I wanted to eliminate the musician. The musician is a big problem, they dictate the taste, they dictate how much they could afford to rehearse, how much they want to rehearse. They want to play things that make them shine. They are not necessarily that gung ho with the composer. Big problem with the performer. So I'm not thinking about the performer per se anymore. I'm just thinking about a few people who I know for the past thirty five years. They're nuts about my music and they play it beautifully.
Okay so that problem is solved. And the second problem is, the whole idea of what is the real length of a piece, given the opportunity. If you really want to write a piece and you're not thinking about an audience, you're not thinking about the performer, then how long is the piece. If you're not kind of unconsciously programmed that a half a side of a record is twenty minutes or twenty five minutes, how long could this piece be? I then pursued this very fortunate direction and my pieces became an hour, an hour and a half, and I wrote a string quartet - an hour and forty minutes. And we got this marvellous quartet to do it in California. There was silence throughout the piece. There was never silence in a twenty minute piece of mine. But you know, it was like Nicholas Nickleby, I suppose they thought there was some kind of media event. And it was an hour and forty minutes and I had a standing ovation. [laughter] I was told I had a standing ovation with the same piece in Venice a year ago. Now in Toronto I'm going to have my new string quartet which is two and a half hours. [laughter]
Wait a minute, what's really happening in this, I did one of these long things in Berlin. Anybody who's lived in Berlin knows that you're kind of a captive audience anyway, speaking of an audience anyway. Unless you go to the Academy der Kunst you're out on a street or in a beer hall. So they just loved it. They just grooved on this hour and a half or two hour piece. And I noticed the longer my pieces became, I started to develop a new audience. For whatever reason. Alright it might be too expensive for the, and it was only the expense of the Boston Symphony to do my new violin concerto but an outfit like Frankfurt Radio is doing it. It doesn't seem to be a problem that it's an hour and a half and things like that. And I think these long pieces are going to develop a new kind of audience that is listening, that wants to listen, and that needs to listen. Where because intellectually, artistically and certainly musically in the past twenty five years unlike the audience with a capital "A", being that they're the audience with a small "a", they need it. You see. So that was one formula where I'm getting a new audience, but quite by accident. I was really, I didn't know that I was going to get a new audience, I just wanted to really get rid of the old audience. You know its like paying alimony you just, it's as if you're never finished with it. The same twenty minute piece. Five years go on, twenty years, thirty years - the same attitudes. [laughs] That's music in America.
You know Milton Babbitt who was a very important American twelve tone composer wrote an article, a very famous article in the States called "Who cares if they listen?" [laughs] I really wanted to write one that really said "Who cares if they perform it?" [laughter] Because what's the point, what's the point of performing these things, it's like vote, it's like people ... in the sense ... I know ... I have friends who are active in the democratic party. And I'm always very annoyed. They always say, "Why don't you get active?" I say, "What do you mean "get active"? We're not going into the enclaves of people who're against our position. We're having parties and fund-raising things amongst ourselves, I mean we're already going to vote democratic party. So what do you mean by we should be active in this thing?"
And I think it's the same thing with a lot of composers, that we've created a kind of ghetto for ourselves only because we just can't cope with the problem, and we don't know how to cope with the problem. See one of the ways of coping with the problem, for example in Italy, is where the establishment puts on something avant garde. And then because the establishment puts it on then everybody has to cope with it. And that'll happen here actually. There's very little audience for contemporary music in America. Some of the audiences, I don't know, I don't know exactly what the reason. I would say that maybe in a place like New York there's just too much activity. I mean every night there's just too much activity. Places like Paris it's a little different. They're really big events. I know that in London when I hear the, if I'm in town and the London Sinfonietta's playing, I see a lot of young people at the concerts just as if it was in the sixties. I think the price of admission adds to it. Rather than fifteen dollars that they would charge on Carnegie Hall to hear Phil Glass or someone. Twenty five dollars at the last concert, it was jammed.
I would say that Phil Glass is a media rather than an artistic phenomena in America. You know America is essentially. The formula for America, and if you kinda take my word for it then you'll never have to go there and you'll know everything about it, is essentially: It developed, exploited and invented middlebrow. No place in the world, just think of it. Popular songs from George Gershwin to Jerome Kern to Cole Porter. And they know how to update it without costumes, like Chorus Line. And America has two sides, that very swanky middlebrow, that unless you live there and know the kind of middlebrow people that had a good education, they got a BA and are making a lot of money and they don't, you know, they really want to have a good time but they don't want to have a silly good time. They don't want to see "Naughty Marietta". And America is great at that. And the movies are certainly demonstrating it now. But there's another side of America. A fantastic side. It has two sides. And the side I would say is deeply religious and deeply committed to exquisite values. Like Thoreau, Emerson. The painters in the fifties. And those are the two Americas actually.
But what's happening in contemporary music is that the middlebrow is winning out. Because there's a natural, it's in the DNA, the DNA you know, you start off in graduate school, you're writing twelve tone music, you know, how long are you gonna write twelve tone music? You don't really have a feeling for it and you kind of wanna find your way you know, and you finally wind up in this vast open field, you see, of very high class, middlebrow, type of music, not something silly like London years ago who developed a kind of Constant Lambert. We never had those types. [laughs] Kind of silly, kind of silly kind of music a little bit. And that's essentially America. Deeply spiritual, deeply non-commercial in the true sense of the word and commercial in the true sense of the word and that is making a very good competitive product. And the young people in a sense, there's a new leisure class in America - the young. And they're a captive audience for these events. And Steve Reich, Phil Glass, in a sense I feel, without insulting them too much, represent this. And it's very attractive stuff, very attractive. In fact I wrote a letter to Universal, my publisher, about Phil Glass's last Opera and I said you know it's unfortunate that it has an avant garde reputation because there's nothing avant garde about it. What's avant garde is that it's Soho and different kind of types writing it. But in the letter I wrote them I said, don't quote me, I said, "Benjamin Britten could never have done it, and the damn thing should have opened up in Covent Garden, not in Brooklyn someplace." Because it's sensational, as theatre, as entertainment. With a great middlebrow theme like Mahatma Gandhi, which is a middlebrow theme. And peace, isn't it crazy how peace has become middlebrow. And it's just the right theme, right theme. And it's a fantastic thing to hear. Forget that it's simplistic and that certain parts sound like Verdi and some parts sound like Monteverdi [laughter] and that some parts sound like southern India. Forget about that. It's just terrific theatre. [laughter]
And I think that one of the things against originality, also it's so difficult. I think it's a kind of you know, the hatred of the rich or the hatred of the poor. I think there's a hatred of the avant garde, or a hatred of originality because it is so hard to do and what are you gonna do after Jackson Pollock threw the paint. You can't compete really with me or with Boulez or with John Cage or Xenakis. You're wasting your time. I mean it's as if you're dealing with Chase Manhattan bank, you're dealing with ... [laughs] you're dealing with big power structures in trying to deal with these people. The only thing you could do is like Bunita and just put it on the sign on the wall and say, "This is the enemy, gotta remember that this is the enemy." The same time that she's not a third world composer, so to speak. How does she exist in the midst of all these people. Rather than getting rid of them the way the media is and the way so many people are happy to.
But you see if you're not talking about broad issues and you want to give things names. And you don't want to do things like that, then you see the conversation one could have is very, very difficult you see because then you really have to go out on a string and arrive at certain opinions about certain work and really in a sense forcefully in a sense support the work you believe in. Most people are pretty ambivalent about that.
One of the things that I always do in my seminar, I'm so fed up with analyzing what something is and then having the student when a recording of something is played for an examination not recognize it. After writing an A paper of what it is but not recognizing it when they hear it and this has happened over, time again. Phasing me almost out of the university is what I do many times if Takemitsu or someone else comes through. I don't ask, "What is it?" I usually ask, "How good is it?" Of course no one ... no one has anything to say. All my doctoral candidates have nothing to say how good it is. And that's wherein the problem is in our particular time. So I think a whole new value system has to come about. No one is really fighting for Steve Reich. You're writing about him, but you're not fighting for them, you know. You pick the London Sunday newspaper and see that idiot write some glowing article on Stockhausen again. The way it was at one time. Really going out for it and really, you know ...
Names, who are the names, where are the names? I only know two names: Bunita Marcus and Jo Kondo. Both absolutely different, absolutely nothing to do with each other. Those are the only two names I know. And very envious of things in both. I'm envious of Jo Kondo's lack of dependence on instruments. That he's picking out notes without instruments, which for me is inconceivable. Unless I know what instrument is playing a note, I don't know the note. But he writes these cra ... you know these beautiful ... And very very unusual type of way of working and thinking.
The big problem is, and one of the problems we're going to face this week, especially having composition discussions in a sense is that ... what develops that particular instinct to give someone's research or what one wants to do artistically in their music a certain degree of validity. What the great English psychiatrist Ernest Jones and his wonderful book, biography on Freud has a marvellous section on how did Freud know and how could he find the cause and effect, you know. And he talked about Freud as this mineralogist who knows that platinum was platinum and gold was gold and this and that, that instinct to know. Again that sense of material, in a sense what's needed. But not what's needed in terms of a society or a social structure or, you know, writing for your professor or writing for an arts council or writing for an audience. You see how to write without that given and still come up with, you know, I understand that if we dig long enough we're going to come up with something in this town. [laughs]
So how we do that in our own work is essentially the big problem today. Not what's happening in Cologne and what is Cage doing these days and where do you think things are going and that kind of business. Because what we've been talking about for the past thirty years and evidently things have, went really nowhere because it's essentially the same names, it's the same reason. And if it's not originality which is a determining factor then what, how do we explain the phenomena of what music travels and what music doesn't travel? Outside of thinking of it as either a Jewish or a homosexual conspiracy [laughter] against the composers in Chicago or Montreal for that matter in Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires can't figure it out at all because the music has everything the music has rhythm. Has everything, it doesn't travel. The minute ... someone told me that even the music of Montreal by the time it reaches Toronto - it's dead. [laughter] Very important factor. In other words, if you say originality is not the factor then you can't complain if you don't travel. I hope we cover and argue and discuss this. Where is the criteria? I give a seminar about once every three years and the seminar is called "What's allowed and what's not allowed". In it I tally on the blackboard all the boogie, all the fantasies all the notions, all the hallucinations that the graduate students think is either allowed or not allowed. And it's actually a very fascinating thing.
Okay you've been very patient with all my serious ramblings. Thank you.
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