Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Look At Another Venus

The astonishing man was Ravel, of whom we always think in terms of lush orchestrations. He was a very fine pianist, and—with the exception, I think, of his Piano Concerto—he always wrote his compositions as piano pieces first of all. Then he orchestrated them. I find this very curious. If I’m writing an orchestral piece, I write straight for orchestra. But Ravel, who was one of the greatest orchestrators of all time, and the musician I admire most of all, performed what I think was an extraordinary operation on almost everything he wrote.

I’ve never much liked orchestral music. I haven’t heard a great deal of it, but I’ve had opportunities to hear it and because I’ve never felt any engagement with the form I’ve never followed up on most of those opportunities.

On the other hand I’ve always loved small groups, things like chamber music, where you get to see traditional orchestral instruments in simple settings, playing music where you can watch and listen to individual musicians playing parts and follow the individual voices. I love all stuff like that.

I wonder what the future of orchestral music will be?

For people who like it, to my eyes the future looks bleak for at least two reasons.

One is that some advanced synthesizers now can automatically generate orchestral scores. That is, an 88-key keyboard can be sectioned off into octaves and when a musician plays something on the keyboard, parts in the low octaves will be played by orchestral instruments with a low range and keyboard parts in the high octaves will be played by orchestral instruments with a high range. This can happen in real time and, after a piece is played and recorded, a musician can go into the score and manually rearrange things however they choose. But I strongly suspect commercial pressures to get music written and recorded will cause musicians to work quickly and simply accept default choices made by the machine with little tweaks here and there. So, orchestral music as a true expression of an individual composer’s personality will vanish, and be replaced by orchestral music that just exemplifies a composer’s superficial style choices.

A second reason is that as people are raised with simplistic art and entertainment, their expectations change and their very thinking about art and entertainment changes. A friend of mine once read “Atlas Shrugged” and when he finished he said he didn’t think it was good or bad, just another novel, but he asked me, “Why was it so long?” He said he kept on imagining the story could have been over after each section, rather than keep going to a new sequence of events. I said the story is plotted something like an orchestral piece of music, where each character has his or her own theme and conflict and story-arc and the themes and conflicts mirror each other and illuminate each other and everything plays off everything else, a sequence of small crescendos building to the actual climax where the main transcending themes are resolved. He thought I was nuts, and he thought I was just rationalizing, just making up excuses for Ayn Rand’s—in his eyes—arbitrary decision to make the novel so long. As more and more people never develop the ability to conceive of complex art and entertainment as fun and satisfying in a personal way, fewer people will create it and those who do, I strongly suspect, will approach their work in a very insular way, isolated from the mass-market, from pop culture. And without feedback from participation in the overall culture, art and entertainment becomes vastly less than it could be, even if it is created sincerely.

Or so it seems to me, at least.

I think the future of orchestral music is disco.


Linda went off to a new age workshop
and before she left we went to dinner
and I said, “New Mexico sounds peaceful
but everything I’ve heard about these things
is that the so-called ‘workshop day sessions’
are just a socially acceptable
excuse for people to hook up for sex.”

Linda made a face and sighed a big sigh
and said, “You think everyone thinks of sex
all the time just because that’s what you do.”

So Linda went off to New Mexico
and instead of coming back late Sunday
she came back early Friday afternoon.

Linda said, “You know I hate to say this
but oh my God I can’t believe how right
you were about everyone having sex.
We were supposed to be talking about
meditation but at every session
people would pair off or join up in groups
and the only thing people talked about
was whose room haven’t they done it in yet.”

I asked her, “And did you have a good time?”

She made a face, sighed, said, “I drove to town
and spent the whole week in the library.
At night I drove back and locked my room’s door.
Finally I just quit and came back home.”

I said, “At least you got some reading done.”

She said, “Air fare. Room and board. Car and gas.
All that money and I sat reading books.
Do you know how much that fucking week cost?”

I pointed at her. I said, “‘Fucking’ week.”

She said, “I said you were right, I was wrong,
you don’t have to rub it in. Oh— Shut up!”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Another Venus

Fluorescent Lights On A Book Of Shadows

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