Listeners who occasionally find themselves listening to new experimental music frequently describe themselves as being lost. Although listeners are in a better position to declare this a problem and do something about it, composers and performers of new experimental music, who are aware of this fact, are also in a position to do something about it. Composers and performers can: (1) ignore this fact and accept as fate that listeners will find themselves lost; (2) strive to make music less new and experimental so that listeners will find themselves in familiar surroundings; (3) avail themselves of advertisers' packaging techniques that can turn anything into a familiar thing; (4) treat performance as a context for teaching - wherein being lost is a necessary and temporary state - by inventing new ways of presenting new experimental music. Response (1) reflects no interest in social change; responses (2) and (3) go along with social changes that are part of the status quo; response (4) reflects an interest in creating social change that goes against the status quo. Response (4): treating performance as a context for learning implies a shift of medium. A shift of medium from music to theater, for example, can be done in such a way that listeners become intrigued by experiment in music. One such project that has not yet been exhausted is Composed Rehearsals. The general assignment for composed rehearsals is to write a scene in which the concert presentation of a piece flips into a rehearsal situation. In the scene, sections of the music that present difficulties for listeners are shown to present difficulties for the performers as well; while performers grapple with performance problems, they give listeners an inside view of the piece. The scripts have to be so written that the quarrels that erupt, the glooms that descend, the debates decided by trying out different versions allow the eavesdropping listener to get an insight into the significance of a piece: to glimpse some of the alternatives chosen and something of the process of their choosing.
*The relation between "interesting" music and "interested" listener is neither trivially simple nor mind bogglingly complex: surprisingly it is the listener who is in charge of this relation when neither the composer nor the music and only minimally the performer can do anything about it *Music should speak directly to the heart; the heart has been staked out as commercial property. Music should speak directly to the heart and bypass the ears entirely. Music should speak directly to the heart and drop that incessant singing. Music can speak directly to the heart only if producers of TV, radio, stadium tours, albums, and manufacturers of records, tapes, CDs, videos, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, instruments, charts, act as middle men and women for music and the heart *People who make music are not the music which people make! People who make music entrust their intentions, preferences, tastes, business senses, experiment hungry curiosity, sentiments, memories, talent, gifts, hopes, by way of their know how and skill and often courage, desperate courage, to the making of the music and - often, not alway - to the so made music. The making of the music is not the music made. And: the making of music is not music made. People who entrust their intentions to the making of music will be rewarded by responses which are different from the responses rewarding people who entrust their intentions to the music made. The brain is asked to accept the following: people who make music try not to make music made; the music these people make becomes music made. Hopeless frustration? No!! Not yet made becomes made at last. That is making and not using. *A person who would compose expects, correctly, that this person's first act as composer would confront the person as an interesting and admirable stranger. The person is, however, incorrectly preoccupied with inherited standards of interest and admirability, and neglects the technical requirements of estrangement. *"Social Change" if, for a change, I refuse to use academic abuse of English as a first language, then I turn pedantic fusspot and, taking my environment literally, I shall ask: When is Political Science political? When is Comparative Literature comparative? when is Physical Education physical? When is Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering or Civil Engineering mechanical, electrical, civil? Overwhelmed by far too many totally ridiculous" yet still unanswered questions, I'll leave them to those who efficiently wheel and deal in practicable codes and profitable advertising, and, shall, instead, experimentally motivated, turn my mind to one non-academic, and one yet, just yet, anti-academic question: 1) When is Change social? and (only after that has been answered or responded to by contemptuous silence) 2) When, and then: how, and then: by whom might the compositional activity, as it creates significance and meaning by choosing and selecting among given or stipulated alternatives in the worlds of seeing, moving, hearing, and last and not at all least, thought-ignited speaking (1anguage, you know?!) at least help, better initiate, at most guide itself, themselves, ourselves, towards concepts, images, projects, plans and strategies, which intentionally false, intentionally ugly, unacceptable, unconventional, never heard of, never seen before, all this in our society as it is and judges, understands, condemns; yet would be true, beautiful, welcomed, easily adopted for daily custom, praised for being new sound, new pattern, new poetry, new body-movement, and paid affectionate respect? So that Change be social, the Change has to penetrate the fabric of daily usage without being popular; it has to provoke street-corner controversy without being vulgar; it has to conquer discos and make them profit from challenging rather than serving their obediently nodding clientele; it has to ignore the snobs; expose pornographically the journalistic critics; and, leaving out a lot of wonderfully attractive attractions, it must: learn to be a deadly expert in the art of calling the bluff of their cliches and brutal commonplaces, and, finding them academically stammering with pompous Ah's and Eh's etc., hint charmingly at their corruption according to their pre-change ethics and morals. *"Social change" is a euphemism, a misleading shorthand for "desired social change", a concept based on the insight that injustices, miserable living conditions, and violence are consequences not only of individual actions but of structures that constrain and induce individual actions. This insight can be applied to the making of music. There are many for whom Iran contra, the invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War came as a surprise. The capacity to be surprised by such events also allows one to be entertained by the maintenance of stability in music: keeping the beat. One can imagine a perceptual phenomenon that is an opposite to de'ja vu: instead of being nagged by the impression of having seen before something one could not have seen before, one is oblivious to the repetition of something one has seen before. *A LONGING FOR LINKS which favors change over stability yet insists that these changes not be improvised but composed in search OF CHANGING FORMS Hierarchies have a bad reputation among Thinking Humans because Thinking Humans were suppressed for too long a time by stable hierarchies. Stable hierarchies inflexibly persuade their members through one-way commands of the desirability of stable hierarchies, in particular the one of which the members are members. when persuasion fails, then stable hierarchies will demonstrate their stability by violence, legally protected crime, and heavily armed hypocrisy. Were it not for Thinking Humans (a minority), there would not have been a problem: most people found and find a way to feel free under the benevolent tyranny of one or the other always promising and never delivering stable hierarchy. The problem arose two hundred years ago. The 18th century was its cradle, the 19th century its stern school years. The 20th century set the stage for the problem's adolescence, and, of course, a worldwide major attack on Thinking Humans. And so the problem grew up, and now formulates itself, for those who ask, in precise eloquence: If I wish to argue with the stable hierarchy of Power, it will not hear me. Even listening to my arguments would lose it its face. Power cannot argue without losing itself. It will respond to violence, yet I, and that is one problem, refuse to use violence. If I wish to argue with the stable hierarchy of Nature, it will not hear me. Even listening to me is unnatural to Nature. Nature contains me, the human, as its only critical counter- friend. Yet Nature cannot argue since it can only report. It will respond to reports, yet I, and that is one more problem, refuse to join the stable hierarchy of "things being the way they are". I'll face reality and facts if they are seductive. If I wish to argue with the stable hierarchies of Beliefs, they will not only deny one another, but also use the logical syllogisms which I use to keep thinking flexible, for denouncing my thinking for being logical. Well, it is. And that completes the articulation and formulation of the problem: If we wish to liberate human societies from the violent inflexibility of stable hierarchies of power, nature, and beliefs, we still must use hierarchies of logics, creativities, imaginations and visions, yet keep these hierarchies not stable, but floating. With floating hierarchies we can argue, play, and, most likely, in time compose human societies where discrimination is a festival while the word "against" will be banned. *If a country music group invented atonal aperiodic country, it would change the meaning of country, and would be a sign of change in the country and would be a change toward creating an atonal aperiodic country, and we could begin to imagine there were no country. *It is one thing to search for events that will produce the sound one wants, and quite another to discover the sound of the events one wants. In the first case the wanted sound renders desirable the necessary event; in the second the wanted events are the standard for the desirability of the resulting sound. These are not only two different approaches to the composition of music, but also two different political attitudes. *You're being just like that piano piece. How so? "Handshake: Brutus Etude." Rick Burkhardt. I know which one - with the trills. How so? It wasn't just trills. Remember? The pianist stood up and said "A ranger and a poacher met in a forest-" Of course it wasn't just trills. There were alternations with minuscule exchanges of elements among the alternating - There were various textures. It's just that the trills sort of took - - alternating sides. Two-fisted trills. Elements change hands, as it were. Trills have also been called shakes. True ... We were talking about me. Can I take your orders, or would you like a couple more minutes to decide? Oh, right. I'd like ... let's see ... um ... We still need a couple of minutes. The point is, it wasn't just shakes. Far from it. It's just that the shakes sort of take over. In memory. There were various kinds of textures, the shakes were just one of - "Hemming and Hawing" - don't overlook that. And then they don't even discuss poaching! I think it was "hamming and hewing", actually, and - - Wait, I have the program right here. - what they agree on is "'Abortion is a complex and multifaceted - "' OK, here it is. From the beginning. "A poacher and a forest ranger unexpectedly ran across one another in the well-trampled underbrush. After several minutes of grandiloquent hamming and hewing, they seized one another by the hand and exclaimed simultaneously 'Abortion is a complex and multifaceted issue!' After which the pair parted forever, going home to each other's houses, to sleep in each other's beds, and to murmur dreamily into the ears of each other's husbands how lovely it is to have finally reached an agreement." Oh. That changes everything. I had thought - How are we doing here? Are you ready to order? *The composer of music is in a position to effectively initiate, in the system composed, an algorithm analogous to the algorithm the composer would like to see initiated in the system which contains the composer. The task of aesthetics, be it the composer's or the listener's, is to determine, speculatively, whether the analogy implies, at least structurally, events of contemporary relevance in the system called environment; whether the composer was motivated by a vision of what would be desirable processes in that person's contemporary society. It is not of primary importance for aesthetics whether everybody or even anybody agrees on the desirability of the processes implied by a work of art. This is rather the subject of political considerations. Political considerations, however, all too often remain without tangible substance because the contemporary significance of individual acts and decisions is ignored and thus never properly evaluated. Any research of an aesthetic nature that fails to discover what, at a given time is believed to be true and real, and what at the same time, is desired to be or to become true and real instead, fails to give food to political considerations and thus, simply, fails. *I am working with a group called the Performers' Workshop Ensemble which is teaching a class in the Fall of 1994 at the University of Illinois called The Need for, and the Traces Left by Experiment in the Arts, in which students are asked not only to study technical, formal, and social experiments, but also to make experiments. This class follows a related ensemble-taught course (student-teacher ratio approximately 12 to 7) called Composition Between Disciplines, which was offered three times between 1991 and 1993, in which relations between (1) a social critique of the power of language to determine seemingly free interactions and (2) various approaches to composition in a variety of media culminated in a student-written, -designed, and -performed House Theater, a form and forum for experiments with the format of performance which was initiated in 1985 by Susan Parenti (as a digression from work on her dissertation, "Self-Reference and the Language About Music") and Candace Walworth (a former member of the then recently split-up theater collective the United Mime Workers), and which involved me and other members of the PWE and other members of various communities in Urbana and Champaign in the creation of a non-University, non-commercial context for mixing experimental music and political satire in a lived-in setting, making use of the doors windows stairs porch kitchen bathroom of a rented house in Urbana to create a quasi cabaret atmosphere with small cafe tables, flowers, candles, coffee-can clip-on lights hooked in the frames of windows and doors, and tea wine juice cider snacks served in intermissions, so that people might by turns be entertained by coming to an understanding about something, by seeing and hearing something not yet understandable, and by being asked to take another look at something we understand all too well. Playing with the form of House Theater is a manifestation of the interest in experimenting not only with the composition of music but the format of its presentation, which was discussed and then tried and toured by the Performers' Workshop Ensemble, which took its name from the Performers' Workshop, initiated in 1979 by Herbert Briin, a professor of composition in the U of Ill School of Music, and students who wanted to make a context where performance broadly construed would be made the narrow focus: not merely playing "right notes" "well" or, worse, "expressively" as might be the subject in lessons, but rather trying out answers to such questions as how to walk on stage, where to stand, how and whether to bow, how to draw distinctions asked for or implied by the score, how to deliver a sense of these distinctions in performance, and how to formulate performance instructions to give to one another and oneself so as to observe and learn the consequences of trying out an instruction. I sit down. Noticing that though all the computers are occupied, someone is donning a jacket, wrapping a scarf, gathering books, getting ready to leave, I nod needless thanks and sit down. I dawdle at the bookstore near the only open computer site, and, tired of dawdling I dislocker my bag disenter the store descend the steps to the room where, noticing that, though all the computers are occupied, someone is donning a jacket, wrapping a scarf, gathering books, getting ready to leave, I nod needless thanks and sit down. The poster at the coffee shop calls for letters, calls, email to the government to protest the treatment of political prisoners. The US government. American political prisoners. I memorize the numbers and try to write a letter in my head Dear, no, To whom, as I dawdle at the bookstore near the only open computer site, and, tired of dawdling I dislocker my bag disenter the store descend the steps to the room where, noticing that though all the computers are occupied, someone is donning a jacket, wrapping a scarf, gathering books, getting ready to leave, I nod needless thanks and sit down... Try beginning a history with the present. *Is reward-oriented use of criteria always commercial? In 300 years (or more) the language used to speak and write about music has remained nearly uninfluenced by the changes, gradual, sudden, absurd, and radical, in and of music. why? If every context is part of the environment, does it follow that every environment is the context of an action? Is our brain helping the music, or is music helping our brain? if both, then when which? What is, socially, legally, medically speaking the difference between the imposition of smoke and the imposition of muzak on those who can't close their mouths and noses nor can close their ears or control their toes? What's "wrong" in pleasing the people? When is pleasing the people "wrong"? What's wrong with the word "wrong"? When is "wrong" right? *Popular vs. of the people vs. the masses vs. the oppressed: Not the culture industry but the popularity industry. "Popular" is not "of the people". "Mass" is not "of the masses". People are not "the people". Masses are not "the masses". Or could it be that there is no more to "of the people" than popular (pop music, pop art, pop culture)? No more to "of the masses" than mass (mass marketing, mass media, mass appeal)? Commercialization leaves no room for imagining an anti-commercial action, nor for making a non- commercial decision. The commercial model holds that music is to be liked, popular, in, not too far out, not stuffy, but packaged right; listeners are buyers, customers. The customer is always right The listener, by contrast, is continually correcting. In mass culture the attempt is to replace community with commodity. *The premise is that there be music. It is a deliberately stipulated premise. As such it need not follow. It isn't even hereditary. That there was and is music proves, at best, that the premise has been deliberately stipulated many times before, and that it has led to a variety of definite conclusions. The premise-that there be music-is not one of those conclusions. Now, to many a fine ear attached to many a fine brain, the premise, on the contrary, appears to claim: after all those conclusions, it may now be time that there at last be music. Only, however fine the attachments, however indignant the ear-wagging, and however shocked all those appear to appear who hear what only appears to have been said - it is all appearances only. The premise is not even a reaction. Nor is it the valiant expression of free and upstanding determination to start afresh, where there's a will there's a way, and finally succeed where hitherto all have failed. Nor does the premise stipulate that there should be better music or other music, but just that there be music! So the premise is not competitive either, and therefore does not necessarily signal the search for any social status or the embarking on some corrective action. In short: the deliberately stipulated premise that there be music is amoral, non-ethical, non- conformist and asocial, partly in contrast to whoever deliberately stipulates it. For that person is not a premise; that person only stipulates one. The urge to stipulate and the choice of premise are functions of one's views on one's participation in society, and these views, be they affirmative or in opposition, are provoked, if not conditioned, by what happens in that society in the name of morals and ethics. Unfortunately, more often than not, we who stipulate are conformists. Instead of intolerantly discussing only the alternative consequences and conclusions that, given the premise, we now could envisage, again and again we allow ourselves to defend the premise against those who just do not want new premises. And we who stipulate cannot be asocial, regardless of what we proclaim, in that we always find ourselves either pooling with or pitching against society all those strange concepts our premises generate. We are not, nor do we do, precisely what we intend to be or do. In various ways, the environment attaches meaning and significance to our expressions and actions, which inevitably transcends and, in passing, deforms all of our intentions. This process occasionally creates a period in which one becomes all environment, and, unaware of this fact and hidden behind good intentions, one gets stuck. whenever I get stuck, the environment must be changed. An environment cannot be changed by obeying the environment, but only by experiments with deliberately stipulated premises which generate unexploited systems, moments of many alternatives. However, while I am caught in a feedback loop, I cannot recognize a loophole, even if there is one, because the foremost property of such a loophole is its imperceptibility. All I can do is artificially increase the probability of my hitting on a premise that does more than I intended and so might catapult me out of the loop. Thus, it finally must be added that even the most deliberately stipulated premise lacks definition and that it mocks definition if it transcends all intentions. *If you know that many people believe a current lie, do you expose the lie, or the believers? If you want to protest a policy, practice, relationship supported by many people, when do you protest against the policy, practice, relationship and when do you protest people's support of it? If a text succeeds in expressing social criticism, what could music add to the expression without subtracting from the social criticism? Under what circumstances does a piece intended as protest register as protest? what do I do facing the desire to have an effect, on the one side, and on the other side, the danger of being choked and devoured by popularity? Music needs words more than words need music (if the words have a music, do they need another one?) Music can surround a primary downbeat with many more secondary downbeats (and accompanying upbeats) than language can if it is to remain intelligible as language. Thus music can be both shorter and longer than linguistic components. But: music and language converge when a thought has found its briefest expression. How can the criteria used to locate social injustice also be consulted in writing a poem or a piece of music? Analogy: two systems are guided by one structure. To make an analogy: construct a system in relation to another system such that the constructed system points at a structure which both share. How do I begin a piece? 1.1 make an absurd proposition and construct its logic. 2.1 make myself afraid of the cliche' I like. 3.1 anticipate the nightmarish proportions to which simple data can grow. Shall I write a feminist poem about women's issues, or: a feminist poem about architecture, a feminist poem about excuses, an anti-war poem about love of a place, anti-war way of quarreling with my roommate, or an anti-racist way of talking to my parents? Could there be an anti-racist, anti-war, anti-fascist, anti-sexist way of writing music? *Many successful works of art reflect present day reality and facts. Affirma- tive output of our society. They are successful in that they allow us to see our society, as it is embellished and affirmed by the artists and composers whom it favors. Some successful works of art reflect the problems which maintain the sys- tem wherein they are conflicts. Indignantly contrite output of our society. They are successful in that they allow us to see our society, as it is heavily armed against change, under a thin coat of free thought accorded the artists and composers whom it favors. A few successful works of art reflect the problems which assail the system wherein they are contradictions. Affront as input to our society. They are successful in that they allow us to see our society as if it were also another, different, society and, rather than its future, that of the artists and com- posers who favor it. Even fewer successful works of art reflect the desire for, and the rejection of, our society as tomorrow's reality and facts. Utopia as input to our soci- ety. They are successful in that they allow us to see our society as it pre- vents itself from becoming what it wants to be, to see another society which helps itself to what it wants to be, and its future rather than that of the artists and composers who favor it. No work of art necessarily fits only one of these descriptions. Every work of art, however, tells the composer and his audience, whether they admit it or not, to which combination of descriptions it best fits. No description of a work of art necessarily heeds all of the composer's in- tentions. Most of the composer's intentions, however, may be quite irrele- vant for any description of his composition. No composer necessarily plans to have his composition fit any particular combination of descriptions. Every composer does, however, have a share in the responsibility for that combination of descriptions which fits his composition. *The multimodal monoculture neither converses nor discusses; it chats, gossips, hangs out, flips through, watches. (Experiment is disparaged, experimenters ostracized,...) The banishment of play from work forces play to be a relief from work; this makes difficulty not an attraction but at best a sales pitch inflating the value of one's work in order to impress higher-ups. Cultural obliteracy from the spontaneity factory. *Given a thesis or statement which intends to condemn present day reality and facts. Could you argue for this thesis without using present day reality and facts? If used as an argument, present day reality and facts will condemn any thesis which condemns them. Furthermore, an argument which supports a thesis will in turn appear supported by the thesis. Thus it may happen that you support that which you wish to condemn. How could you, without using present day reality and facts as an argument, argue for this thesis without becoming a composer? In the system which perpetuates it, an unsolvable problem is just that.
Herbert Brün: Biography | Writings | Compositions | Recordings | Graphics | Links