idiot music


Picture 1Composer JC Combs commented on my Facebook page, “Your works are not easy to play. Only an idiot would think that.” He’s right. But what’s interesting is my music would probably be taken as the work of an idiot by folks who feel that nearly every note has to have a dynamic, articulation or some other marking specified. The above is from the piano work Mists by Iannis Xenakis. Not a bad work, and certainly looks more complicated than this:

Picture 3

This is the first page of this piece intentionally left blank, which is an open instrumentation work. See that single metronome marking and dynamic at the top left; that’s it for the entire piece. With the exception of a few sixteenth notes near the end, this is as rhythmically diverse as it gets: straight sixteenth notes that go on for around ten minutes.

Same with the recently premiered bs piece:

Picture 4

Now, I’ve written plenty of music that looks just as formidable and “acceptable” as the Xenakis excerpt above, certainly back in the late 70’s and early 80’s before I was unplugged from the matrix:

four landscapes for six instruments (1978-1979)Picture 5

ineffabilities (1980-1981)

Picture 6Ouch-scary stuff. Now, I love all the music I’ve just referenced, complex or “simple” on the face of it. What matters in the end is the music itself, not how many nuances are communicated to the performers or how difficult the notation appears. Anyone who has performed my “idiot pieces” knows how incredibly bitchy they can be to play, both technically and interpretively. My personal bias is that I don’t need to give a huge Rosetta Stone to performers in order for them to figure out how to play my music. They’ll figure it out, and place their own stamps on the music in the process. And many of my rhythms even within an “idiot piece” can be extremely difficult to pull off:

zichron (2009)

Picture 7

two rhythmic spaces (2009)

Picture 8Any of a number of new music composers are writing “idiot pieces” on a daily basis, music that looks unrefined, “simple” and akin to the work of a novice. These folks include Steve Reich, Philip Glass and predecessors like Cage (particularly some of his early piano works like In a Landscape) and Satie (pretty much everything he wrote was “unrefined”). My point is that you don’t have to, and even shouldn’t, write music that is designed for the academic complexity crowd. Been there, done that. My music is difficult enough, and the world doesn’t need another Xenakis, Ferneyhough or Boulez (I can barely follow some of his scores, and after awhile I think to myself “why bother?” and go do something else).