Welcome to Glenn's Blog!

Here I will periodically post random thoughts and stories about what's going on in my life and the world around me. As if anyone cared. But seriously, you've found your way here, so hopefully you will enjoy at least some of what I have to say, even if you aren't entirely interested in it. At the least, it should be a good way to waste time.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Music

It's not often that I rant about new music. Certainly, as a composer myself, you would think that I would bear an open mind, and appreciate the artistic identity of it all. We're in the midst of the Festival of New American Music at Sacramento State - the 35th Annual Festival. It certainly has become it's own sort of animal.

Attendance has been quite good this year (as it was also last year), after years of paltry attendance. But it's a whole sort of different crowd that comes to FeNAM. On the one side, there's the whole slew of intellectual types that exude that stereotypical New York avant-garde persona. Even if they're only faking it. And then there's the hippies - original ones from the 60s, now in their 70s, mellowed out by years of rehabilitation from their former rambunctious lifestyles. And then there's the modern-day hippies - those caught somewhere in the middle of their lives in a cloud of marijuana, and tangled up in their own long hair.

And then there's the crazy people.

There's one lady who has shown up every night, talking in a very loud voice about how she parked in this lot and wasn't sure if it's the right lot and is she going to be fine there because she can't afford to get a ticket. You'd think that after I explained on the first night that the 6-story parking garage right next to us is free after 7pm, she would get it and just park there the next night. But no, she parks in a different spot each night and proclaims her location upon arrival at the music building. Sometimes she actually talks at an unsuspecting passerby who made the unfortunate mistake of making eye contact. Sometimes her words just fly out like a snare hoping to catch its next victim.

I have to hand it to the audiences though, they are dedicated. The same ones keep coming back night after night. And the ONLY come to the Festival. You won't see them at any other events of ours throughout the year.

But I said I was going to rant about new music. So, here goes.

Last night we had a string quartet here, and I was really looking forward hearing them. Partly because of their supposed reputation and talent, and partly just because I have long been considering writing another string quartet and was hoping to be inspired.

The first piece was by John Adams, and used harmonics exclusively. I'm not joking, the players' fingers never touched the fingerboards of their instruments. Even in the program notes, Adams was quoted saying that if he could figure out how to produce those sounds without them even touching the instruments, he would do it.

Now, actually, it was kind of a cool effect of interweaving harmonics. But after the first 5 minutes, you got it. After 10 minutes, you were pretty much done with it. But then the piece went on for another 10 minutes past that, just to annoy the hell out of you.

And it went downhill from there. The subsequent three pieces will all bizarre conglomerations of random hits, knocks, scratches, and occasions things resembling notes. To call it music would be false advertising. To call it atonal would be far too generous. Really, no melody or harmony or discernible rhythms to speak of for a majority of the works. We could have given a violin to a three year old and said, "Here kid, scratch on this for about twenty minutes". The end result wouldn't have changed much. You know it's bad one one of the performers quips backstage before going on for the last piece, "Let's go subject them to more sound torture".

To be fair, some people really like this ultra-cerebral style of "music". I can accept that. I can even appreciate it in small doses. But when the ENTIRE program is of the same style as this; well that's just bad programming.

Incidentally, the crazy lady stormed out after the first 10 minutes of the program, loudly proclaiming that if "this is all it was going to be", then she wasn't going to sit through it. Maybe she's not so crazy after all.