Thursday, July 09, 2009

We tweeted about it

Last night's dialogue started off in reference to a comment the great Gunther Schuller made in this interview (which you should also read):

uglyrug G. Schuller: "I wanted to write music that is not written in any way to entertain someone, even though I hope it will be entertaining." Huh?

jimmuscomp @uglyrug he hoped people would enjoy his music but didn't try to write likeable music. He hoped the audience would elevate to appreciate it

uglyrug @jimmuscomp But how could he expect people to enjoy it if it wasn't likeable?

jimmuscomp @uglyrug He didn't TRY to make it likeable. He wrote what he wanted and HOPED people would like the result. It's a fine line.

jimmuscomp @uglyrug His process wasn't cluttered with concern for audience reaction. But like all composers he wanted his music to be liked.

uglyrug @jimmuscomp But if he wanted it to be likeable... why didn't he try to make it likeable?

jimmuscomp @uglyrug He hoped it would be liked but he didn't want to inadvertently censor himself to be liked. He wanted to bring his audience to him.

uglyrug @jimmuscomp Is trying to make something that is likeable the same thing as being inauthentic, then?

jimmuscomp @uglyrug No. Different folks have different concepts. I have a tendency to simplify thing because I am in a Univ. setting and want it played

jimmuscomp @uglyrug I have to remind myself to write what I intend to write regardless of playability or audience reaction.

uglyrug @jimmuscomp But surely, on some level, you "intend" for some % of the audience to like it? Even if that % is only you, the composer?

jimmuscomp @uglyrug BTW, this is hard to do in 130 character bursts!!!

uglyrug @jimmuscomp Yeah! I'm trying to do it while watching the news. (BTW, Olbermann quote (on Palin): "Twitter rhymes with quitter.")

jimmuscomp @uglyrug I do try to write things I'd like but sometimes it's about writing what's in your head. Good line from Olbermann, BTW.

kctiner @uglyrug @jimmuscomp you guys are cracking me up.

uglyrug @kctiner @jimmuscomp Yeah, that was fun.

jimmuscomp @uglyrug @kctiner that was fun. Now on the road back to Bak-O. Boo-hoo.

Who says twitter is good for nothing?


DJA said...

He hoped the audience would elevate to appreciate it

I realize that this is a paraphrase, not what Gunther actually said. But sweet jeebus is that ever a condescending frame to use to think about the people whom you would like to see spend their hard-earned money on, and/or invest their precious time listening to, your music.

Vikram Devasthali said...

Mr. Schuller's comment speaks to me of a deep seated fear that all artists grapple with, I think: that, having poured one's all into the creation of a sublime and original work of art, it might go unappreciated. This sentiment is not unique to artists, of course; anyone who has ever dolled herself up for a big date is intimately familiar with this feeling. As such, I can certainly see how one might take comfort in righteously turning his back on the audience, especially when so many jazz icons are celebrated for spitting in the face of the establishment. For my own part, though, I wonder if it might not be better to turn and face the audience, to look deeply into their eyes and let their perspective enrich mine as much as I would like to enrich theirs.

Andrew Durkin... said...

For me, the issue here is the assumption that, if a given composition is challenging, or complex, or whatever, that it somehow can't (or shouldn't) also be "likeable." So for the people who are responding to it by going to the concert, or buying the album -- what are they doing that for? Because they don't like the music?

I think there is a difference between, on the one hand, gamely trying to be popular by blindly following some trend (for instance), and on the other, trying to create something that people (not everybody, of course) will enjoy. I think GS conflates those two things in this excerpt.

James said...

Context: He is asked about writing for Broadway, which I think we can all agree, with certain exceptions that Schuller notes later (West Side Story, South Pacific) is commercial music, meant to entertain and make lots of money (see Shrek or 9 to 5)*see below*. He says he has nothing against this type of music per se, but it is not what he set out to do as a composer. He doesn't want to write music that entertains (ie. Broadway musicals) but he hopes people will like his music nonetheless. In this case, he is talking about the difference between commercial music and his own music. Schuller goes on to say, "I hope people will like my music, but the first thing was to write something hopefully, if your talent permits it, that is original and deep in all of its expressive capacities and that is well put together, and that makes a statement—music that has an idea."

I really don't find anything to argue with in Schuller's quote. To find this "truth" in your head, ie writing what you hear, hoping that this "truth" is of value to other people. But believing in this "truth" enough to follow it through, wherever it may lead you.

Taking it even further is Bob Dylan. I am fond of this quote and so is my band, Respect.

"To cater to an audience's taste is not to respect them, and if the audience doesn't respect that, they don't deserve respect"-Bob Dylan

***I like Broadway musicals, but Schuller is comparing Broadway musicals to Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. I like Charles Strouse, but he ain't no Bach.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, James. I get what you're saying, but consider this:

Part of my problem with the original quote, underscored by what you've written, is the way the word "entertainment" is assumed to be interchangeable with the word "commercial." I realize this is a slippage that happens in our culture a lot (e.g., Entertainment Tonight or Entertainment Weekly), but these words are not strictly synonyms. "Entertainment" has to do with being pleased, or amused, or diverted. And I have a hard time understanding why a work that elicits those particular responses is assumed to be mutually exclusive from a work that is "original," or "deep," or possessed of an "idea" (GS's words). Why is one "lighter" than the other? (What does it mean for a work to be "light," anyway?)

Of course, I can understand not wanting to be commercial (although I guess that's problematic too, because who among us doesn't want to make a living?). But, aesthetically speaking, I can't understand not wanting (or trying) to be entertaining. Not wanting your music to please or divert or amuse, not in "any way"? Really?

If music is for people to listen to (and of course it is -- philosophically, one might argue that it doesn't really exist until it is heard), then to some extent those of us who make it are in the business of providing enjoyment and pleasure to the world (otherwise, what's the motivation for listening?). We're trying to create something that engages a listener, something that interests, edifies, or moves him or her. Maybe not all of that falls under the category of "entertainment," but some of it surely does.

Pandering is not the issue. No one is defending pandering. I'm not talking about trying to be liked by everyone. It doesn't matter how weird or obscure your musical concept is, or how tiny your audience is -- maybe you're just trying to engage with the three people who listen to the tiniest sub-genre of yodeling metal. But you're still trying to engage. Even if you are steadfastly aloof in your artistry, you're still trying to speak to those people who get off on steadfastly aloof art. Even if you are going for something as serious as cancer every time you write a tune, you're trying to connect with those people who like music that is as serious as cancer. Even if (at the most extreme end) you never intend to share your music with anybody else, you are still trying to engage someone: yourself! In each case, you are in the business of bringing someone pleasure (of a very specific sort).

Why are so many musicians ashamed of that? What's wrong with bringing someone pleasure of a very specific sort? Isn't that noble? Isn't it as worthy as whatever other things music is capable of doing?

None of this is meant as a slag at GS. I believe him when he says he's not trying to be a snob, and maybe it's silly to parse his words so closely given that this was a pretty goddamned lengthy interview. But I did think the comment was interesting. And I appreciate you forcing me to spin my response out a little further!