Indecision and Indeterminacy

November 7, 2016 at 11:51 am

Everyone seems to agree that this presidential election is unpleasant, depressing, stressful, etc. So if you’re sick of listening to all the political bullshit, allow me to give you some very different bullshit for your listening pleasure!

If you’ve taken a music appreciation class, you’ve probably had some John Cage forced on you. I should point out that I like the guy, and I like musing over and talking about his ideas. At the same time, I don’t actually enjoy listening to his music; I think it’s main value is not aesthetic but philosophical.

Among the many cool ideas he had (I say “cool” because I don’t think it’s necessarily “good”) was to remove the human composer from the act of composing as much as possible. From here he began exploring other ways to challenge our ideas about music composition and creation (and, about ourselves and our social interactions). His piece Indeterminacy is a recording of Cage reading random sentences from selected stories, while his friend David Tudor makes random musical sounds with various instruments.

If the music were more typical, and the spoken words made sense, this recording would be same-old-stuff, perhaps something akin to a children’s story accompanied by music. But since both music and words are nonsensical, our initial response is “what the hell is this?” But, to a non-human, both same-old-stuff and the nonsensical-stuff might sound exactly the same. Who gets to define what is music and what isn’t, anyway?




Einstein on the beach

March 14, 2016 at 10:30 am

1, 2, 3, 4,
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Happy birthday Albert Einstein! To honor you, how about we listen to a 5-hour opera with no plot and no intermissions?

Minimalist composer Philip Glass‘ 1976 opera, Einstein on the Beach indeed doesn’t have an actual plot, but instead presents a repetitive music with counting numbers and repeated spoken phrases. You could say that it musically presents the inner clockwork of the mind of a genius – pondering and calculating things that most people can’t even begin to understand.

Having played a limited number of minimalist pieces myself, I can say that this opera requires the very best musicians. The concentration of mind and strength of muscle required is enough to give most players some PTSD.