Aporia as Parataxis or "I had one of them once but the wheels came off."
In 1983 I received a letter from Stanley Trachtenberg about a book he planned to be "the authoritative work in defining the Postmodern influence," asking if I'd be interested in contributing a big essay on "postmodern" music, "to explore the continuities and discontinuities that have emerged during the past two decades." Although the focus of his planning was deformed by capricious publishers and the project eventually scrapped, I continued to think about what I might have written, wondering especially about whatever could be meant by "postmodern". Unfortunately my reading found little if any remote agreement on what it was and who was concerned. Considering these past decades, could one really after all outline something, regardless of what it was called, that would trace a different way of thinking and making in the arts? For some of us looking over our past thirty years of composing it is curious - and entertaining - to find how thoroughly the past tends to become past. Was it really all that different? What happened to all those exciting ideas, to the spirit of those times? Where did it all go?
Historian Geoffrey Barraclough suggests that as the opening of the period of "contemporary history...the end of 1960 or the beginning of 1961 is as good a date as any." Might not the generation which came to adulthood in the 1960s, "Born into a world in which...the major questions will not be European questions" but global relationships, without "the illusion that Europe retained the dominant position it had claimed in pre-war days" have been that which brought something correspondingly different into the arts?
Post hoc judgment is seductively easy; one can
demonstrate anything one wishes by selective retrospect. Even with this caution in mind, by a
"what's happening?" choice of concerns and events of the time which I
felt to have become landmarks - a kind of strategic hindsight, perhaps - I was
able to convince myself that the idea of such a current could be
supported. In 1959 Ornette
Coleman's performances at
There is but one kind of language, one kind of method for the verbal formulation of "concepts" and the verbal analysis of such formulations: "Scientific" language and the "scientific" method.
A useful metaphor might be George Rochberg's: "1960 to 1965, the period that saw the apex of the whole efflorescence of new music." Paul Griffiths, however, is of a different mind:
At that point (1960) the history of music may be considered to have reached an end...it became no longer possible to speak of a unified thrust of musical endeavor; only the most tenuous links of aim and method exist among the composers who dominated the 1960s and 1970s.
It seems evident now, from our present position of hindsight, that, efflorescence or end-point, what many of these signposts mark is the rise of an increasingly workable new approach in the time arts, perhaps the first breakthrough in esthetic thinking since the development of associationism from empiricist philosophy. Here was a challenging new apparatus, not just for composition but furnishing powerful directions also in dealing with the nature of music, of any time art. The scope of this paper will not permit detailed exposition of this, but a summary can certainly be useful.
I have discussed elsewhere how the
poetry of Stevens, Williams and Olson establishes what is termed "objectism", affirming a world-view in which, to cite
Thomas DeLio, "Reality is constituted in the way
in which one appropriates the things of the world for oneself,"
and, in music, the phenomenology-based work of Thomas Clifton, in which music
is real only as it is the result of a human act. Music may be process rather than result; any dramatism may be a function of process instead of
"content". A sonic event is
itself, as it happens; "form"
Some of these compositional approaches are no longer regarded as "experimental". Occasional score samples of this music now appear in text books of 20th-century survey, although usually given fairly short shrift. The particular directions would appear to have received the official imprimateur as subject for scholarship - the books by DeLio, Mertens, and Nyman, Heidi Van Gunden's biography of Pauline Oliveros, the article on ONCE in a recent issue of American Music - although the usual historical exposition is curiously similar to that of the old "How-jazz-came-up-the-river" format. We find student composers drawing upon such by-products as extended instrumental resources and spatial notation, although this generally comes second-hand rather than from familiarity with the "classic" literature of the period and the ideas behind it. Morton Feldman complained of this "revisionism"
that most composers who claim to follow him have turned his techniques into mere sound - producing processes; they are not themselves motivated by the inner conception of sound that has generated his own technical innovations.
But this can hardly be held up as popular success. What happened to this new esthetic? can we discover why writing music and thinking about it in these terms failed to catch on, to establish itself? why we don't hear much music as this?
I proposed that partial explanation can be found in considering two points. The first of these is the unwillingness of many composer, often those of considerable influence, to accept the seeming denial of an apparently accultured need for order, of proportion, of hierarchical structure, to let go, metaphorically, of the edge of the pool. Much of the music we are discussing simply has nothing to be compared with in its premises an their audible results; dealing with it in terms of un-related and non-matching past assumptions - what Leonard B. Meyer terms "covert causalism" - fails because its function, nature and process are so alien to these assumptions.
An excellent example is that of European response to indeterminacy, anathematized until the discovery that process itself could be used to methodize chance, to order disorder. The new music could now be shown to affirm and expand the old concepts, particularly those which Mertens cites as "The exclusive musical perspective found in dialectical teleology." Some entertaing samples can be cited. About Zyklus, Stockhausen says:
Thus one gains the impression of moving in a circle, always tending toward greater freedom (clockwise), or greater fixity (anticlockwise),in which nevertheless at the critical meeting-point the two extremes embrace inseparably...
And about Klavierstuck X, Herbert Henck explains:
Thematic structure in this piece, then is the relation of DISORDER and ORDER. They should not appear as mere OPPOSITES, but should rather enter into ASSOCIATION with one another, should be MEDIATED. This mediation of a pair of extremes is fundamental for STOCKHAUSEN'S understanding of SERIAL COMPOSITION.
Xenakis discusses stochastic ideas with an interviewer thus:
...the law of large numbers implies that the more numerous the phenomena, the more they tend toward a determinate end: the first rule of determinism, the first time that a strait-jacket had been placed around the problems of chance......
... "aleatoric', in fact "musical improvisation", means that one leaves the choice to the performer. For myself this attitude is an abuse of language and is an abrogation of a composer's function.
Paul Griffiths mentions "Mediation between the determinate and the indeterminate" as a "concern~ in Berio's Circles. This thinking is not solely European. A recent article by Thomas Clark is titled "Duality of Process and Drama in Larry Austin's SONATA CONCERTANTE." Even presumably informed critics can miss the boat, as Mertens saying "Cage reduced the traditional dialectical opposition between form and content into the opposition of silence and sound..." John Willett tells us that "In a metaphysical sense music never changes: it always portrays the play of the Relative against the ground of the Absolute." And summoning science to one's support is always assumed to be a winner: "Musico-dialectics are implicit in our biological form and in the physiology of the brain..." One seldom finds objections as clearly articulated as these of Michael Tippett:
The endless dualisms of spirit-matter, imagination-fact, even down to that of class, have led to a position psychologically where modern man is already born into division, and his capacity for balanced life seriously weakened.
In circumstances in which composers of influence grew increasingly concerned with commitment to the technical - Darmstadt (and, later Princeton) post-classic serialism, numerology, as Fibonacci series and the golden section, stochastic method and Markov chains, fractals - indeterminacy and the thinking behind it, was unacceptable in principle as well as practice, with the exception, as we will see, of the possibilities of close control available in repetitive and phase pieces. Much of the most respected music of the time draws on the assumptions of what David Schiff calls "high modernism," the composers of which "sought an autonomous, non-referential musical language. If the goal of the experimental composers was transcendence, the goal of High Modernism was immanence." "Music has to have [for Ives and Carter] the complexity of natural phenomena - or of cities. And it has to be intellectually challenging as the best poetry or philosophy." We need no further evidence than our own school's student recitals to recognize the enduring tradition that somehow esthetic validity is thought directly proportional to performance and conceptual difficulty. The end-product (so far) of this direction is presently the 1980's British so-called "New Complexity" - work by Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, Richard Barrett, James Dillon, and others - in which the "actual musical content (...is implicit in the notation, but not identical with it)." Music which anyone can do is tacitly stigmatized as childish, even foolish. A reader's note accompanying the rejection of one of my early articles grumbles about "the consideration of real poetry and real music alongside of pure kitsch in equally serious terms in the examples." Work involving chance is similarly lambasted.
One might imagine that the idea of music as being sounds produced without the intrusion of human will is as near as the art can be taken to the edge of the crevasse of cynical nihilism.
Acceptable doctrine for composers takes varied guises.
Music composition may be described as the definition and creation of relational elements. In such a view, the composer forms hypotheses about what inter-relationships are then imbedded in the music for listeners and analysts to discover.
Given this point of view, it is not surprising that the "experimental" position has not flourished. In Paul Griffiths' book New Sounds, New Personalities, interviews with twenty younger British composers, these presumably chosen by Griffiths as promising future potential, the index produces an interesting order of mentions of composers: Schoenberg 18, Stravinsky 17, Stockhausen 16, Boulez 15, Mahler 11...and so on down to Cage 4, Cardew 3, and Wolff one, all but one of these latter from the same interview (Gavin Bryars, included perhaps as the token anomaly?). And since student composers-to-be are studying with this generation here and abroad, affirmation of this position should be no surprise.
My second speculative answer to what became of the "experimental" ideas deals with the rapid development of a critical methodology and thought which has assumed and taken over the function of theory, growing from the nature of particular music and its premises. Nineteenth-century music and its approaches established the function of the critic as being, in the words of one of our time's best, to
separate in his own mind the personal charm or brilliance of the executant from the composer's material and constructions...It is not surprising, therefore, that the criticism of music and of the theater would be vigorously practised in the daily press and widely read.
This of course continues today, but it now coexists with another position, arisen in turn from the nature of high modernist thinking.
They [the critics] saw each fusion of sensibility not as a process but as a separate and definitive trend or movement, thus creating the illusion of a concrete poetry movement, a pop art movement, a happenings movement, a fluxus [sic] movement, and so on...In many cases the critics retreated into theory that had little or no relevance to practice, at least no relevance to the practice of the only time they knew at first hand - the art of the present.
...in the last ten years or so, the critic has had an incredible amount of power in settling the terms through which artistic practice is supported theoretically and therefore grounded aesthetically - to the point now where a lot or artists attempt to situate their work, to establish its importance, simply by capturing certain critical positions or terms in the way a chess player might capture a rook...
Much of this is reflected in critically approved labels and terms. We don't yet have for "serious" music the carefree proliferation of rock, which can review a record as "Amphetamine-powered over-the-top hardrock/punk/metal," but we are closing in on it. "What happens is that the term gets started by some critic who puts it in an article. Another grabs it and sooner or later it catches on."
Inquiry about consistency and precision of critical terms (distinguishing surf music from hot rod music, maybe?) may seem foolish, but we have been led to believe that in talking about music, particularly about analysis, we should use presumably accurate terms: as in the previously cited lines from Babbitt, "scientific" language and the "scientific" method. As an almost immediate example of how a term can become blurry and fuzzily understood, consider "minimalism", along with performance art and improvisation perhaps the most lively residue of the experimental movement.
La Monte Young, whose claim "that the entire minimalist movement came out of my work" is certainly of substantive weight, defines the term as "that which is created with the minimum of means." He continues that the label seems to him "inadequate. Someone wanted to tie it in with the movement that took place in the visual arts and the term came up." Mertens, writing in 1980, recognizes "a general trend for which the title minimal music is only an approximate description" involving "extreme reduction of musical means." His comments on the analogy with the visual arts suggest that
Young's music undoubtedly parallels in sound the treatment of color by certain American painters like Newman, Kelly and Noland, whose works confront the retina with vast color areas that produce unexpected vibrations that appear to pulsate,
this clearly appearing to consider only the post-1962 drone/tuning works.
In reading the statements made about minimalism in its early stages by graphic artists, one finds premises which are not long retained in musical analogues: monumentality, "a more rigid spatial structuralization within art as well as by art," "new notions of scale, space containment, shape, and object"; it can include both an Oldenburg giant hot dog and a David Smith cube.
A row of panels on a wall owe the possibility of their existence in the selected form to the presence of the wall, just as the pattern of our own existence is determined largely by environmental factors.
Involvement with process, already explored by John Cage, from the use of chance means as such in composition and performance to a vehicle for affirmation of political polemics, produced an extensive range of expository apparatus for "minimal" material. Compare a "classical" minimal piece such as Young's Composition 1960 #7 with his Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches of the same year, in which all parameters are pre-determined by chance means. The Poem is of particular interest, being as far as I know the first work in which the duration of the piece may "be any length, including no length," thus a lead-off for music to works, generally relating to the early 1960s Fluxus movement, about which we may apply Gregory Battcock's comment about the graphic arts that "Indeed, it must be understood that by not doing something one can instead make a fully affirmative gesture." A case can be made for Cage's 4'33" as an ancestor, but what happens visually here is, as I understand it, subordinate to what happens audibly, to what one learns about hearing. In this work each instrument's nature persists as itself, unlike pieces in which instrumental or performer function, directly or by implication, is from the beginning altered or denied: Young's Piano Piece for David Tudor #1, many of George Brecht's compositions from Water Yam, as "SAXOPHONE SOLO".
Ways of exploring limited pitch material appear in varied guises, as Christian Wolff's fully notated virtuoso exploration of four pitches in Trio I (1951), Joseph Byrd's Agnus Dei (1961), Robert Ashley's in memoriam...ESTEBAN GOMEZ (quartet) (1966), Pauline Oliveros' A-OK (1969), Howard Skempton's Piano Piece 1969, and James Tenney's August Harp (1971) and In the Aeolian Mode (1973). "Strictly speaking," says Mertens, "the term `minimal' can only be applied to the limited initial material and the limited transformational techniques the composers employ." The problem here involves the phrase "limited transformational techniques" and the particular "techniques" of repetition. Simple repetition as in Young's X for Henry Flynt (1960), may be expanded into a treatment explored by Morton Feldman's Piece for 4 Pianos (1957). The classic example is Terry Riley's In C (1964), now put forth as "minimal" by some despite its 53 different rhythmic patterns and use of 17 different pitches. With the discovery that by placing repeated pitch patterns in some sort of hierarchic phase arrangement, whether additive or permutative, composers had a means of regaining traditional control and ordering: Steve Reich says "I want to be able to hear the process happpening through the sounding music." As the formal possibilities of this are extended, repetition/phase construction assumes a variety of disparate results, some of considerable complexity and formal difficulty (as the full version of Gavin Bryars' Out of Zaleski's Gazebo (1977), for two pianos seven hands). Yet all seem now cheerfully lumped into the category of minimalism, including even that referred to variously as "meditative music", "trance music", "lovely sound music". And if this weren't enough, we are now given the terms "postminimalist" and "neo-minimalism".
I selected this particular term, not
because it's any more blurrily defined and applied than any other, but because
it represents a kind of music which, developing from and altering post-1950
premises, has survived into common practice.
With baroque music and rock, it provides background music for television
commercials, sharing it would seem the popular appeal of a steady lively
continuous pulse, use of a few closely related key areas, and repetition of
simple diatonic line fragments.
Curiously enough, the general sound ambiance of some recent
"minimal~ music ("the new world of techno-minimalism") 
resembles that of several of the 1950s
..critical examination of the purposes and possibilities of musical minimalism in the light of other non-dialectical developments in both the history of music and the history of philosophy and psychology.
This leads conveniently into the second of my two points of discussion, the development of a new role of the theorist merging with that of the critic, setting up the terms into which the artist places him/herself. With the growth since the second world war of new approaches to music and its esthetics came a parallel growth of theoretic activity, generally coming from the serial "scientific" directions in such pioneering journals as Die Reihe and Perspectives of New Music.
Over the past thirty years or so, music theory has been following a trajectory, familiar to us all, of increasing formalization and increasing use of mathematical methods, led by such thinkers as Milton Babbitt, David Lewin himself, Allen Forte, Michael Kassler, and Benjamin Boretz.
The concurrent tendency in experimental music to eliminate stylistic boundaries, to mix "media", with the resultant setting aside of the old rules, left a vacuity of traditional criticism which could not be filled by application of the formalized and mathematical theory, drawing as it did upon new approaches to order, rationality, teleology, the dialectic: in short, by the criteria of High Modernism. Because of this vacuity, experimental music criticism has been gathered into a speculative critical apparatus growing from work with the other arts, often drawing upon, as Potter suggests, philosophy and psychology.
Much of this apparatus has transplanted not only from the ideas of a couple of European Crackerjack-box novelties in literary theory but also from their language. A familiar note is struck by Jerome Carcopino, writing about late Roman literature:
The matter of the passage was considered wholly secondary to the function of the words which conveyed it, and the perception of reality to the form of the statements which vqguely allowed the meaning to peep out between the lines.
Wide-spread borrowing of terms from classical rhetoric is daunting enough, but what can be said about adaptations and inventions? In the preface alone of a recent critical book (mostly about literature, but how can you tell?) I found `fideology', `maieutics', `ludic' `imbrication', `nugacity'. I have tried to summon some of this atmosphere in the first title of this paper. The second title is a phrase I first heard in the army, produced as comment whenever during conversation some reference came up which the hearer felt to be hopelessly and pretentiously "highbrow". The growing quantity of music being written has been paralleled by a similar expansion in quantity of critical literature; rare today is the major university without at least one critical journal under its imprint. As Benjamin Buchloh says, "affiliation with institutional (academic) power has distanced critical practice from the concrete products of the aesthetic practices with which it was once engaged..."
Since Buchloh lays the blame for this problem at the doorstep of the academy, and since most of this Society's membership are still, I assume, concerned, if no longer nominally, at least professionally with the academy, a look at these implications might be useful. The boom in university-sponsored periodicals can perhaps be explained as a result of the same kind of pressure competition that leads to athletic bowl games: if you appear a class outfit your prestige will presumably attract quality students and, of course, quality funding. Further, since publish-or-perish is still with us, a range of available outlets is helpful, although the thought that our students are being conditioned into this sort of writing and thinking is disheartening: the price to be paid in English prose style suggests blood sacrifice. Even student composers are now put to the task of writing language, with the invention of the DMA degree requiring a What I did or How I did it: what can we as their teachers hold up to them as models for this?
But the scholarly periodicals are
merely a less attractive by-product of changes which evoke Henry Adams'
fascination with multiplicity and the exponential: the vast amount of music
being written, being performed in a gamut from the "performance
space" or small gallery to such venues as Real Art Ways and series as New
Music America, even to this conference and its university-based festival, and
being recorded: the latest New Music Distribution Catalogue lists several
hundred "new music" labels.
All this is a fringe of a vast mass-entertainment industry, complete
with personality cults, with the continuing possibility of instant riches and
with the proliferation of synthesizing and computer playthings whose half-life
before obsolescence is ever shorter. The
acceptance in higher learning of the business-industrial model of operation
assumes students as customers in a market willing to pay for a product, and it
becomes a job to furnish what they want.
The range of music activity available in university instruction includes
options perhaps not even invented in the 1950s, from swing choir to
ethno-musicology. An entertaining
illustration of what can go wrong is provided by a highly-regarded west coast
university which, responding to student pressure, inaugurated a course in Black
music, hiring a world-class specialist from
I will ask your indulgence if I lead
up to my conclusion with a digression.
Watching a cricket match in
We obtain power over circumstance by making as well as hearing. For composition or performance we learn the notation, the sacred symbols, and can thus do what is ritually required to make the sounds; each can become shaman in charge of the offical personal affirmation of the symbology. By thus assuming this power we impose our own order, and order is, as I have discussed elsewhere, usually held to be good, held to be a force for morality.
The American arts have always had a
tradition of re-inventing themselves in response to the question, perdurable as
crab-grass, "What do we do about
As this music was more extensively known, it became part of a gradual decompartmenting of style and of the arts themselves. The present result, variously labeled "crossover", "experimental music", or simply "new music", became a seamless continuum which could include pop, jazz, ethnic music, sound-text, intermedia, citation, dance, graphic notation, performance art, even "mainstream" and "international style", and of course all manner of electronic resources. The audience for concerts of this music has also diversified, including film makers, painters, writers, dancers as well as musicians and all walks of fan.
A survey of this existing practice will turn up disparate chunks of 1960's sound images and processes, but the ideas behind what Leonard Meyer called "radical empiricism" that animated these do not appear with them. As long as the music had to be regarded as "different", rooted in premises non-accountable by any current common practice, it could stand with its own original terms. This "difference", sometimes articulated now as well as in the '60s as protest, is presently transmuted in the academy into the tension between what the student wants to learn and what we think s/he ought to learn. Even with the premises submerged by "revisionism", the presumptions of "new music" remain inimical to "high modernism" and its accepted, largely technical, common practice. As Barraclough puts it,
The emergence of literary and artistic forms capable of expressing the results of half a century of rapid social change was retarded - and is still in many respects retarded - by persistent attempts to salvage remnants of the old culture and graft them on to "the new world of technological anonymity.
And I am discouraged that what currently purports to be replacing these remnants is that would-be ciritical apparatus which I hope I have successfully pilloried as pretentious foggy dicta imposed with lack of concern with, misreading of, and simply ignorance of, the concepts in which much of the last thirty years in the arts is rooted.
 "The generation born around 1940 and after never experienced the culture of deprivation and this opened the possibility of seeing the injustice of American foreign policy, racial discrimination and poverty as signs of the moral decay of late capitalism," Stanley Aronowitz,"When the New Left was New," The 60s Without Apology, eds. Sonnya Sayres, et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984),p.42.
 Interview with Cole Gagne and Tracy Caras, eds. Soundpieces: Interviews with American Composers (Metuchen, NJ: The ScarecrowPress, 1982), p.338. A workable survey of the varieties of this "efflorescence" in jazz is Michael J. Budds, Jazz in the Sixties (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1978); comments on the "New Music" appear in the preface to Valerie Wilmer's As Serious as Your Life (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill Company, 1980).
 Cf. David Rosenboom on "paradigm shifts". "Cognitive Modelling and Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century: A Prolegomenon," Perspectives of New Music 25: 1 (Winter 1987, Summer 1987), p.440.
 Herbert Henck, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Klavierstuck X tr. DeborahRichards (Koln: Neuland Musikverlag Herbert Henck, 1980), p.7. Cf. also ibid., n.71: "[Painter Mary] Bauermeister's characteristic `Glaslinsenkasten' also draws for an essential part of its tension upon the contrast of maximum order, as it is given in external square or rectangular forms, and the strong brimful inner life, the result of a statistical arrangement."
 Dick Higgins, "Postmodern Performance: Some Criteria and Common Points," Performance by Artists, ed. A.A. Bronson and Peggy Gale (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1979), p.177.
 Rosalind Krauss, in "Discussion: Theories of Art after Minimalism and Pop," Discussions in Contemporary Culture, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle:Bay Press, 1987), pp.75-76.
 La Monte Young, cited by Brooke Wentz, "La Monte Young, The True Minimalist," OP Y (July-August 1984), p.48.
 Mertens, op. cit. p.11.
 Ibid., p.15.
 Gregory Battcock, Introduction to Minimal Art (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1968), p.20.
 Ibid,. p.26.
 Ibid., p.32.
 Well codified by George Brecht, Chance-Imagery (New York: A Great Bear Pamphlet, 1966).
 Battcock, p.26.
 Mertens, p.12.
 Steve Reich, "Music as Gradual Process," originally written in 1968, Writings About Music (New York: New York University Press, 1974),p.9.
 Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, "Discussion: Theories of Art after Minimalism and Pop," p.66.
"Maverick Composers Make Their Own Choices," The New York Times.
"Why is it New Romanticism in the
 Bob Doerschuk, "Keith Emerson," Keyboard 14:4 (April, 1988), p.84.
Keith Potter, "Musings on the minimalists," Classical Music,
 John Rahn, review of David Lewin, "Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations," Journal of Music Theory 31:2 (Fall 1987), 305.
 Jerome Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, tr. E.O. Lorimer, ed. Henry T. Rowell (New Haven: Yale University Press, sixth edition 1971), pp.112-3. Criticial articles and books tend to discuss "the politics of" or "the poetics of" (the latter rarely about poetry); one recent example is The Politics and Poetics of Transgression.
 Ihab Hassan, The Postmodern Turn (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1987).
 Buchloh, op. cit. p.67.
 Discussed - and piloried - by Nicholas E. Tawa, Art Music in the American Society (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1987).
 Excerpt played from Gino Robair Forlin's "Raoul y Anselmo", for rock trio and gamelan.
 Barraclough, op. cit. p.252.