the "what" to write about hasn't exactly changed. It's just there's a ton of reading to do for a couple of these projects and for some of the other stuff a lot of watching cartoons.
Which is to say between now and March 11 I might be watching a whole ton of Samurai Jack. Writing about animation is one of the things that happens here. Batman: the Brave and the Bold is going to get some attention but it's going to take a month or so. This month there's the Lego Batman film and supposedly a new release by Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle, which is temporarily impossible to find any showings for in Seattle.
I'm trying to soak up a bunch of Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Emil Brunner, some of Gann's writing on John Cage, and a few other things. I finished a book by David P Roberts on the total work of art in the European avant garde, which was a fascinating if at times diffuse read. Still not quite done with Taruskin's gigantic Oxford History of Western music but I've got 3.7 of the 5 books read through, I think. I've been rereading some of Leonard B. Meyer's landmark books.
I'm also experimenting with a ragtime fugue for banjo and guitar. I've written bits and pieces here in the last year about ways to manipulate durational units within the syntax of sonata form and ragtime form to arrive at a fusion of ragtime with sonata forms. I'm doing something sort of like that with ragtime vocabulary and contrapuntal procedures this year.
Ever since I read that there was a Blind Willie Johnson tribute album I couldn't bring myself to listen to it, just read about it. I've loved Blind Willie Johnson's music since I was a teenager and I've loved Blind Willie's work more than Robert Johnson's stuff or just about any other blues performer from the pre-war period. Not that I don't like other singers. I like Patton and Hurt, for instance, and Lonnie Johnson did some amazing stuff with Armstrong and Ellington besides his own charming work. But Blind Willie Johnson's work has been a touchstone for me. So I've been incubating a guitar sonata that doesn't attempt to cover any of Johnson's catalog and bears no direct resemblance to his stuff but draws on his guitaristic approach--it's going to be refracted through a whole lot of Bach and Haydn, though, and some Joplin and Monk.
I'd write more about the possibilities of a fusion of ragtime with sonata form but to do that I might need to soak up some more theoretical stuff on music. Gestural manipulation across styles and languages of music must be a field of study but sometimes it feels like the identity narratives can stifle musical exploration at a more technical level. If you're not already a fan of Haydn or Clementi on the one hand and of Joplin and other ragtime composers, then I could try to explain the significance of regarding structural repeats as essential rather than redundant to understanding the manipulation of associative memory for hybridizing forms. For now I'll just say that the further away I get from German 19th century pedagogical concepts about what sonata forms "ought" to be, the easier I find the possibilities of synthesizing blues, ragtime, country and jazz vocabularies into sonata forms. The very idea that sonata forms are somehow obsolete or that 19th century guitarist composers didn't master sonata forms because they didn't approach sonatas like Beethoven is something I've rambled about before.
If you choose to think that you can't write sonata forms inspired by Hank Williams Sr or Stevie Wonder choruses or Blind Willie Johnson songs then it's a matter of course you won't be able to do those things. the snobbery on both sides of the high/low divide can be aggravating. People who are into blues might quote John Lee Hooker saying that you don't need fancy chords or nothing, you just need a big beat. Sure, and I love Hooker's stuff and his ability to vary 12/8 vamps is marvelous!
Years ago when I ... wrote that bad review of Andrew Durkin's Decomposition, one of the things I found weak was his insistence on the limitations of Western musical notation. It's a pedestrian point to say that the Western notational system only conveys so much. And yet last year Ben Johnston's strin gquartets got released, recordings of works defined by microtonality and just intonation. When a composer can hear the difference between tones that are one cent apart we're talking a rarified ability to hear thesmallest differences in pitch. If a string quartet with thousands of discrete pitches can get recorded the canard that Western notation is so limited turns out to be a canard. It'd be one thing to say that blues and jazz performances traffic in microtonal nuances that are perceptible to the ear but not considered WORTH the trouble of commiting to meticulously accurate notation we can say the music is generally predicated on folk idioms and live performance and leave it at that. But if we've done that then trying to mystify notational systems is a waste of time.
I was on board with the idea that even the most solitary artistic work is ultimately a social endeavor. It's just a shame Durkin didn't fish more for examples of contextual collaboration. The most explicit case study of consciously chosen contextual collaboration in the Western art music tradition would be someone like Haydn or Mozart, knowing enough of audience receptivity to pander to their interests. Haydn was direct in saying he constantly gauged audience response and revised his work according to what audiences enjoyed and steering away from effects that alienated them. When one of the most famous composers in the Western canon plainly states that giving audiences more of what they tell you they want by their applause it would have been worth it to quote that composer. I'm biased, of course, since I love Haydn's music.
And yet I keep getting older and still don't like a lot of Romantic music. The 19th century composers I find I do enjoy (Chopin, Mendelssohn) tended to be into Bach. They also tended to be Bohemian or Russian more than German.
I've been thinking of writing a bunch of stuff in response to things by Roger Scruton and others at the Future Symphony Institute. Their abjection of pop music in some of their pieces is more than just annoying. But I'm not sure I'm going to tackle that just yet. This is still incubation time.
And there's a lot of music I've been trying to write. Ever since that controversy where Yale said they wouldn't have jazz and that jazz wasn't part of the Western musical canon that set me off. I was unhappy with Yale's approach but also unhappy with the pro-jazz reactions. Why people seem so set on snobbery for one and against the other when both styles are as inextricably bound up on Western musical art as first and second practice in Baroque music is beyond me. We've got another version of first and second practice in musical art. If jazz has brought back or rediscovered the art of composing via improvisation on standard grounds that was once characteristic of Baroque music I say make MORE people learn how to play jazz. The idea that you can't teach jazz, anyway, seems idiotic to me. It's actually offensive because the kind of essentialist narrative that claim has to presume needs to be examined for the kind of racist essentialism that it is. If you put the shoe on the other foot and tried to walk a mile in it you'd have to actually agree with Wagner in his claim that Jews couldn't write decent music because they lacked soul. This gets to another problem I had with Durkin's book, you can't attack the idea of authenticity as some abstracted notion of a reified performance or score o fa particular work, you have to attack authenticity as the social contract of club membership as to who is or isn't legitimately on the team. Stereotypes about how soulful and intuitive jazz is will miss how abstract, esoteric and thoughtful it is. There's a whole lot of Romantic era detritus emphasizing music as if it conveyed the feelings of the composer or musician rather than bein ga shared game of associative memories and memory-building. Music is a game of cognition that can, ideally, engage both hemispheres of the brain. Unfortunately the partisans of this or that style of music seem pretty hell-bent on emphasizing just one hemisphere over against another. The Western avant garde overdid the left hemisphere, so to speak, while pop music has overdone the right.
But I've rambled enough at this point.