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  For and against new music  CT News at 15:40 on 09 July 2008

Two interesting features in the guardian website today. First an all out attack on new music by Joe Queenan:


and a reply by Tom Service


  Re: For and against new music  Misuc at 17:43 on 09 July 2008

We've got to admit that Joe Queenan's got half a point, haven't we? Most new music does actually sound truly horrible, doesn't it? Or at least hard to take - or much, much too 'easy'. And what was in Tom Service's mind to stuff some piece of ever-repeating wallpaper noise into the soft ears of anybody who tries to read his 'defence' of new music? With friends like this..... Both the attacker and the defender seem to be confusing the question of whether something is any good or not with whether or not it is mass-marketable. If we could agree that this was the criterion we needn't bother or reading the Guardian, still less going to the concerts: we could look up the answers on the FTSE index.

  Re: For and against new music  Nicolas Tzortzis at 21:56 on 10 July 2008

I read both the stories and I have to say that mr.Queenan is tha sadest excuse for a journalist I have ever read.
Someone once said:99% of everything is shit.I do believe this to be true.
99% of baroque music is ...
99% of classical music is ...
99% of romantic music is ...
and yes,99% of contemporary music is ...
and 99% of articles written around the world is...
I believe that mr.Quennan's article is actually part of this 99%

PS.and there's no reason why i should explain why I feel this way.I shall follow mr.Quennan's example and not give any justification whatsoever.if we follow this wise man's line of thinking, if you don't like it,than it has NO RIGHT to exist.

  Re: For and against new music  captainmiki at 02:33 on 11 July 2008

My friend Nicola
By quoting someone who said "99% of everything is shit", you come across as a misanthrop. Surely though, EVERYTHING is shit. Just drop that 1% and you'll become a misanthrop Pro, like me. Its not a bad way to get ispired. And it definitely helps making the existence of Mr. Queenan or any kind of musical establishment quite irrelevant. In fact it makes you turn into someone who wants to eat their old self in search of something new. Then, you might temporarily find beauty in the way the human mind works. Actually liking human beings. Enjoying the passing of time.
How confusing.
I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.


  Re: For and against new music  cStark at 19:24 on 22 July 2008

Well I don't think it needs to be pointed out that Queenan cannot count as a new music expert, as he considers composers like Glass, Tan Dun etc experimental composers.

Then follows that really bad example about the Berio performance. He doesn't mention in one word that Sinfonia is a collage work, put together from citations and adaptions from Mahler, Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel, Strauss and so on. So there's nothing, NOTHING "horrible" in the harmonic structure.

Taking 'a sea of old men snoring, a bunch of irate, middle-aged women fanning themselves with their programmes, and scores of high-school students poised to garrote their teachers in reprisal for 35 minutes of non-stop torture'- in one word: taking the comfortable-numb-mentality from 90% of an abonnement audience as an excuse for dismissing new music from big concert halls at all, is like dismissing Becketts or Kafkas or Joyces works from library bookshelves because most of the people don't understand them. Ignorant, isn't it? Because some people actually like not understanding something and having to think about it - It could take them to new perspectives, just like new cultural developments, experiments and thoughts have always led some people to new perspectives - like Kepler, Freud, Marx, Einstein, Marcuse and so on. But apparently they haven't been noticed by Mr. Queenan.

Okay, then I read on and on and on - only to find that the author tried out some stuff about new music: 'I am no lover of Renaissance Muzak, and own tons of records by Berg, Varèse, Webern, Rihm, Schnittke, Adès, Wuorinen, Crumb, Carter, and Babbitt'. Wow - we should call him a genius. Buying records is indeed an extraordinary accomplishment. Okay, we don't need to give him virtual hugs and shoulder-tappings, he does that to himself: 'I consider myself to be the kind of listener contemporary composers would need to reach if they had any hope of achieving a breakthrough.'
Actually: No, I don't want to reach ignorant numbnuts, who
a) are not able to listen to music in concert and instead like to observate the audience for any kind of aversion
b) actually wonders about some philosophy Mr. Slatkin seems to fulfil by integrating contemporary American music in his programmes. Little Joe (Queenan) doesn't understand this as a quality, but thinks of it as a curiosity.
c) completely underscores his stupidity by stating that 'the best America can do is John Corigliano and Philip Glass and the dozens of academics who give each other awards for music nobody likes'. Hmhmhm... anybody ever heard of John Cage and Morton Feldman? No? Oh... what? Oh okay, they're just some of those no-brain academics nobody likes, right?

However, I managed to get through the article but I think I don't need to say anything more that hasn't been said yet by Tom Service.

  Re: For and against new music  Ben Mueller-Heaslip at 03:07 on 27 July 2008

A certain market for demanding new music can always be found among brash young urbanites, but this audience is not large, nor well-heeled. Moreover, it is by no means certain that the affection for new work survives one's youth, when sonically grating music is mostly a way of antagonising older people. The central problem in writing music targeting hipsters is that even hipsters one day stop being hip, and get replaced by hipsters who want their own brand of annoying music.
Yup. He's got kid psychology nailed: they're brash, they're bad, they're bitonal. What's the stage past clueless?


There is a fun game you can play by turning the descriptors upside down to find the true encoded meaning of an article (like playing the Grateful Dead records backwards). In this case certain = general, new = old, urban = rural, etc. Enjoy the above paragraph in inversion:
A general market for accessible old music can always be found among polite old rural people, and this audience is large and well healed. Moreover, it is quite certain that the affection for old work survives one's death, when sonically soothing music is mostly a way of placating one's children...

  Re: For and against new music  MartinY at 10:04 on 15 September 2008

Nicolas Tzortzis raises an interesting issue over the old provocative statement that 99% of every musical genre is garbage. Somewhere on my bookshelf it says this idea originated in a New York Times review by their science fiction critic, Sturgeon, who pointed out that it does not matter that 95% of science fiction is garbage because 95% of everything is garbage.
I have recently spent a lot of time playing from newly available baroque and classical original prints, new editions and manuscripts by obscure composers. It is true a lot of this stuff is just meaningless note spinning which really is a waste of time playing. In just a few cases the composer is technically incompetent as well as unimaginative. However there are also some real gems, so I think the 95% figure is a bit of an exaggeration. Some of the pieces you think, well that’s okay to play a couple of times a life time, but I certainly would not want to hear it in a concert.
However this majority of mediocre music does have at least two purposes. You need a bit of relaxation from the best music, which can be so gripping and involving that you need a bit of the poor stuff to wind down and put the good stuff in context. Also the poor music is a research resource. As a composer I spend a lot of time discarding ideas. One continually has to think, is this bit of music good enough to proceed with, or is it for the litter bin? And yet do we have any real idea of what makes a piece good or bad. All formal attempts do so end up with something like a Schenkerian Analysis scheme, which does not really do the job. How can we explain why a simple Mozart piece is marvellous and something ten times more complicated is a total failure? So the slush pile, or whatever we are to call it, is a huge research resource, to examine how to write a good piece, which is incredibly difficult. Anyone, including a computer, or the notationally illiterate, can write a piece of music, but a good piece is a different matter. Also the quality of a piece of music is very context dependent, another issue for another time.