|Neovisno je li točan, jedan od najboljih opisa koji nečiji rad može dobiti: kao da su svi svjetski instrumenti i muzičari natisnuti u jedan divovski jukebox.|
While the four concertos for violin and string orchestra that comprise Antonio Vivaldi’s 1723 Le quattro stagioni unquestionably remain the most famous as well as ubiquitous example of music inspired by the seasons, there is a long and illustrious history of other, similarly themed music. A mere 25 years later, Gregor Joseph Werner kicked it up a notch with his 1748 Calendarium Musicum by composing several illustrative pieces for each month of the year, presented in calendrical order. While Werner’s own endeavor is admittedly relatively obscure at this point, his game plan was adopted nearly a century later by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel in 1841 and then again by Tchaikovsky in 1876 in their respective solo piano suites comprised of twelve short movements for each month. Grander still, however, was Joseph Haydn’s elaborate four-part oratorio Die Jahreszeiten, an evening-length work for soloists, chorus, and orchestra which was first performed in 1801. Perhaps the most over the top musical renderings of a year ever realized are the four large-scale symphonies representing the seasons from spring to winter (Symphonies Nos. 8-11) which Swiss-born German composer Joachim Raff labored on for three years between 1876 and 1879 (though they were not composed in seasonal order). But none of this has prevented more contemporary efforts. In the first year of the 20th century, the Russian Imperial Ballet presented what is probably the first season-themed dance music, a ballet with music by Alexander Glazunov. In 1947, Merce Cunningham crafted a completely different season-spanning ballet set to John Cage’s first orchestral score. It is divided into nine sections, and each season from Winter to Fall is proceeded by a prelude, with the initial prelude reprising as the work’s finale. Between 1969 and 1970, Nuevo Tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla followed up his 1965 “Verano Porteño” (a.k.a. “Buenos Aires Summer”) with three other similarly themed works collected under the title Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (or “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”), which remain among his most popular compositions. Wendy Carlos’s Sonic Seasonings, which combines studio created electronic music with field recordings, was released as a 2 LP set in 1972 with each of the four LP sides representing a season from string to winter. More recently, Chen Yi weighed in with Si Ji (“Four Seasons”), a single-movement 15-minute orchestral work from 2005 that seamlessly weaves together four sections inspired by four classical Chinese poems about each of the seasons. So Noah Creshevsky’s expansive 2012 sample-based composition The Four Seasons, which forms the basis of his latest CD release on Tzadik, is hardly without precedent. However, it is one of the most meticulously crafted renderings of this much-traversed concept and is arguably the most elaborate of all of his musical creations thus far.
Creshevsky’s output has been extensive and well-documented on a series of recordings released by Centaur, Mutable, Pogus, Tzadik, and EM Records. For over 40 years, he has been mining samples to create a fluid compositional language he describes as “hyperrealism” in which pre-recorded snippets of music and other sonic ephemera are exaggerated and somehow heightened. Unlike the musique concrète of an earlier generation of composers, Creshevsky’s hyperrealism eschews obfuscation, yet surprisingly all of his sonic materials, despite being culled from myriad sources, seamlessly fit together and yield narrative arcs that are very effective. There probably is still no better primer on Creshevsky’s idiosyncratic technique than the lengthy exegesis of it by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz that we published on NewMusicBox in 2006. So I won’t attempt a detailed analysis of how Creshevsky’s compositional method works in The Four Seasons. But since the present composition didn’t exist at the time of Báthory-Kitsz’s writing, it does require and merit our attention.
The previous recordings of Creshevsky’s music offer collections of miniatures whereas The Four Seasons, though multi-movement, is one large integrated musical statement. It’s something of a summation of hyperrealism, but it also explores new sonic elements. Many of the samples featured herein were created for this recording and feature vocalists and instrumentalists performing material that Creshevsky prepared for them, which then becomes the raw material for his own self-plundering. I would dare say the result is almost orchestral in scope, although clearly this is music that no orchestra would ever be able to perform live.
The larger movements are far more symphonic. The first, Summer, begins with an almost giddy duet between what sounds like a harpsichord and a vibraphone. Then a solo piano is soon interrupted by break-beat-sounding effects that would not be out of place on a 12-inch dance remix. Four minutes in, a violin enters playing Baroque-like figurations—perhaps a nod to Vivaldi—amidst what sounds like a vocal group singing a madrigal, albeit one that has been cut up and spliced back together again. Suddenly a flute joins in, a brief hint of sitar, then brass. It is easy to imagine walking down a city street on a hot summer evening when everyone’s windows are open, allowing us to eavesdrop on a mélange of sounds emanating from people’s homes. Autumn begins with a frenetic cut-up guitar solo. When the madrigal-like voices return here against a backdrop of guitar and mallet percussion they are somehow dreamier and more wistful, like the fallen tree leaves that permeate the autumn landscape. Winter is fittingly the most austere sounding of the four larger movements with its various sonic elements paced out almost like a processional. At some point, fragments that are discernibly like traditional East Asian music take center stage, continuing the overall tone of solemnity. But there is space for raucous festivity as well; this is, after all, the season in which revelers celebrate the end of the year with abandon—so toward the end an Eastern European brass-band takes over. Creshevsky, unlike his season-minded predecessors, ends his account of the year in the Spring, which most other composers take as their starting point, since Spring is traditionally perceived as a time of beginnings. By placing Spring at the end, however, Creshevsky is able to wrap up his largest musical composition to date with a euphoric sound world that constantly renews itself—it is a wild sonic roller coaster ride! - Frank J. Oteri
I think that this release by Noah Creshevsky shows that a collaborative effort of this kind nowadays can have pretty much the same feel than music composed with various recordings that were not made to be together. At least, in the case of Noah, it does. And why wouldn’t that be the same for others? Music is now an international language where traditions collide together in our brains, effortlessly, from one sound mode to another, with structures that do not rely on easily guessed systems, in the ears of a younger generation that will soon produce some of the most exciting music, once the transition is made from the current passive and pseudo-active user of technology (playing a video game with apps) to pro-active and creative user, with persons literally learning their own way through sound at rapid speeds that we can only guess lamely for now. Nothing can replace the chemistry of musicians playing together for a long time, but I find other emotions are being expressed through alternative modes like the one Noah invented with his own modest means.
Yet, some parts on this release sound totally unlike the previous collages from Noah, his hyper-tight and thought out music composition starting, this time, with an almost Autechre-like melody that would collaborate with Frank Zappa, only one instrument following another (harpsichord and piano) with apparitions from an heavy drum, a spoken voice, a saxophone and a violin. Summer has an organic intensity during the first four minutes that I find challenging for my own music, which I made with other types of recordings in levels of harmonies, but often through somehow similar methods of recomposition. Unlike me, Noah is keeping alive his initial discipline of fragments lasting less than a second and he also enjoys pitch shifting a lot of the material to compose his own melodies. The result is both archaic on electronic textures and with acoustics, like a better Frank Zappa with his synclavier (first digital sampler-keyboard) when it is the most synthetic.
I know by experience, not everybody will love this sort of hyperactive and “not ‘really’ played by ‘real’ musicians” style of composition, that is probably done with most enthusiasm and energy when kept for yourself and a few fans, if you don’t want to be depressed by the silly nostalgy of others, but how addictive and convincing this music can be once you get into it. In a way, it is the opposite philosophy of recent choir releases on Tzadik, made out with 100’s of voices playing the same chords at the same time. Here, as usual for Noah, not much harmonic work is being developed here, but the sound is nothing at all bordering on quality new age, it keeps going forward and rarely gets back to the same exact fragment or sequence. The fusion between mechanical keyboards and virtuoso playing is central to all of Noah’s music that I have heard, mostly released on Tzadik since 2000.
There is something specially comforting about The Four Seasons, perhaps it is the confidence with which the music is executed and presented in various tracks that all feel like parts of one big composition. In fact, one ability that I appreciate the most from Noah here is to let go of the instrumentation from one section to another, this way avoiding the Déjà-vu experience or provoking it through other instruments playing the same chords of the previous section, perhaps something that is made possible by this first all-collaborative effort. The album is also a recap of previous releases by Noah and it channels the pleasure of zapping channels unlike any other music by him. Finally, I appreciate strongly how the various isolated voices of the vocal collaborators are put together in the same parts for the most obvious harmonic work in all of Noah’s music yet ; another side that is refreshing from the all-collaborative effort philosophy.
One of the most eclectic, creative and intense releases on Tzadik that is not from the genius founder John Zorn himself. - Vincent Bergeron
|Trained in composition by Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Luciano Berio at Juilliard, Noah Creshevsky is the former director of the Center for Computer Music and Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His musical vocabulary consists largely of familiar bits of words, songs, and instrumental music which are edited but rarely subjected to electronic processing. The result is a music that obscures the boundaries of real and imaginary ensembles though the fusion of opposites: music and noise, comprehensible and incomprehensible vocal sources, human and superhuman vocal and instrumental capacities. Creshevsky's work has been supported by grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and ASCAP. It has been published by Alexander Broude and the University of Michigan Press, released on records and compact discs, and performed and broadcast internationally. Formerly director of the Center for Computer Music and professor of music at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, he has served on the faculties of the Juilliard School and Hunter College, and been a visiting professor at Princeton University.|
|I have been composing electronic music for more than thirty years. Common to all of my music is the use of expanded sonic palettes. My goal has been to create a body of work using a novel but natural, versatile, and expressive musical language. My focus on extended musical palettes mirrors the belief that individuals and societies are improved through broad inclusion. Much of my musical vocabulary consists of familiar bits of words, songs, and instrumental music which are deconstructed into minute fragments, subjected to a variety of electronic processes, and finally reassembled in ways that bear little or no discernible relationship to their original sources. The result is a sound at once nearly human and tangentially electronic, but never fully one or the other. Allusions to Middle Eastern, Asian, and Western sacred, secular, popular, and classical instrumental and vocal music seek to produce hypothetical performers of indeterminate identity--simultaneously male and female, Western and non-Western, ancient and modern, familiar and unfamiliar. --Noah|
A Language We Already Understand: Noah Creshevsky’s Hyperrealism
By Dennis Báthory-Kitsz
We are living in a time of complex and immediate changes, in an ongoing quantum montage of life’s activities: compressed, flattened, and retransmitted in an electronic flipchart of images and sound. Indeed, it’s a hyperreal world, according to composer Noah Creshevsky—and he’s got it sound sampled, cataloged, deconstructed, and remade.
Creshevsky doesn’t carry the credentials of a hyperboundary gatecrasher. Trained in composition by Nadia Boulanger in Paris and Luciano Berio at Juilliard, he is the former director of the Center for Computer Music and professor emeritus at Brooklyn College. An advocate of fellow composers and a man of quiet demeanor, Creshevsky looks the part of retiring theorist nestling down to a future devoted to analyzing The Art of the Fugue.
But not so fast. Creshevsky counts Bach—or more likely Gesualdo and Josquin—among his old friends, but what he is creating with that friendship is a musical presence that pokes a keyhole into the future. Future keyholes too often result in a poke back in the mental eye. But Creshevsky’s two-decade development of hyperrealism jibes with both scientist and author Raymond Kurzweil’s vision of the future and the marketing mentality of the iPod.
The Premise of Hyperrealism
Creshevsky defines hyperrealism as “an electroacoustic musical language constructed from sounds that are found in our shared environment, handled in ways that are somehow exaggerated or excessive.” It sounds like the 1960s mix-it-up performance art era all over again. It’s not, and the composer’s dry summary does the language a disservice. In our recent conversation, he explained that we’re already familiar with the language he uses: “Soundtracks and commercials are the best examples. That’s where hyperrealism is found routinely. If you take the best moments from good movies and you close your eyes, you’re hearing a collection of music, sound effects, subverbal utterances, verbal utterances—the whole soundtrack. It’s useful to substitute the word ‘soundtrack’ in certain sentences in looking at what kind of a world we live in.”
Here are some of hyperrealism’s salient features:
- Just as the acoustic palette includes the sonic results of a body of instrumental techniques, the expanded hyperreal palette incorporates the sonic results of the rest of the world. That is, it expects that the real world will be sampled and distilled into a vocabulary of sounds. These sounds may be unique to a composition or become part of a common vocabulary.
- The expanded palette is most successful when the source material is from a shared real world—whether that means “natural” sounds (such as voices, birds, or wind), naturalized sounds (tire squeals, instruments, or footfalls), or adopted sounds (horns, cellphones, or electronic toms). Obviously, original electronic sounds are not among the shared.
- The expansion of the palette demands sounds and abilities presently outside the normal human expressive and muscular capabilities. Hence there must arise the superperformer. The superperformer lives in the technology of the composer (although if Kurzweil is to be believed, that will change for composer, performer, and listener).
- The expanded palette and the superperformers must be realistic. The transformation of sounds beyond the recognizable disguises the shared nature of the sound and removes the commonality out of which hyperrealism draws its strength. The expanded palette is edited but not processed.
The test of any musical language is whether it is capable of diverse, deep, and convincing expression while at the same time maintaining intellectual integrity and accessibility to a wide range of participants. In the case of hyperrealism, this test is ongoing. Even though listeners are used to the hyperrealism of television commercials, video games, and movie soundtracks, in the case of so-called “pure” music, there is a need to get used to the expanded palette in order to throw off the reaction to the music as funny or trivial—or seeing the hyperrealism beast as a one-trick pony being painted in different colors.
In Creshevsky’s case, the getting-used-to requirement is met in each piece, as this is not music that can be expressed within the boundaries of a three-minute tune. From the tightly coherent, five-minute Born Again to the twelve-minute hyperdrama Ossi di morte, the work traverses a detailed sonic landscape without repetitive exposition or hooks.
In fact, the maddening difficulty in deciphering Creshevsky’s architecture derives in part from the orchestration of samples. His music must be absorbed in chunks in order to become one with the hyperreal approach, without resorting to a linear analytical process that the music will defy.
What does that mean? First—and this is one of Creshevsky’s critical premises—is that there is no rush. Unlike concert-hall music of the pre-recording past, this music can be heard over and over again. Second, we have become used to the complex hyperreal but have not allowed it to its rightful place within (choose your adjective) serious, art, or nonpop music.
Indeed, Creshevsky says, “Those soundtracks are organized in much more complex ways than we organize a string quartet, because we can include a string quartet as part of it. There’s the music part of the soundtrack—and then there’s all the rest.” Composers have tended to exclude the rest as outside music, he contends. As for average listeners, “There’s very little classification going on. They don’t listen and say, ‘Is this tonal or atonal?’ because the music is often not tonal if it’s in a horror movie or a science fiction movie or mystery scene. They don’t ask if it’s a live orchestra or synthetic. They don’t differentiate if it’s really music or just part of a soundtrack—an overall sound experience. And they don’t distinguish between styles. They don’t care. We don’t care.”
In some ways, he has yet to expand the palette to include what might—as a parallel to total serialism—be called “total hyperrealization.” His music is spacious, but there is no use of spatial relations; works exist in timbral and pitched worlds. In fact, his frugality in terms of creating space is surprising. Likewise, his dynamics are for the most part conservative. And finally, the regularity of events is often in sharp contrast to the flexibility of the palette. One step at a time, perhaps.
Man & Superman
The opening work, Variations (1987), bring to mind the Diana Deutsch experiments in sound perception. What carries the continuity? Event position? Timbre? Melody? Are you sure? Can you follow the variations? (Can I? Not ab initio.) Yet within its cloud of samples, there exists a piece that, stripped of its color, might be a modernist etude for piano.
Within the same context of playability exists the following year’s Electric String Quartet, made with samples and voices. Again, questions arise. Why a string quartet? Why superperformers? The work is almost playable, but in here another element intrudes: implausible perfection.
Says Creshevsky of perfection, “We’re accustomed to that. We live in a hyperreal world. They’re already removed from the concert hall because nobody plays that well, with such power.” Do listeners accept a recording with mistakes? “No, they don’t. They won’t. They resent it. We have a right to expect [perfection],” and that expectation, he insists, shows the path to hyperrealism. “Once you’re writing for recording, you’re not limited.”
There’s a burr in Creshevsky’s voice. “We live in an overpopulated world. We live in an information-rich age. It’s a positive thing. There’s enough. And look, there’s a record! And this did make a difference in how people listened to music. So a high point in a piece doesn’t have to come a second time. If you want to hear it again, you simply put it on again.”
The classical idea of repeating the exposition is totally obviated in a world of recording. “It’s being stingy,” he says. “A penny saved is a penny earned, and it winds up being a big jar of pennies you don’t know what to do with. You’re not actually saving anything. ‘What economy of means!’ As if this is self-evidently a virtue! And as soon as you say, ‘What did you save? Why is it a virtue?’ you’re really hard-pressed to know how to answer. And the motives can become annoying—unless you do it to the point of mania like the Grosse Fuge. I think the Grosse Fuge is about human fallibility. It’s just barely playable.” (Here Creshevsky’s fascination with the barely-playable reveals itself.)
Sha (1996) makes a successful legato from different samples. He alludes to the Renaissance with Josquin-like pairing of voices and—before departing for other realms of verticality—harmonies reminiscent of Gesualdo. Twice (1993) is quasi-operatic and very linear, with a hint of how Charles Wuorinen’s orchestration reworked the songs of the “Glogauer Liederbuch.” And in the title tune, Who (1995), “romantic” materials arise before breaking out by sample division. Again, it’s hard to associate without thinking of Klangfarbenmelodie (even Creshevsky has used the term) but with the melody audible. It plays with associations—”brass” chords at same level as other chords give them more drama by position. Organ and timpani drive traditional expectations where the context does not jump off the recording. By the time the listener arrives at the composition et puis (1998) —music that is most successful because the composer does not get trapped in orchestral expectations—the method and energy of presenting events can suggest styles such as country dance and bluegrass.
Gone Now (1995) reiterates a Creshevsky compositional pleasure: the use of early music harmonies (and implications) in a non-functional guise. What is unique and significant is that Gone Now is reminiscent of what Eric Salzman hinted at but turned away from in The Nude Paper Sermon, but never exits the tonal door for Michel Chion, nor makes reference to Stockhausen’s Stimmung. The listener conversant with contemporary nonpop expects this, but it does not happen. Perhaps the use of sliding samples militates against typical tonal expectations. Voices, strings, pennywhistles, harps, horns, trumpets, noises, electronic tones—interrupted by points of stasis—curve around to the 13th-century Notre Dame motets with intervening dissonances (Dominator-Ecce-Domino or Pucelete-Je Languis-Domino) and points of purity. And then the listener laughs—Scott Johnson pioneered this with John Somebody, but that is not Creshevsky’s path, either. The samples follow the composition and vice versa. They are integral.
And then, with Breathless (1997), Creshevsky hits another wall. Hyperrealism fails when the speed of recorded voices is manipulated, as we are so familiar with them—they are too low or too high, like a tape recorder that’s been too slowed down or too sped up—and the timbre collapses. Creshevsky understands that this is a delicate border—”I transpose them within what I regard to be a realistic range, so that they don’t turn into chipmunks”—but his perception and this listener’s, at least in this instance, are quite different.
In the more formal Jacob’s Ladder (1999), an organ continuo pulls the outlier elements together in a manner that will recur in later works, which also includes vocal syllables, rising/falling scales, and strings. Freed of modernist confrontational proclivities, it develops clearly and inevitably, with directions down and up in contrast.
Each of the remaining compositions—Canto di Malavita (2002), Vol-au-vent (2002), Hoodlum Priest (2002), Novella (2000), and Born Again (2003)—reveals a security with hyperrealism. It is no longer a manifesto but the language Creshevsky sought.
Jubilate (2001) exists in several versions: the one on “Hyperrealism” with the real and hyperreal voice of Tom Buckner, one with Beth Griffith, and a unique live performance with both Griffith and a cello part derived by Craig Hultgren. With mewls and gutturals and slides and purrs and gasps and gulps, it is a Creshevsky piece that cannot be heard first among his work, for its Flemish/Italian hybrid harmonies are lost in the sound effects—effects which reveal rather than intrude. Though the composition is good-natured and joyful, its elegant shape invites listeners in ways that the composer’s other works challenge them.
Among Creshevsky’s unreleased recordings are Cantiga (a 2003 revision of a 1992 work), reminiscent of and contemporaneous with Nic Collins’s ambitious but less crafted Broken Light for modified CD player and string quartet; the almost Wagnerian I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (2004), a hyperdrama with melodic lines, harmony, and samples as leitmotiven that are torn away as if Creshevsky were saying, “I am done with these sounds”; and Psalmus XXIII (2004), in which pure vocal sounds combine with gasps and cries in modal monody evolving into tonal counterpoint.
The Compositional Process
Creshevsky’s working methods are, by his own description, straightforward. “I always start the same way—I start by sampling,” he says. “Sampling is like photographing. You hit the shutter and you take a little moment of something. I take very tiny moments.”
He classifies the samples. In Hoodlum Priest, for example, he classified the samples by sung notes, gurglings, languages, and other criteria, making key maps along the way. The samples are transposed over a realistic range. “I organize the material. I make a palette.”
Creshevsky re-emphasizes the qualifications for his palette. “Hyperrealism involves collective reality. That’s a changing thing. The cellphone—when I first heard it in the dentist’s office, under nitrous oxide at that—I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’ That was years ago, when people were first using these phones that didn’t have bells in them. Now they’re a synthetic sound that’s become part of our collective natural environment.”
But Creshevsky never simply quotes material; rather he collects samples of fragments from which he builds short sections, similar to the way a screenwriter might use blocks of images to construct a storyboard. Once these sections have passed through the computer assembly and editing process, he writes about each section on an index card with tempo, sonic elements, and a description. He maintains one card for each section, discards those which are not satisfactory, and puts them in order. He explains, “You’ve got 12 cards in your hand, and you say, ‘Well, look at this one. This one couldn’t come before that one. You’d need to hear this one before you hear that one. This would be a good ending.’ The cards begin to take an order, and ultimately you wind up with a piece.”
Problems and Solutions
With Creshevsky, it’s hard to know whether he’s a chicken or his samples are eggs. The results seem fluid, with the chicken-egg creative process entirely covert, especially his stylistic choices: “It’s postmodernism, isn’t it, where you’ve got these materials. Why not use them? I feel free to write in whatever style I want. The new Psalm is in C major.”
Confronted with the timbral richness and composition-by-composition distinctiveness, Creshevsky finds his defense in the hyperrealism he finds in other media. “When we go to a movie or you turn on the television, you get a different timbre every time. The sonic material is different every time. Every movie is different from the last movie. It is a different movie. But we’re expected to go hear more piano music or yet another string quartet!”
In a recent chamber ensemble showcase, two string quartets played the same movement of a Debussy composition. “It’s that kind of a kill-each-other experience,” says Creshevsky.
The kill-each-other experience of the concert hall has led Creshevsky to another conclusion: that the days of live concerts are not only numbered, but it is already over. The composer lives in New York, surrounded by a vast palette of natural and mechanical sounds, but in an environment where audiences are bored. Concerts of nonpop frequently turn out 40 people. He says, “My feeling is that next year there will be 30— not there will be 50. There’s no sign of the 40 turning into more, and there’s every sign of them turning into fewer.”
Composers need to rethink the basic approach to how they make music. Instead of writing on commission for an imminent performance opportunity from an ensemble, composers’ premier preoccupation should be writing for recording. The idea, he says, is to compose “for the electronic dissemination of music rather than the live presentation of music.”
Electronic dissemination permits and even encourages the open palette of hyperrealism by revealing an unspoken quality of acoustic music: that we are, in fact, done with it. “We are oversaturated with music. We hear more music, but music’s dying, they tell us. It’s the critics who are dying. They have these terrible jobs. These poor critics hate music because they have to listen to the same thing over and over! They have created this self-fulfilling prophesy that art music is dying. But at the same time, you can’t deny that to a certain degree, it is dying. I don’t think music is really dying. I think we hear more of it than ever because it’s everywhere. I think the oversaturation is not to music itself, but to timbre. We’re tired of it. With many musicians (no matter what they say), there’s the deeply held belief that real music is made out of twelve notes, played on a certain limited number of instruments. That’s the oversaturation.”
Putting computers in the concert hall is no answer. “I think it’s barking up the wrong tree,” Creshevsky says. “You sit there with the other 29 people and you watch the guy with the laptop computer. Maybe your seat is in the center, but the balance is not as good as what you’re going to hear at home. Why am I here? I support the work of my friends, but why is it better? The other part of me says that it’s a thrilling experience—this person can play the Chopin Etudes like that live? It’s something fabulous—or they’re waiting for catastrophe onstage.”
However, economic and social considerations mean that having a soprano onstage requires that ongoing work be apportioned to her. “You can’t have her there, sit to the end, and then sing a couple of notes. It’s socially and dramatically unacceptable to have somebody sit around for a whole concert. There’s the visual and the dramatic and the economic!” But in recordings, the situation is irrelevant. Economy of means and the economics of employment are obviated.
He also disputes the virtue of economy of means in a musical context, where thematic elements are conserved and apportioned with care. “This is not saving a tree or the environment. You’re saving a note.” He suggests that the alternative already exists because we live in a hyperreal world. Listeners who scan their radios for something to hear make listening decisions almost instantaneously.
Creshevsky identifies two reasons—reasons that John Oswald understood intimately with his own gloss on hyperrealism, plunderphonics: “One is that you don’t like the timbre, and two is that based on that flash, you know what you’re in for. I’m dwelling on the flash.”
That flash has helped Creshevsky decide to use what’s useful and not to dwell on the Western orchestra. “I started to sample from cellos a couple of weeks ago for a new piece, and I said, ‘I’ve done this!’ And more to the point, ‘I can’t stand to do it anymore.’ This idea of palette expansion means I have to expand my own mind as well as that of the listeners. It wasn’t exciting me, and it ought to excite me.”
Is the palette expansion the future or a transition? In The Age of Spiritual Machines, Raymond Kurzweil posits a future in which all knowledge will be accessible and humans will grow past their sensory and intellectual limitations—perhaps within two generations. He sees advances in fuzzy logic and its successors that will let creative imagination go hand-in-hand (or neuron-in-neuron) with technological contraptions. However, the appearance of the iPod might give one pause with respect to Kurzweil’s dream, for it is a consumption device, where the hardware, the software, and the firmware—the music we will imagine and extend—is in a state of perpetual intellectual lockdown. It is a feeding tube of sound.
Faced with these possibilities, we reach to Creshevsky’s own writings. In a recent article, Creshevsky concludes:
Every act of composition might reasonably begin with a fresh and open-ended consideration of every available sound source. If someone has a commission for a string quartet from a reliable ensemble that will practice, and if this composer has a social or personal interest in giving and attending concerts, then he or she should write a string quartet. But if your quartet is intended to be heard on a compact disc or over the Internet, indulge yourself. Be extravagant. A soprano can provide one solitary high note, if you like, perhaps just there, at the end.
In this interview, Noah Creshevsky expands on his personal challenge to find originality in timbre in a time when our ears are constantly bombarded with the most diverse sounds.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I was drawn to music from early childhood. Every method of infantile persuasion was used to gain entrance into houses of neighbors, friends and relatives who owned pianos. Hoisting myself up onto a chair, I picked out the popular tunes of the day, as well as some of the classical pieces my family had on 78 rpm discs. I also improvised my own “compositions.” Those consisted of unwritten (but fixed) pieces that showed no awareness at all of originality. One day I “composed” a theme that seemed to be my own, only to hear it on the radio the next morning. “My” theme was the opening four measures of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” Even a child can imagine such a simple theme as that. My coincidental connection to Mozart was not (as it may seem) an early example of appropriation, but of two musicians coming to the same result through independent means.
Rochester, New York is the home of the Eastman School of Music. At five, I was enrolled as a student in its preparatory division. I continued my studies at Eastman for nearly all of the twelve years that preceded my graduation from high school. At Eastman, I had lessons and classes in piano, ear-training, theory, sight-reading, music history, and (eventually), composition. Howard Hanson was the director of the Eastman School. Hanson composed music in the “mainstream” tradition. New music as I knew it consisted of solo, ensemble, and orchestral music in the tradition of Hanson and Copland.
I do not think that prodigies exist in creative arts such as painting, literature, and music composition. Prodigies exist as performers—actors and instrumentalists. If there are creative prodigies, I was not one of them. I was a noticeably gifted child whose mind, tastes, and techniques matched the derivative world of the very young. I played the piano well, but did not want to be a concert pianist. I wanted to be a composer who conducted his own symphonies and performed his own piano concertos.
I was no more original than the next gifted child. I needed to be shown that there was a progressive, experimental world outside of my immediate environment. At 17, I left Rochester for the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo. With no early exposure to genuinely new music, I finally encountered it in Buffalo. Once I discovered that there was such a thing as new music, I knew that I would be a part of that world.
When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
During my first months in Buffalo, I encountered Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano, Cowell’s piano music (especially “Aeolian Harp,” “The Banshee,” and “Sinister Resonance”), Cowell’s “Ostinato Pianissimo” (for string piano, rice bowls, xylophone, woodblocks, tambourine, guiro, bongos, drums, and gongs), and the opening movement of Boulez’s “Le marteau sans maître.” These pieces influenced me immediately, most notably through their use of fresh timbres, and also because of their brevity. My interest in new sound sources and brevity inform my music to this day. I do not very much mind long pieces of new music, but my usual preference is for fairly brief works that pack a maximum of power into a relatively short space.
What's your own definition of originality?
Quality is more important than originality. The perception of quality develops over time. As various piano pieces unfold, we form judgments that one piece is better than another. Time allows us to distinguish a schematic Czerny exercise from a richly inspired Chopin Nocturne.
On the other hand, decisions to listen or not listen to a piece of music can be made in a split second. As we scan a radio dial from station to station, a flash of sound is enough to tell us if we are interested in hearing the music that is being played. Timbre (like taste) seems to be a subjective matter, varying from person to person. One listener may love plucked instruments like harpsichords and guitars, while another may not. Choral music is not for every taste, whether the piece be ancient or new. For those who do not respond to opera, hearing more or less of “Tosca” or “Einstein on the Beach” will not make a difference.
I am interested in originality as it relates to timbre. While I recognize that great new pieces can be composed for traditional instruments and ensembles, I try to steadily create new sounds (like Cowell’s “Aeolian Harp”) or unexpected combinations of instruments (like “Le marteau sans maître”).
Additionally, I prefer sound palettes that change often—certainly from composition to composition, and often within the same composition. I call the idea that music can be made from an ever-changing medley of diverse sounds “open palette.”
Once music moves from the social, dramatic, and economic conditions of live concert settings to the open-ended freedom of the recording studio, a flexible, expandable world of infinite sonic possibility becomes a practical reality.
While we routinely (and rightly) expect a new sonic and visual experience each time we see a new film, live concerts coerce us into a full evening of piano music or string quartets (but not both on the same program). An evening of string quartets can be a satisfying, thrilling experience, but electronic music allows a full range of sound that excludes nothing (including pianos and strings) and includes everything under the sun. Freedom is a responsibility to be taken seriously, but access to many sounds is no messier than the composition of a piece for solo violin by a composer with little talent or craft. Frugality of means does not assure quality anymore than extravagance of means assures quality, but it’s exciting to hear a fresh sound and not know what other fresh sound will come next. It’s no small challenge to excite our contemporary ears because we have already heard and seen so much of what can be heard and seen. Still, our ears perk up to timbre. It’s an important tool in the pursuit of originality.
Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
Hyperreality in my music is created either through the expansion and variability of sound palettes or by pushing traditional instruments beyond the mental and anatomical capacities of live performers. The value of originality is neither more nor less important to me today than it was 40 years ago. Given an ideal world, I would wish to have access to high-quality samples of every possible sound. I look to an age in which the sum of human knowledge is freely shared. Art and the human spirit thrive by giving, receiving, and sharing. While everyone is entitled to economic compensation for labor and services rendered, current intellectual property regulations do little to protect copyright holders. Open access to the bounty of our collective histories and cultures can open doors to an unprecedented golden age of creativity.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”—Mae West
West was wise to say, “can be” instead of “is.” Too much is not necessarily wonderful; too much can be terrible, harmful to ourselves, to others, and to our planet. It is clear that we must conserve energy, clean water, food, etc. It’s a good idea to save a child, a pet, a forest, and the planet, but nothing is accomplished when we save a note. Economy of means is overrated in art. Economy of means through repetition of musical motifs, refrains, and recapitulations seems to me to be redundant in an age in which any recorded piece can be heard as many times as we wish.
On the other hand, a number of composers are creatively devoted to repetitions based on mantras and other rituals. That strikes me as needlessly economical, but it could also be seen as proof that “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Who can say for sure?
What I think can be said with a confidence is that “more and more musicians creating more music than ever” is not a problem in itself. Too many marginally talented, poorly trained creative minds MAY be a problem, but overall, music does no harm. Overproduction in the arts is the same as overproduction in anything else. Without a social network to provide basic goods and services, our sense of appropriate and inappropriate, and of right and wrong tend to be tied to finding work to provide an income to satisfy basic human needs. Anyone can see that there is, in fact, not a shortage of labor, but a surplus of labor in order to maintain a high standard of living. Yet social goals appear to focus on the idea that everyone ought to earn his/her keep. Something is wrong with this picture. Art cannot cure disease or feed the hungry, but more or less art has little or no impact on the social, economic, and political realities that shape our lives.
What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.
The greatest ongoing challenge in my life as a composer has been the acquisition of source material. Since my work is sample-based, I am dependent on the generosity and kindness of strangers to obtain the raw material from which I make my compositions.
The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
One useful method of composing is to acquire samples, trim and tune them, transpose them within ranges that I consider humanly reasonable (avoiding squeaky chipmunks and growling bass disturbances)…and more. The aim is to create a palette of sound that can be used to compose. Once a palette (an orchestration) is complete, it is possible to begin composing.
Sometimes I have a particular palette in mind. That was the case in pieces I composed using samples provided to me by singers Ellen Band, Lisa Barnard Kelley, Thomas Buckner and Beth Griffith, guitarists Michael Hafftka and Marco Oppedisano, clarinetists Al Margolis and Sherman Friedland, violinist Mari Kimura, violist Martha Mooke, vocal artists Chris Mann and Tomomi Adachi, flutist Matt Samolis, cellist, Juho Laitinen, trombonist Monique Buzzarté, percussionist Ray Marchica, and others.
When I do not have a particular palette in mind I sample at will from available sources. Sampling, like taking photographs, can be a great pleasure in itself. Sooner or later patterns of timbre, tempo, and mood emerge. Experience and serendipity come together to create building blocks that form a usable palette.
The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an idea / composition as being their own – is there, perhaps, a better model for recognising originality than the one currently in place?
Although I have not been cautious about expressing social and political beliefs that are beyond my area of expertise, the issue of copyright is fraught with peril. I tend to avoid the topic since it is so complex (unlike basic human rights), is in a state of flux, and is the proper domain of attorneys and legislators.
I think it is troubling that we are subjected without consent to an onslaught of background music in shops we visit and advertising billboards as we walk down a street, yet we are legally prohibited from recording, manipulating, and reproducing the sounds and sights of our shared environment. It’s challenging to have a professional portrait taken on the streets that surround my apartment without including a copy-protected image for Coca-Cola. There seems to me to be something wrong with the idea of copyrighting the environment or my reality, but this is an issue for experts in fields other than my own.
In one famous case of copyright infringement, Peters Edition threatened to sue Mike Batt and his band, The Planets, for recording a track called “One Minute Silence (after Cage).” Batt and Peters settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum.
I do not think one ought to be able to profit (without compensation) for the significant labor of others. Large quotations from the work of others seem to me to present legal and ethical hurdles. No one—not even John Cage—can (or did) copyright silence, but attaching Cage’s name to the track represented an illegal—and unethical—case of profiting from the labor and reputation of another.
What interests (and concerns) me personally is the appropriation of small (but how small is small?) fragments of “iconic” musical material. An example might be a major chord, played beautifully by someone or other, on a violin. There is no doubt that a performer of great talent and accomplishment played the chord, but if that performer’s name is not attached to the new composition, I wonder what damage has been done to anyone. In my experience, most artists are pleased by the responsible use of their material.
Great art can be made from the deconstruction and reconstruction of our cultural history. YouTube and the Internet are filled with good and bad art based on sounds and images that are protected by copyright. What a loss it would be if amateur and professional artists were prohibited from creating new works based on the collective bounty of our shared history and environment.
How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
As a composer who cut and spliced tape until the advent of home computers, I cannot overemphasize the blessing and glory of the undo function! Guttenberg cannot be adequately thanked for the printing press, and digital technology probably rivals the printing press for first prize in a pointless race for awards to technologies that contributed the most to the improvement of our world.
Digital tools are essential to my work, and to the work of countless original and unoriginal others.
In terms of supporting originality, what are some of the technological developments you find interesting points of departure for your own work?
It is tempting to suggest that my own music depends on relatively simple technologies, but the “simple” technologies I use and have come to take for granted are miracles of design and efficiency. My toolbox consists of applications to record, trim, tune, normalize, transpose, sequence, mix, and so much more. Some composers use additional features of the same programs I use each day, while others work with an assortment of alternative technologies.
I doubt that computers made my music more or less original than my music had been in analog studios, but digital technologies certainly improved the condition of my aching back. The undo function also stopped my hand from shaking as I weighed the benefits and perils of tricky splices.
The importance and perspective on originality has greatly varied over the course of musical history. From your point of view, what are some of the factors in the cultural landscape that are conducive to originality and what are some of those that constitute obstacles?
“We must cultivate our garden”—Voltaire
While there is little doubt that “we must cultivate our garden,” I think many music students are inadvertently cultivating someone else’s garden rather than their own. Classical models of music education tend more to a one-size-fits-all mentality than to something simultaneously individual and pluralistic.
Studying music of the past can be an instructive and broadening experience. Composing music with the same technical, social, and economic parameters that applied to instrumental music of the past may inhibit originality, personal authenticity, and the realization of a happy life.
If one is to compose music for live players, it is important to examine personal feelings about everything that relates to the composition and performance of concert music (including concert music for laptop computer and live electronics). Does the composer have the professional and interpersonal skills to induce others to play his or her music? Does he or she enjoy and excel at the social and technical aspects of conducting rehearsals? Is concert attendance a joy or a burden? Does one value music as something to DO (performance) or as something to hear (fixed media)? Since studio music can sound like almost anything, it is important for composers to understand that electronic music is much more connected to a way of life than to a sound.
“The light which we have gained, was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge.”—John Milton
Socrates states the “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but an examined life is never limited to introspection. The discovery of “things more remote from our knowledge” has many implications, including the inference that self-knowledge is the sum of our inner and external experiences. When the pursuit of our “true selves” is restricted to the discovery of and adherence to our innate instincts and preferences, each of us quickly hits bottom. Creative minds want to be expanded to include ideas that do not occur to us “naturally.” The pursuit of the “unnatural” is not a betrayal of ourselves, but the recognition that man—unique among living creatures—is capable of making choices that rise above instinct.
I think we must simultaneously “cultivate our garden” and look outward “to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge.” To do less than challenge instinct and the cult of individuality is to diminish originality in every endeavor, including art. The creative mind flourishes through the recognition of new ideas, alternatives, and ethical and creative choices. It is not enough to merely BE ourselves, but to BECOME more than ourselves. Being human includes the understanding that “the examined life” looks both inward and outward.
While the sheer volume of art and the ability to disseminate it internationally can make anyone feel inadequate, outdated, and redundant, it is a joy to see so many people creating and distributing their work. Again, more is more, even if some of what is produced is less than first-rate. In my life to date, I have been emboldened, consoled, and encouraged by first-rate work by first-rate artists, second-rate work by first-rate artists, first-rate work by second-rate artists, bad measures in the music of great composers, and wonderful moments in the music of less-than-great composers. Sharing our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths allows us to flourish as a species.
The wide availability of computers and information is generally conducive to productivity and accomplishment both original and unoriginal. The greatest obstacle to the cultural landscape is a concept of intellectual “property” that claims private ownership of a collective history that is our birthright.
Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons?
I like to think that listeners tuning in to the middle of one of my pieces on a radio broadcast would not realize that they are hearing an electronic piece of music. I am interested in the fine line that slightly pushes the limits of human reality. With that aesthetic in mind, I have long wanted to write an electronic concerto for orchestra. That project would require quite a lot of money to record performers in a professional studio. Even if I compose for free (and I nearly always do compose for free), the budget would exceed my personal resources. Perhaps it is not a bad thing to have a vision of a piece of music that I cannot realize. It is important to recognize and acknowledge the gifts we have received. To complain of an unrealized dream seems foolishly ungrateful and inappropriate. Life itself is sweet, rich, and original enough. - Interview by Tobias Fischer www.tokafi.com/15questions/interview-noah-creshevsky/
|Noah Creshevsky: On Borrowed Time |
"When times are good and many of us have more of almost anything than we really need, borrowing becomes a possibility, and lending a joy. ... For many years, I have sought to expand the palette from which music is made. While my constant goal has been the creation of a series of compositions, my ongoing work to expand the musical palette has also been a conscious tribute to social and political models that embrace the many as opposed to the few."- Click here for more. -