To cap off the year:
The book I read which influenced me most was probably The Rest is Noise
, by Alex Ross (although I use the word "influenced" reservedly), which I read at the same time as How Music Works
by David Byrne.
Byrne, in his first chapter, talks about how spaces call music into being as much as music is created, and then finds a space to be played in.
I had a slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that the context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn't sound like much of an insight, but it's actually the opposite of conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion...
The goes on to talk about how the percussive poly-rhythms in african music would turn to mush if played in a reverberant cathedral, while the overtone heavy organ with its long flowing lines and slow decay would wither in the anechoic veldt.
So with this in mind, what to make of the atonal cacophony that Ross, very earnestly, and very appealingly tries to sell in Noise
? Ross is blind to the cultural context that created the politics which Berg, Schoenberg. Webern et al capitalized upon, but it's all there for readers in the know. Regardless, I was interested to learn that Sonic Youth, and the entire shoe-gaze scene, came from Glenn Branca and the avant garde music movement of the early 70s. I'm very glad I've heard Messiaen's Quartour pour la fin du temps
, and Scott Bradley's atonal work in Tom & Jerry
(seriously, try and listening to anything by say, Boulez and not picture a cartoon mouse hitting a cartoon cat with a mallet. It is impossible.)
The big insight, from Byrne, is that this music is unlistenable because it was never meant to be listened to, it was just meant to be looked at in score form, discussed in academic settings, and written about in scholarly papers. Modern academia called forth modern music and its native habitat is text on a page, not sonic vibrations in the air. Good this Ross is an engaging writer.
Regardless, without all that I'm not sure I would have been able to find and appreciate Arvo Part, starting going out to hear live music again(!), and listened to the Cage and Reich pieces you should listen to once.
Podcast wise, Serial was a standout, and of course NPR's All Songs Considered. Q2 Music's "Meet the Composer" is also very enjoyable, but it helps to come with a lot of context, and Song Exploder is so much better than it really needs to be.
Have a great Christmas everyone!