Today is the first day of my vacation from my day job till January. I love this time of year. It gives me a chance to focus on the music fully. I also have the time to go to the various museums here in D.C. and catch different exhibits. Ai Weiwei is currently at the Hirshhorn, and there are a ton of other shows I'm looking forward to seeing. So, expect a new post later this month about what I've seen.
I'm also an avid follower of astrology, and with mercury retrograde, it is a perfect time for reflection. I'm looking back now on how far I've come as a composer over the last few years, (the time that Saturn has been in my 10th house ), all the lessons I've learned, and specifically what drew me to pursue and experiment with multimedia projects.
My interest in mutimedia began at an early age with cartoons: those great Bugs Bunny and other classics that had fantastic music along with the animations. I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of my best friends, an author, while attending Kent State University. Both avid readers, we talked of wishing that books came with music, a soundtrack for the story. Of course, this was in the early 1980’s and the technology to achieve such a project didn’t even exist at that point. The closest thing we had in those days were cassette tapes.
These thoughts led to the idea that maybe I should consider composing for film. After doing some research, I realized that this also was not the right fit for me; it was too restrictive, and the composer‘s creative vision was often limited by the director. In addition, there was the whole issue of the actors actually speaking dialog. This is fine, of course. I love film. Still, it is not the same as reading a story, and not the vision I had in mind.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Technology has allowed anyone with a computer, the ability to create video tracks with a couple of mouse clicks. With the tools now available, it seemed the perfect moment for me to explore and experiment with this new musical form. In fact, I saw it as more important than ever.
Why is this form needed now? As composers of new music, we are always trying to engage audiences. But, what happened to the audiences? Well, there has been much discussion about this.
I see multiple reasons and events that have led to the decline in audiences over the last half of the 20th century: there was the whole serialism experiment that the vast majority of audiences rejected, culminating in the composition establishment responding with a very loud “Fuck You!” in the form of Milton Babbitt’s article “Who Cares if You Listen”. Add to that, the intellectual McCarthyism that was present in Universities and the musical establishment in the 1950’s through the 1990s. These institutions declared any composer not composing in the “correct” style, either derivative or antiquated. Is it any wonder then, that audiences and some composers abandoned “new music” in droves?
A second blow to “new music”, at least in the US, was the rise of the political right and the subsequent culture wars. This political movement, driven by the combination of a twisted “Christian” fundamentalism, extreme anti-intellectualism, and vicious unregulated capitalism, correctly and clearly saw the arts as subversive and a threat to its power. During this time, we saw attacks on the arts community in various forms: with huge cuts in funding for the arts overall, and public schools, in particular.
These attacks were about more than how to pay for programs. It was and is a calculated plot to suppress dissent. After all, if a population is incapable of critical thought and understanding art; and, if they are illiterate, then those seeking to control the masses have no need to ban artworks or books, since people will simply not be able to read or understand them.
Capitalism viewed, (and continues to view, to this day), anything turning a profit as valuable and therefore “good”, anything not turning a profit, or that loses money as “bad” and not worth pursuing, and anything done for the common good, without concern for cost or profit is downright unamerican and seditious. The arts do provide value in many forms, but because they are not specifically profit driven, they became, and continue to be a target.
Another hit to the arts community came in the form of a virus that took the lives of many talented artists long before they could contribute more to our culture. Of course, this was much celebrated by the political right, since this disease was killing all the right people: artists, gay men, IV drug users, and people of color. Preachers, from their pulpits bellowed that this was some sort of divine punishment, and, a sitting US president sat, doing and saying nothing, while millions died.
Today audiences are returning slowly. Composers are writing in any, and all styles. And new styles are being created all the time. The music is alive and evolving. Artists are reaching out to communities, educating people, and involving them in the creation of new art. Still, there is much work to be done. Capitalism in its ugliest form, combined with attacks on education here in the US continue to plague us, and critical thinking is a rarity. Still, the arts have emerged more strongly than ever to protest and challenge this.
Multimedia is one way to address the educational aspect of the arts, counter the cuts to arts programs in schools, and engage new audiences by leveraging advances in technology and the subsequent evolution of audiences’ expectations and patterns of media consumption in relation to these technological advances. In fact multimedia is the way most people consume information now.
I personally love cuddling up with a book and reading, but many people need more. As far as new music, 21st century music can come off as intimidating and beyond the understanding of many. One way to make the music more accessible is to include visuals and stories to act as guideposts, essentially educating new audiences and teaching people how to relate to new music. And the music then helps with the understanding of the stories, since it adds another layer of emotional depth.
The composer who is inspired by stories and visual images, faces limitless creative possibilities in bringing their vision to light. Classic literature is a gold mine for the composer who is willing to bring these stories to life with their music, since they can be used in schools as part of an English or literature class, helping to engage students. But, it goes beyond that: what we are looking at is the genesis of a whole different style of film, one that is music centric.
So these are some of my thoughts, and some of the motivation that drove me to experiment with multimedia. I hope it gives you some insight into my recent and current projects, and inspires you to experiment as well.