Saturday, May 24, 2008

Process and an Audience

Due to a couple of very intriguing posts over here and a couple of interesting conversations on a few composition listservs that I belong to, I have been doing a lot of thinking about process, tension, art vs. entertainment, new territory and a plethora of other similar ideas.

Due to the recent passing of Robert Rauschenberg I have been looking at a lot of pictures of his work, and listening to various interviews etc... basically anything I can get my hands on (or eyes on) just to try and get a real perspective of this man's great work. Especially the later glass work, I knew a lot of his work from the 60's but never really looked at this newer work. Of course it is insanely interesting, but that is a post for another day.

Rauschenberg's ideas on process have intrigued me to a point where I find myself thinking about it almost constantly over the last few days. Which also brought me to reflecting on John Cage as well (specifically dealing with the white paintings, which came before 4' 33"), and reflecting on his ideas of process, tension and exploration. So I have been sitting at a piano (in my elementary school classroom, which I find just hilarious, Cage pieces being pounded out of an elementary school classroom, and I think Cage would find that delightful in its own way) playing various Cage pieces, to the best of my ability anyway. Both of these men dealt with an almost pure process related perspective. For Cage, at least on a generally speaking level, was more about how to go about writing a piece, or experimenting with sounds etc... than he was about the final product. 

I was also recently listening to an interview from Chuck Close. He began talking about similar ideas about experimentation and process. The idea between tension and process goes like this:

as you go along you have artistic ideas, no matter what art form you particularly practice, you begin to establish processes, wether conscious or not. Basically you have ideas and you try to express them through your art. Now these ideas can be of all sorts, but for my purposes and how I am currently dealing with my work, these ideas are about the process itself. Close talks about continuing to introduce new challenging ideas to keep tension in your work and this allows you to progress as an artist. Otherwise you are just finding something that works for you, and then you stagnate until you die (and even after in some cases). The idea becomes that each "completed" work is simply a snapshot of a constantly evolving process.

Based on these thoughts I had this idea of introducing new ideas in my work, (at least new to me, or things I have never tried, no matter if they already have a place in history or not), and as soon as I get a piece done that I feel does a good job representing that process, to never write a piece like that again. Move on, find another method or change the process so much that it becomes something completely different. One person on a listserv said that eventually you will have to repeat because you will run out of things to try. Well, I think that is foolishly narrow in thinking that everything has been done, and there are only so many things one can do etc... Of course this was a part of a conversation about art vs. entertainment that I will discuss momentarily. 

Kris Tiner talked about, in a comment to another post at another place, that when things seem to not be working it is because he has fallen into "some kind of groove". Which I heartily agree with and have had many experiences like that myself. Not to say that the work is necessarily bad, but the fact that it isn't working for you anymore should be blaring sirens that you need to move on from that process.

Which brings me to the point of art vs. entertainment. During the listserv conversation on this topic one gentleman composer actually stated that we have to remember that we, as composers, are not our target audience. This is such rubbish. We are absolutely are target audience. We are the first person to hear the piece, we are the person who decides to let it out into public or not and if we aren't continually intrigued and challenged by our work, then what is the point of working, we should just run off and become the next Yanni or Tesh or American Idol judge. 

The conversation went on and on like this, and it surprised me that most of the people were wholeheartedly supportive of at least, to some degree, writing for a specific audience. It bothered me to a point where I had to discontinue my involvement in the conversation so I am not entirely sure how it ended, or if it even has. Not to say that there aren't specific audiences for whatever it is that people are doing, and the audience may be very specific depending on the genre of ones work, but the point is to not write for that specific audience, allow the audience to come to you if it so wishes, just like a good visual artist. Do the work, present it, and let people either come and stand and experience, or avoid, but allow them the option, and knowledge that there is no wrong answer. And if no one ever comes, then hope that they do after you die, and know that you have still done a good thing.

So this brought me to start thinking about how we deal with art vs. entertainment. Thinking about it from a visual art perspective, that world has done a much better job of getting a public to recognize and enjoy, or at least experience, modern art. With paintings, sculptures and the like, you walk in to wherever they are and you can't help but experience the piece. Good, bad, indifferent, doesn't matter, you have had the experience and when you feel satisfied you can walk away at any point. With modern music, perhaps there is more demand placed on the listener. You can just get up and walk out of a symphony hall or recital hall, I have seen it, and I have experienced people doing it on my work, (which makes me laugh), but you are considered rude to do so. I have experienced people liking my work, hating my work, indifferent, not even paying attention etc... so it got me thinking, is the modern musical world more demanding on the audience? We want them to sit in a chair for some period of time and take in whatever they are about to hear, which usually they have no idea what is about to occur. Whereas an artist hangs his work in a space and people can either gravitate toward it and have a very intimate experience with it, or they can avoid it based on a first glance, but either way they have experienced it in its completed form. Music cannot do this.

 I don't know what the answer is, or even if this is true, but it has begun a thought path in my mind that I haven't quite figured out yet.