Composition is anticipation.
In a literal sense anything put together out of a group of elements is a composition.
The generally accepted idea of musical composition is that it expresses
the completed idea of a single mind (this hierarchic -narcissistic- paradigm is
essentially incompatible with the ethos of anarchism). In
this sense a composer is analogous to an architect, one who anticipates
the future on an abstract symbolic basis and presents a set of
instructions to be realized by others. This ignores the reality
that a builder may have an innate sense of structure and does not
require the instructions or the symbolic language of an architect.
The traditional idea of the composer is as obsolete for anarchists as
is the idea of the land baron or the pope, but the idea of a generative
mind is not. Anarchism does not seek to eliminate or suppress
creative original thinking, only the treatment of ideas as dicta.
Ideas are welcome, but they must persuade others of their usefulness
and inspire their co-operation. They are tools, not monuments. Anarchism does not seek to negate
the individual, but to grow outward from individuality toward the
collective through a process of inclusion. The composer idea
seeks to stop the development of ideas before they reach that stage in
order to limit them to what can be defined and considered as property.
The commodity idea of ‘intellectual property’ is inimical to the
community idea of mutual participation and responsibility (this does
not mean we should let capitalism exploit our work).
Although it doesn’t relate directly to what Anarchestra is exploring,
the Plunderphonics / Detritus / appropriation, etc. culture is working
toward the same end of undermining the authority implicit in the idea
of ‘authorship’ and shares the same disposition toward the concept of
intellectual property. In a bio-cultural sense these are plants
sprouted from the same rhizome mutated by different relationships to
history, consumerism, and the nature of participation. The
differences between these relationships are significant and in many
ways appear to be in opposition, but the similarities of their
underlying socio-musical dispositions (compositions without composers)
outweighs for me the differences in their specific, technical,
The assumed goal of composition is to enable a relationship with
coherence through the anticipation of the future. The
anticipation of future, even when it is propositional or speculative, is
based on the ethos of control. This is not necessarily a bad
thing, provided the goal envisioned is sought in the spirit of quest
rather than conquest.
Composition need no longer be confined to anticipation. With
recording it can be accumulation in a non-temporal context (i.e., the
cut and paste work of samplers).
A primary distinction to be made is between music that expresses the
completed idea of a single mind (basically a hierarchic concept) and
music that expresses the response(s) to a suggestion of a single mind
(or a group of minds) subjected to interpretation (revision, selection,
opposition, consensus, etc.).
Beyond that there are an infinite number of gradations ranging from
free collective improvisation through conduction -an interactive, human based version of the sampling idea- and other forms of
direction (including concepts of style).
All of these methods have their strength and weaknesses. None is
superior to another except in its appropriateness to the people
involved. The only really viable ideal is "from each according to
his ability to each according to his need". Different
aspects of music engage different musicians in different ways and the
goal of composition ideally is to provide opportunities for positive
engagement to all who participate in it.
It may turn out that the traditional idea of the composer as a single
entity will only exist in the studio (ivory tower) where technology
allows overdubbing and computer generated parts. The paradigm
that arose with visible notation and the printing press emphasized the
constructivist and materialistic aspects of music as it devalued the
spontaneous and the sensual and ignored the ideas of contribution and
consensus. Defining music by what could be committed to paper –
an inherently absurd idea - was also the beginning of commoditization
(recording has continued the process). The great weakness of
constructivism is that, to function efficiently, it seeks to limit the
number and complexity of usable elements, to shoehorn sonic phenomena
into definable categories and discourage the investigative examination
of them. In many cases the aspects of music (pitch and duration)
that can be written down are among the least significant.
The most famous professed anarchist composer is Cage, but his work
seems bent on absolving himself of taking responsibility for it (chance
operations) and to my mind doesn’t offer very much to build upon
besides the doors he opened. As interesting and stimulating as
his concepts and works are, they emphasize absence (of will, of
personality, of control, even of sound –at the same time celebrating
his personality) and exclusion (of common musical elements and
techniques). I consider him an individual (libeterian) as opposed
to a social anarchist, one who took the label for the (narcissistic)
purpose of separating and distinguishing himself rather than from any
sense of responsibility shared with his fellow beings. In many
ways I find myself wanting to dismiss him, but I consider him (along
with Cornelius Cardew, Cecil Taylor, and Pauline Oliveros) among the
deepest conceptual thinkers about music in the second half of the 20th
century and I think it is worthwhile to explore his body of work as
long as we can avoid being seduced by its sophisms. The equation
of anarchism with chance operations seems shallow and childish to
me. To my mind anarchism includes and encourages the wills,
desires, the contributions, and, possibly most of all, the
responsibilities of everyone involved generally.
There are surely other composers who were or are anarchists, but I’m
not aware of anybody who’s made a point of it, nor am I aware of any
anarchist theory of musical organization that relates the structural
elements directly to the social constructs we seek to live with.
. . . the composition is a powerful
agent of possessive individualism in general, whilst improvisation
proposes and practices a freer dynamic of human relations, however
Anything put together from a group of elements is a composition.
The assumed goal of composition (as a precursor of performance) is to
enable a relationship with coherence through the anticipation of the
It will be noted that neither of these statements requires an
individual composer. In the ethos of anarchism all participants
are composers. The extent to which the music is pre-conceived is
irrelevant so long as the pre-conceived aspects of the music are
collectively generated and agreed upon. It is not necessary to
dichotomize between ‘composed’ and ‘improvised’ – that distinction is
artistic rather than social. The social (hierarchic) pitfall of
composition results from the (unnecessary) assumption that a
composition requires a single composer whose ideas are carried out by
others who did not participate in the process of arriving at those