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Aesthetics

COMPOSITION




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).

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Parenthetically:

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, approaches.

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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 problematic.
-Edwin Prevost

To recapitulate.

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 future.

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 ideas.


 

 

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