This is a nice response to “Experimental Music Since 1970.” We all have different words for the change James Saunders is discussing. Here he calls it “framing, embodying and repurposing the everyday to create tangible connections with the world.” In the book Jennie Gottschalk calls it “nonfictional” music. I tend to use the word “event,” especially with the sensibility George Brecht brought to it. But I think we’re all trying to describe more or less the same thing – the fact that experimental music is changing the relationship of music to the world.
We have to realize the enormous potential of this change. Getting a firm grip on what that change is might still not be possible, since we’re in the midst of it. But Jennie’s book helps us (along with, I might add, G. Douglas Barrett’s also just published, “After Sound,” and Joe Panzner’s “The Process That Is The World“) to get a much better picture of what’s going on.
It is not a story about artistic schools, named movements and main composers. It is a story about the tremendous diversity of approaches now being practiced. This diversity reflects the many different kinds of lives we lead in the world. No one person or small group of people could ever occupy more than a few positions in this vast network, with thousands of individual sources of energy. But those of us somehow engaged in it benefit, consciously or otherwise from the work and experience of others. This network is _thinking_. And it is thinking in a way that is hooked into the material substance of the world; attempting to change that world by experiencing it better, and passing that perceptual and conceptual growth on to others.
It is one of the most optimistic procedures in what in many other ways (especially environmentally and politically) is a dark time.
A few things have caught me by surprise since my book was released. One of them is the recurring question of how (and in what circumstances) to respond to relevant discussions. I’ll probably be too withdrawn at some times and too engaged at others, and I can only hope to learn from my mistakes. The second surprise should have been predictable. There is a gap between a release date and a point in time when people can respond to anything more than a brief perusal of a book. Two weeks after the release is definitely still within that gap.
So I was very interested to see that James Saunders had finished reading it already and posted a thoughtful response. What was most compelling to me was his signaling of “a point of change” going on generally within the field of experimental music, a new emphasis on music that “uses strategies such as framing, embodying and repurposing the everyday to create tangible connections with the world.” It’s a brilliant way of casting a net that catches the sort of fish we’re both talking about. I’ve been thinking about this issue lately in terms of non-metaphorical music. A behavior isn’t being represented in the abstract but is actually occurring. The most immediately relevant material in the book is the discussion of experience and change in chapter one, but I think it’s pervasive in the structure and details as well.
Saunders puts it another way in his recent MusikTexte article, “no mapping.” He speaks about an approach that “makes direct connections with the world as the material of the work. It connects music with the tangible everyday. It embodies the world rather than represents it.”
This is a good moment to mention two books that were hugely important for me in the writing process and remain so: The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, edited by James Saunders, and Word Events: Perspectives on Verbal Notation, co-edited with John Lely.