Monday, January 19, 2015

Warning Label

I've often felt that the listening archive at pianonoise really ought to come with a warning label. Not for explicit lyrics (there aren't any) or any of the usual suspects, such as anything that you think might turn your kids into Liberals, but because, no matter what your expectations, notions about music, personal philosophy of "the Nice" or current mood, something in there is bound to disrespectfully crash into your neatly balanced world.

Probably the key word here is "variety." Variety is no respecter of persons. I once coined a definition which could belong in The Devil's Dictionary: "Variety: something to offend everyone." The friend I told it to found it offensive.

But as I've travelled this globe, thither and yon, physically and mentally, I've come in to quite a number of ideas about music, some of which clash fundamentally with others over the very function of the noisy art, and, finding something of interest in each, I've collected them all, had them stuffed and put on the pianonoise wall. (ok, that's a pretty offensive image; not to mention outdated) Some are from several centuries ago, in countries far away, and others have come into existence quite recently.

Actually, that's one of my own issues with the archive--it doesn't have enough recent music. There's a problem with that, a word called copyright, and the fact that most copyright holders don't have the decency to even write back to deny you permission to use their work. Even a piece written nearly a century ago may be behind this copyright wall, and if it is also out of print that pretty much guarantees the work a silent death. I've been fortunate in that a few composers who themselves have control over their works have given me permission to post my recordings of them. There are also works published with Creative Commons Licenses of various sorts which allow you to use the pieces in certain ways without obtaining permission. I'm exploring those avenues. Nonetheless, the catalogue is tilted toward works in the Public Domain.

That's still a lot of ground, however. And if you have your volume turned up the first thing you'll notice is a great dynamic variance. Some of the pieces start loudly. I'd keep my finger on the button at the start of a selection I didn't know if I were you.

But that's just it--it's not the works we know that might cause problems. It's the ones we've never heard of. And even though 99% of the public won't touch anything classical if they don't have to, even that 1%  hasn't heard of the majority of the literature available to them in the so-called classical vein. And I make it my business to look for rare and unusual works, some of the time. However, the item right next door to it in the catalogue might be right down Main Street. When you are listing things in alphabetical order, there is no telling what sort of musical neighbors you will run into.

Besides the so-called classical group, which is a convenient way of lumping together over four centuries and at least a continent's worth of different types of music so that people who like all of their music to be in four minute spurts and about puppy love to be able to easily avoid all of it, there is a bit of jazz, gospel, ragtime, and various fusions--some very intellectual, some a bit folk, and you never really know what it is going to be just by title because I haven't done the nice thing and categorized it.

Of course, offended isn't the only thing that might happen. You could be bored. One of my 'staff composers' made it his business to explore intentional boredom in art--I'm looking at you, Erik Satie. And if you get past that you still might not stick around long to hear the a-tonal effusions of a few of the pieces by---no, I'll let you find those land mines yourself. And in addition to the various moods these pieces might arouse--passion, inspiration, fear, anger--you might just be puzzled. That's a reaction that's happened to more than one artist before. Some of them seem to enjoy it.

There's a risk when you hit that play button, particularly if you've not heard of the piece before. You can't be sure whether it's going to conform to your ideas of what music is or should be, or whether it will grab you by the scruff of the neck and take you somewhere you've never been. If you go with it it might take you somewhere wonderful, or just drop you off on a random street corner and vanish. Then what do you do? Pick up and keep going, I suppose. But you won't be quite the same after one of those encounters, will you?

Don't say I didn't warn you....

But hey, if it makes you feel any better, if you don't like it, you get your money back.

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