Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Adès Craze

Almost on cue, when I tell other composers I'm into fusing classical with techno, they respond: "Oh, have you heard Adès' Asyla??"

Adès is a talented composer. Many Brits have latched on to him because he's good, and probably also because they want another Elgar or Britten. Regardless, his attempt to incorporate techno pulse into Asyla's second movement is not so good. I admit, it's pretty funny watching grey-haired string players or contrabass clarinetists jerking their bodies to the beat. But his use of a giant concert bass drum, played with the regular soft mallet, just doesn't work. In the youtube video below, you can see the percussionist trying to muffle the sound's decay with his left hand, but without much success. A couple improvements could be:

a) amplifying a kick bass drum; or...(gasp!)
b) using electronic percussion

The off-beat cymbal sounds are also lame, for lack of a better adjective. I like Thomas Adès' music more or less. Just not his technoclassica.

So why doesn't he try out an electronic beat? Will he? No way. Here's his answer: "I love the idea of computer music...I’m saying that with a half-raised eyebrow. It makes me think of cute sounds, such as when you turn on your computer, there is an F major chord. Those things are very charming in a way, but I can’t imagine being that interested in sitting and having someone press ‘play.’" Adès also writes everything out by hand, without computer software - a man of the old school. Vivien Schweitzer stretches a bit far in her NYT article from today, describing conductor Simon Rattle as "a shaggy-haired D.J., exhorting his tuxedo-clad clubbers to frenzied heights of illicit exuberance." He looks like a typical conductor to me: old, melodramatic, and in desparate need of a haircut. I think we've gotta look to a younger generation for genuine hipness.

Dear Thomas, I'm so glad that my pieces which incorporate computer sounds will always be cute!!

About a year and a half ago, while perusing the internet, I came across Mason Bates. Finding him was bittersweet; I was thrilled that someone was doing what I wanted to do - combine classical chops and electronica - and people were digging it. But he got there first. I think our tastes in electronica are pretty different, though, and maybe his breakthroughs will allow composers like me, with a little luck, to find acclaim as well. On February 1, The San Francisco Symphony, with money from the Craig Capital Foundation, put on a cool show they called Mercury Soul with Bates at club Mezzanine, which featured works by composers such as Webern and Ligeti, DJ sets by Bates (aka DJ Masonic), and the premier of Bates' Seismology (see the program here, and a preview article).

They tried pretty hard (see this promo photo, in which the tuxedo/track jacket juxtaposition reminds me more of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure than the present; also Bates' giant headphones that lead nowhere are a little silly), but hey - I wish I'd been there. As easy as it might be to critique this 'classical meets electronica' evening, it seems like damn good progress to me. They chose a solid composer, who brings beats (electronic, at that) together with 'classical' much better than Adès, and a great club venue, which beats the pants off any concert hall. Check out pics of the event.


Whit Bernard said...

I just wrote a comment about this post and Google deleted it because I clicked the wrong button. Which might mean that I deleted it, but I try to deny agency whenever I screw something up and technological mediation is involved. Now I'm pissed at the computer and can't rewrite it until I'm no longer pissed.

Needless to say that performing Orchestral Techno without electronics is like trying to keep a patient undergoing open-heart surgery alive with a hand-pump; although perhaps the analogy to surgery is too generous to our friends in contemporary classical music - Terry Schiavo seems to be a more accurate analog.

But at least Sir. Simon can conduct Mahler. In that sense Beauty is only anachronistic when capitalized or exchanged for cultural capital by someone pursuing an anachronistic career. But maybe that has something to do with my current machine-hatred.

Mr. Bacon said...

Oh wow - Schiavo is an amazing metaphor for classical music, but it's too awful (to her and her family) to really voice that metaphor too publicly. A vegetative state (the status quo) kept breathing via life support (the waning foundation money). Maybe you should voice it anyway.

My latest life goal (which I don't really want to achieve, which in turn makes it a reasonable goal) is to inadvertently save classical music in an attempt to destroy it.