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Are there really any young composers working today whose main aim is to shock ? I wish there were! But I can't think of anyone off the top of my head. "Pussy" Riot shock, but it's certainly not their main aim. Lachenmann wanted to shock with Pression maybe, but that was a brief phase in his work and anyway, it was a long long time ago.
Yes, I agree, that kind of thing is relatively infrequent, even in today's art world. A multi-media painting of a black Madonna using, among other things, elephant dung, stirred up some controversy in New York a few years back. Nudity is still an element in some performance art, as in a notorious installation at the Guggenheim not long ago with live nude models. And the 'shock and outrage' idea surfaces in abstract music from time to time, though perhaps without elephant dung or nudity. But whatever the merit or lack thereof of this material, it is a small niche in the art world. Yet, some 'critics' jump all over it to make blanket value judgments on all modern and contemporary art.
 

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Are there really any young composers working today whose main aim is to shock ? I wish there were! But I can't think of anyone off the top of my head. "Pussy" Riot shock, but it's certainly not their main aim. Lachenmann wanted to shock with Pression maybe, but that was a brief phase in his work and anyway, it was a long long time ago.
Maybe I'm just old and feel as if I've seen it all, but it seems to me that in a postmodern (or is it post-postmodern now?) age, shock is more or less passe. Epater le bourgeoisie is old-fashioned Modernism, and we're decades past that. Music was never the best medium for it anyway; there's no musical equivalent of "P*ss Christ" - or, if there is, no one wants to fund performances of it, or it gets one performance and disappears, and few people know about it or care. Even visual artists who commit shocking acts - that vaginal knitting woman, for example - will generate a few irate letters to the editor and then a gigantic "ho hum, isn't that stupid, what'll they think of next." To be shocked by modern art now you'd have to have spent your life trapped in a West Virginia hollow without electricity or postal services.
 

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I think "moment form" is shocking for the bourgeoisie. From Stockhausen's essay on it, with the Wikipedia translation (is the essay in English anywhere?) music in moment form

neither aim at the climax, nor at prepared (and consequently expected) multiple climaxes, and the usual introductory, rising, transitional and fading-away stages are not delineated in a development curve encompassing the entire duration of the work. On the contrary, these forms are immediately intense and seek to maintain the level of continued "main points", which are constantly equally present, right up until they stop. In these forms a minimum or a maximum may be expected in every moment, and no developmental direction can be predicted with certainty from the present one; they have always already commenced, and could continue forever; in them either everything present counts, or nothing at all; and each and every Now is not unremittingly regarded as the mere consequence of the one which preceded it and as the upbeat to the coming one-in which one puts one's hope-but rather as something personal, independent and centred, capable of existing on its own. They are forms in which an instant does not have to be just a bit of a temporal line, nor a moment just a particle of a measured duration, but rather in which concentration on the Now-on every Now-makes vertical slices, as it were, that cut through a horizontal temporal conception to a timelessness I call eternity: an eternity that does not begin at the end of time but is attainable in every moment. I am speaking of musical forms in which apparently nothing less is being attempted than to explode (even to overthrow) the temporal concept-or, put more accurately: the concept of duration. . . .
In works of this kind the start and stop are open and yet they cease after a certain duration.
And I think it has political, social, implications, very fundamental ones. An example (I haven't heard this performance, I heard him play it in a London concert though. There's a tremendous performance by Sabine Liebner, but it's not on YouTube.)

 

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Maybe I'm just old and feel as if I've seen it all, but it seems to me that in a postmodern (or is it post-postmodern now?) age, shock is more or less passe. Epater le bourgeoisie is old-fashioned Modernism, and we're decades past that. Music was never the best medium for it anyway; there's no musical equivalent of "P*ss Christ" - or, if there is, no one wants to fund performances of it, or it gets one performance and disappears, and few people know about it or care. Even visual artists who commit shocking acts - that vaginal knitting woman, for example - will generate a few irate letters to the editor and then a gigantic "ho hum, isn't that stupid, what'll they think of next." To be shocked by modern art now you'd have to have spent your life trapped in a West Virginia hollow without electricity or postal services.
Exactly. For example, the knitting woman, who seems to be trying to point out how ludicrous and offensive it is to think of domestic tasks such as knitting as inherently feminine, is really only taking a page from the "radical feminist" art of the 1970s, some of which featured an elaborate and intensive focus on the female genitals. Even the idea of displaying one's own genitals in a public performance space, rather than making a painting, sculpture or multimedia work, is not new. Maybe Australia lags behind the US in such things. It is an old story. But I'm confident someone will find a new way to shock us.
 

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Mandryka said:
Are there really any young composers working today whose main aim is to shock ?
To be honest, I haven't listened to enough of today's composers to know. But that is certainly the goal of opera directors.

"Functional ability to elicit affect"! Marvellous. Oh for a mind that could turn such phrases!

Anyway, of course this is true to some degree, but how far? The end result of thinking like this is the pomo side of the Eisenman-Alexander debate, "art should make you feel small and scared and alone because that is your place as one of 10 billion interchangeable cogs is the awful machinery of global-techno-capitalism and you should not forget it for a single second". Excuse me if I plump for a bit of comfort and consolation now and then.
There's a beautiful moment from Camus's The Plague where, in a brief interlude between shifts in the sanitation squads or the hospital, Tarrou and Dr. Rieux get to know each other and eventually go for a swim. At one point, Dr. Rieux feels a strange happiness, which he recognizes also in Tarrou:
Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. Turning to Tarrou, he caught a glimpse on his friend's face of the same happiness, a happiness that forgot nothing, not even murder.
It is possible to have art that brings happiness like Tarrou and Rieux's, which sees the world honestly without self-delusion, and which yet uplifts and ennobles us. The greatest works are the greatest because they do precisely this.

What Eisenman describes isn't art, or even radical, it's just pure misanthropy. The arts should make people feel "You may be treated as a cog or a slave or a nobody, but you are not. There's something dignified, and good, and worth preserving in you." It doesn't need to tell us this, afterschool special style, and it should also hold up a mirror to our darker qualities. Sometimes we need to see the baseness we are capable of in order to understand the good we are also capable of. Kobayashi's The Human Condition is one of the most horrific stories of human cruelty and isolation I've ever seen, but it didn't make me feel like a bug or small, it made me feel like I had to dedicate myself to mercy and understanding that very second. Unfortunately such insight and motivation fades over time, but that's why it's important that a culture be filled with the arts. So yeah, an artist can have political aims, art can be political, art need not be purely (or even mainly) pleasurable, art can and should make us aware of our greatest horrors and deepest failings. But an artist who claims to fight dehumanization by joining in the dehumanization and making human beings "small", isn't a friend. They're a traitor.

I don't want the arts to be restricted to a few. In fact, the leftists of yesteryear wanted Goethe and Dante and Homer for everyone. In Thomas Frank's great book The People, NO he talks about the history of the American populist movement -- a far cry from the people that word is used today to describe (how that change occurred is one of the main topics of the book). In the last chapter he describes the People's Pocket Series (later Little Blue Books), produced in Girard, Kansas in the 1920s. They were supposed to foster a
"democracy of literature" in which the highest of highbrow culture was made available to anyone who wanted it... The books themselves are relics of an age when tramps read Zola and dirt farmers wanted to know about Goethe and every village had an atheist who could quote Tom Paine or Robert Ingersoll.... The historian Christopher Lasch once famously declared that the professions "came into being by reducing the layman to incompetence." Haldemann-Julius's [the publisher of the Little Blue Books] idea was the opposite -- to undermine elites by making ordinary people capable.... The big idea behind the enterprise, Haldemann-Julius wrote, was to put an end to "cultural, intellectual, economic, and political subservience and inferiority."' Thomas Frank, The People, NO
The books were highly successful and sold well.

"Beethoven for everyone!" not "Get rid of Beethoven because of microaggressions".
 

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The idea of avoiding continuity and progression in music may have been radical when "Klavierstuck XI" was written (when was that?), but is it shocking? (I don't think the piece entirely succeeds in its objective anyway, if I'm understanding that correctly; the music definitely builds to a climax). I suppose it would shock someone, though the audience in that video doesn't seem the least bit shocked. But fundamental political and social implications? What could those be?
 

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I think children and sex is another taboo area. I found myself in a discussion with some bourgeois folks about Britten a few weeks ago, they just couldn’t believe that he wasn’t seducing boys and they felt that it seriously compromised his work, they didn’t want to listen. Too fked up, too shocking. And I recall seeing a production of Wozzek at Covent Garden where the drum major buggered Marie on stage (acting I think) in front of the child - people didn’t like it! The ROH felt the need to tell the press that they’d organised a course of psychotherapy for the boy!

I will hopefully reply about the social and political implications of moment form later WD, if I can put coherent thoughts together, but I have to go out now.
 

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I think "moment form" is shocking for the bourgeoisie. From Stockhausen's essay on it, with the Wikipedia translation (is the essay in English anywhere?) music in moment form

neither aim at the climax, nor at prepared (and consequently expected) multiple climaxes, and the usual introductory, rising, transitional and fading-away stages are not delineated in a development curve encompassing the entire duration of the work. On the contrary, these forms are immediately intense and seek to maintain the level of continued "main points", which are constantly equally present, right up until they stop. In these forms a minimum or a maximum may be expected in every moment, and no developmental direction can be predicted with certainty from the present one; they have always already commenced, and could continue forever; in them either everything present counts, or nothing at all; and each and every Now is not unremittingly regarded as the mere consequence of the one which preceded it and as the upbeat to the coming one-in which one puts one's hope-but rather as something personal, independent and centred, capable of existing on its own. They are forms in which an instant does not have to be just a bit of a temporal line, nor a moment just a particle of a measured duration, but rather in which concentration on the Now-on every Now-makes vertical slices, as it were, that cut through a horizontal temporal conception to a timelessness I call eternity: an eternity that does not begin at the end of time but is attainable in every moment. I am speaking of musical forms in which apparently nothing less is being attempted than to explode (even to overthrow) the temporal concept-or, put more accurately: the concept of duration. . . .
In works of this kind the start and stop are open and yet they cease after a certain duration.

And I think it has political, social, implications, very fundamental ones. An example (I haven't heard this performance, I heard him play it in a London concert though. There's a tremendous performance by Sabine Liebner, but it's not on YouTube.)

The score of Klavierstuck XI consists (or consisted originally) of a large piece of cardboard with 19 sections or fragments of music. To start the pianist selects and plays any fragment. At the end of every fragment there are tempo, dynamic, and articulation indications. These are applied to the next fragment selected…which is any one the pianist chooses. The piece continues in this manner until a particular fragment is played for a third time.

The piece is an example of what is sometimes called "open-form" or "polyvalent form", since the composition itself has no set structural arc.

Thus the central "gimmick", if you will, of the work is the freedom the pianist has in selecting the "route" he is going to take through the piece. A gimmick that is not audible, unless a listener hears the piece again and perceives the different route each time.

For a classical music listener with conservative tastes the only thing they would find shocking or distasteful about this piece is the dissonance and overall disjunctive quality…the same as found in thousands of atonal/serial works that are precisely/traditionally notated i.e., with no chance elements at all.

Any listener who doesn't know the "backstory" about the piece is NOT going to perceive any political or social message. Even if they were to read the notes you included, there are no such perceivable messages.

Or even if they read this is from a blogspot entitled "stockhausenspace":

"Introduction
In the earlier analysis of Piano Pieces 5-10, I described the isolated phrases in those works as being in a way "snowflakes in a snowstorm". In this 11th piano piece, that analogy becomes more appropriate than ever. However, from a pianist's point of view, it may be more apt to use an "autumn leaves" analogy. Here, 19 musical "leaves" are spread in front of the player. He picks one up, "plays" it, returns it to the pile, and then picks up another to play (however, the way he plays this new leaf is affected by what he saw in the previous leaf). Sometimes he will pick up one that he's chosen before, but he plays it anyway. However, if he realizes that he's picked up the same leaf 3 times already, he stops, and the performance is over. In Piano Piece 11, each leaf is a few measures of score, and at the end of each score fragment is the indication of how to approach the next chosen musical fragment (in the terms of tempo, dynamic, and articulation). Instead of a "pile of leaves", all of these musical fragments are scattered over a huge sheet of paper, and the pianist chooses the phrases randomly. He stops after he has hit the same fragment a 3rd time.

(I should mention that Stockhausen has never called these 19 score fragments "leaves" (as far as I know), but I just find it handy to think of them that way.)

Polyvalent Form
Because of the nature of this piece, there can be an almost unimaginable number of versions. Each version could start from any one of the 19 "leaves", and end on any one of them. This is an example of what is sometimes called "open-form" or "polyvalent form", since the composition itself has no set structural arc. One idea that Stockhausen is exploring here is that each of these leaf fragments create their own "vibration" or color. In the previous Piano Pieces, grace note "satellites" and "halo tones" were used to create a resonating color over a central note. In this piece, each leaf (which also has its own internal central notes and satellites) could be considered a single central tone by itself, and the tempo/dynamic/articulation instructions at the end of each leaf are a kind of "resonant-coloration" which affects its surrounding "satellite" leaves.

Structurally, if one thinks of each one of these 19 leaves as a single note-entity (as just described), the chance sequencing of the leaves functions more or less the same way as putting these leaves into a serial sequence. The basic purpose of serialism is to produce variety and unpredictability, and the method employed here can produce the same kind of unpredictability. Naturally this "eye-contact serialism" is not going to be as "pure" as in a case where these leaves are put into a specific, non-repeating "leaf row", but since the previous piano pieces already covered serial organization on different time-scales, perhaps the idea of an open-form work which could produce a large variety of structural outcomes became much more important. However, ironically, some pianists prefer to "pre-program" the sequence and play the same sequence of leaves from performance to performance (probably because it was simply too hard to do it the "honest way").

Stockhausen points out that it doesn't really matter how these leaves are sequenced - in the end it's still a pile of leaves. The work itself has its own unique "vibration". "Piano Piece XI is nothing but a sound in which certain partials, components, are behaving statistically... If I make a whole piece similar to the ways in which (a complex noise) is organized, then naturally the individual components of this piece could also be exchanged, permutated, without changing its basic quality." (Conversations with the Composer, Jonatan Cott)."

Rectangle Font Handwriting Material property Parallel


With all due respect Mandryka I have to ask why you insist on hearing political and social messages in pieces of music where they do not exist...whether this piece or the first movement of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto?
 

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Any listener who doesn't know the "backstory" about the piece is NOT going to perceive any political or social message. Even if they were to read the notes you included, there are no such perceivable messages.
I think you should think again about that.

I wasn't thinking of its modular indeterminacy.

One thing anyone who listens will inevitably perceive is that it's not goal directed music. And the idea of using time to achieve a goal is a very central aspect of modern life. People set goals to control people, children in the UK are taught to accept goals set for them from a young age. Stockhausen's piece expresses a view of time which is shockingly antithetical to the way of thinking which has become entrenched in the west.
 

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Just my 2¢, but I think that ensembles WITH conductors tend to have more depth, and I like watching the conductor "express" the music as it happens (or perhaps it's 'before' it happens). Yes, of course, there's more 'control'. "Control" itself is not necessarily a 'bad' thing. For an orchestra it often keeps the music crisp, and everyone on the same trajectory.

One COULD use the same argument when speaking of the composer of a work of music. What if symphony orchestras celebrated equality and self-reliance by not having a composer to guide the music. Wonderful: No hierarchy putting the composer above the wishes of the players, no one person dictating what and how the orchestra will play. Leave it up to the players to decide.

Yeah, a very silly notion. Others have pointed out other situations where it's a great idea to have someone leading a team of people working on a project. It could be some open heart surgery, or a building a house . . . someone has to actually be at the controls or everything just goes to Holy Hell.

But HERE's a suggestion: I think that it might be nice to let the members of the orchestra take turns conducting pieces . . . now THAT would celebrate "equality and self-reliance".
Such orchestras do exist. A late friend of mine, who unfortunately succumbed to COVID, played in one. Each player is given the option of either: (1) conducting a concert; (2) having the orchestra play one of his or her compositions; or (3) playing a solo concerto with the orchestra. A nice and practical idea, I think. I'm not sure if there is anything political about it. It's just a good opportunity for professional musicians to add to their skill and experience sets, and /or their resumes. But I've been told in this thread I'm painfully naive about such things.
 

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I think you should think again about that.

I wasn't thinking of its modular indeterminacy.

One thing anyone who listens will inevitably perceive is that it's not goal directed music. And the idea of using time to achieve a goal is a very central aspect of modern life. People set goals to control people, children in the UK are taught to accept goals set for them from a young age. Stockhausen's piece expresses a view of time which is shockingly antithetical to the way of thinking which has become entrenched in the west.
I can buy the idea that we Westerners are more driven to accomplish goals than people in some other cultures (that's what we're told, anyway). It seems reasonable to assume that this influences our music. But it may be possible to read too much into these observations. After all, in what cultures do people not use time to achieve goals? Is doing that either modern or Western? Where have people had the leisure to sit around all day being "in the moment" and taking things as they come? Isn't there plenty of music in the West that isn't highly goal-directed? A lot of popular music, dance music, jazz, and ethnic music such as flamenco doesn't seem concerned with goals, with building structures or with going anywhere in particular. Does anyone find those sorts of music "shockingly antithetical to the way of thinking which has become entrenched in the West"? The powerful, tonally structured, "logical" progression and narrative force of some music (some, not all) in our European classical tradition is unique in world music, the exception rather than the rule even in the West. Stockhausen, Cage and company may take the "deconstruction" of form to an extreme, but I'll need to be shown how it has any political implications.
 

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"Politics", "Political", now "Goals"--these words have been used throughout this thread in such expansive and novel ways that it gives me a headache. What if the goal is to have no goals? What if the goal is perfect suspension of effort? To quote a well-known Canadian philosopher, the late and lamented Neil Peart:

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
 

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"Politics", "Political", now "Goals"--these words have been used throughout this thread in such expansive and novel ways that it gives me a headache. What if the goal is to have no goals? What if the goal is perfect suspension of effort? To quote a well-known Canadian philosopher, the late and lamented Neil Peart:

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
Only Epimenides the Cretan could say that his goal is to have no goals.
 

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"Politics", "Political", now "Goals"--these words have been used throughout this thread in such expansive and novel ways that it gives me a headache. What if the goal is to have no goals? What if the goal is perfect suspension of effort? To quote a well-known Canadian philosopher, the late and lamented Neil Peart:

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
Me too. What do you take for these musical headaches? Would taking something be too goal-directed? Should I just "be one with the pain"?
 

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People set goals to control people, children in the UK are taught to accept goals set for them from a young age. Stockhausen's piece expresses a view of time which is shockingly antithetical to the way of thinking which has become entrenched in the west.
What a statement. People set goals for all sorts of reasons. Children are taught to accept goals so they can operate as part of civil society which involves people having control of themselves and taking responsibility.

Stockhausen's work is typical high-modernism: butcher the form to reflect the idea, rather than use tried-and-tested forms (with variations thereon that may extend/manipulate but never destroy) to communicate the idea in way that connects with people emotionally.

Pink Floyd's artistic encounter with time is much better for me than Stockhausen's, because it benefits from the latter approach. Instead of merely being an intellectually 'interesting' manipulation of form, it is an emotionally moving manipulation of content in a relatively conventional form.
 

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This probably is the wrong place to do it, and probably no one's interested anyway, but I just wanted to ask people - given that definition of Moment Form from wiki - whether people think that Alvin Curran's Inner Cities 9 is in Moment Form - it's very good I think, whatever the form!

 

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Maybe I'm just old and feel as if I've seen it all, but it seems to me that in a postmodern (or is it post-postmodern now?) age, shock is more or less passe. Epater le bourgeoisie is old-fashioned Modernism, and we're decades past that. Music was never the best medium for it anyway; there's no musical equivalent of "P*ss Christ" - or, if there is, no one wants to fund performances of it, or it gets one performance and disappears, and few people know about it or care. Even visual artists who commit shocking acts - that vaginal knitting woman, for example - will generate a few irate letters to the editor and then a gigantic "ho hum, isn't that stupid, what'll they think of next." To be shocked by modern art now you'd have to have spent your life trapped in a West Virginia hollow without electricity or postal services.
I honestly think it would be very easy to shock general society with modern art, but no modern artists are willing to do it.

As far as I can tell, for possibly the first time in history, it is, in general, progressive views that control modern moral propriety. People are tut-tutted not for defying the social codes of the conservatives, but rather the progressives. As such, if you want to shock the moral fabric of society you have to insult, demean, belittle, or otherwise attack the values of progressives. The problem, therefore, is not that we have become immunised against shock, but that the artist themselves, as progressives, hold the moral beliefs that one would have to violate in order to shock.

Another statue of the dark lord drinking the blood of Jesus or a woman flaunting her body in a statement about "feminism" does nothing to disrupt the moral fabric of society precisely because it is not against the moral fabric of society and not because this moral fabric has lost its capacity for shock.
 
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