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The "Bubbles" experiment - What is contemporary music worth?

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I would like to introduce you to an exciting experiment that I discovered.

It's about the Dutch composer Alexander Comitas. He wanted to test whether the modern atonal art music, which is usually promoted nowadays, can be distinguished from hitting random keys on the piano.

For this purpose he "composed" a piece called "Bubbles" by letting his young children, who had no musical education, play random notes on the keyboard. In the end, the children only divided the notes among the instruments. However, the composer did not tell anyone how the piece was made.

And indeed: Alexander Comitas received a grant of 3000 € for this composition! The jury, which consisted of a composer, a musicologist and a conductor, found the piece to be of high quality and even better than the previous (mostly tonal) compositions by Comitas.

You can take a closer look at the story under the following links:

'Bubbles' and Beyond: An Ongoing Musical Saga (Aristos, March 2013)

And here the composition Bubbles:

What do you think about this? I find the experiment very exciting, as it confirms what I had been thinking for a long time: A lot of modern classical music can hardly be distinguished from random notes.
I have seriously studied the composition methods of modern composers like Boulez, but came to the conclusion: No matter how "structured" these compositions seem on paper, they are irrelevant to the listener, since these structures are simply not audible.

However, instead of criticizing these compositions constructively, advocates of atonal music are often amazed at the "complex" and "innovative" structures of the compositions - even if they do not exist, as the Bubbles experiment shows.

I think that such experiments should be performed more often so that it becomes clear that the avantgarde mentality is causing damage to modern classical music and hindering the development of new music that actually relates to the way humans perceive music.

What do you think?
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I would like to introduce you to an exciting experiment that I discovered.

It's about the Dutch composer Alexander Comitas. He wanted to test whether the modern atonal art music, which is usually promoted nowadays, can be distinguished from hitting random keys on the piano.

For this purpose he "composed" a piece called "Bubbles" by letting his young children, who had no musical education, play random notes on the keyboard. In the end, the children only divided the notes among the instruments. However, the composer did not tell anyone how the piece was made.

And indeed: Alexander Comitas received a grant of 3000 € for this composition! The jury, which consisted of a composer, a musicologist and a conductor, found the piece to be of high quality and even better than the previous (mostly tonal) compositions by Comitas.
Interessting, but not even surprising. I always thought that serialism etc. is nonsense. It has no artistic expression.

But for some people the purpose of art is just to be able to show off intellect. And art that nobody understands is maybe even better for this purpose. An owner of modern art must have a modern and great mind, doesn't he?

Maybe I should try it to produce modern art too as a cheap way to make money. But you probably need a name fist. It only has value if the artist has a high reputation.
Moving away from the general listener is a double-edged thing. Starting with it makes music more interessting but it can be exaggerated and then it is unhealthy. "Modern" classical music has exaggerated it way too much. It is not just a matter of taste or distaste anymore. The general listener doubts that it is music at all and questiones the sincerity of the composer and the buisness. Someone I talked to just said that atonalism is assault and battery, and I didn't want to argue against it. On the other hand these "avant-gardists" are in their bubble and reinforce themselves.

The problem is the claim that atonalism and serialism is the modern form and direction of classical music. Because of the fundamental inability of these styles to get popular, this harms classical music. We need to free classical music from these shackles.
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^ I think those expressions 'unhealthy', 'exaggerated too much' is all relative. I used to think Beethoven's music exaggerated an expression too much, as compared to Mozart.
It is relative in the case of Beethoven and Mozart. It is just a matter of taste what you like more and what you find exaggerated. But it is wrong to conclude that things can get extremer and extremer limitless without changing the relative character. Things becomes more and more absolut exaggerated if they get extremer.

Phil loves classical said:
There is no reason why it is wrong or bad for composers to achieve different sort of expressions that some may not want to hear, whether that be a majority or minority of listeners.
It is probably relevant whether 75% dislike something or 99.9%. People have different tastes, so musical qualities are somewhat relative but not absolut relative. The sound of a drilling machine is just bad for humans for example. If just 75% of people dislike something, it is probably just a matter of taste, but if 99.9% dislike something there are probably good reasons based on common human properties.
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A composer wrote a atonal piece with an inferior methode and a jury gave him a prize for it. Now multiple people declare that this piece is bad. What kind of argument is this? It seems to suggest that the jury was just bad. But if musical quality is pure subjective this doesn't make sense. Bad-mouthing the work to downgrade the jury only makes sense if it is about objective aspects, because the jury obviously couldn't consider subjective evaluations of someone else. But if the work is objectively bad, then the jury could and had to see it.
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If you listen to music, as I do, for enrichment and fulfillment through the listening experience, then you don't need any outside authorities for guidance. All I need to do is listen to something and it either provides the experience I seek or it doesn't.
The behavior of the avant-garde wasn't very pieceful towards more conservative composers in the past. And there is a competition for performance and influence anyway. So I demand a fair competition. Things like this, a composition verified to be badly composed wins a prize, backs up my assumption that there is no fair competition, and that decision makers are biased towards atonal music.
3. The process with which he created the work falls entirely within the accepted method of composition. The raw material was developed through improvisation by his children, but improvised music has provided the foundation of musical works for centuries. Often I've read of a composer sitting at the piano and "fooling around" until he uncovers a phrase or harmony which he wishes to use.
But the kids "improvised" without musical education. And he used more than just the phrases he liked.

I assume improvisation by someone who can play an instrument is better than by someone who can't. And this also is a point that convinces me that musical quality is somewhat objective. If player A or B is better is primarily subjective but who wouldn't agree that the quality of the music from both was better after they learned to play the instrument?

SanAntone said:
2. It is entirely possible, and maybe even probable, that the board has a priority to encourage works of a forward-looking nature as opposed to funding works that do not plow new artistic or stylistic ground.
But which natures are forward-looking? This is an even more subjective question than the question of quality.

And "new" and "forward-looking" aren't the same thing. But maybe some avant-gardists don't make a distinction here.
Who said the kids had no musical education? I have to assume they did.
The OP said it in the first post and it is mentioned in the first video of the same post that the first kid played as randomly as any other five year old would do at 1:14.

SanAntone said:
But in any event, it is irrelevant whether they did or did not have any training. The raw material is just that: material to be manipulated in order to create a musical work.
I actually think that it is more important what you do with raw material than the raw material itself. But I don't think that the raw material is no factor at all.
Obviously, Comitas is not an exemplary example of a composer of avant-garde music, in fact he is trying his hardest to discredit the entire genre.
But if he isn't an avant-garde composer this shows how extrem the avant-garde is today. I wondered what the music at the beginning of his video was, because I liked it. And I found this:

Which classical substyle is this? It is clearly more progressive than romanticism. It is dissonant, but stil has tonality and rhythm, so it isn't serialism or atonalism. Its semi-moderat modernism imo. I think its interssting.
SanAntone said:
Comitas is a clown who achieved his 15 minutes of attention. Sad that this is the only way he got some.
Yes its sad, because his other stuff doesn't seem bad. I like his piece "the witches cauldron". He is not just an untalented composer salty that he is bad. He has some talent, but the jury preferred him using nonsense instead of his talent for composition. I fear that this "card-trick" is reproducible. But if it is reproducible than it is justified because it proves a grievance.
They are artists with the ambition of realizing specific aesthetic goals. They do this by writing new music that explores a variety of extended techniques, imaginative narratives, confronting social issues, and historical injustices.
Isn't that a bit too much political? Do they really have aesthetic goals if at least 50% of these aspects are political?

SanAntone said:
Which is to say they are no different from composers throughout history.
Really? Where are the confronting social issues and historical injustices in the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner and Tchaikovsky for example? In Wagners case ok I see it, "Verachtet mir die Meister nicht" somewhat fits into the "historical injustices" category. And the first and second theme in Bruckners Symphony No. 3 are actually about "confronting social issues". But I mean that is rather a side note. These composers wrote a lot of absolut music. Where are the politics in Tchaikovskys swan lake or Mozarts symphonia concertante KV 364?
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Music "competitions" are ridiculous, especially for songwriting.
I didn't meant contests, but the everyday rivalry on the market. Like Honda and Chevy but not in a race but at the shop counter.

There is music of classical composers which doesn't get performed at all or delayed for 50 years.

Young composers have used some aspect of 21st century society as a jumping off point, but it is not always political in nature. Issues of community, otherness, communication, figure prominently in the lives of people in their 20s and 30s, and it is natural that these same issues will inspire their music.
And what inspires them to atonal music exactly? I associate "community", "communication", "social media" rather with popular music influence which is tonal. What is the purpose of making everything sound dissonant? What about musicans of popular music? Why do they prefer tonal music? Are they less inspired by "community, otherness, communication", "technology, globalism, social media, and related "hive mind" concepts"?
There is a lot going on here -- the idea of progress in the arts and resistance to that idea, the idea that we should have progressive taste and resistance to that idea, nostalgia for various aspects of the past and resistance to that nostalgia, political wrangling over who gets money and how much, strange associations between arts and taste and status -- but none of it would matter if music were just music.
Yes, for example the idea of progress in arts. There will be always development in arts, but it is a problem if someone judges what is progress and what isn't. "Progress" also implies a direction in history, that the progressive stuff will eventually replace everything else. If someone defines atonalism, serialism or something similar as progress, it is simply inacceptable for me because this music doesn't give me anything.
What Boulez said in the 1950's, it's ancient history. The link between new music and the need for progress was more or less severed by the 1970's. With postmodernism, an anything goes mentality emerged. It was okay to be tonal or whatever you wanted.
I think this is narrowed point of view, too western-centric and too academical. Just look at the east, there was never an atonal hegemony, but also look to the west, see what great success Bernard Herrmann had with tonal music in the 50s for example. And then there are composers who are simple forgotten today, because academics don't think there are worth to remember. But the majority of composers was probably never atonal.

Sid James said:
"In the early 50s, [there was] no way that you could write tonal music - totally forbidden… You had to write like Schoenberg or Webern.
Ottmar Gerster wrote a nice tonal Symphony No. 2 in 1952 just as an example.

Western academics just tend to forget about these aspects of history. But it is their atonal music for which nobody really cares outside of their bubble.

Sid James said:
It certainly is about differing views, but it isn't a deflection. We're living in 2021, and its impossible to go back 100 or more years to a situation where aesthetic approaches, techniques and the rest where completely different.
What is this supposed to mean "impossible to go back"? Time traveling is impossible but that obvious to everyone. But many composers don't apply atonal aesthetics today. So I really don't know what you mean.
Then you have nothing to complain about.
Some composers are almost forgotten and therefore not recorded. I miss recordings of a lot of works from Ottmar Gerster, Evgeny Brusilovsky, Evgeny Golubev and Alexey Rybnikov for example. Some works are only recorded in bad quality, like some works of Otar Taktakishvili, Vladimir Vlasov or Janis Ivanovs. Works of some composers deserve more recordings like the works of Martin Scherber. And the works of a lot of composers are not recorded at all. I don't blame atonal music for it, but I blame a view of history that sees atonal music as superior or supposes that tonal music was forbidden/inexistent in the 50s, because if it was forbidden/inexistent then there is nothing to search for, right?

And that a composer like Alexander Comitas gets financially supported for "Bubbels" instead of his genuine tonal output is a reason to complain too. Composers shouldn't adopt an atonal style only because of academical expectations.
Atonality and serialism emerged from Austria and Germany, which are Western countries. Eventually it penetrated into the USA, through composers who settled there, such as Schoenberg.

Aleatoricism has more diverse origins, one strand goes back to encounters (which go beyond music, into philosophy) between the West and Asia. The emergence of interest in modal music in Europe (particularly France, e.g. Satie) is related, as well as anarchist trends like the Futurists.

It is true that composers who didn't absorb any of these trends, even major ones, where poorly served by ideology.
But I wounder how wide this ideological treatment was geographically spread. It is clear that the complete opposite was true in the east. Ottmar Gerster for example was promoted by east germany, because his romantic style fitted into the socialist realism concept. The problem isn't that he had problems in his lifetime, but that now western elites rather want to forget him.

Inside the western world I am not sure about Great Britain. Their composers seem less avant-garde than french composers for example. One example is William Alwyn.

And I' m not sure about the third world countries (neither west nor east) at that time. Was Portugal third world after WWII? Joly Braga Santos is regarded as greatest portuguese composer of the 20th century and he was tonal. So I assume there was no avant-garde hegemony in Portugal after WWII.

Sid James said:
I read two articles in Aristos, the one in the OP about Comitas and another about Borstlap's court case. I also looked at that Aristos manifesto and some career info on the two composers. It's not possible to go back, yet this is what the aim of these people seems to be.
The two greatest living composers I have discovered so far are John Williams and Alexey Rybnikov. And I don't see a break with the romantic tradition. Rybnikovs teacher was Aram Khachaturian. Their romantic line probably never broke.

I see the era of new music as an era of style pluralism. That's just fair. Its not true that it is just an era of atonal music and everything else is a century behind.
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Interesting. Khachaturian said in one late interview, if memory serves, that the younger generations of composers were not interested in following the tradition of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and himself. Which works by Rybnikov would you recommend?
I really like his Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6:

No. 6:
No. 5:

Symphony No. 4 is unfinished, I can find only a recording in bad quality unfortunately:

Symphonies 1-3 are older, from the 1970s and I don't find a recording.

He also wrote some Concerto Grossos, which are nice:

Important are his operas too, which mix in rock music and his film music. But I have no big opinion about these yet.
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Just reflecting on the debate about high and low art, for instance, I saw a quote by Milton Babbitt where he was critical of the top university students for listening to popular music rather than classical music. He strongly implies that educated people should listen to different music than those with less or no education.
But for which reason? For demarcation to people with lower status or because they have more time and money for art and therefore should automatically tend towards the higher art?

If people listen to classical music for the wrong reasons, it will lead to a decay of classical music, maybe this happened already.

On the other hand abolishing all social hierarchies is probably a very dangerous and short-sighted thing to do. The rigid social hierarchy of previous centuries appears to be too strict, but there is a trend overturn ever more without limits. It is an experiment that could end really badly. Our societies have grown with hierarchies, where is the warranty that they can uphold without hierarchies?

For me as a young person my young contemporaries seem cultureless. I think it can't end well. You can't let cultureless people get into power. Look at Afghanistan, the Sowjet union, or the french revolution. Total terrorism is the result.

The social situation feels like a chess game where you think you made a smart move, but the resulting end game 20 moves later is simply lost.
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Is intelligence even the right criterion? What about social intelligence? What about vigor? What about mental health? Isn't the overall ability more important for success than just intelligence? I'm sure there is some correlation between success and the overall ability to success. But also randomness.
If "postmodernism" is responsible for the breaking down of cultural hierarchies, I see it as a very good thing. These biases, along with the more toxic prejudices, need to go away if we have any hope of establishing a just and compassionate society.
If there was already a breaking down of cultural hierarchies with postmodernism, why do biases still need to go away? And if they would be gone, why wouldn't this be enough for more than just "any hope"? How extreme are your ideas if all the social changes that already happend aren't enough for confidence or substantial hope?

Whether classical music is higher art is discussable, but I have the impression, that these kind of things are just a beginning of a complete destruction of values and society.
While some movement has occurred away from cultural hierarchical thinking, it is still with us - witness the many threads and posts on TC where this kind of debate occurs. And progress in this one area of the arts would not translate into the entire breakdown of all values in society.
I don't know a good reason to separate this from other areas. A society that doesn't implicitly treat such art that is supposed to be high art as high art, looks like it has lost control about itself. For example Angela Merkel visiting the Bayreuth Festival instead of a Rap concert seems right. Treating classical music not as high art wouldn't be just towards classical music. Treating low art as high art probably wouldn't be just towards lower arts also. A lot of lower art is liked for its ability to shock the society. To treat it as high art is probably the exact opposite of the intention. And a lot of lower art is geared towards children. As I child I was completely fine with it, that a lot of things I liked were not considered high art. Today too. I would find it weird and inappropriate if some pop music, soap opera or video game I like would be considered high art.
I believe that there is no such thing as high art and low art. I find equally valuable art in many different musical genres.
I remember there was a G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017 and there was a concert for them in the new Elbphilharmonie performing Beethoven Symphony No. 9. I think that was appropriate. Do you think it would have been equally appropriate to perform "Shut up" from the Black Eyed Peas instead?

The talk about value is kinda unnecessary, more necessary is a feeling for what is appropriate for what occasion.
SanAntone said:
To argue that every classical work is inherently superior to any work of another genre does not reflect the reality I experience.
I think there is high non-classical music too. And I think not every classical music is high art. I like military marches for example, but I rather think they aren't high art. Maybe I'm wrong.

AFAICT, what this really means is, "A society that doesn't implicitly recognize the art of its rulers as superior to the art of their subjects is one in which the rulers have lost control of the subjects."
Kinda yes, but I'm not sure if it is about superiority in the first place. Its about appropriateness for high occasions and high figures in society. Compare it to clothing. Suits and gowns are more appropriate for high occasions than t-shirts.

Every political direction needs some rulers, and rulers need to represent their status. You don't want to have rulers who rather don't rule.
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