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I think the realities of life now are against composers. Unless you are wealthy enough to support you and yours, and also to put plenty of money into support of your career, even your chances of getting to the starting line are poor. I'm amazed that some people find it possible to be a composer, but they do.
I went into media in the 1980's, one of the few avenues in which a composer can make a sustained living outside of academia. Then the competition was stiff but one had to be at least a part way decent musician to even get a chance at playing the game. These days with DAWS, any kid in their bedroom has a shot at making a career for themselves in media by simply moving blocks of digital sound around on their computer screen and publishing their tracks online. The upside of this is that many more people get to express themselves. The downsides to this are that music has been cheapened creatively and financially because of the democratisation on creativity and how easy it is to seemingly achieve it musically. The sheer volume of (free) music on the internet that has resulted from aspiring DAW composers wanting validation and work, plus the lack of any real aesthetic discernment (but plenty of monetary discernment), on behalf of duplicitous producers in particular and directors who have grown up with the ubiquity of music online, has created a business model that rarely favours the composer.

So, even a career in media is now so unlikely to succeed and has so many deleterious practices stacked against it that one could consider it effectively a non-starter unless one is prepared to endure much hardship and stress, assuming the absence of sheer good fortune.

And yet, as you say Roger, some are still prepared to go for it and that conviction is the bare minimum qualification required to enter the ring.
 

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You are right, I hadn't considered that. Yet we're talking about established composers mostly, which also rely on famous soloist to get public. Chamber works sadly get less attention, as chamber music is seen by many as "background music". Since I am discovering chamber music myself in these days after years passed overlooking it, I cannot say if today's composers are as good as past ones in that genre. Also, of course, the difficulty to get the music performed is a huge problem. But there are a lot of possibilities with technology. As I am approaching a little of composition myself, I discovered softwares, samplers to be more precise, which can allow to produce orchestral music with a good PC and a midi keyboard! The sound libraries get more realistic every year, now there are super realistic ones like this, it's really like having an orchestra in your computer: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/shop/a-z/spitfire-symphony-orchestra/ but as you can see the problem is the high price and the technologic competence required, but that would totally solve the problem of performance. Of course, real instruments are always better but technology give composers more opportunities.
Technology within a DAW could well be the future along with self-publishing online for the more serious composer. I have pretty much all of the sample sets and they are indeed getting better. However they are restrictive, their articulations in particular are geared to their market of media composers and are in fact the dominant influence in that genre because they dictate the type of music (via restricted articulations, dynamics and techniques etc.) that can be convincingly written.
It'll be a while yet before a concert/art music composer will be able to fully realise any orchestral based work to the best of their technique and imagination but it will probably be possible in the not too distant future. You are right of course in that composers who wish to utilise samples in a DAW have yet another daunting learning curve on top of everything else, in order to become any good at it....
 

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Many composers today haven't done the hard work of learning counterpoint for example. Those old guys? The knew their basics and worked hard to acquire their technical skills.
There is and has been, plenty of excellent craft on display imv.
The modern sensibility requires different technical approaches and paradigms to composing that study of CP counterpoint and harmony doesn't necessarily provide. What a contemporary composer has to learn and assimilate is no less daunting than learning 5th species counterpoint and remember also that a contemporary composers immediate tradition and canon is the middle 20thC onwards.
I personally believe in a thorough grounding in older practices which is why I studied them, but they are not that relevant to a modern outlook and a composer with contemporary sensibilities would be wise to concentrate more on modern techniques. Doing so is a learning curve no less demanding than it was 150 or so years ago imv and still requires high standards of craft....maybe more so given the expanded and open nature of all the elements involved in composition.
 

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I'd like to add something to this discussion. It is also true that, in my opinion and in my own perception, today's composers do not have an obsession to create masterpieces and become great masters feeling like that is their life mission, their only reason why they are born unlike certain composers of the past. What I mean is: if you read Mozart's and Beethoven's letters for example, you discover they had an obsession for their art, it was not only their job, it was not only hard work it was literally their life, the main thing they lived for. Mozart composed in every single moment of his life. When he was eating, when he was playing pool, when he was having fun with his friends, always. He composed pieces in his mind, then wrote everything down when he could, sometimes though he needed to write the ideas down immediatly and completely detached from the world. Beethoven had always with him, everywhere he went, a notebook on which he constantly wrote ideas. It was their life mission, the reason they were alive. That is true also for all the greatest musicians, dancers, performers of any kind. But I feel like that's not the case for many composers today. They like what they do, yes, it isn't the reason of their existence though. Maybe I'm wrong.
You are wrong imv. Composers are as obsessed as they have always been with their art and craft and many have studied for many years to acquire their facility. Training in a conservatory does not adversely affect a desire and commitment to artistry, high standards, introspection and self-discovery - it encourages such aspirations.

There is no difference between composing today and how it was it was centuries ago because fundamentally, composing is a deeply personal pursuit regardless of language, technique, time and place.
 

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fluteman makes some really interesting points about the state of flux we find ourselves in. Philosopher Christoph Cox, who's written a cool book on the subject, describes sonic flux as "the notion of sound as an immemorial material flow to which human expressions contribute but that precedes and exceeds those expressions" (2018, 2). Here's a talk that may be of interest:


Cox identifies the origin of sonic flux as Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph, which unintentionally submitted a world of sound beyond music/speech to aesthetic attention. The sounds phonographers wished to capture were made ontologically equivalent - in other words, put in the same category - as environmental noises such as the hum and crackle of the phonograph itself. You can see the impact of this discovery in the work of Luigi Russolo, Edgard Varèse, and Pierre Schaeffer in the first half of the 20th century; Cage's 4'33", but also the 'gradual processes' of minimalism and drone installations by La Monte Young, Éliane Radigue, Max Neuhaus, Alvin Lucier, Maryanne Amacher, etc. in the '60s onwards; and the emergence of ambient/noise music in the '70s and '80s.

Before Edison, sound was "bound to presence," to what was occurring here and now. Audio recording, however, overturned the usual logic of time/space by allowing the "here" to be transported elsewhere; the sounds of Antarctic seals, for example, could be heard in a car while traveling on a Norwegian freeway. Trippy stuff. As Cox says, "audio recording involves an ontological flattening of its source material" (ibid., 56). This is because audio recordings elude the present moment - they are "always at once past and to come, registering bygone sonic moments and casting them into an indefinite future that is never exhausted by playback in the present" (ibid.). Simply put, audio recordings record events of the past but can be manipulated in the future like no other medium. After Schaeffer's "noise studies" of the late '40s, recorded sound became a prominent tool for creation and composition - see the tape delay systems of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, and Brian Eno but also the adoption of tape collage and musique concrète by the Beatles, Frank Zappa, and Miles Davis. The musical object was transformed into fluid, open-ended auditory material, and the boundaries between "composer," "performer," and "recording engineer" became increasingly blurred. Hip-hop recognizes this blur by calling anyone who alters the sonic flux a "producer." (Speaking of hip-hop, sampling is one of the genre's greatest innovations.) In the Western art music (for lack of a better term) tradition, jazz's golden age and the availability of magnetic tape subjected the classical score to deconstruction and dissolution; indeterminate compositions and graphic scores dismantled the musical object's fixity and encouraged real-time invention. See Stockhausen's Klavierstück XI, Boulez's Third Piano Sonata, Cardew's Treatise, and Brown's December 1952, among many other examples.

To summarize, the second half of the 20th century saw audio recording dismantle the classical score, initiate the practices of sampling, mixing, and remixing, and reevaluate improvisation. In the 21st century, mp3s and the easy copyability of digital data "deals the final blow in the assault of recorded media on the original" (ibid., 73). As mikeh375 pointed out earlier, recorded sound can be manipulated more easily than ever before through DAWs - I disagree, however, that this has led to music being "cheapened creatively."

So... where does the classical concert hall, with its rigid separation of "music" from "noise" and object fetishism, fit into our current state of flux? Hint: it kind of doesn't.

Anyways, this is a huge topic and no forum post - or thread, for that matter - can do it justice. One may observe that experiments with indeterminacy and graphic scores aren't as prominent in Western art music as in the '60s and '70s; I'm curious as to why this is, but I'm sure that publishing costs and the rise of music notation software (with its ossification of CPT-era notational practices) have played a significant role.
Great post Portamento.
I'd just like to clarify that I was talking about particular genres of media music, specifically soundtracks, trailer music - basically anything that is non-digetic in relation to any sort of film. For it is there were the DAW's influence is creatively insidious and has also become dictatorial in that it limits what type of idiomatic writing techniques can be used in a convincing way. This robs the composer of more expressive reach and in some cases ignorance of what is possible.

I'm cool with advanced electronic exploration in art music and recognise that it is as viable a creative tool as any other methods, requiring yet another set of complex technical skills and aesthetics. I believe too that the contemporary art music composer's future is heading towards more creativity within a DAW and self publishing of recordings and scores online, perhaps within the next couple of decades, especially as sampling technology and raw processing power increase.
 

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Portamento, I'm honestly not sure if a physical audience is, or is going to be necessary in the future. It's not what I'd like to see happen, but I can imagine it might given current trends and the schism between the contemporary composer and the listener. Rather than abandon public spaces, or retreat behind the academic ramparts, composers can/could access World Wide digital spaces and still conceivably contribute and influence the art and culture of music imv. And as a bonus, get through to so many more potential listeners. Regardless of whether or not you are willing to write in a way that entices an audience into your music, there will be people out there who would eventually find your work.

With so much music being and having been written and nil prospects for performances, even for well known names, I think that an actual recording is more valuable than a public performance and uploading work online is the only way one can hear neglected works. It is also a form of posterity. Case in point, I am listening to John McCabe's symphonies at present, I wonder how long it'll be before they are programmed live again.

The digital paradigm shift in listening habits has been with us for sometime now and I see no reason for it to not develop further.
 
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