With the revamp of my website, I've decided to add a blog, a move I've been considering for a while. One reason I’m starting is that I’m afraid that my performer bio (found on the 'About' page) is a bit of a failure. The point of a bio is not only to summarize professional accomplishments, but also to explain what makes one's music distinctive, and why in a world overwhelmed by art and information anyone should care. In the end I’m afraid that my bio does not fully articulated my specialized aesthetic and (apparently) unique perspective on music, and does not explain to you, the reader/listener, why my music merits your consideration. With this in mind (coupled with the fact that our civilization is moving online), a blog seemed like the best way to go.
My music has been described as everything from 'shockingly modern' to ‘nervous music’ to (my personal favorite) 'abstract Randy-ism.' While my work is well received by enthusiast of what is alternately called contemporary, experimental or avant-garde music, others listeners are baffled. To be fair my music does contradict many of the expectations of traditional music, but this is not simply some nihilistic attack or acting out against 'regular' music (ok, there might be a little of that in there), rather there are specific rationales and goals that explain why the music sounds like it does; these reasons are musical (or perhaps better called sonic), aesthetic and philosophical, and for me the discussion of them is as engaging as creating the music itself.
One of the provocative features of experimental music is that it often challenges the very notion of what music is. As our musical expectations are confronted, we often find that we have never really thought about them – never considered why we think one sound is music and another sound is noise, how our certain musical knowledge is determined by a mix of social norms and personal bias, whether music is a feeling or an idea. As we consider these questions our sense of musical absolutism weavers, our resistance to certain sounds weakens, and we open to new sonic possibilities. Once we start down this line of questioning we might start to wonder what’s the point of music at all – and if we can’t explain or don’t really know what music is (when we thought we knew all along) we might begin to wonder what else we’ve been taking for granted all this time; this in turn might give us pause to wonder how we actually know what we ‘know.’ And down the rabbit hole we go...
It turns out that in addressing these apparently musical questions, I have gone far beyond music itself to issues of aesthetics, religion, mythology, symbology, ontology and epistemology. Writers that have had their influence include (in alphabetical-ish order): Robert Bly, Boethius, Titus Burckhardt, John Cage, Joseph Campbell, Ananda Commaraswamy, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Mircea Eliade, Marsilio Ficino, Joscelyn Godwin, St. John of Damascus, Terrance McKenna, Carl Jung, Plato, Plotinus, Frits Staal, Władysław Tatarkiewicz, D. P. Walker, and Frances Yates, among others.
I teach music at a liberal arts school. Studying music in this environment means the possibility, even the expectation of being a thoughtful musician – of going beyond working with and creating sounds (as addictive to that as I am) to the ideas which are manifested in those sounds, and, in return, shaped by them; to be absorbed by the perennial questions of ‘why’ and ‘what if’ and give unfettered play to the imagination; to find a format of presenting music that goes beyond the regular protocol of perform-applause-repeat; to directly integrate what is often assumed to be the distinct worlds of art and ideas.
As this blog grows, I hope to delve into these issues in greater detail and, in so doing, better explain what it is that I’m up to as a musician. I welcome you to join me.