<![CDATA[Robert Dusek - blog]]>Fri, 26 May 2017 03:53:37 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Artistic Offenses]]>Fri, 03 Apr 2015 19:21:48 GMThttp://robertdusek.com/blog/artistic-offensesThere is just too much "nice music" today.  I'm asked to judge a piano competition, and I am subjected to legions of correctly playing students presenting non-offensive repertoire in careful performances.  I listen to some of the new classical music and it is either pretty and passion-less or academic and largely irrelevant.  Even the "pop" music of today is so heavily formulaic as to make one wonder if there is only one composer/ arranger available across this globe.

Now, I recognize that the above is a sweeping generalization.  This generalization, however, directs us towards a dismal conclusion: we don't want to offend anyone with our musical art anymore; unless that offense is politically correct--and in that case it is only offending a segment of society which has been declared properly offended.  It never use to be this way.

When Beethoven wrote his 5th Symphony, the lack of "melody" was offensive to critics.  Mahler stretched the length of his symphonies beyond sensibilities.  The premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring caused a riot. The dissonances of serial music, the strict repetition of minimalism, the ear shattering electronic experimentations--there were all aurally offensive; challenges to the listener and a true "experience" in performance.  I remember the first time I hears Stockhausen's Kantakta live: it was like a sonic trip through hell--it grabbed on to you and didn't let you go until it had chewed you up and spit you out the other side.  It was wonderful!

Even (or maybe especially) poplar music has lost its edge.  The blues based behemoths that ruled the sixties and seventies have given way to the American Idol experience.  The rap of NWA and Run DMC is now called the "bridge" of a typical pop song.  It seems that the only offensive movement in pop music is that which tries to take to extreme that which has already been done.   And that which does offend often does so simply because it is so poorly done.  Punk music was a "movement."  It was a philosophy of being, not a musical performance.

So, I trudge on, occasionally hearing a performance that knocks me out of my seat, but more often allows me to nod off.  I search for the music that has an edge.  I look for the artistic expression of one who isn't afraid to tell it like it is and likewise has the chops to pull it off.  With a few pieces and a few individuals that can "bring it," maybe a dent can be made in this field of nice and proper music. 
<![CDATA[Listening With Your Eyes]]>Thu, 08 Jan 2015 23:37:33 GMThttp://robertdusek.com/blog/listening-with-your-eyes In a couple of weeks I will be presenting on the subject of adjudicating, and so I began thinking about what might I might share.  The following are some thoughts that occurred to me while I was pondering the visual aspects of performance.

When it comes to music, we are visual creatures.  We tend to deny it; we tend to pretend that it is not about how something looks, but how something sounds that is important.  But so very often, it is really about how a performance “looks” that dictates how we will hear the performance.

Take, for example, two pianists playing two identical recitals equally well. One is dressed to the nines with a coat and tails; the other dresses casually in a shirt and jeans.  One gets a standing ovation while the other receives moderate polite applause.  Or what about the soloist who walks on to stage with great confidence and command of her instrument—she can often do no wrong in the eyes of the audience, while the virtuoso who stumbles on to stage is certain to receive questionable reviews. 

The fact is we tend to judge the merit of a musical performance as much by what it looks like as how it sounds; and being the visual creatures we are, we cannot separate the two.  Even when an instrumentalist is auditioning for a position “behind the scrim” so that we cannot see the individual play, we substitute our own thoughts for our visual stimuli and imagine how the performance must have looked.  Even when we cannot see anything it appears that our default primary listening tool is still our eyes!

This is not surprising.  Research has long ago shown that we gather approximately eighty percent of our sensory information from our eyes and that our default “sense” is the visual.   We are more adept in processing the information we receive visually than  that which we received through our other senses.  It only makes sense that we would be strongly influenced by how a performance looks.

The first time I performed the Concord Sonata in its entirety I was a sophomore at the Eastman School.  Wanting to impress everyone with how “cool” I was, I performed it in an African dashiki and tattered jeans.  The only comments that I received from that particular performance was how difficult it was to watch me under those bright lights and how I swayed back and forth too much when I played.   Needless to say, I toned down the attire for the next performance and the response was a great improvement.

In a perfect world it would not be this way.  In a perfect world we would be able to judge the music for what it is or is not, and would not be influenced or distracted by the visual component.  But, then again, maybe it is best that way.  Musical performance was always meant to be an all-inclusive kind of sensory experience.   Whether it’s the concert hall with its chandelier, the feel of the cushy seats, the smell of elderly ladies’ perfume wafting through the balcony and the perfect acoustics, or the sweat of an old jazz club with its smoke stained walls and drunken patrons, a musical performance is a holistic experience and when all the senses are working together to augment the musical offering, the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts and the performance reaches rapturous heights.

The important part is that we "experience" the performance.  To separate the listening from the seeing is to lose much.  There is nothing wrong with listening with your eyes.

<![CDATA[Color and Composing]]>Mon, 15 Dec 2014 20:07:08 GMThttp://robertdusek.com/blog/color-and-composingI was thinking the other day about the fact that us composers tend to work with a set of twelve and only twelve notes.  It's kind of like a painter that starts off with twelve colors on his pallet, and then mixes those specific colors to create a multitude of nuances and feelings.  The difficulty is not in mixing together different colors, but in the temptation to mix together too many colors, with the inevitable result being a shade of brown. 

I sometimes think the same is with music.  There is always a temptation to mix together too many colors and thus create a monochrome piece that has lost its soul.  That may be the issue with much serial and/or twelve-tone music.  By attempting to use each pitch--each note equally, the color of the composition is lost; although the work may be interesting, it often fails to lead the ear in one direction or another--rather being static, monochrome, brown.

This is not to say that serial music is bad; only to point out that its intention as a system to replace the tonal system is wishful thinking at best.  Far better the result when the composer mixes notes in such a way as to offer us a colorful collage or a landscape that invites our careful attention.
<![CDATA[nothing to write...]]>Tue, 20 May 2014 20:36:04 GMThttp://robertdusek.com/blog/nothing-to-writeAs I set up this new website, I find myself having nothing to share with any of you at this time...   except, maybe, that I saw that someone had scribbled the name of his state on the bathroom stall of a Wyoming rest stop.  The scribbling: "Niw MexLco."  Leave it to our education system to produce such scholarship.  In retrospect, the person only got one letter wrong for each word, so we would have to give him a passing grade.