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Thursday, July 26, 2018

What Is Radical?

Throughout the history of Western classical music there has been an inexorable drive towards expansion and complexity. The modernism of the last century saw a dramatic acceleration of this tendency. It is as if some utopian goal was being raced towards, some hoped-for if vague transcendence, through an increasing radicalizaion of ways and means. An example would be the pursuit of "extended techniques" in acoustic instrumental performance practice. This often amounted to demands on the the instruments that were never intended by their original creators, with diminishing returns as the resulting distortion violated the very nature of the insturments. It would seem to point a problem with the notion of what might be called "transcendence by ordeal." We get the ordeal but not the transcendecne. From my perspective, true transcendence is not the result of generating more and extreme content of a materialistic nature, but to reveal and illuminate the "container" in which such phenomona arise. We are venturing into metaphisical waters here. That container or context has been called by many names: consciousness, pure awareness, satchitananda, Buddha Mind, Big Mind, etc., as well as the familiar names for the deity in monotheistic religions, at least in their mystical manifestations. In Buddhism, the Heart Sutra states that "emptiness is form, form is emptiness." We could think of form as the material content of music, and emptiness as that ineffable essence of many names that I feel form must point towards and embody. But in the radical new music of this and the last century there seems to have been an overemphasis on form as readicalized content. With the labyrinthmusic I am concerned with restoring the balance of musical content and formless essence. So rather than pursue extreme novelty at any cost, we might consider using more accessible means explicitly directed towards a higher end. That to me would be a new kind of "radical," one whose time has surely come.

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