Deep Talking

“If we are going to spend all this time making music, it should not be divorced from our reality.” Leigh Landy, June 2011, in “Art for Goodness(‘) Sake,” his keynote speech for the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network/Electronic Music Foundation Conference

In the title of Landy’s speech, the word “goodness(‘)” addressed not only the quality of music but also the reason for music. Landy went on to point out that in all his years of study, no one ever asked him why or for whom he was making music.  I failed to note his answer to the first question, but his response to the second was for humanity, for society at large. His thesis was later supported by conference papers about how political dictatorships and cultural isolation affected the development of electroacoustic composers from Brazil, Japan, and China. Likewise, Ricardo dal Farra spoke about how engineers, researchers, and artists can work together to address global environmental issues. In addition, the concert of Abilities First School in collaboration with Pauline Oliveros and David Whalen exhibited how technology can give people with disabilities opportunities to make music.

Landy’s speech was not the first time I encountered this sentiment of the connection between arts and society. Across three years, I intermittently engaged with the work of Mexican sound artist Israel Martinez because he said, “We have to return to society what we have ‘sucked’ from her through the daily experiences that feed our creation.” I presented a version of my research on Martinez’ site-specific Pieza en tres movientos at the EMS/EMF conference. My poster and brief discussion focused on the physical and cultural context of the piece in light of the artist’s belief in the cross-pollination of the public and avant-garde artists.

Like Landy, during my studies no one has directly asked me why or for whom I make music. Seven years ago I broached these matters in my graduate school application essays: “When I feel something deeply, my most natural response is to try to express it in music. Sometimes playing a Beethoven sonata suffices, but more often, I need to create my own music to say what I have to say.” Since then, I have been advised against autobiographical program notes, but my percussion duo Crux was about emotionally processing a November 2005 art exhibit at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center commemorating the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, and the second movement of The H Trio was about moods of prayer in response to the film Munich and the Israel-Lebanon war of summer 2006. As a musician, I continue to contemplate the relationship between art and society, specifically the potential good that can be fostered by music-making. At the EMS/EMF conference, I talked with people in similar endeavors.

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