Music is Hard 6: Words About Music

This week:
Is it possible to write and talk meaningfully about music? Why does some music writing suck? Why does some music writing transcend? How can we do it better?

Links:
Jan Swafford’s article for Slate “A Grand Tour of Contemporary Music”
Linda Holmes’s article for NPR “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything”
Alex Ross’s BRILLIANT books The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century and Listen to This

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  • Alex Ross’s description of Riley’s “In C” from page 496 of “The Rest is Noise” original hardcover:

    On returning to America in February 1964, Riley heard the Theatre of Eternal Music in New York and likened it to “the sun coming up over the Ganges.” He then set to work on an instrumental piece that would unite static drones and busy loops, that would somehow move quickly and slowly at the same time. The score took the form of a chart of fifty-three “modules,” or brief motivic figures. Each player in the ensemble is instructed to proceed from one module to the next at his or her own pace, tailoring the music to the needs of the instrument and the desires of the moment. The modules derive from the seven notes of the C-major scale, with a few F-sharps and B-flats thrown in for good measure. No matter what choices are made in performance, the harmony tends to move into E minor in the middle and into G major (the dominant of C) toward the end, with the B-flats supplying a touch of blues at the close. Tying the whole thing together is a pair of high Cs on the piano, pulsing without variation from beginning to end. Hence the title: In C.