An Ongoing Collection

By Christopher Fulkerson
CF's Composition Desk

To go to CF's Principal Works page, CLICK HERE.
More links are below.

The well-known aeronautical incidents known as "9/11" are but a footnote in a proper study of the musical science of counterpoint. On that day, America, and probably the whole world, was forcibly enrolled in counterpoint class. Though it was served a notice of academic delinquency, it has failed to show up for the first day of class.

Absolute popularity corrupts absolutely.

Most "popularity" is manufactured and enforced by interested parties.

The work has an eternal duty to re-create its creator.

Democracy provides Rock and Roll instead of justice.

Minimalism erodes the distinction between neurosis and psychosis.

I'm not interested in Wagner because of his Romanticism, rather in spite of this, because he is the great-great-grandfather of the present Modernism.

Chinese music sounds like a parody of Chinese music.

Most of the last 25 years have been pretty dismal in terms of modernism. It's a good time to live in the past... in about the year 1988. OK, 1987, then.

To be an intelligent Californian is to be an unrecognized citizen of the East Coast social and political empire whose most characterstic use is not sought. To be an American Classical composer is like being a European born in exile. There is however a failing of the East Coast to realize the value of the California mind (less so a failure of the Central Europeans in this regard), and a failure of all parties to realize the importance of the European identity in America. Ultimately, the "space" of the California mind is what the world most needs, and accounts for the ubiquitous popularity of California, which could be thought of as the cure for political "high blood pressure" anywhere. The main problem a California intellectual has is with California's populism.

Attendance at a live performance is attendance at the Court of Awareness. What you can read at a live performance is limited only by your awareness.

There really isn't any composer whose music I remain enthusiastic about from the beginning to the end of their careers, or at least without exceptions. I think it's part of what it means to be a composer. One of the main reasons I write is that no one else writes exactly what I want to hear. If I want to hear what I want to hear, I have to write it.

A politician opens himself to scrutiny the way a scientist opens his ideas to refutation. But an artist has the same possibilities as either, without risking their chance of failure. Indeed, it is usually considered undesirable for an artist to be saintly, else he might not be humanly credible; and it is always bad for an artist to be too predictable. But what do we remember from the Renaissance? Shakespeare and Michelangelo, not the popes or princes. What do we remember from the Austrian Empire? Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven - we only remember Emperor Franz Joseph because he had the same first name as Haydn. What do we remember from the Romantic era? Wagner and Verdi, Bismarck and Garibaldi are scarcely more than names. Time reverses the priorities of survival first, art second. The politics and the science of the past are overturned, but the art remains. Art is the true legacy of a civilization; the failure to secure an artistic legacy is the failure of a culture. America does not have a secure, satisfactory heritage, and neither does China, its current rival. There is a danger of a huge null in the future.

"Minimalism" is a match struck in a library.

"Post-Modernism" cannot exist. If, as was the case in its post-Romantic origins, Modernism is thought to be Historicist, then our present state of Modernism was prepared by the earlier work by which it developed in the dialectic, and our present Modernist operations are our working in the dialectical process to prepare the future, which is Modernist. A time "after" that future Modernism is merely another future; both tomorrow and the day after that are part of the Historicist's future Modernism. If Modernism is not thought to be Historicist, Modernism is merely that which is "of the present time," with, apparently, an emphasis on not engaging in anything backward-looking or recherche. In this case, "Post-Modernism" is a silly anachronism, a verbal expression only, that is false because it is simply not an analytical statement: that which is Modern is that which is of the present; Modernism is of the present; we cannot create finished works that are at once of the present and "after" it. So, in one term, "Post-Modernism" contradicts sense. It is a non-sensical term, like "hand-dirtying soap" or "sleeping wakefully." As people have not infrequently asked, what is it that comes after "Post-Modernism"... is it to be "Post-post-Modernism?" The term induces confusion; it should be jettisoned. The present Modernist state is followed by another Modernist state. The different between the two states is a difference in detail only.

One of the chief reasons it is best to avoid overspecifying the prerequisites of what constitutes good music is that music is never the same twice. Even in the case of a recording, the listener's ability, or even desire, to hear it absolutely the same way twice is marginal. With live performance it is even less; I have said before that live performance is the court of awareness. (With all performance, whether live or recorded, there is the court of awareness; with live performance it is possible to overlay whole different events one on top of another). Repeated listenings convert a work from one piece to another as familiarity and understanding increase. If you want to have the same experience again, you eventually need another piece that creates the same impression on your mind that the piece originally created in your mind. The fallout of this fact on human relations is great.

Listening to Soviet music will forever be a stigma of bad taste, like eating jam straight from the jar, and if, as I think it is, listening to a Mahler symphony is like eating a huge pot of chicken soup all by yourself, then listening to a Shostakovitch symphony is like eating a dinner of herring and corn right out of the can. There is no room for Soviet music in civilized musical discourse, and not because there is "no room at the inn." MORE

Prokofiev managed to write both real music and Soviet music, but it is to his credit that the music he wrote which is Soviet per se is fairly easy to distinguish from his genuine composition, and the fact that he had to resort to hack work is a blemish on his nation's cheek. MORE

If you had to judge only from the way it is persecuted, you could conclude that Modernism must be an idiom of special power. And it is important to realize that its principal enemies have always been tyrants and those who benefit from not raising the public awareness. MORE

The battle against Soviet Socialist Realism is far from over, for the fact remains that all its pot-boiled symphonism and cliches straight out of the can are alive and well and being served up by Hollywood and engorged all over the world, to the point that there is now a confusion in the concert hall between art and entertainment. MORE

It was probably Plato who first said that if swiftness is not necessary, one way to conquer a people is to refuse them their own music. MORE

Without a person in it the intelligence in a photograph is minimal. The intelligence in a photograph of a person is superior to that of an artifact. The intelligence in a photograph of a group of people is limited to the reliability with which the avatar (by definition, a person) of the group can be located within the selfsame photograph. Therefore, generally, the reliability of the intelligence of a photograph of a single individual is greater than the reliability of the intelligence of a group of people.

Any theater in which the actors have to be told what roles to play is remedial. The Jesuits were correct to found European theater, for example both opera in Italy and, probably, Shakespeare in England, as an educational outreach program. Only once a person can determine and play his own role on his own, does he enter adulthood in the world where "All the world's a stage, and all the people merely players."

Let us agree about one thing regarding John Cage: there is no substance to him. He defies, indeed treats as a mere notion the very idea of substance; he wants us to believe it's not even necessary. He wants to act as though prescience is not dependant on substance at all. He wants to act as though prescience without substance is a state that can legitimately exist. I think it exists all right, and I think that state is the state of psychosis.

A good metaphor for the dictatorship of the masses - in any nation at any time - is given in the story of Pavlok Morosov, a thirteen-year-old Soviet boy who ratted on his father for hoarding grain. The Soviets presented Pavlok as a hero and martyr to Socialism, since, though Pavlok supposedly did the right thing, after the authorities executed his father Pavlok was killed by the local townspeople. Proximately, within the Soviet Union, this tale taught adults to fear for what was said in front of their children, and gave children the feeling that they could take charge of their own parents homes. But this story fits into a larger scheme of revolt and political and cultural Pied Piperism of the most extraordinary kind, in the form of an ingenious "negative link" between cultures. For probably the most famous person of all time to be irrelevantly convicted of hoarding grain was: William Shakespeare. The famous statue of him holding what looks like a pillow is in fact a statue of him holding a bag of the grain he allegedly hoarded (probably to brew beer). With the story of Pavlok Morosov, the Soviet propagandists were exercising a profound and sophisticated form of delineation of their own from the rest of the world. By promoting Pavlok Morosov, they were creating a link to Shakespeare that would lead to a repuduation of him, a drawing of a line in the sand against him (and no doubt all that he may "represent"), against anyone who would do politics or art by means of or according to his work, and against any policy that contradicted their own version of how it may or may not be that "All the world's a stage, and all the people merely players."

Two of the greatest difficulties artists face are acknowledgement vacuums, and realizational vacuums. On acknowledgement vacuums: If too much time goes from a completed work to its public recognition, some of the ability of the work to be re-invested into its creator can be lost. An artist has to have a very firm grasp on his achievement in order to keep the work from failing to help properly re-invent his mind according to his work, and he must also never let go his grip on the work itself. On realizational vacuums: If too much time goes from the completion of a performance piece to its first performance, the prescience of its message may seem dulled. It takes keen insight for an artist to see how he has affected his world through the completion alone of unrealized work. Indeed to achieve this insight he needs to be able to tell how the actual people and events around him are interacting according to his unperformed legacy. I would not presume what the zenith of this interactivity is, but one of its nadirs was the Allied locking up of Ezra Pound in the dog pound after World War Two. Pound in the pound - not, pound for pound, the best use of a poet.

Aleatoricism is a nudge against the first dominoe in any possible aesthetic intentions the listener may have. Genuine randomness in music prevents the listener from participating in the work. Listener participation depends upon the audibility of the composer's intentions. While it may be true that some listeners unacquainted with a given style might not at first perceive the patterns of the composer's intentions, if they are there, and if the listener continues to listen, he will perceive them. But to the extent that genuine aleatoricism is in any way an important part of a work's constitution, the composer's "intentions" will be undetectable to the listener.

The sense of realness found in good music from any era (what Adorno calls its "Truth Content") is an objectifiable, created thing, not an elusive, intuitive thing. It is based on certain technical features of well-composed music. It can be described, taught, and learned. MORE

The Soviets beat America over the head with their plowshares until the Americans gave up what little hold they had on modern Classical music. American popular music is throughout the world the chief weapon of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and the chief reason I oppose the - continuing! - Soviet regime is its music policy, which still controls the minds of Americans. At my most leftist moments, I never approach the policy of Socialist Realism in music. But make no mistake: I believe that corruption and populism are the worst characteristics of both Capitalism and Soviet Socialism, and neither the Left nor the Right in either system, current or former, perceivable or invisible, uses the arts properly. One hears and reads occasional remarks that in the years following WWII American intelligence agencies used European avant-garde music to counter the ultra-conservative Nazi arts policies. According to this notion, it was deemed preferable to support avant-garde music than to encourage further social investment in the philosophies that led to Nazi extemism. (The British would be less involved with this trend; they were promoting Richard Strauss within a short time after the war.) However, this intelligent support of the arts as a tool of foreign policy was not implemented within the United States, where the mentality of what I have called "ranching" prevailed. This double standard of intelligence within arts support is hipocritical and should be condemned. The Americans failed, and still fail, to realize that the advanced arts, rather than the entertainment arts, guide civilization in a reliably sovereign way. The chief failing is probably in the communcation between the intelligence agencies and the politicians, the former being less able and/or willing to deviate from populist politics. At the end of the day, Democracy fails as a method of coordinating the people in peacetime, and America is nothing more than a marketplace.

Rules of composition: When in doubt, leave it out. Keep it light and bright - the heavy dark ideas are always best in their light, bright versions. Keep it clear - as Roger Sessions said, "Even vagueness must be clearly vague."

In music, you never want just two violinists playing a single part together. You want only one, or at least three, because whenever two fail at playing a single part perfectly, and this is always, there is the question of who is correct, and who is wrong. With three or more, there is a group effort. This can be generalized into a philosophy of life.

The first several times you hear them, the dissonances in a musical composition seem louder than they are. Composers: when writing a dissonance, don't mark its dynamic level up unless you have to. Listeners: when hearing a dissonance, realize that its apparent "loudness" might only be how you are perceiving it. Unless you are used to hearing dissonance, it is likely it will seem louder to you than it really is, and you are called upon to hear things as they really are, not as you think they are. These remarks could be generalized into a philosophy of life.

It is useful to translate composer's names in order to get some sense of the feeling people in their own world and time have of them. "Giuseppe Verdi" is best understood as the straightforward "Joe Green." Van Beethoven means "from the coven of biting [beasts];" this is redolent of Daniel in the Lion's Den. Of Bach, Beethoven once said "Er war kein Bach, er war ein Meer," which is a play on his name, which which means "Brook;" "He was no brook, he was an ocean." Josquin des Prez sounds like "gesse des pres:" meadow vetchling (indried bailed grass used for fodder), but actually "Josquin" is a diminuitive of the name Joseph - so his name means "Joey Meadows." Suddenly these guys seem much more everyday. And indeed, with very few exceptions, they lived quite ordinary lives.

Popular music is a form of cattle ranching. Through popular, consumer culture the Marxist "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" has been effected in America, except that Capitalism has finessed the situation, so that the potential power to the people has been converted into a type of marketing resembling farming or ranching. Marxism predicted what conditions under which the people would stampede, and this is still possible, though unlikely, since the people are, in effect, born in the same stockyards in which they are slaughtered. There are harvests of opinion, and the people are given options, but they always "opt out" of their power. Once in a while the people may stampede, but that happens less and less; generally, they keep to the predictable behavior of farm animals.

For a singer, every technical problem is solved the same way: by singing legato. For a singer, learning a passage of music is the process of realizing how the legato works in that passage. An intelligent singer is constantly thinking about how the legato must be applied from moment to moment, as though it is forever being rediscovered, in the very act of performance. The phenomenon is the same for instrumentalists, but their performance is not as affected if they make an exception. Of all musicians, singers have the highest duty to keep the beauty continuous.

Good singing is to a public what good sex is to an individual, and only those singers whose production accords with the principals of Classical Italian singing are good singers.

Most of the time, dramatic characterization in choral sound, when it exists at all, is given illusorily, by the accompaniment, and not by the voices. As is usual and proper, the singers' main task is to sing legato (see the previous note).

Non-musicians are very impressed with Beethoven for having written music while almost completely deaf. But every composer is supposed to have this skill. Bach however dictated the Art of Fugue while blind. That is impressive.

Ezra Pound's metaphor that artists are "the antenae of the race" is obviously mixed, since people don't have antenae. But we are supposed to have eyes. When a society refuses to support a proper avant garde, it is poking its eyes out. I testify that at the voting polls, I have seen it make this motion in my time. For more about the vision of the Avant Garde, CLICK HERE.

Never write a work about a living political figure; or on a political issue that has not settled into history, preferably through both the issues being settled (one way or another) and the persons involved having passed on; or with conspicuously incomplete knowledge of the subject. Of late the most conspicuous violator of all three of these principals is John Adams, the most industrial-strength lowbrow in America, who wrote Nixon in China while the former president was still alive; wrote an opera on Near Eastern issues that are still not settled; and wrote an opera about the development of the atomic bomb in which no mention is made of the equivalent Japanese biological warfare program, which only lacked a delivery system to have decimated populations on the American West Coast, thus obviating any chance Mr. Adams' opera would ever have had to come into existence. For more about minimalism, Mr. Adams' chosen idiom, CLICK HERE.

Never demonize someone's religion, unless the connection is very clear (for example, it might be OK to demonize a self-avowedly Satanic cult - if you really want to do them the favor), or specific to the individuals involved (for example, a particular priest who violates his vows would not reflect on his faith).


Posted November 18, 2009; Last Updated 7/5/ 2010.