Tag: the future of music

Music For Tomorrow’s World

Out of the Box banner with embedded headshot photo of Jessie Cox by Adrien H. Tillmann

Reflections of the future as digs to uncover what the present holds, maybe as possibility, maybe as impossibility, but surely a practice that sounds an open totality, that is to say improvisation as togetherness, or maybe, consent not to be a single being.[1] Rather than communing in formations, out of and with information as data, or bodies, or domains—sovereign authorities in general—this writing is an attempt to think through the prompt: “…our community ponder aspects of what music will be like ten years into the future,”[2] not only towards a future, but from a future, one I can hear, but also one I might already live in, that radically shifts notions of community, time, and space, under the heading of, and through music, as thought refigured. In listening to the present as an archeological dig,[3] as a site incomplete and still improvising itself out and in, like writing and reading onto and out-from this page, musical thinking can allow a shift in relation. When relation, to time, space, and others, becomes poetic, that is opaque and at the same time fully inseparable, then thinking with the future becomes a reflection of a future: like stars that shine from a past long gone, and mirror us into positions of futurity. It is through music that in this elaboration time is reflected, redirected, so as to allow for another kind of direction, another point of attraction, and maybe we can do away with the point as limit, and point becomes hieroglyphics of sound in motion/relation.

All of this is to say that in this essay I engage the future not as something that comes later on, that replaces a complete and whole present, but rather that the future is a method of thinking that shows something that is already here. In other words, I see the task of such a practice as the task of practicing, of playing, in the present, or maybe in front of an audience, that which I want to matter. As Marshall Allen poignantly said, “You want a better world. You create a better world.”[4] It is thus not so much a thinking through of time but rather a thinking through of music as world-building, as space-time creation: music as a tool to be together (with oneself and with others at the same time, that is also where this distinction as contradistinction becomes irrelevant) in space-time, which is itself that music as poetics of relation. What follows is simply the elaboration of what this means because it requires, on the one hand, a radical shift, and on the other, simply a remembering. Ultimately, this writing is something like a devotional practice,[5] maybe we can call it a meditation, or a recitation of those sincerities of sounding that remind of what is at stake, of being together (in an apartness)[6] through writing (sounds), and a giving thanks to and for those musicians that provide a possibility for spaces to resound this.

Charles Uzor’s work 8’46” subtitled George Floyd in Memoriam is a work written in 2020, from the geopolitical space of Switzerland, shortly after George Floyd’s murder and the incipient of global Black Lives Matter protests. It consists of 7 minutes and 46 seconds of breathing sounds (no instrumental playing) followed by one minute of silence. 8’46” is the first of two works written for George Floyd since 2020 by Uzor and it demonstrates (and places petitions for such thinking) new music’s relation to such protests. Together the two works uncover music’s (and as a specific case new music’s) entanglement with and in blackness. Its title references John Cage’s 4’33” through its similarity in appearance, while at the same time pointing to global protests under the heading of this duration, which was the initial duration used in court in the trial against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, for what later was revised to well over 9 minutes, killing him.

It is in this poetics of relation played out by composer Charles Uzor that a possibility of new music becomes amplified (and maybe refined): under the heading of this experimental practice a radical shifting of the world can take place. On the one hand the piece points with this duration, as well as its sounds, to an antiblack world, while, at the same time, speaking of another world: one announced by the work in form of the duration as symbol for the mattering of Black lives. The music becomes staging ground for a performative assertion that black lives indeed do matter. Uzor’s 8’46” reflects a sociality, in the breathing sounds made by the performers, as well as in their silences (which both appear also under the heading of a reflection of observers listening as it is in 4’33”), announced in blackness.

In this scene Music, or music we might bring forth under a heading of new music, is stage to rework our relation to the world—whether that is combating antiblack structures or a coming together in/as/with blackness. In this sense it is music and it is blackness, it is improvised sociality, that is to say a consent not to be a single being, it is an impossibility to be without being in poetic relation. Music becomes a space within which people can be themselves in a common that is founded on and with each member’s unique ways—this I’ve learned from musicians such as Cecil Taylor. In Nina Fukuoka’s Sugar, Spice, and All Things Nice this space is shaped too, and what becomes revealed is how such space-formation is always also an act of reworking spaces around this music—from the music’s seemingly more immediate institutional conditions, to larger questions for this planet. A work that takes accounts of experiences of sexism in the music-world as its basis, collected in, and as, the process of compositions in dialogues with others, Sugar, Spice, and All Things Nice’s life moves by way of the social lives entangled in the composer and the music. Music becomes entrenched in lives. Thus this work takes the task of making music as simultaneously a task of being with others in sociality, and does such alongside an aim of revealing and combating sexism—antisocial brutalities. In recounting such brutalities the performers, the composer Fukuoka, and those whose voices flow into the work, reveal this musical work (this working in and with music) as part of social lives—the music cannot be separated, it does not stand by itself because by listening to it we always engage a complex set of entanglements, lives lived in sound, music as living with things. Thus while at once bringing to the fore how women are being discriminated against in the music field the piece also points to, as example, how music has the potential to be that space which allows for flowering of lives. In addressing the problems surrounding it, the music becomes space for that which is denied: (women’s) lives lived in music. Sugar, Spice, and All Things Nice redoubles this fact in its sounding through the use of textures moving out from and in excess of words spoken, and vice versa—not even in the act of performing or listening can these lives be held.

It is in these two examples that I hear what project of futurity I want to partake in. Music as a world redrawing act, as a process of living in poetic relation with each other and oneself (which is not one any longer), that remaps this world, into something else already here, behind a wormhole, some kind of alterdestiny[7] that was always already present but that we can maybe hear better by looking into the stars, to a future and a past as the present. As skins clash, the sound of drums brings a remembering—a reminder, remainder, and rejoining—of that which music always was, how meeting and departing are always the same—sounds in music. Sounds cease to be of relevance as moments in-between and become that which is always already stronger than itself[8] or any self, or selves in or out of touch. It is music, that blackness beyond wholes with holes as holds. “This is the theme of the stargazers, stargazers in the sky. This is the song of tomorrow’s world, a cosmic paradise.”[9]


The article’s title is playing on the Sun Ra Arkestra’s record title Music From Tomorrow’s World.

1. Referencing here Fred Moten’s particular engagement with such translation by Christopher Winks of Édouard Glissant’s phrase “consent à n’être plus un seul.” In Moten’s formulation the consent is not given by a subject but is rather more something like what I would like to call a remembering of what was already there behind the veil.

2. This excerpt is from the email by Frank J. Oteri where he inquired with me as to whether I’d like to write this text.

3. Kodwo Eshun’s seminal article “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism” explores the ways in which afrofuturistic practices use the future to rework the present. To this aim he writes out from the notion of the archeological dig—his paper opens with future life-forms digging in their past, our present.

4. Allen, Marshall. 2019. “Out There A Minute With Marshall Allen.” PWPvideo. May 23, 2019. Audio, 5:02 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdTR-fiLfwQ).

5. I have to acknowledge here the origin of this word thought as writing coming out from my conversations with Fred Moten.

6. I’m playing with Karen Barad’s brilliant neologism together-a-part that plays out so beautifully the impossibility of actually being apart or together because of, to put it very oversimplified, entanglement, which is also to say, for me, because there is no single entity to be by itself or with someone else. I’m also thinking here of the ways in which this pandemic has played out and upon this together-apart complication. I invoke with such reminder my longterm collaborator and partner Lucy Clifford with whom I’ve learned of this in grooves of sound and life.

7. This term comes from Sun Ra’s philosophical thought.

8. I’m referencing here George E. Lewis’ A Power Stronger Than Itself, not particularly because of the title’s words but rather because of the book and what it documents: the AACM as a musical collective where music was, and still is, vehicle for lives as well as transformation of spaces and worlds.

9. Sun Ra Arkestra, “Theme of the Stargazers.”


Music is Bigger Than Any One of Us

Missing Pastry
A composer colleague was recently talking about removing compositions from her catalog; she stated that when pieces from many years ago just don’t make the cut in her mind anymore, out they go, and she repeats this process of culling older pieces every few years. Plenty of composers do this (I certainly have), and I understand that we all want to feel as if our stable of compositions represents who we are as artists in the best possible light.

But sometimes I wonder: Are we really the best judges as far as what should and should not be shared with the outside world when it comes to our own music? Are our present selves overly critical of the pieces our past selves have labored over? What is the real purpose behind our attempts to so closely control how, when, and what part of our creative output reaches beyond our individual perimeters?

These questions are on my mind because of a surprising occurrence that revolves around a composition of my own with which I have a somewhat fraught relationship. In a nutshell, I’m not sure I really believe in the piece anymore—it’s not very old, but still—and I have been seriously considering just making it go away. However, last week I received a quite unexpected email from a young musician who ordered the piece several months ago and recently performed it with her friends on her senior recital. She wrote about how much she felt that the music reflected who she has become as a person, and about how the process of rehearsing the music brought all of the musicians closer together because they found it to be a satisfying mix of difficult-yet-fun-to-play once they got the gist of it. The message was so heartfelt that I started to tear up, and when I got to the end of the email to find a photo of her at graduation, that was it; I sat on the staircase holding my smartphone early that morning and cried like a baby. Knowing that another person has been touched by something you created is a reward that is just as—if not more—satisfying than any of the composer awards that so many of us covet.

As Claire Chase states in her convocation address to the graduating class of Northwestern University, music changes us, and music is so much bigger than any one of us. With those ideas in mind, who are we to try to manipulate the perception of our creative output? What is, or could be missed by our clearing out what we see as blemishes in our catalogs? Is it possible to consider that even though you think it’s not so hot, it will rock the world of another musician or a listener? Would you change your mind about the piece if you knew that it would? One never knows…

I still have a “complicated” relationship with that piece, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel 100% comfortable with it, for a number of reasons. But am I going to strike it from my catalog? Not yet. Maybe not ever. For now, that music and I will simply agree to disagree. And the rest of the world can make up it’s own mind about it.

Blogging MIDEM 2013: Part 1 – Cannes We Survive

This is the third consecutive year that I have attended MIDEM. After trying to figure out what exactly MIDEM is when I first attended two years ago and then returning to MIDEM the following year as an at least somewhat seasoned participant, I was expecting it to be much easier for me to navigate this time around, as well as to be able to more effectively process it and attempt to explain what it all means. But since MIDEM continues to transform itself, past experiences with this annual late January Cannes extravaganza only offer a partial cipher to its current incarnation.

A favorite refrain of longtime MIDEM veterans is that it used to be much larger, and the current event is but a pale shadow of the glory years; a reminder that the music industry is in its death throes. And certainly it has seemed smaller each year that I have attended; this year seems to have the smallest number of exhibitors thus far. But what began as a trade fair and a giant schmoozefest for exclusive members of the record industry from around the world, as well as folks who wished to join their ranks, has gradually transformed into something much more open and perhaps more valuable for the greater music community. And, as Rich Bengloff, President of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) points out, MIDEM is still “the most important music business convening in the world.” MIDEM has become a combination of a conference, a music technology expo, a summit for entertainment law, an exhibition (primarily populated by national music promotion organizations from around the world), and a music festival. And this year there has been a greater focus on classical music than in the two previous years I had attended. There are specific sessions addressing classical music (which does not always fit neatly with blanket music discussions from a pop music perspective) as well as specifically designated areas in the exhibition hall for meet and greets for the classical crowd. (It’s still a giant schmoozefest, after all.) This area is actually designated as being for classical music and jazz, but on day one I did not encounter any jazz-minded folks here; perhaps I will in the coming days.

Jolly and Kenyon

Gramophone editor James Jolly in conversation with Barbican director Nicolas Kenyon

I arrived in Cannes earlier than I ever had on Saturday morning (at 10:20am) and after rushing from the train station to leave my luggage at the budget hotel where I’m staying about three quarters of a mile away from the Palais des Conferences where MIDEM takes place (since I could not check in until 3pm), I ran to the Palais, quickly registered, and made it to the “Classical Discussion Lounge” in time for an 11am session—a conversation between Gramophone magazine’s Editor-in-Chief James Jolly and Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of London’s Barbican Centre entitled “New Initiatives for Live Music in 2013.” Both agreed that despite it being a tough time to market recorded music, live music is thriving. As Kenyon explained, “Live music is a shared experience.” He acknowledged that the Barbican has a huge advantage over other performing arts centres since it presents many different types of events, not just music performances, and as a result is able to bring different arts audiences together. But ultimately he asserted that there is only so far you can go with changing the traditional concert experience in order to attract new audiences: “You need to be able to concentrate since that’s what the music demands.” I’ve often believed that concentrated listening enhances the listening experience of music in any genre.

Trio Fidelio

Trio Fidelio breaks with the post-Piazzolla sound world of the majority of their set to mine the soundworld of overlapping tone clusters.

Later that evening during a performance by the Trio Fidelio, a group of three accordionists who were the opening act for the Austrian showcase at Morrison’s Irish Pub, a group of English speakers next to me spoke loudly and incessantly, drowning out the music and ruining my ability to fully appreciate the post-Piazzolla romps that I was attempting to hear. After about fifteen minutes into their chatter, I moved to the other side of the room where it was slightly quieter. Perhaps the trio was aware of all the din because at one point they performed something that was a stark contrast to the rest of their set—following a primal scream from the leader of the group, they launched into a relentless series of tone clusters. Some folks walked out. I loved it, even though I did not find it at all shocking. But perhaps I was the one person there who had heard Patrick Hardish’s Accordioclusterville which William Schimmel recorded on a now long out-of-print LP on Ilhan Mimaroglu’s label Finnadar. (Someone needs to re-issue that recording.) But back to the events of the day…

MIDEM Hack Day

During the launch of MIDEM Hack Day, Emily White pitches an idea for a vinyl emulating hack for SoundCloud as Soundcloud’s Dave Haynes looks on.

At noon, I attended the launch of the 3rd edition of MIDEM Hack Day co-hosted by Martyn Davies of Hacks and Bants and Dave Haynes, vice president for business development at SoundCloud. Hackers from around the world are invited to create and build music applications using existing application programming interfaces (APIs). This year, a total of 27 hackers are involved in the project. They will be given only 45 hours in which to create their hacks and the results will be presented in a follow-up session on Monday morning. Stay tuned. During the launch, attendees were invited to pitch their ideas to the hackers. The most interesting of the ideas I heard was from U.S.-based artist representative Emily White who was interested in someone developing a hack for SoundCloud that would parse an album into A and B sides to emulate the division on a vinyl LP.

It was nice to hear such enthusiasm for vinyl at this year’s MIDEM, which in previous years seemed miles away from analog aesthetics. An even greater advocacy for vinyl, however, was a booth exhibiting the vinyl recorder, a machine which in real time records CD and mp3 tracks directly to vinyl. In the closing decade of the 20th century, folks were frantically replacing their LP collections with CDs; it’s nice to see that in the 21st century things are going the other way! For demonstration purposes, the exhibitors were recording single tracks onto vinyl from any attendee’s recordings and letting attendees keep the result. Of course, as a lifelong vinyl obsessive, this is something I had to have. I would not have wanted to make an unauthorized recording of someone else’s music, but luckily I had a CD in my pocket featuring some of my own music which I was giving to a friend later in the day. So I was able to test it out and now, at long last, I’m on vinyl—one copy at least.

Barbados at MIDEM 2013

Barbados at MIDEM 2013

I wandered around the exhibition area for about an hour; it’s always an opportunity to discover new music since many of the nations’ music promotion tables give away sampler discs of recent music from their respective countries. There were giant displays for J-Pop and K-Pop and music from countries all over Europe. Iran is not here this year (they were present both in 2011 and 2012), but Malaysia is here for the first time as is Barbados, and several countries from Africa (Ghana, Senegal, and Congo), although I have not yet had a chance to talk with them yet. Again, stay tuned.

Korean Pavillion

Korean Pavillion

Then I briefly attended a session at the MIDEM Academy called “International Publishing for Non-Publishers.” While the presenter, journalist Emmanuel Legrand, had a few interesting historical talking points (including the observation that publishing is the third oldest music-related business after performing and instrument building), he didn’t offer much information I didn’t already know. So I quietly left and ran across several atria to catch the Crowdfunding Workshop at the Direct2Fan Camp. Again, no real surprises here for me but it was the most heavily attended session I was at all day. Everyone wants to learn about getting money.

Crowdfunding Audience

That large audience for the Crowdfunding Workshop.

A session entitled “When Traditional Retailing Still Works” back at the Classical Discussion Lounge, however, offered much food for thought. BBC Radio 3 host Andrew McGregor led a lively discussion with Presto Classical Managing Director Chris O’Reilly and Nimbus Disc and Print Services Business Director Antony Smith. While everyone on the panel was still very attached to physical recordings, there was some disagreement as to their future viability. O’Reilly thinks he’s got another five years to sell CDs whereas Smith believes that CDs could still be around in 25 to 30 years. Smith does not really see digital downloads and streams as competition for CD sales as long as titles remain available in retail on physical formats since, according to him, “The recording industry has always operated on multiple platforms.” But Chris O’Reilly pointed out that sectors in the industry are forcing the transition to digital, such as the makers of tablets which do not include a CD drive and automobiles that are no longer equipped with a CD player, to which Smith countered, “My car doesn’t have an LP drive and LP sales are up.” Someone in the audience added that there seems to be a “deliberately inflicted downward spiral of physical sales; even though 60% of all U.K. sales are still physical, people are claiming there will be no physical sales in 2 years.” When Andrew McGregor mentioned that young people don’t collect, Smith had a retort for him as well. “Digital hasn’t been around long enough for us to know if they won’t become physical consumers. University students don’t want to own anything since they have to move around all the time, but after they graduate they go to IKEA and buy Billy bookshelves.” But aside from the clever banter, Smith probably had the most sage advice of the day: “If you buy recordings one at a time, the only efficient manufacturing is one at a time. Make the number you need as opposed to the number you think you might sell.” This, of course, is now possible, as on-demand reproduction is no longer financially prohibitive. Paradoxically, the same digital technology that threatens to eradicate physical recordings completely could fuel a new golden age for them as well.

My head was spinning at this point, but then it was time for more receptions. Traditionally the Japanese contigent always passes around free sake on the first night of MIDEM and this year was no different, so my head spun around even more…

Pouring the Sake

Pouring the sake

Following a brief run to my hotel to finally check in officially and unpack my luggage, I ventured back outside to sample the various music showcases going on in clubs near the Palais. I already mentioned the Trio Fidelio. Following their set I headed over to the B. Pub to catch some of the Jamendo Showcase. You may recall my unease with Jamendo last year, since these are the folks who boast the largest amount of free legally downloadable music online but the price that artists who want to be on board have to pay is that they cannot be members of performing rights societies, which means that they forego their right to having someone advocate that their musical efforts will be financially remunerated. The Dutch band We Are FM, which combined very LOUD hard rock with occasional electronic bleeps and samples emanating from laptops, was a really solid act. I particularly liked one song’s refrain of “What would you do?” sung on a monotone over and over again. I also quite liked their very non-reggae cover of Bob Marley’s “is This Love?” which sounded part Music in 12 Parts-era Philip Glass and part Album-era Public Image Limited, although I wondered if the heirs of Bob Marley, who was a member of a performing rights society, were being remunerated for this performance.

Keelee Maize

Keelee Maize

Following We Are FM was the “YouTube sensation” Keelee Maize, a Pittsburgh-based rapper. At one point she shouted out, “So all of my music is free on Jamendo.” She has already four albums out as well as a book, all of which are also available on Amazon (where they presumably are not for free), so apparently she has found a way to make the promotion of Jamendo work for her. But after listening to about five of her songs as the crowd got bigger and bigger as well as louder and louder, I decided to head back to Austrian showcase to catch their closing act, Stereoface, an extremely assured hard-rocking quartet which was billed as a psych-pop-punk. They reminded me a bit of early Rolling Stones; the lead singer even looked slightly like a young Mick Jagger to me. But by then my eyesight was somewhat blurry; it had been a long day. As soon as their set ended, I finally went back to my hotel to get some sleep in preparation for another long day.

What's With The Solid Car

Sometimes some of the exhibitions at MIDEM don’t make a whole lot of sense, e.g. What’s with the solid car?