Beauty is Revolution
This article was originally published on [May 16, 2018] by NewMusicBox.org an online magazine offering in-depth artist interviews, industry analysis, and multimedia coverage of new music in the USA. It is featured here with permission.
To make something beautiful is revolutionary (not low class, not easy, not a sign of low intelligence). Last year I wrote an article about my approach to music for Heresies [No. 3, p. 37, 1980]. In it, I said that “the relationship of feminism to my work and the evolution of the form of my music are in violent flux.” They still are, but the dust is settling.
I once believed that the concept of the music was more important than the sound
The idea that beauty is revolution is a revelation to me. I once believed that the concept of the music was more important than the sound, that the politics of the notation was more important than the time limits of the rehearsals and therefore, more important than the sound of the performance… that the numerological equivalents for the instruments were the determining factor for instrumentation… that pitch must be explicit and rhythm improvised… that if the composer says it is so, two string players and two lighting technicians can be a string quartet… that any composition must be consistent throughout and that internal change in the piece showed lack of compositional concentration… that more than three chords in one piece meant confusion or commercial music or both… and on and on. It is a very liberating feeling to come back to my childhood definition of composition, i.e., writing down inspirations. I’ve rediscovered the part of my brain that can’t decode anything, that can’t add, that can’t work from a verbalized concept, that doesn’t care about stylish notation, that makes melodies that have pitch and rhythm, that doesn’t know anything about zen eternity and gets bored and changes, that isn’t worried about being commercial or avant-garde or serial or any other little category. Beauty is enough.
And of course, it’s a problem, too. At different times in my life I have looked out and decided that Grieg’s music was the most beautiful… that Schoenberg’s music was the most beautiful… that Cage’s music was the most beautiful… that Oliveros’s music was the most beautiful. Now I feel as if my own music is the most beautiful, and the feeling is one of having jumped off the cliff with my wings on. I don’t know if they are going to work, but it’s too late now. This deciding about the “most beautiful” is necessary, and I think composers make decisions like this all the time. How else could they choose a style to work in and stick with it for fifty years?