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The A:New-Old/B:New-Old Question

What do we mean when we talk about the new and the old?

Two pieces to judge as A/B:

Denis Smalley (1974)

<---- Alan Bjorklund (2016)

What do we mean by each part of the A/B distinction? 

A: the time based new/old distinction 

-Do we mean simply when the piece was made, or is it something more like:

how far back in the history of similar sounds (or compositional techniques?) is this piece?


B: the 'newness' of the music distinction 

-Are we talking about 'new' in the context of a musical tradition?

-Is there a 'new' that transcends genre?

-Why make 'new' music at all? It is an artifact of the European romantic and postwar sensibility? 

-What are the boundaries of the new/new? Surely to be new/new music must not have to be:

post tonal

post form

post meter

post electronic??

post sound??

There must be some limits on our definition of 'newness'- some 'old' concepts must remain(?)

Here we can see a historical trajectory that puts Alan Bjorklund's piece into context. Jazz began to incorporate rhythmic and melodic complexity from serial music (a very reductive analysis but useful). At each point in time, is the music new/new, or new/old? Serialism (and the sound of atonality) existed before any of these pieces were made, but jazz never sounded like this before (at each point), and the processes of composition were unique at each time. Would the Braxton be considered old/new now, or old/old? The same goes for the Steve Coleman and the Steve Lehman (2005!) (check out the track Demian from Demian as Posthuman)

Smalley's piece uses electronics along with his concept of spectromorphology- a unique language of compositional intents and methods. 

However, in '67 we have Silver Apples of the Moon: 

Let's consider Smalley's piece in terms of its release 7 years after this. Back then, was it new/new simply because there was not a long historical backlog of similar sounding work? Or is it at that time classified as new/old because techniques for abstract electronic works had been created years before? The same question goes for John Chowning's Turenas (1988):

It is even further out from '67- what distinction should it get? 

Finally, consider Stockhausen's Refrain (1959) and Babbit's Composition for Four Instruments (1948). I posit that the perceived sound of these pieces is similar. Both have amorphous time and draw heavily from Webern's language of serialism. You could imagine telling an uninitiated listener that one piece was composed using the techniques of the other. 

Given this proposition (perhaps there are better pairs of examples from this time period) consider these questions: 

is the 'new' tied heavily to compositional technique? Is it tied at all to the actual sound of the piece? It is tied to new visual arrangements of performers, performance techniques, or audience reactions? Is it some mixture of all of these? Is there some threshold of 'newness' for each of these 'parameters' that must be met? 

I've personally been obsessed with the idea of creating 'new' music since I started making it for reasons I can't understand. I have gone through periods of creating traditional music, only to be drawn back to experimentalism. Discussions like this will, I hope, shed some light on what those seeking 'newness' in music are really after.

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