Serene Dialectics

Cornelius Cardew when asked why he makes music replied, “…it gives me pleasure.”

Music, in my view, is the place one goes to to leave guilt behind.  In taking the sonic vows, in stepping most seriously into and out of time, in fully becoming the sound you are making or being made into,  in entering with trust into an unwritten musical contract with a sounding social fabric,  whether a symphonic orchestra, a Dixieland, Rock or high-school-football band, a gamelan, choral Society lap-top ensemble, Internet improv or self-centered solo performance, guilt, as I understand it (as one might think of so called guilty pleasures of chocolate, truffles and exceptional wines) hardly comes to mind.  Maybe never. Maybe regret, that a certain performance was not as perfectly centered, exquisitely high as you wanted it to be, but still far from guilt (nothing you would confess to priest, imam or rabbi)  Even at my piss-in-pants terrifying childhood piano recitals, a bomb, memory lapse, or other unforeseen cosmic event, never led to guilt when you could run out of the moldy concert hall, fly away and kick a football and be instantaneously forgotten by Mozart, Bach, Kuhlau and Czerny and vice-versa. Over the years, I’ve learned there are no mistakes in music, especially in music which can be made “al fresco” or with such simplicity (or complexity) of density, speed, range, duration, silence as to render all the sound -   the sum total of events -  a kind of joyful mistake, and for all we know a grand historic blunder.  Not to mention formal compositional ideas (patchwork, randomly placed events, grating walls of noise, mixing of professionals with amateurs and the playing of conventional acoustic instruments unconventionally, etc etc) which all in some way challenge the inherited traditions of western and world musics, those that demand perfected realizations and reflections of the tradition itself to ensure their future.… So to many of us, experimentalists or not,  the formerly unthinkable guilty pleasure of “scratching” the violin (dragging the bow very slowly and with great pressure) - say a vintage Stradavarius -  are now everyday sound-gestures. And yes, did the Tuba fart, the English horn honk like a goose, did the kids in the trombone section enjoy emptying buckets of spit from their spit-valve at the end of the slide, did I enjoy surreptitiously delight in recording (through the apartment wall) neighbors having a viscious fight, or elk and bison mating in the far west,  or even my own and my partners orgasms recorded in full glorious agreement – inevitably ending in my music as  sound samples of distinct quality – and was there a moment of guilt in any of this spying, spitting, and sexual delight;  I can’t think of any…Music reduced to its own immaterial mysteries is clearly a pure guiltless art.  Even my years of appropriation (let’s call it stealing in order to honor) of beautiful sounds of others – a high c of Pavarotti, or grunt of Frederic Rzewski performing De Profundis, or the Um Kalsoum and Senar respectively the great Egyptian and Turkish singers, or a loop of Maryanne Amacher’s sonic magic, or the Alowys the mystery yodeler of the Zurich Bahnhof, the magic high-speed raps of “Busdriver” urged on me by my Oberlin students, and even genuine moans and groans of  the renowned porn-artist Annie Sprinkle which appears in my CD Animal Behaviour in counterpoint with quotes by George Bush Sr. in his “with peace in my heart” speech justifying the first tragic invasion of Iraq are, in my opinion,  some truly guiltless pleasures. Maybe they were just the same old tunes – those inspiring sonic essences of Gesualdo, Ludwig, Satchmo, Thelonius, LaMonte, Terry, Charlamagne, Billie H,  Braxton, Maryanne, Berio, Carter, Scelsi, Feldman, Nono, Messaien, Merzbow, MEV and AMM which got rubbed off on my Dna card that only under severe waterboarding I might admit to having been under the influence of in my youth, but even there, my friends, what could I possibly be guilty of? But oh, the pleasure!

in Song-Ming Aug and Kim Cascone, eds., The Book of Guilty Pleasures, 2011, pp. 50-51


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