Cube Calendar Articles for March/April, 1997

New Tools, New Technology, Old Dilemma
by Howard Sandroff

As electronic and computer music systems become more accessible, less expensive and amazingly more sophisticated their use has expanded from a handful of experimenters to the entire community of musicians. I consider myself enormously fortunate to live at this exciting time, I look forward to the new millennium with optimism.

Looking around my studio, I am, on occasion, struck by the thought that all of these new tools have drastically changed the ways in which I make music. I know that over the last twenty five years, I have worked hard to maintain my mastery over these wonderful machines. I am confident that the work gets better, both technically and expressively. Why do I feel ambivalent........why am I constantly looking over my shoulder?

Fifteen years ago I read a book about the process of sculpting by the sculptor Henry Moore. Moore wrote eloquently about the artist's relationship with tools and how their mastery was the first step in developing creative technique. He lovingly showed his students how to sharpen a chisel so that its edge was an extension of their eyes and hands. He spoke at length about how one should purchase a few basic cutting tools and spend years learning to use them before acquiring more specialized edges. Moore gave me many things to think about, but the most timely was his strict admonition NEVER to use power tools. Power tools, he wrote, removed the material too quickly, each cut should made only after most careful consideration. Power tools, he wrote, could not be mastered, only guided.

What about our power tools. Computers, synthesizers, audio recorders and processors, hardware and software, do they allow us to work too quickly, without careful consideration. Are our power tools also un-masterable?

Was Henry Moore right?

New tools are not new, neither is technology. Since we have been on this planet we continually invent new tools to help us survive, communicate and express ourselves. We constantly invent more effective ways to extend our reach, sharpen our vision, strengthen our grip, extend our hearing and control our environment. We can move faster, sing louder, look farther, fly higher and sadly, kill quicker than ever before. Technology extends and expands our capability to be creative or destructive. New tools can improve the quality of our lives.

So! Why not use a power chisel? After all, its only the cutting that is hastened not the consideration. I can easily make the case that speeding up the tedium of certain ³craft² related tasks gives the artist more time to consider the work, not less.

No, Henry Moore was wrong.

When I began composing, I used simple tools, some paper, a pencil perhaps a piano. Perfecting my skill with these tools wasn't easy or quick but I could look forward to the day when I would begin to master them. The tools served me.

Now, I am regularly forced to confront new and better ³power tools² which are being designed, manufactured and distributed at an unimaginable rate. I spend more and more time, but find it almost impossible to gain mastery over the old ³power tools² let alone ever hope to control the new ³power tools². Just when I think I have ³got it²............another tool takes its place.

Maybe Henry Moore was right?

Wait a second!

Look at how the explosion of electronic technology has impacted our culture in many wonderful ways.

Beginning with broadcasting and recording technology of the early part of the century, the expanded dissemination of music has enriched our lives and become an invaluable ³power tool² for musicians.

This new technology makes it possible to study, experience and be influenced by music (and musicians) from distant lands and times past. With the ³slide of a fader², I can experience the intellectual probing of Toscanini interpreting Brahms or the emotional power of a west African Griot chanting his tribal lineage. I can immerse myself in the precision of a Beethoven string quartet or the fury of Varèse' sculpting raw sound. I can do all that by taking a short trip to the record store.

Henry Moore was definitely wrong.

Computers, synthesizers and advanced audio technology has made it possible for performers and composers to imagine, create and express themselves in ways never before imagined. New sounds, new structures and new ways of thinking about music have stretched our perception and the definitions we carve out of them. Music and its effect on our culture is redefined daily. These are exciting times.

Artificial intelligence and the technology of super computers has given us new insight into the human brain and the creative process. Computer analysis of the physical world has given us greater appreciation of the order of the universe. Both inner space and outer space are being probed by new ³power tools² that will eventually reveal the intricacies of the creative process and the complexities of our perception. Scientists will one day tell us why great music is great.

Computerized analysis of body movement has helped us to understand fine and gross motor skills, how to refine them, and eventually will help create a generation of musicians with ³super chops².

Recording technology can document great performances by great artists and be a sophisticated creative tool that expands the musical palette. Performers and composers have many new options for polishing their product till they create a ³perfect² expression.

Publishing and printing industries continue to benefit from ³power tools². Computer assisted design, layout, typesetting and mass dissemination have created an eruption of print. Computer generated music calligraphy will revitalize the music publishing industry.

Advanced manufacturing technology has put sophisticated inexpensive musical instruments in the hands of consumers. Student, amateur and professional musicians are able to purchase high quality electronic or acoustic instruments at comparatively modest prices. New alloys and man made materials have taken some of the mystery out of instrument building. Reed players will eventually stop worrying about climatic conditions in France and its effect on next year's cane crop.

The electronic media, television, film, radio, etc... have filled our lives with music. Musicians now have almost limitless venues and new opportunities to explore the expressive power of sound.

We are the first beneficiaries of all these new ³power tools² our audience is the second. I now have access to the most amazing technology, right here in my own studio. These new ³power tools² have made it possible to almost instantly realize every creative idea. What continually plagues me is how these tools of musical creativity change the way I work and the music I make. As I look toward the coming millennium, I am mindful that as musicians we are challenged by the increasingly difficult task of maintaining mastery over our tools and that the technological explosion will make that process increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.

Wait a second!

Could Henry Moore have been right, after all?

Recording technology has all but replaced the necessity of learning to play an instrument. Families no longer gather around the piano or organ to sing the hit of the day. The only musical instrument that most people play is their stereo.

Recordings are replacing the excitement of live musical performance. Edited, processed and overproduced recordings are becoming the barometer by which we judge the expressive and technical merit of a live performance.

So what! Live music is rapidly disappearing. Musicians on the radio, at the ballet, in the club and even at weddings and Bar Mitzvah's are being replaced by ³perfect² recorded renditions. Musical superstars have become the yardstick by which we measure the technical and artistic merit of all musicians.

Mass dissemination of recorded music and the proliferation of electronic media hasn't really opened up new venues or expanded the creative potential of our new ³power tools². The solitary musician, hunched over his Macintosh computer, carefully crafting his new expression is an anachronism. Next week's ³hit² was probably created by a graduate of Harvard Law School. The music business has become an unwieldy behemoth that stifles creativity.

Henry Moore was right!

Computers, synthesizers and advanced audio technology are used to generate sterile digital clones which pale in their attempt to replace the beauty and warmth of a human being bowing, plucking, striking or blowing.

Broadcast, television, film and other electronic media music speaks (or doesn't) for itself. Our lives are forever intruded upon by unwelcome music in elevators, shopping centers and telephone ³hold² systems. This sonic wallpaper constantly and insidiously obliterates our silence.

Mass dissemination of music on disc is in real danger of replacing printed music. Piano students regularly consult the definitive Horowitz recording instead of finding their own insight and interpretation by studying the score.

Who cares! Sequencing and transcription software has the potential of rendering the art of musical notation totally obsolete and computer generated music calligraphy hasn't revitalized music publishing.

Young classical performers, hoping for a solo career, must navigate through a gauntlet of contests and juries which are indistinguishable from Olympic competition. Genetically engineered performers, with super human technical prowess is hardly going to advance the cause of human expressiveness.

Artificial intelligence and super computers will eventually objectify the creative process. Musical composition will become a simplistic and objective system of aural stimulus and response. Meaning and emotion in music will degenerate to the manipulation of our psychophysical response system.

Mass production of musical instruments and plastic reeds may make every clarinetist sound the same.

Boy! Was Henry Moore right.

Much has been written about the relationship between an artist and his or her tools. New tools have always been with us and eventually become old tools that are replaced by even newer tools.

This dilemma will also always be with us.

The only difference is that now, changes happen faster. In the past, it took many generations of artists and craftsman before a single new tool found its place. Now, many generations of new tools a created within a single artists lifetime.

However, it occurs to me that this dilemma is also a great challenge. The challenge is, how to maintain mastery over the tools of our chosen craft without stopping the tide of technological advancement.

Maybe Henry Moore was wrong after all.

So, be ever vigilant and

....before acquiring a new tool, learn everything that can be done with the old one and then learn some things that can't be done.

....time saved using a ³power tool² should be used to examine more possibilities, find better solutions and create new techniques.

Šthat ³power tools² can help make ³bad² music faster.

Šmaster the tools, don't be mastered by them.

Šprepare for the day when there aren't any power tools left to use.

Between wild swings of optimism and cynicism, Howard Sandroff composes, teaches and consults on the design of music and audio hardware and software. He is Director of the Computer Music Studio at The University of Chicago and Artist-in-Residence with the Radio/Sound Department of Columbia College, where he has just designed facilities and curriculum for a new program in the theory and practice of digital audio and the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (M.I.D.I.). His music can be heard on CD's from Centaur and Koch International Classics.

Re-printed from New Ways in Music Education, Vol. 8, No. 3. Spring 1992 with permission from the author.

The International Alliance for Women in Music

The International Alliance for Women in Music was formed on January 1, 1995 through the merger of the International Congress for Women in Music, the American Women Composers and the International League of Women Composers. It celebrates the contributions of all women musicians, past, present and future. A coalition of professional composers, conductors, performers, musicologists, educators, librarians and lovers of music, men as well as women, the IAWM encourages the activities of women in music by supporting performances and recordings of women composers; by fostering scholarly research on women-in-music topics; by facilitating communication among members and with other organizations; by implementing various broadcast series, competitions and educational programs; by encouraging member participation in other composer groups; by continuing the International Congresses on Women in Music; by initiating advocacy work on behalf of women in music; by actively seeking diversity in participation on the board and in IAWM projects, activities and events.

International Congress on Women in Music

The ICWM was founded in 1979 by Jeannie Pool to form an organizational basis for women-in-music conferences and meetings. The Congresses will become projects of the IAWM. The ICWM Newsletter was replaced by the ILWC Journal following the ICWM's merger with the ILWC in 1990. The Library of the ICWM is now housed at the International Institute for the Study of Women in music located at the California State University, Northridge. The collection includes books and recordings gathered by Aaron I. Cohen, editor of the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers and Congress members' scores and tapes.

American Women Composers

The AWC was founded in 1976 by Tommie E. Carl to promote music by women composers. The AWC News/Forum will become the IAWM's Scholarly Journal. The AWC's many projects have included recordings of music by women by women on the Bravura label (Capriccio Series I and II), concerts at such locations as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the National Museum for Women in the Arts and the formation of a score and tape library of member's works.

International League of Women Composers

The ILWC was founded in 1975 by Nancy Van de Vate to create and expand opportunities for women composers of serious music. The ILWC Journal will become the IAWM Journal. The League's many projects have included the Search for New Music, various regional and international broadcast series, including the Australian Broadcast Series and Expressions, the 1981 publication by Greenwood Press of member biographies and works in Contemporary Concert Music by Women: a directory of the composers and their works (edited by Judith Lang Zaimont and Karen Famera) and the establishment of an electronic communications network and ftp site for women-in-music materials.

For more information, contact the IAWM at Dept. of Music, George Washington University, The Academic Center B144, Washington, D.C. 20052, (202) 994-6338, or visit their web site at http://music.acu.edu/www/iawm/home.html

Events during 1997 related to the music of George Flynn

On January 14th at 7:30 at Ganz Hall of Roosevelt University, pianist Philip Morehead and violinist Katherine Hughes perform the violin and piano duo called 'Til Death .

At Pick Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston on March 14th, internationally-known virtuoso pianist Geoffrey Madge will perform the American premier of George Flynn's 1996 composition, Derus Simples, in a program which also includes the J.S.Bach Goldberg Variations..

George Flynn is completing a concerto for three clarinets and orchestra commissioned by the DePaul University Symphony Orchestra. This is to be premiered by the orchestra and clarinetists Larry Combs, John Bruce Yeh, and Julie DeRoche at Orchestra Hall, on April 21st, 1997.

George Flynn is planning on performing his Salvage for solo piano on February 14th at DePaul.

On March 17th, a concert devoted to George Flynn's music will be held at the Harold Washington Library Center.

Other events planned for 1997 include a complete performance of George Flynn's 50-minute-long piano solo, Pieces of Night, by the distinguished pianist Stuart Leitch.

Please check the listings for exact time and place for these events.

Mostly Music and the

International Alliance of Women in Music



in a program of premieres of prize-winning music for small ensembles by women composers from America and abroad

Smart Museum, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago

Sunday, April 6, 1997 at 4 PM

Admission: $15

for information call (773) 667-1618

American Composers Forum

The Chicago Chapter of the American Composers Forum will host Libby Larsen at the April 19th meeting. The meeting will be at 2:00 p.m. at a yet undetermined site. She will speak about how to make a living as a composer and other practical matters. On March 15 at 2:00 p.m., the Forum will host a panel discussion regarding Arts Funding and the creation of a granting fund through an entertainment tax. Janice Misurell-Mitchell will be speaking on her innovative ideas on the topic. For further details, contact Keith Carpenter at 773.866.0784 or at kcarp@nwu.edu. Membership in the American Composers Forum is not a requirement to attend these events. All are welcome.

Additional Events Notes

Northwestern University Winter Composers Festival (alias North by Northwestern?)

  • Who: Student Composers from Chicago-area universities
  • When: March 4-6, 1997, 7:00 pm
  • Where: Northwestern University ‹ all performances at Regenstein Hall or Block Gallery
  • Visiting Composer: Up-and-coming French composer Christian Lauba will be on hand to facilitate discussion of composers¹ works. Many of his pieces will also be presented during the festival.
  • The concerts are free and open to the public.
  • Anticipated participation: We expect works by composers studying at the following schools to be presented: Northwestern University, DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago.

For information, contact Mark Engebretson, (847) 866-8936, email to m-engebretson@nwu.edu.

For information on April dates (not available at press time) for the concerts of Gene Coleman and Ensemble Noamnesia, call (773) 227-2215.