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A Response to Taruskin

Franklin Cox

A Response to Taruskin

22 August 2016 / William Anderson / On the Beat

above: Cellist/composer Franklin Cox performing at the University of British Columbia.

Click below to see Franklin Cox’s impressive accounting of Taruskin problematics——>

a few points—->

—— first, being vehemently opposed to Taruskin’s stance is not at all limited to one from a new complexity background. (Cox studied with Ferneyhough.) One coming from new simplicity (minimalism) or what I call “postmaximalism” might be equally disturbed by Taruskin’s misunderstandings and inconsistencies.

—— secondly, much more fun can be had with this. Music composition establishes a theater where, to a striking degree, the elements of soteriology come into play. Eventually the question can become pragmatic, as it does with soteriology. In short, the composer, knowing that “the audience” is the ultimate judge of her work, must nevertheless make a pragmatic decision, a decision much like the one Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull makes, what stance to adopt? Felix asks himelf: “which is better, to see the world small or to see it big?” The question becomes a pragmatic issue. People will like him more if he treats the world as “a great and infinitely enticing phenomenon offering priceless satisfactions…” He admits that “It has always been a part of my nature….to hold insinctively” to the positive outlook.—->

We note a distinctly more valuable musical result from a stance such as:

—-Music will be judged, in the end, by *the audience* during our lives and after. Do I concern myself with the audience of my lifetime, or the audience of eternity? Do I let myself be happy with comprehension and appreciation by a small coterie, or must I hold out for Michael Jackson numbers? We see, consistently, that better music comes from those composers who think of music as an exploration of musical principles that are as vast as nature itself, from composers who acknowledge that music creates its own values. For example, Steve Reich’s Piano Phase teaches us to sit on the edge of our seats waiting for 16ths to phase into 32nds. Music creates desires that we did not know we had.

And here, I think I have come to differ with Hermann Broch’s fear of musical values becoming tyrannical (art for art’s sake becoming tryannical). Broch goes into this in his Sleepwalkers trilogy, and also in his essays. That’s another big question, not a trivial one. Broch’s warning justifies a stance similar to Taruskin’s, and it comes about when we ask,

Does music evolve unrelentingly on technical grounds, or does it answer human desires?

Taruskin’s stance places the emphasis on the human desire, through his obsession with the audience.

Is there really a problem here? Technique, in the end, serves human desire, no matter how seemingly autonomous it is.

I find my approach to this issue clearly set down by Roland Barthes in his essay “Writing Degree Zero”—>

“… it is because the writer cannot modify in any way the objective data which govern the consumption of Literature (these purely historical data are beyond his control even if he is saware of them) that he *voluntarily* places the need for a free language at the *sources* of this language and not in its eventual consumption.”