Note: this short essay was written in response to a series of public lectures curated by Taipei-based curator Jau-lan Guo and supported by the Spring Foundation, which took place in Taipei in March 2018. The title of the series was Sound Matters and carried the subtitle "What Does Sound Want."
0. I am supposed to be asking what sound art wants, in the same way that one could fantasize about what domesticated animals want or deliberate upon a bucket’s secret aspirations.
1. Yoko Ono once remarked in an interview, and here I am paraphrasing, that the history of Western music can be divided into BC [Before Cage] and AC [After Cage].
2. I underlined the descriptor Western to remind us all that we are talking about a very specific kind of music history under a very specific kind of cultural-historical circumstances. I fully accept this condition. I get real tired of people who pretend that they don’t already accept this. OK now that this is out of the way, we may continue.
3. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Cage got it all wrong with Eastern philosophy. Though, I do have some very specific things to say about how he confusingly smuggled what amounted to a modernist notion of authorship into the ancient divination practices of I-Ching, and by doing so, essentially neutralizing the most radical thing that it can say about concert hall’s version ego-centric subjectivity – but I will save that for another time.
3 ½. The sort of tendency [as encapsulated by the Yoko Ono quote] to declare what Georgina Born terms a “disciplinary year zero” vis-à-vis an unexamined and unequivocal celebration of Cage has not been helpful for artists, curators, or scholars interested in talking about and making sound art.
4. Much of Cage’s project has to do with challenging the pedestal on which the European composers of the Canon stood, as well as the unbroken musical lineage that the European modernists claimed. So why are we turning him into a demi-god? Why is sound art institutionalizing a competing but parallel Canon of directly descended sonic royalties, which by the way included only a handful of token Asians?
5. At this moment in time, nobody has really any idea what we are talking about when we call something sound art. I am not convinced that that’s an urgent question [not yet – but there will come a time in the near future when sound art is finally institutionalized, where we would have achieved level of arrogant certainly about what it is, at which point it would be at least fun to talk about definitions again, but until then, I digress]. Though, for something that has proven to be so difficult to pin down, there are certainly no lack of dogmas surrounding it.
6. A certain contingent of the sound art community [not a small one] is plagued by a sort of idealization of sound art’s medium-specificity [i.e., an insistence that sound art is defined by the primacy of the material of sound, and therefore practices that dilute the purity of the material’s condition fail as sound art], as well as a reactive rejection of and break with music [i.e., what Brian Kane termed “musicophobia”]. Douglas Barrett thinks that sound art isin fact our good old friend absolute music reincarnated in the contemporary art context (Barrett 2018). I think Barrett got many things right, and he was certainly correct in calling out the culturally conservative and artistically regressive tendencies of the variant of sound art that idealizes the auditory, as though the sense of hearing occupies an ethically superior position.
6 ½. Let me make another disclaimer. Barrett is [and we are also] talking about a very specific kind of practice, which is the sort of sound art that circulates within the contemporary art context, and are enabled by the institutional, economical and curatorial structures of contemporary art. That is not to say however that strange and beautiful things are not happening in the concert halls of Darmstadt, New York, or Hong Kong; or that a pristinely produced LP of a field recording of the Peruvian rainforest is not in itself radical – it absolutely can be. But these are relatively stable moments in that we think that we know how to create, process, consume or ignore these events and practices. But the real perplexing moment comes when somebody puts that Peruvian rainforest recording in a white cube and calls it an installation, however unqualified that claim might appear. Given the context in which this piece of writing will appear, I assume that this is what you are interested in –
6 ¾. – what’s in it for you, what sound art can do for you. You are not really expecting me to [though, I hasten to add, I would thoroughly enjoy doing so] to break an analytical sweat and perform a close-reading of the field recordings from For Whom the Bell Tolls, are you?
7. Where Barrett got it a bit wrong, however, is to equate sound art with absolute music vis-à-vis their insistence on autonomous sound. The picture is much more fucked up than that.
7 ½. Allow me to elaborate: autonomous sound as an ideal, which bestowed upon music its status as the highest of all arts in the romantic era [a status that still persists in the classical concert hall of today], has its roots in enlightenment thinking, and the Kantian aesthetic of the disinterested judgement of taste, where beautiful objects appear to be “purposive without purpose.” But note that this aesthetic judgement is not in itself medium-specific: we could imagine for instance a musical experience, a “mental free play” that is derived from the comprehension of the objecthood of music, which resides in music’s “text-proper,” i.e., the score. This obsession with the score-as-text, and by extension, as embodiment of musical essence is at the core of what Lydia Goehr terms “the imaginary museum of musical works.” One could argue till the cows come home whether or the aesthetic judgement in question constitute an actual musical experience [and that, paradoxically, is where we might encounter the most hardcore proponents of medium-specificity, the sonic-dogmatist], point being that the act [of unsounding, of silent contemplation of music] does not in itself undermine the said judgement’s commitment to formalism. In other words, if we took Kantian logic to its extreme conclusion, we would have already arrived at a place where “music could become untethered from sound as an autonomous medium, left, at an extreme, without sound” (Barrett 2018).
8. It is not medium-specificity that’s getting the resuscitation in sound art, me thinks, but aesthetic formalism, and more specifically, a particular variant of formalism that contemporary art [if we imagined contemporary art to be an upper-middle class, cosmopolitan, and left-leaning art professional who is well-versed in the insights of the European intellectual tradition] could still live with. Formalism [if we imagined formalism to be an older man with bad hair who embodies the very essence of intellectual conservativism] has never really totally left us. It’s been trying to make a comeback for years under various guises. In music, a more traditional configuration of formalism has been banished to a ghetto of the classical concert hall that is otherwise known as new music – that’s not what we are interested in. What is so special about this new and more palatable version of formalism?
9. Let us make a detour and talk about poetry [bear with me, there is a good reason for this]. Neo-formalism or new formalism in poetry had a brief moment in the United States and the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Neo-formalist poets privileged metrical artifice, stylization, and above all, musicality – poetry as a ritual language and an “aural technique,” as a formal exploration that is “separated from everyday speech by its incantatory metrical form” (Gioia 1987).
10. Literary scholars and poets alike had been quick to react against a perceived conservative tendency in neo-formalism, at various times calling it “a dangerous nostalgia,” “literary fascism,” “essentialism,” and “[a privileging of] white Anglo-Saxon rhythms and culture” (Sadoff 1990). Neo-formalist poets had also been criticized for using language as a vehicle for establishing cultural authenticity, to signal that “one is on a serious journey among [Canonized] artists” (Dawson 1985). At times, it was aesthetic formalism that was explicitly being contended with:
“The dissociation of sound, sense, and intellect, then reminds us of the danger of art in fin de siècle, the danger of appreciating esthetic beauty formally and thematically, at the cost of the observed, sensory, disturbingly contingent world. As Charles Simic ironically writes, in his World War II poem, Travelling Slaughterhouse: ‘When I close my eyes everything is so damn pretty.’ Closing our eyes while opening our ears create a myopic, unimaginative poetry” (Sadoff 1990).
10 ½. Are the neo-formalists conservative, positivist, and therefore regressive? Probably in some ways, many ways, but to be fair they never demanded a demonstration of correctness of poetic form, like a colonial ruler demands correct grammar of his subjects, but formal innovation [albeit in their terms; that said, to his credit, at least Gioia acknowledged that many of the most important formal innovations in the English language, such as the haiku, were the results of non-Western imports]. Postmodern radical subjectivity placed the free play of form under a kind of ban, or at the very least, made it really uncool. The position can be summed up thus: “to be true to the irreducible uniqueness of personal experience entails avoiding predetermined forms and discursive structures” (Shapiro 1993).
11. So why am I telling you all of this? Well, if our [let me momentarily exclude myself from the plural here] agenda as scholars, artists and curators of sound art is to undo the “great audio-visual divide” (Feld 1996), to open our eyes while keeping our ears open, to the ultimate end of re-centralizing criticality in musical, sonic and compositional practices – if this very specific thing is what we want, then I say we are already there: that’s exactly what sound art had managed to achieve since the time of its popularization as a descriptor of a loose set of practices in the contemporary art context, despite its numerous instances of identity crisis and ontological confusion [note that I am not saying that’s what sound art is, but commenting on what it does]. The battle has already been won, if that’s your fight.
12. But here is a caveat: in the process of realigning sound and music with the some of the progressive agenda of contemporary art, sound art has also managed to smuggle into the white-walled space its own version of neo-formalism as at least one among many valid and current avenues for artistic exploration. Examples abound: I am thinking about the pure sonic shapes of Bernard Leitner, of the contrapuntal and interweaving lines of Cardiff’s 40 Piece Motet, of Susan Philipsz’ voluminous bath of voice as sculptural form, of Ed Osborn’s Sidewinder and other sonic-architectural devices, of all of the abstract multi-channel sound composition that’s ever been produced for and played/exhibited/listened-to/looked-at in a gallery, and of that Peruvian rainforest field recording-as-installation.
13. So should we be alarmed? Should we be weary of sound art’s conservative agenda, its assumptions, its celebration of received forms [can you tell I really don’t care?]
Interlude: a self-interview.
Samson Young 1: What was the first thing that came to mind when you were asked to derive a text for this very specific thing in a set of very specific circumstances?
Samson Young 2: That it sways with the wind – which I think is possibly a cliché, though that’s really how I remembered it. But memories can be deceptive. Maybe it didn’t sway with the wind, maybe it did. But I never saw it and I just assumed that it did so. Maybe my assumption is a romantic notion, a pre-set of the mind, an effigy of the real thing. I can also cause it to sway of course by pushing it, and I did push it around, that I do remember. But is a swaying that is independent of my intervention more honest, truthful, purposeful and good?
SY1: We are talking about a thing, and the way the thing acts upon the world. Why do you invoke categories and judgements of a different order?
SY2: People start invoking notions such as honesty and integrity when they run of out things to say about the thing itself.
SY1: What is the thing itself?
SY2: Well, it depends on what you mean by the thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself a formalist, though I do enjoy a good close reading, the sort of analysis that breaks a sweat.
SY1: Stop deflecting my questions with fancy quasi-philosophical foot works.
SY2: Yes, but if I am having fun deflecting your questions tell me why I should stop. What do you want from me?
SY1: I want you to stop dancing around the thing and start engaging it. Let us for a moment focus on your physical relationship with the thing. How do/would you interact with the thing?
SY2: I probably shouldn’t push the thing so hard that it caned myself or somebody else in the face – that’s just abusive, and being abusive is never good, and I’d learnt the hard way, but that’s really the only rule.
SY1: Okay, we are getting somewhere. Go on. More?
SY2: I brush my fingertips across the line that the thing forms. Cold, hard, glossy surfaces. I push a few against their will and I observe as they bounce back. Resilient things they are. What lessons do swaying metallic bamboo poles teach me? Do the thing instructs us to be principled, stubborn, or unyielding?
SY1: Here we go again. I’ve had enough of your stuff theory.
SY2: But it’s important, no? What is the formalistic tendencies of cynicism in the thing? Am I mindful of the exploitative tendencies of the material that constitutes the thing?
SY1: I am not saying these are not important things to think about. I just don’t know how they are relevant to our discussion of the thing in question.
SY2: Well, form is how something is put together, relationship among its parts. So, if the thing is the sum of its materials and their effects upon the world, then in the act of engagement I became one with the thing, and by extension, its form. But we are talking about a specific kind of relationship – the pushing, the swaying and the caning. It's not like I am falling in love with the thing, so I guess it makes little sense to speak of a loving or abusive relationship with the thing, no?
14. “If forms always contain and confine, and if it is impossible to imagine societies without forms, then the most strategic political action will not come from revealing or exposing illusion, but rather from a careful, nuanced understanding of the many different and often disconnected arrangements that govern social experience” (Levine 2015).
15. I will end on a hunch that I cannot qualify: the neo-formalism that sound art has smuggled into the gallery space is not the earnest and naïve nostalgia for enlightenment that marked the post-cold war era out of which it emerged. It is, rather, a mourning of the bankruptcy of pure forms as an aspiration, within which is already a full awareness of its utter unattainability – something Seth Brodsky might call an “unconscious fantasy of form” (2017). It is not the act of crafting of form that is being celebrated, but the purity of a kind of crafting that is in spite of itself, a staging of its own negation that doubles as a celebration of its lack. An ethical play between the tolerance for ambiguity, and a hunger for clarity. The effigy and after image of form. A parapraxis, not a praxis. A sideway nod. The thing that sound art doesn’t know that it wants.
Note: this text was written in the aftermath of but not entirely related to the exhibition One Hand Clapping at the Guggenheim in New York curated by Xiaoyu Weng and Hao Hanru which I was also a part of.
The only language that I speak with no detectable foreign accent is Cantonese - that probably makes it my mother tongue if you insisted that I had one. My Mandarin is pretty respectable also, but there is a Taiwanese-Mandarin accent in there. I have also been told that my English is a perplexing mix of mostly Hong Kong-English accent, a tiny bit of British that is only detectable when I am tired, an American accent when I try to sound impressive and intellectual, all mixed with the a small dash of the wider "A" sound of Australian English. I honesty don't remember how these different sounds became embodied - it probably has something to do with the music I listened to, or the TV I watched. But if you think that my clinging onto (or inability to shed) what little British is left in my speech is indicative of anything beyond the company that I keep, then you have an over-active aural imagination. I hear none of these things. I have never heard my voice from outside of my head.
Speaking of over-thinking things - in China, many foreigners learn to speak Mandarin, which I think is admirable, but it is also a necessity - it just makes living easier. In Hong Kong however, the majority of my non-native Hong Kong friends lived for decades comfortably in the city without knowing a word of Cantonese. We in Hong Kong happily converse with our foreigner friends in English, or increasingly also in Mandarin. But you are thinking too much if you thought this flexibility betrayed a lack, a weak mind that is too ready to yield. Historically, Hong Kong is a port city. In trade, nobody wants to be misunderstood because it means a potential loss of business. So we are just being pragmatic.
And if we too willingly spoke English or Mandarin to you, instead of Cantonese, my non-Cantonese speaking friend, it's only because we are a hospitable people. It is not a pledge of allegiance. That said, when I am tired, my friend, you will always detect an accent. When the mind wanders, grammatical errors or incoherent logics or mis-pronounced words creep up behind me, like an effigy of a former pre-linguistic self, a version of me before the trauma of becoming a model minority, or a reasonable merchant.
0. “Impossible music #1. John Eliot Gardiner’s Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. A carefully-researched, “authentic” musical performance on period instrument, which derives its claims to truth by cherry-picking from history. Impossible music #2. The castrato. The castrato was once hailed as the more “natural” of the higher voices, in opposition to his female counterpoints. Meanwhile, the modern counter-tenor is a falsehood – a falsetto. Alfred Deller’s (1912–1979) voice was once considered to be an abomination. Impossible music #3. Aida Nikolaychuk. The Ukrainian singer, who represented Ukraine in Eurovision in 2016, drew national attention when she impressed X-Factor judges by singing like an auto-tune robot. Impossible music #4. Bob Dylan performed on an electric guitar, which prompted someone in the audience to shout "Judas" - to be plugged-in is to sell out. Impossible music #5. The sound of my voice from outside of my head.
1. I remember when the computer didn’t make a sound, when the machine was mute. You see, back in the days, a computer needed an add-on chip to generate any sound that is richer than a humble system blip. My first soundcard was a Taiwanese clone of the Adlib card. Adlib was a huge hit to begin with, but when the fancier Sound Blaster came on the market it eventually got squeezed out. I thought my Adlib sounded amazing, and stuck with it for years, until compatibility issues left me with no choice but to replace it. According to the copy of a print ad for Sound Blaster, its claims to superiority rests upon its ability to produce “believable audio landscape” that “blurs the line between gaming and reality.” Subsequent, pricier models of Sound Blaster banked on ever-more “realistic” sounds. Gamers happily emptied their wallets for a better soundcard every other year.
2. Fast forward to the 2000s, and advancement in digital audio synthesis had basically plateaued. There is little evidence to suggest that anything beyond 48k will produce perceptible improvement in quality. The MP3 format even went the opposite direction, and trimmed some fat off digital audio’s data structure – It discarded information that is inaudible to the human ear. These days Creative Labs is basically just selling fancy headphones.
3. I cradled the word “realistic” with quotes because we are not talking about literal correctness. We are firmly in the realm of mimetic meta-fiction. If you considered the programmer an artist, which, I certainly do, then you could blame him for a commercial flop, but never for being wrong. To paraphrase musicologist Richard Taruskin, correctness, the paltriest of all virtues, is something to demand of students, not artists.
4. Another case in point: we all know the hardcore musicians who swear by analog equipment. To the analog dogmatist, a Roland 808 is only considered an instrument when it’s this chunky, intimidating, physical thing that demands to be shuttled around. When Bob Moog proclaims an analog synth more “natural” (Vail 2005), using the analogy of sunlight versus fluorescent light, he is asserting more than a mere aesthetic preference. His crossed into the realm of the quasi-ethical. What he is really saying is that this is the way things ought to be.
5. This shit is real. You can’t win. Authentic, true, natural – these are big words that she slaps your face with when she ran out of things to say. She will pick an arbitrary point in time, twenty or forty or a hundred or a thousand years ago, and declare it the Urtext. And you play com'e scritt.
6 In the opening scenes of Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul, we see the Indian protagonist being dressed ceremonially in preparation for a presentation of gift to his colonizer. When Abdul pointed out to the dresser that a belt is not normatively a part of the traditional attire, the dresser insisted that its addition contributed to the costume’s authenticity. Yes, unequal power is at play and so on and so forth and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Hey, nice try, but you could never ascend above and beyond the role of a good student, a model minority, with that as your rebuttal. The dresser was just playing adlib if you think about it. I rather think this is exactly how things ought to be.
7. And really, there is no shame in being a model minority given the circumstances. So long as you don’t throw those lower down the food chain under the bus to cling onto your new-found, hard-earned position of privilege.
0. A great many musical traditions do without the need for notation. But notation remains a relevant question so long as we are not ready to relinquish entirely the notion of authorship.
1. Musical notation is a system of signs as ideologies. Like all systems, the system of musical notation includes and excludes, sets boundaries, makes judgements.
2. Here's why musical notation matters politically: it remains one of the most effective instrument for "universalizing beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable" (Eagleton, 1991).
3. Notation is not just visualization. Notation is gnostic.
4. When we speak of notation we refer specifically to the structure of the system of sign. Score refers to an instance of the operative logic of notation, its directives. Score is summoned and willed into being. Something (signs, objects, movements, texts) is a score because somebody meant for it to be read as a score. In John Cage’s Music for Carillon pieces of plywood are willed into a score. Cage had no intention of sharing his authorship.
5a. Notation does not need to result in an action, which is to say, function as a score. The reserve is possible. Other operative logics are equally probable. Notation as transcription is particularly under-explored.
5b. To compose is to transcribe sonic imagination, and to quantize such an imagination according to the priorities of the system of notation in question.
5c. To be more specific: the western musical notation system eliminates surplus information to maximize efficiency. Efficiency is defined thus: unobstructed transmission, preservation, and promotion of values congenial to the system in question. In an ideal universe that does not exist, everyone will be making their own system of musical notation, and we will teach it to each other.
6. The elimination of surplus information is violence disguised as resolution.
7. We now demand a higher level of communicative nuance than that which the western system of musical notation could afford. In the same way that "satellite vision" of the earth from outer-space has fundamentally changed the way we imagine our habitat, "computational hearing" and computer sound analysis has also irreversibly altered the way we hear the world. Spectrograms are constant reminders that listening is always only an aspiration.
8. Consider Messiaen's bird song transcriptions. Messiaen did the best that he could with the tool that was available to him. Rhythm and pitches were the priorities. Certain things have to give. Now we can capture a bird song, loop it, and zoom into its spectral content with sound analysis softwares.
9. John Cage once said of his drawings: they had to be like music. He promised Schoenberg that he would be faithful to music, even in his drawings. What does it mean to be faithful to music? For Cage, I think this meant that whatever he did in the visual realm, he operated in compositional terms, as opposed to musical terms.
10. Everyone can think in musical terms. I have taught children to describe musical shapes and lines with their bodies, and to represent these shapes in drawings. They are incredibly good at it. To think in musical terms is to describe what music is. But if you tried to do this you end up with statements of the most general nature.
11. Music is lines, shapes, patterns, repetitions, relationships, tensions, relaxations – all of these wonderful things. But the real mystery is the way that these forces work together to build the structures of sonic time.
12. You see this very clearly when you look at a Kandinsky. Kandinsky is sensitive to the building blocks of music. He describes them in very general terms. There is immense visual beauty in that description.
13. But if you tried to force a Kandinsky into music it would make little sense compositionally. Musicians have attempted this translation with varying degrees of success. I don’t see the point in it, but on the rare occasion that this works compositionally, it is always the result of the excellent compositional imagination on the musician's part.
14. I once tried to explain to somebody the reason behind my choice of color for a certain sound in my sound drawings. I soon realized that this is an impossible conversation. How do I make you hear C major as a light, transparent yellow? I have no interest in forcing my ear upon yours. What we could agree on, however, is the idea of hearing in colors, and that there is a consistency to the structure of this peculiar experience that is specific to the individual.
15. Here, effective communication seems improbable, but I have always thought that communication is over-rated. What we need instead is an awareness of other consciousnesses, and a sympathy for their many peculiar predicaments.
16. We use words like rhythm, balance, timbre, color across forms of art. This desire to share a common set of vocabularies are symptomatic of common energies, not structures.
17. We could all agree on the universality of the magnitude a loud percussive noise. Or the urgency of an accelerando rhythmic pattern. A motif of few pitches, however, is already culturally-specific.
18. Representation of energies are prelinguistic communicative acts.
19. Meanwhile, Cardew's Treatise is "an attempt to embody the way people actually experience structure in music" (Tilbury, accessed 2015).
20. In Treatise Cardew accompanished a perfect balance between pre-existing symbols and invented semiology. It breaks free, but is not impenetrable. It is a heroic act of resistance against a suppressive and obsolete system of signs.
21. Treatise is the most magical as an unfulfilled interpretative dance that happens only in the mind and never in an actual musical performance. I find the irresistible urge to make comparison - to "verify" a gesture - to be a distraction.
0. Stop telling me to stop dichotomizing the East and the West. I am not done yet. Stop delegitimizing my site of resistance. Somebody else's version of permeability always wins, and then I get pushed to keep moving along, when my lived reality is actually anchored unless I'm pushed or pulled.
1. What does it mean to reproduce the institutions of classical music outside of the West today? What does it mean for an Asian composer to write an "opera," a "symphony," or a "bagatelle" - how does one gain admission into this very specific history of music making, and at what price? Without adequate answers to these questions, contemporary music of the concert hall tradition in Asia will continue to be the farce that it is today. Whether it is stated explicitly or not, the question is always one of inclusion into or exclusion from musical high culture.
2. How is the "museum of musical works" (Goehr) legetimized outside of the West? The universality of music is a lie. It is a lie that has been re-invented by the music industry to legitimatize the dominance of one kind of musical expression over all others.
3. While transnationalism, hybridity, agency and individualism are all useful frameworks, they do not fully explain the persistent attachment to real or imagined cultural identities.
4. We might theorize about a transnational composer, but where is a truly transnational music to be found? Transnationalism ignores the rich contradictions that activate the act of border crossing in the first place: the lived reality is that people stay mostly in one place unless pushed or pulled in another direction (Dirlik). Transnationalism is dangerously suppressive, it renders individual voices indistinct.
5. Meanwhile, post-colonialism has lost its currency and creditability. Its language has lost potency. How does one stage an effective resistance today? Fanon's question must be asked anew: how does one protest in the language of one's perpetrators?
6. The previous generation of Asian composers demanded the world's attention through self-Orientalizing. They became local informants. It is easy to put on a performative masquerade of the picturesque when the world is watching, but it is not always up to you to take it off when the audience becomes fixated.
7. In the context of musical inter-culturation today, certain identity positions are still more desirable than others. If our goal is to reaffirm Chinese composers’ position as individuals, then instead of turning away from cultural politics, we should take a fresh look at the operation of socio-cultural discourse in contemporary Chinese compositions. In particular, we must confront our general reluctance to deal with Chinese composers’ agency and their newfound power in the age of the post-picturesque.
8. Today, Chinese composers are certainly more than just Chinese, “Eastern,” or Oriental. Ethnic artists are undeniably respected agents with individual artistic impulses. But now that these points are self-evident, where do we go from here? Chinese composers might have found their voices, but are they speaking in their own version of a transnational language? If not, then what are the operational logics of Chineseness, under the new circumstances brought about by globalization?
9. John Cage's project has failed Asia. While his philosophies are fully absorbed into the history of art, his music has been swept aside and into the dustbins of musical history. The institutions of the music continue to neglect and negate. Composers outside of the West are invisible in their own concert halls. Meanwhile, the downtown has become the new uptown.
10. Debunking the “East Meets West” binary involves not only a destabilization of the essentialized concept of the East, but also an equally rigorous interrogation of the essentialized concept of the West. We must begin by confronting the very language with which we describe the auditory and the act of composition.
11. What does it mean to "orchestrate" and to "compose"? Could one orchestrate and compose without reproducing the power structures that are implicit in these terminologies? What is the new silence, the new decay, the new reverb, and the new resonance?
12. Music is a system of relationships. Musical notation is a system of symbols as signs as power. How do we revive the mystical and metaphorical power of notation?
13. How does one live outside of one's own musical training and auditory conditioning? Could one hear one's voice outside of one's body?
14. We need to think of the classical concert hall as a “cross-cultural contact zone” (Ang) and a designated space of fantasy. Within such a cross-cultural contact zone, essentialization of the “West” serves two pragmatic purposes – to enable participation, and to allow marginalized groups to temporarily reclaim cultural spaces in a very privileged site within the dominant culture itself.
15. The act of composing therefore must be understood as “cross-cultural free play.” Gestures of appropriation are detached from the origin to which they refer, becoming acts of reconfiguration and misconfiguration. This is in line with what Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence calls “creative misreading” – the way by which a poet clears imaginative space for oneself through deliberately and creatively misreading a precursor. For example, to declare a work an "opera” is to acknowledge an art form and its contradicting set of histories, conventions and assumptions, to give opera a “nod.” But it is also to give oneself permission to misread, misinterpret and reinterpret, and by doing so, reclaim opera as ones own. Through the act of creative misreading, marginality and centrality may be re-imagined, albeit temporarily.
16. How does one resist the demon without giving the demon one's thoughts?