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November 20, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

nielsenI got an email today saying that 20,000 people tuned into WTTW last night to watch 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.  Considering that it aired twice more the following day in less desirable time slots, I’d estimate that it’s probably up to around 30,000 people total now.

That’s a lot of people watching the movie and hearing mine and Amos Gillespie’s music, but hearing the ratings report gave me a mixed reaction too.

As long as we’ve had air waves we’ve wondered who, if anyone, is tuning in to what we’re broadcasting and, as a longtime radio host, I’m totally sympathetic to this. Of course I want to know who is listening to the show, what they like or don’t like about it and how we can get more listeners and better engage the listeners we have.

This is a natural impulse for anyone who puts themselves in public view but it’s also a dangerous impulse if unchecked.

There has to be a strong balance between tailoring your content to the listener and curating your content and guiding the listener.  If a given broadcast scores high ratings it’s a natural impulse to want to air that program again or create more content like it and in the short run this may be a good strategy but long term you run the risk of turning off listeners and flooding the airwaves with garbage if you don’t adhere to some kind of standard or programming philosophy.

Chasing ratings just to have high ratings is a pointless pursuit and has led to some of the worst programming decisions in television and radio history.  The pursuit should be to have high ratings for excellent content, not to devalue your content to have high ratings.

I got a thrill thinking of 30,000 people watching our film, but I’m very glad that we made the film first and then WTTW agreed to air it. I wish it were always done that way.

Make quality content and then find the best place for it.  Please stop making content designed to drive ratings higher.  In the long run it doesn’t work, it underestimates the audience and, because people are going to watch television regardless, it creates shall we delicately say, a less discerning consumer.

 

 

 

 

November 12, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

placard1I’m putting the finishing touches on the first movement of my new piano concerto and am facing a familiar conundrum. How do I know when the piece is finished?

This is such an interesting problem for composers and I’d love to hear from others about how you know when a piece is done.  For me I guess a lot of times it’s when I just get tired of futzing with it and have to move on.  Other times I’m forced to stop working by an impending deadline which is kind of nice.

How many times after a deadline has passed and I’ve sent the piece to the performers have I said that I would go back later and fix it up?  Almost every time.  But how many times have I actually done this?  Almost none and I think it ‘s a good thing.  It really is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole and continue to work on a piece long after it’s done.

There have been many times now when I’ve heard a piece of mine performed and remembered the struggle I had with deciding that it was in its final form.  But upon listening I could never remember where I had had the trouble.  The truth is that the piece now exists in that form and that’s what it is.

Could I have made it better?  Possibly.  But it gets not only highly subjective at this point but also highly theoretical and for me at least I’d prefer to bang out another piece than endlessly wrestle with the same few bars.  That said, I really need to improve the middle section of the concerto, it’s just not quite right…

 

 

November 5, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

renaissance_soulFirst let me say that I am passionately against all self help books of any kind by any author whatsoever.  I haven’t read this book because it seems like a self help book and, as I’ve said, I’m against them but, I must say that I find the premise of this particular self help book, which I will never read, to be intriguing.

We celebrate the Renaissance man in theory but in practice we say things like jack of all trades, master of none.  Well, as someone who is interested in practically everything on the planet and has jacked around in many trades while mastering none of them, let me tell you that I get pretty tired of being accused of wasting my life and of attempts to reduce me to one thing.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that I should focus on composition or radio or arts management or a hundred other things I like to do like read history, shoot pool and collect rare algae.

In the book, or so I’ve heard as I will never read it, Lobenstine makes a distinction between people like Ben Franklin who are interested in and good at many things, and people like Mozart who are hyper focused on one thing and have indisputably mastered it.

For example if they both had a concert coming up Ben Franklin, upon hearing that he had to promote it, might think “here’s another interesting thing I can learn” whereas Mozart might think, “why would I promote it?  I’m the composer.”

To me both points of view are valid.  There are people who specialize in promoting concerts so why not pair them with people who specialize in performing or composing music?  And yet as a person who finds it impossible to specialize I like to think that we’d be missing out if the world were full of specialists.

There’s something magical about the quixotic pursuit of devoting yourself to learning as much as possible, and doing as much as possible, within the lamentably short framework of one lifetime.

As I’ve said, I won’t read the book because I’m too busy jacking around to read self help but I’m glad that she wrote it and I hope others read it.  Now, off to my basket weaving class!

 

 

October 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

free_weightseb3bcb06-e429-45ce-8eef-a2b699e81f17largerI consider the whole process of going to the gym to be penance for past sins and work hard to make the experience as miserable as possible in order to gain good karma.  Part of this is not bringing my own ear buds but listening to whatever dance music they play to pump us all up.  Running on the treadmill to Kate Perry’s truly dreadful “This is How We Do,” it once occurred to me, however, that a casual observer, upon seeing me move my body to this music, might mistakenly think that I enjoy it.

I have since modified my running style in such a way as to, I believe, show that I am not in fact endorsing the music but am simply subjecting myself to it in such a way as to curry favor with the Gods.  It looks weird but seems to be working.

I clearly need to find a way to communicate this when I’m on the machines though.  For example a few years back I was sitting on the shoulder press machine taking a break and enduring Sak Noel’s insipid song Paso, “I don’t wanna study, I just wanna party,” when I suddenly had a great idea for a project.  I had worked with my colleague Amos Gillespie on music for dancers inspired by Ben Hecht’s 1,001 Afternoons in Chicagoand was now looking for a new project that combined music, theater, literature and radio and I thought what if we turned some of those stories into a radio play?

I was so excited I jumped off the machine thinking I would hit the shower and get home right away to work.  Another gym patron, however, upon seeing me jump so suddenly smiled and said, “I love this song too baby!”

It was demoralizing.  But at least the project has turned out well.  The film version of 1001 Afternoons in Chicago airs on Chicago’s PBS station November 19th at 10:30 PM!

October 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2015-10-31 at 11.18.29 AMFor years I’ve described ACM as a global organization, a network of composers, performers, audience members and students.

We’re not quite to the level that I want to be at but tonight we took a major leap forward.  ACM composer members from the U.S., South Africa, Scotland and Germany had pieces performed in Seoul.

On November 6 ACM’s resident ensemble Palomar will perform works by Korean composers at the International House at the University of Chicago. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a continuing, fruitful cross-cultural exchange of music.

Videos will be posted from both concerts very soon!

October 25, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

o-MAN-WITH-EYES-CLOSED-facebookI was recently at a concert that opened with a famous piece by Steve Reich and, as the music began, I looked around at the audience who were clearly not new to Reich’s music because they all immediately began to adopt what I call the Steve Reich face.  You relax your facial muscles, you close your eyes and you think happy thoughts while you meditate to the music.

At the risk of alienating myself from nearly the entire human race let me just say that I don’t particularly like Steve Reich’s music but I think this has more to do with me than with the music. You see, I don’t particularly like meditating. I’m also not really into repeating cells, looping, phasing, development through minor permutations or happy thoughts in general.

I much prefer music that engages intellectually or emotionally rather than the austere sound of repetitive minimalism.  Since Reich’s music is currently literally everywhere though I have to find something to do for the at least 20 minutes if not more like an hour, that the piece lasts.

The good news is since everyone has their eyes closed, like at church, I can take my phone out. Again though, it’s not Reich, it’s me.  Also, Music for 18 is a masterpiece, I know this, I just think I’ve heard it enough times to last me.

 

October 19, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Raynovich_miesThat’s my friend William Jason Raynovich performing music by Edinburgh composer Katrina Burton at the Robert Carr Memorial Chapel as part of Open House Chicago.

For the last four years ACM has worked with Open House to commission composers to write music for several of the spaces and then put musicians in the spaces to perform the music.  It’s become one of our signature events, it’s highly successful and it’s always a great time.

As every year I went to all of the sites with music with the ACM A/V team recording and filming the pieces for video documentation.  This is always such a fun day as we rush from site to site, meet new people and enjoy the other ancillary Open House events.

For example this year on the football field at IIT, just a block north of the Carr Chapel, the engineering students were having their annual pumpkin launch competition.  They design and build their own catapults and then try them out in a competition.  While none of them worked super well, it was still a blast watching them work their crazy contraptions.

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October 9, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2015-10-31 at 12.34.13 PMI was watching the film the Martian the other day at the theater and, while it’s not a bad film, it does lend itself well to a certain amount of mind drift.  Naturally the premise is ridiculous and I’m quite sure that the science probably has some holes in it but it occurred to me that this doesn’t matter because the point is we’re meant to imagine a person left behind on a desolate planet far from home who has to use his skills to stay alive until help comes.

In other words the premise and the plot itself are completely immaterial and the film works largely because it successfully gets the audience to invest in it. This is a revelation of sorts for me as a composer.  I have thought numerous times how interesting it is to think about the moment that a chord progression becomes a song, when the songwriter invests it with meaning which is ideally shared on the part of the listener and it becomes more than the sum of its parts

I’m writing a solo flute piece at the moment and thinking about the flutist coming on stage and playing the first few notes.  When I first began the piece that’s exactly what they were, just a C and a C#, not a piece of music but notes.  I liked the notes but still they did not comprise an artistic statement as of yet.

Then I started thinking about how I’m in a time of transition in my life and I named the piece Half State.  I then looked up that phrase and saw that it also applies to a state between sleeping and waking which is appealing to me and I decided that I liked the title.  Now the C and C# in the opening are ambiguous and I added a pitch bend between them to highlight this fact. Now we are in a half state and the piece can progress.  Now it is a piece, not notes.

Hopefully the audience will invest in the piece as well.  That is the true measure of success in art. The piece can be well constructed but no one invests in it and by the same token there are highly successful pieces that are not well constructed but communicate and invite the audience to invest in them.  Hopefully my piece will be both well constructed and communicative but ultimately I’ll judge the success of it on whether or not the listener invests in my premise.

 

September 25, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Stay_Puft_WrigleyIt’s official – the Cubs have clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs and so the entire north side of Chicago is now extremely on edge.

Much like Ray Stantz thinking of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters, any stray thought could now materialize and destroy any chance the Cubs have of breaking their curse.

Who could possibly have foreseen the Bartman incident against the Marlins?  The only thing that could have happened is that someone had a momentary mental image of a goofy guy with a Walkman (already out of date even then) and sure enough he appeared to destroy them.

Clear your minds Chicago!  From now until mid-October you must have a perfectly clean slate.  One quick thought of a deep dish pepperoni pizza
is all it takes to choose the form of your destructor.

September 16, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

City HallwI’m in Milwaukee for the weekend for Doors Open Milwaukee which is part of the global Open House program in which cities open up hundreds of sites to the public, giving them access to spaces they don’t normally get to go in or that are not normally open only for tours.

Since 2011 my company Access Contemporary Music, has worked with Open House in Chicago to have composers write music inspired by some of the spaces and then have musicians perform the pieces in the spaces the day of the tours and it’s been a huge success.

We’ve always wanted to do it in other cities and were thrilled when we were approached by Doors Open Milwaukee.  Today we have musicians in the City Hall building, Federal Courthouse, Pabst historic brewery and the U.S. Bank Building which has opened its normally closed roof deck.

I’m so impressed by the architecture in Milwaukee. We in Chicago can be somewhat snobby about our architecture but this is a beautiful city.  I’ve only ever been here in the past to attend a baseball game so it’s wonderful to spend some time here and walk through their historic downtown.

Viva Milwaukee!

Federal_Courthouse

Federal Courthouse

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