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January 28, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

norwegian_wood

Chances are if you’re a person who likes to read fiction you’ve read something by Haruki Murakami.  A few years back his book the Windup Bird Chronicles was the most frequently spied book on the subway, before it was taken down by the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and then Game of Thrones which is still the book I see most often.

I’m writing about this because popularity in art is a very interesting subject.  I’ve had frustrating debates with friends in which I recommend Game of Thrones or Murakami and they say “I’ll never read that, it’s too popular!”   This implies that being popular is always being populist.  That if a book or song becomes too popular it must have been because of a populist intention on the part of the author and therefore he or she has sold out and is now useless.

I had the same disconnect when Modest Mouse came out with their Good News for People Who Love Bad News album and everyone who previously loved the band universally proclaimed them sell-outs and heaped scorn upon them.  But I loved that album and thought it was the next logical step in their trajectory.  Of course they’re going to hire better producers when they can afford to do so and just because the album sounds slick does not necessarily make it bad.

I will admit that it’s weird that frat boys embraced that album and of course that’s the other side of this issue.  If something is so popular that a group of people not only outside of your peer group, but radically different in outlook, behavior and opinions on which way the visor of a cap should be turned, embrace the same art that you love well, you have no choice but to dump it and find something new to love.

As Fred Armisen would say in Portlandia, it’s over.

I get that, I really do. I’m sure there are thousands of people reading Game of Thrones who I would not like personally and I’m also deeply convinced that they’re missing the subtle nuances of the books in favor of the surface details of sex and violence.  But are they?  Isn’t that just my ego assuming that no one but me or people I deem to be like me, can truly understand the art?

Yes it sucks when you walk into a bar and there’s a meathead rocking out to a song that you love.  I hate that feeling too but we have to be on guard, maybe you have more in common with the meathead than you think.   But then again maybe that song is just over.

 

 

January 19, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

robert-kritz-square-2-160x120I had lunch with Robert Kritz yesterday in his swanky retirement home on Lake Shore Drive and it was quite an experience meeting him.  He’s going to be a guest on my show Relevant Tones for a segment I do called Composers Among Us in which I interview composers who don’t have a major profile, people who could be behind you in line at the grocery store and you’d never know that they spend a considerable amount of their time thinking about shaping sound.

Many of the composers featured for this segment have unusual career paths and interesting stories but I think in many ways Bob’s tops them all.  His compositional career was interrupted numerous times over the course of his long life, he’s 87 at present, but he always found a way to get back to it.  Bob was always musical and played the piano in several dance bands but then was drafted and fought in World War II.

After the war he married at the age of 21 and they had a child but the child was tragically born without kidneys and the time spent in the womb drawing off of the mother’s kidneys damaged irreparably damaged them and both mother and child died.  Bob was stuck with the bills and so for the second time he put off thoughts of composing and entered the business world to earn enough money to pay off the medical bills.

Then came another wife and eventually a large family and there was no time to compose until he retired at the age of 65.  He decided he wanted to start composing again and he took his 45 year old scores to Northwestern University and showed them to several professors who liked the music enough to organize a concert of them.

Several musicians at the concert liked the music enough that they commissioned Bob to write new pieces and set off a ten year flurry of performances and commissions that eventually waned but did result in several pieces, including his saxophone concerto, that are still performed today.  All of this was in the late ’90′s when I was a composition student at Roosevelt University and I remember it well.

I was very pleased when I met the saxophonist David Pituch, one of the many musicians championing Bob’s music, and he suggested a show.  Bob will be my guest for a live show on January 31 starring David on saxophone and members of the Orion Ensemble performing his early pieces and some that are brand new.  It should make for great radio.

January 11, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

upworthy-51The idea behind clickbait is nothing new.  Journalists have been trying to sell you with their headlines for as long as there have been newspapers.  But there’s a big difference between a New York Times headline, or a headline for the Onion for that matter, and the clickbait headlines that are now clogging up Facebook and other social media and the difference is intention.

In both cases the headlines are not written by the person who wrote the article or made the featured content but in journalism there is supposed to be a factual, thoughtfully written story that the headline writer is trying to draw your attention to, whereas with clickbait it doesn’t matter at all where you’re being routed, just so long as you click.

There are several problems with clickbait in my opinion.  For one thing it represents a huge downgrade in the quality of the content the reader is directed to and since people will read anything and are incredibly easy to influence,  we have to be careful what we’re telling them is important.  If they’re being directed to a thoughtful New Yorker article great, but if they’re being directed to funny cat videos, articles about how to be more sexy, or shocking and often horrific imagery well, it’s just not creating the kind of society I want to live in.

Another thing that’s dangerous in my opinion is that bloggers are now writing the content and creating the headline, and are able to track which headlines get more clicks.  This means that content is being generated from the headline or with the headline in mind and it’s all rigged to get the maximum number of clicks. I’ve had several arguments with bloggers about this.

They say that it doesn’t matter how good your blog is if no one reads it and so you should stuff keywords and phrases like “this one incredible trick I found” to entice people to click.  I understand this point and agree that it sucks if there’s good content that no one reads but I argue that if you start by stuffing your headlines with key words and it leads to more clicks you will eventually find yourself on a slippery slope where you’re shaping content to get clicks, thereby letting yourself be led by the reader.

It’s better to write the best content you can and try to promote it without resorting to clickbait.  I feel this way about newspapers, television news programs, publishing companies, radio stations, pretty much all forms of media.  For decades they’ve been letting the consumer decide what is of interest and the result is news without real news, just heartwarming fluff, fear mongering public safety stories, celebrity gossip and idiot banter.

The preponderance of clickbait is just the latest example of a turn away from thoughtful journalism toward giving the people anything and everything they may want in the desperate hopes that their behavior will become one hundred percent predictive so we can give them what they want before they even know they want it thus creating an air tight and perfectly inane economy of lobotomized idiocy.

Thank goodness the New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post and a few noteworthy others have resisted this trend.  So far.

December 28, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

touchtunes

I don’t know what music those people are playing but I bet it sucks.  That’s because the device they’re using, Touchtunes, is an inherently evil, invasive machine that has vastly degraded the once pleasurable experience of going to a bar.

If you don’t know how Touchtunes works, it’s a new-ish jukebox that allows you to search for and play, not every song in the world by any means but quite possibly most of them, with the touch of a button or with an app on your phone.  The problem with this is that, confronted with such a dizzying array of choices, most people are overwhelmed and don’t know what to play.

Touchtunes solves this problem by having “Most Popular Songs Played” as the first option which means that it is the option most people choose and as a result a friendly neighborhood barfly like myself may be subjected to something like Night Moves by Bob Seger two, even three times in a night and that’s just wrong. Patrons can also pay extra to have their songs pushed to the top of the list and there’s no limit to how many times they can repeat a song so, not only might you have your playlist replaced by Black Dog, but you might also have to hear it multiple times in a row.

Speaking of Black Dog, I didn’t choose that title arbitrarily.  It’s incredible to me how many people, virtually all of them, play music exclusively from the ’60′s, ’70′s and ’80′s.  There is a dearth of music selected from our own time and to me frankly that’s just weird.  Billy Idol, Fleetwood Mac, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, etc. should be retired from jukebox and radio station playlists the world over.  Most people don’t listen to new music, they have twenty or so go-to nostalgia songs from their past and so that’s what they play when they go out and Touchtunes rewards this behavior by making the most played tracks cost a credit less than other tracks thereby fostering mediocre, unimaginative playlists that promote brain dead listening habits.

The truth is that we should not be placing the awesome responsibility of selecting what music is played in the hands of the masses.  The music must be curated by someone with sensitivity and taste and with some idea of what kind of environment they’re going for.  This would be a D.J. or someone who curates a limited selection for a jukebox.  There are plenty of crowd pleasers that aren’t Benny and the Jets which I just had to hear last night and yes it’s not a bad song but my God how many times do I have to hear it before I die when there are so many great artists out there today that deserve to be heard and who I’d much rather hear than Elton Freakin’ John who has had his day and done quite well thank you very much?

All of that is bad enough but the truly frightening thing about Touchtunes is the way they have stripped identity away from bars, many of whom were defined by the music you’d hear within their grimy walls.  Bars used to have to curate the music that was in their jukeboxes and there was an eclectic but still limited choice for the patrons who often would choose which bars to hang out in based on the music in the jukebox.  With the advent of Touchtunes, however, bars no longer have a sonic personality and you’re as likely now to hear some watered down band like Death Cab for Cutie at a punk bar as you are to hear, you know, punk rock.  Once the Touchtunes is installed and turned on you can say goodbye to any kind of individuality because even if your bar is called Bones of the Undead I guarantee the first song someone will play will be Endless Love or something just as bad.

 

 

 

December 16, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Seth_CC_artist_renderingI got a nice treat after my solo concert yesterday at the Chicago Cultural Center, a woman came up to me and gave me a drawing she had done of me playing!  She did a nice job with it.  I especially like how she converged two perspectives so you get the side angle of the piano where she was sitting but you also get the view of the keys superimposed over it.

The concert went very well, there were over 150 people in attendance which is incredible for a Monday afternoon and I felt pretty good about my playing although like any artist I can be pretty nit-picky.  But sometimes you have to just relax that self critical thing and enjoy a success and it was definitely a success.

And I have such a wonderful memento of my first solo concert now too.

 

December 8, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Gangnam_sessionThe Relevant Tones team finally recorded two shows while on the road.  Jesse and I are in his little apartment in Seoul with a totally ghetto but amazingly effective studio setup taping shows about a festival we visited nearly five months ago.

Added bonus, we’re in the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul!  I wanted to include that in the closing credits.  “Recorded and produced in Gangnam!”

We were thinking of playing Gangnam Style over the closing credits but decided that it might not strike the right tone…

 

December 1, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Korean_ComposersWell Korea is the gift that just keeps on giving.  I’ve been here now for nine days and it’s been a non-stop whirlwind of concerts of traditional and experimental music and dinners and lunches with interesting composers, performers and impresarios.  Yesterday I met with the public relations manager for the Korean National Composers Association and planned a very interesting collaboration with Access Contemporary Music

For years I’ve wondered why there was no global composer membership program or entity promoting contemporary music on a more than regional basis.  There’s the American Composers Forum and the East Asia Composers League and so many more, all of them promoting music of regional composers.  But to whom are they promoting this music?  With what aim in mind?  Presumably other people interested in contemporary music in those regions already knows about the composers and the organization.

Why not promote the music outside of your region and help new audiences around the world discover new music by living composers in different countries?

This is exactly what I want to do with ACM and have been working toward for so many years, (turns out it’s harder than you might think to get this going…)  This partnership with the Korean Composers Association is the first step.  We’ll be able to get their composers heard in the United States and also by our composer members around the world and they’ll perform music by our members from other countries in Korea.

In addition we’ll gain several new members from Korea which will give us a much more significant Asian presence than we’ve had so far and we hope to create a successful model that can then be brought to other composer associations around the world.   I’m thinking that instead of calling this ACM’s Composer Membership program which is a pretty nondescript and boring name, we’ll call the program Global Connections.  That’s exactly how I’m thinking of it, a network of connections between composers, performers, audience members and music students around the world with the goal of creating, disseminating and appreciating creative music.

November 27, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

SejongI’ve been in Seoul South Korea for the last five days interviewing composers from the Korean Composers Association and generally having a wonderful time.  So far I’ve toured the Korean Broadcasting System including both the television and radio stations, met the dean of the music school at the Korean National University of Arts, heard a wide range of music including Korean traditional music and interviewed close than 20 composers for the two shows I’ll be doing once I return to Chicago.

Oh yeah and I was here over Thanksgiving which of course is not a big deal so I went out with a couple of others for Korean BBQ and loved it!  In fact I can say honestly that I’ve been eating like a king, perhaps even like King Sejong of 14th century Korean history.  That’s a picture of his statue above which is on a broad walkway outside of the Sejong Cultural Center leading to the former Imperial Palace which is now a museum.

Sejong was an incredible guy.  He created the Korean alphabet, revolutionized their music and gave it their national identity, apart from China, created tons of ingenious labor saving and scientific devices and was generally a wise, thoughtful, highly cultured ruler who spent his life tirelessly bettering himself and the lot of his people.  In other words he was exactly what a king should be.

He’s very much idolized here in South Korea and his legacy is everywhere evident in the respect that everyone shows to other people, the incredibly high rate of literacy and education and the many many cultural institutions throughout Seoul.  Most of my work is done and I still have four days to check out the museums and other tourist sites and I’m very much looking forward to it!

November 21, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Avondale1As you may know it has long been my dream to open multiple storefront music schools throughout Chicago that teach musical creativity and the appreciation of musical creativity to students of all ages.  If you can believe it I used to think this would be easy.  Ha!

Above is a photo of a space that I fell in love with in the Avondale neighborhood and this would have been our third location for the school.  Well, it is our third location but things rapidly got complicated.  The space was huge and we couldn’t afford or use all of it so the landlord agreed to rent part of it to us on a month to month basis.  If we could come up with enough to let half the space we could sign an exclusive lease for it but if not then we could be kicked out anytime with a 30 day notice to vacate if someone else rented it.

Well that lasted exactly 16 days and then the landlord rented the entire space, including our sublet for which we had paid rent and put down a security deposit, to someone else.  He also did not tell us he had done this and he did not tell the new tenant he already had a tenant there!  The first I heard of it was when one of my teachers texted me a photo of a note from the new guy.

The first thing he does is tear up the floors and move a bunch of junk into the center so our beautiful space looked like this:
Avondale11
Yikes!  We have 30 students in the Avondale neighborhood so this was very bad.  I complained to the landlord and tried to get a lawyer but it was all to no avail so I started looking for a new space right away.  Fortunately the students were amazingly understanding and we didn’t lose any which is incredible.

But it takes a long time to find a commercial space in Chicago.  There are tons of storefronts but they’re all too big or too crappy or the landlord wants too much or there’s a weird smell and some kind of unidentifiable cheese  growing in the cracks of the floor that would make even a Frenchman gag.  So, it took me a little while but eventually I found a space occupied by a hair salon that was going to be moving out.

Avondale_new

The price was right and so I signed a two year lease right away.  We’re going to put down carpet, paint and build two practice rooms and should be ready to start lessons here on December 1.  To think that I used to think that managing multiple sites would be easy!  It’s all been a very interesting learning process and, since I plan to open at least ten more, I guess I’ll be learning for a long time to come .

While all of this was happening we were renovating our Rogers Park space too.  Here are a couple of pics of the space during construction and afterward with the beautiful new carpet.   Can’t wait until the Avondale space looks like this. I never dreamed when I was in music school that I would one day know so much about renting and renovating commercial spaces.  It’s just not something they cover in the core curriculum.

Before and After:
new_carpet1(1)

 

new_carpet2(1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yay!

November 14, 2014
Posted by Seth Boustead

Agnieszka_Stulginska_web

I’m thrilled that Access Contemporary Music has chosen Warsaw composer Agnieszka Stulginska as the next recipient of our Composer Alive commission.

Composer Alive is one of my favorite projects.  I had the idea years ago when I was in Washington D.C. visiting the National Gallery and there was a huge, beautiful oil painting by John Singer Sargent (wish I could remember which one but it was a long time ago.)

On the opposite wall from the painting were about six sketches he had done in preparation for the actual work and it was an incredible insight into his creative process.  I knew right away that I wanted to do try and do something similar with music.  Years later, after I had started Access Contemporary Music, I was able to do just that with our Composer Alive project.

We ask a composer in a different region from us to write a new piece in three to four installments and to email each installment as its written.  Members of our Palomar ensemble then get together and rehearse and record each installment in front of a live audience and we post the audio to our website with comments from the composer about her creative process.

Not only is this an incredible thing for the composer to be able to take risks and try anything, knowing she can always change it in the next installment, but it’s a great inroad for the audience to hear the piece from first draft, through rewrites, to the finished product and read the composer’s thoughts along the way.

I recently traveled to Wroclaw Poland for a trip with WFMT and was very inspired by the commitment to contemporary music there. I decided right away that the next composer for this project would come from Poland. Thanks to help from the Polish Ministry of Culture we were able to listen to pieces by about a hundred composers and we decided that Agnieszka Stulginska would be perfect for the project.

Her music is colorful, inventive, rhythmically interesting and frequently uses extended techniques or electronics to create stunning new timbres and, best of all, she’s thrilled about the process of working in installments.  She’s planning to take full advantage of writing the piece this way and we are all very excited to hear what she comes up with.

We’ll receive a new installment each month from January to March 2015 and record them in salon-style settings in private homes.  If you’d like to attend one of the rehearsals, check here for the full schedule.   Every year when the new installment arrives in my email inbox I feel like a kid in a candy shop.  This is going to be so much fun!

 

 

 

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