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Carter is Dead
April 26, 2013 7:57 PM   Subscribe

His deluded music of the eternal present will sadly have little future.

Daniel Asia writes an inflammatory screed taking on the prolific composer Elliott Carter
posted by Bistle (35 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, this is the same dude who wrote a similar screed about the perpetuating fraud that is John Cage. He wishes he were Boulez calling out Schoenberg seventy years ago, but he is not.
posted by daisystomper at 8:05 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Carter string quartets are regulars on my playlist, especially when I have big design questions to think about at work.

I was going to try to respond to this article, but on preview, I see this Asia asshole makes a career of dismissing other people's musical careers. Not worth the attention.
posted by idiopath at 8:07 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


On further consideration, the fact that one person listens to Carter is sufficient to refute the article.
posted by idiopath at 8:11 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh hey, 'sup, Bistle!

I kind of wonder if Asia isn't being paid by some shadow consortium of musical scholars to make asinine statements that will stir up interest in Carter's music by aggravating his defenders.
posted by daisystomper at 8:12 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder if Asia isn't being paid by some shadow consortium of musical scholars to make asinine statements that will stir up interest in Carter's music by aggravating his defenders.


Makes you wonder about the rest of the content on the Huffington Post...
posted by Bistle at 8:19 PM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


His piece on Cage is absolutely uncompelling; is the Carter one any better? I doubt it, somehow.
posted by kenko at 8:32 PM on April 26, 2013


I see this Asia asshole makes a career of dismissing other people's musical careers. Not worth the attention.

Don't feed the troll? Never start a land war with Asia?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Someone just now is wondering about HuffPo content?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:10 PM on April 26, 2013


Oh gawd. This is like that cliché about how American right-wingers still think they're fighting against the 60s counterculture. (Or maybe it's like meeting someone who's mad at Bob Dylan for having picked up an electric guitar?)

It's fine if you don't love Carter's music — or Cage's. Truth be told, neither of them is at the top of my list, and with Carter I never really quite felt like I got it at all. But to still be angry about those guys? That's just weird.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:33 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would direct your attention to the obvious rejoinder
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:28 PM on April 26, 2013


Who cares if you listen?
posted by spitbull at 10:45 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmmm, I never liked Elliot Carter and was prepared to nod at this article. Initially, I hated the article and started to prepare this answer, but reading the article a second time I did rather agree.

The basic issue with Carter is that the ultra-complex structures that appear in the scores aren't actually understandable to the ear. I can play time signatures like 5 against 3 quite accurately - this probably puts in 1% of 1% of the world (it isn't particularly hard to do, a days' dedicated study will get you 3 vs 4, 3 vs 5 and 4 vs 5, but how many people spend a day studying polyrhythms) but I've sat through Carter string quartets looking at the score with the complex polyrhythms all spelled out - and it just sounds like a lot of notes at the same time.

This issue is basically not dealt with in the article directly - but on a second reading I think a lot of his critiques are special cases of this. He does seem to notice that the structure in Carter's work becomes increasingly incomprehensible to anyone at all

I think it's this statement that set me off initially: "because music is not primarily about time any more than are the occurrences in our lives."

I'm sorry - that's just wrong. Stockhausen authoritatively proved, in his writings and in the piece Kontakte, that music is exactly and nothing more than time itself. Anyone who's spent any time with a digital synthesizer and some algorithms realizes that all music is just a stream of numbers over time, but in fact if you sample at a high enough rate, you can generate any piece of music simply by identifying points in time with no more information than that! Kontakte audibly proves this, and the psychoacoustics is impeccable.

But overall, once I get over a few clunkers, his criticisms are fairly accurate. I certainly know that on my deathbed, Elliot Carter is not going to be on the playlist that sends me to the great beyond.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:54 PM on April 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, and I looked at his Cage article and it's not worth the excrement he no doubt scrawled it out on his walls with. He got the point with Carter and didn't like it - he misses the point with Cage utterly.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:55 PM on April 26, 2013


I wonder who is a better "composer".. Caroline Shaw or this twerp. Well, at least one of them actually calls himself a composer. Even if he's a shitty one.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:59 PM on April 26, 2013


On a lighter note, on the Cage article linked to above, saw a tweet scrolling in the tweet-collector-widget thingy on the bottom of the page that made me chuckle: working on a track that heavily samples John Cage's 4:33
posted by dubitable at 11:06 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


103!

.
posted by quazichimp at 11:31 PM on April 26, 2013


Daniel Asia writes the the same deluded self-importance that Carter did. It would be easy to argue that Radiohead has more in common with, say, Mozart, than Carter. Not to say that any of them should be elevated beyond the status of "talented and hardworking human." But certainly Carter will forgotten long before the Austrian.
posted by phenylphenol at 12:28 AM on April 27, 2013


My god, the overwhelming hubris to think that you should force a pianist to learn every single note in Night Fantasies (first link) precisely.
posted by phenylphenol at 12:37 AM on April 27, 2013


"an ability to get notes onto the page in a pleasant and felicitous manner"

Ouch. That is the definition of "damning with faint praise."
posted by LMGM at 2:21 AM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the grim meathook future criticism of High Modernism will only be published in the Huffington Post.
posted by Nelson at 6:40 AM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


in fact if you sample at a high enough rate, you can generate any piece of music simply by identifying points in time with no more information than that!

I don't think I understand at all what this means. If the only information you have is "points in time" how do you know you're even talking about music?
posted by yoink at 7:35 AM on April 27, 2013


Well, there is plenty of hard music that isn't modernist. Should any pianist be forced to learn Scarbo by Ravel? Well, both Ravel and Carter were geniuses. Just because one is more difficult to understand? I never even fucking HEARD of Daniel Asia until this jealous ranting.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:58 AM on April 27, 2013


...because music is not primarily about time any more than are the occurrences in our lives. Both happen in time and make us aware of the passing of time, but they are primarily about making and finding moments of meaning.

Well, that's certainly not a given. As far as I know, Heidegger makes the exact opposite claim in Being and Time.
posted by WalkingAround at 8:14 AM on April 27, 2013


The problem is that it is not sufficient that he be allowed to not like or listen to Carter (try not listening to Carter, it is easy! You can go many years without ever accidentally hearing a single snippet of an Elliot Carter composition). It also must be known by all as an absolute objective fact that this is bad music and all must be forbidden from enjoying it.
posted by idiopath at 8:15 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, that's certainly not a given. As far as I know, Heidegger makes the exact opposite claim in Being and Time.

It's trivially easy to argue that position or its opposite. The real inadequacy is that of written language when faced with describing music.
posted by Wolof at 8:40 AM on April 27, 2013


The real inadequacy is that there is no such thing world as "music" in the abstract.

Many modern sound artists and composers are trying to negate the supposedly constitutive temporality of music in favor of static spatiality for example (see Richard Carrick's recent Times blog piece on just this for example).

I admired Carter for a long time as a young composer for his technique, primarily. Can't listen to any of it now though.

All music is just notes (usually on a page for art music at least). There is no higher authority that can determine in the abstract if those notes are profound, moving, brilliant, coherent, or appealing. There is no genius meter. This article is one idiot's personal opinion. His descriptions of Carter's actual sound structures are entirely shallow and amateur, but so what? He is entitled to his opinion.

Like I said, pace Milton Babbitt, who cares what he thinks anyway? I know what I like already.
posted by spitbull at 9:39 AM on April 27, 2013


And yo. Sampling Cage's silence can get you sued!
posted by spitbull at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2013


> I don't think I understand at all what this means. If the only information you have is "points in time" how do you know you're even talking about music?

You can synthesize any sound simply by clicking a speaker on or off - fast enough at the appropriate times. It'd be some work to generate those clicks (though these days you could probably write it in an afternoon on an off-the-shelf computer) - but it turns out that most contemporary D/A converters use something that's quite similar to this, 1-bit D/A conversion.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2013


spitbull: "And yo. Sampling Cage's silence can get you sued!"

No, falsely implying Cage was somehow involved in your recording will get you sued.
posted by idiopath at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can synthesize any sound simply by clicking a speaker on or off - fast enough at the appropriate times.

My impression (no more than that) is that this is limited by Gibbs' phenomenon:
In mathematics, the Gibbs phenomenon, discovered by Henry Wilbraham (1848) and rediscovered by J. Willard Gibbs (1899), is the peculiar manner in which the Fourier series of a piecewise continuously differentiable periodic function behaves at a jump discontinuity: the nth partial sum of the Fourier series has large oscillations near the jump, which might increase the maximum of the partial sum above that of the function itself. The overshoot does not die out as the frequency increases, but approaches a finite limit.[1]

These are one cause of ringing artifacts in signal processing.
posted by jamjam at 11:36 AM on April 27, 2013


Like I said, pace Milton Babbitt, who cares what he thinks anyway? I know what I like already.

Pace his editor, really, since Babbitt's original title for that article was "The Composer as Specialist."
posted by invitapriore at 1:20 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The author is just wrong, because he is imposing his value system and personality (note his use of the word "beauty", as one example) onto Carter's. If you judge his music based on whether it will withstand the test of time, then I think you have missed the point. If you have trouble understanding Carter, try understanding other composers such as Fauré or Finnissy; then it will make a lot more sense.
posted by polymodus at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2013


idiopath, my bolding of Cage's name (in "Cage's silence," as in calling your silence 4'33") was meant to indicate that I was making exactly the same point. Sorry for being arch about it.
posted by spitbull at 2:41 PM on April 27, 2013


> But certainly Carter will forgotten long before the Austrian.

Stop the presses, other composer loses to Mozart.

You know that big ole crocodile they caught in the Philippines? It was actually pretty forgettable, there's just no getting around it.

Compared to Godzilla.
posted by jfuller at 5:30 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The basic issue with Carter is that the ultra-complex structures that appear in the scores aren't actually understandable to the ear. I can play time signatures like 5 against 3 quite accurately - this probably puts in 1% of 1% of the world (it isn't particularly hard to do, a days' dedicated study will get you 3 vs 4, 3 vs 5 and 4 vs 5, but how many people spend a day studying polyrhythms) but I've sat through Carter string quartets looking at the score with the complex polyrhythms all spelled out - and it just sounds like a lot of notes at the same time.
I find that the polytempo stuff in Carter is often easier to hear if you don't have the score. There are a lot of places where an instrument's individual pulse is actually constant, but because Carter is changing the tempo of the piece as a whole (for notational reasons so that everyone can stay together), the global tempo goes up while the player's rhythm in relation to that tempo goes down. Looking at it, your eyes go "Yikes, not only is he suddenly playing quintuplets but also the tempo changed from ♩=100 to ♩=80", but if you just hear your ears you'll hear him playing consistently.

That was a very simple example and I'm sure is obvious to you since you're clearly familiar with the concept of metric modulation, but he also does this at higher metrical levels in a way that is actually pretty hard to notice from the score unless you laboriously calculate it all out. I've often thought that the results Carter accomplishes might be easier to understand from a piano-roll representation than a score in standard music notation.
posted by dfan at 8:46 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


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