Obviously, Cheap Imitation lies outside of what may seem necessary in my work in general, and that’s disturbing. I’m the first to be disturbed by it.

–John Cage

Music for Erik Satie #1

About 20 years ago I wrote Music for Erik Satie #1 (click for down­load links). The piece exists in an odd place. It is unique for me1 in that it has some­thing that’s almost a lit­tle melodic, a near hint of har­mony, and very clear rhyth­mic ideas. And all of this was done on pur­pose and con­sciously com­posed by me.

In the orig­i­nal ver­sion the melody was less bel canto but still dis­cernible as a melody com­plete with rep­e­ti­tion and phras­ing. I’ve soft­ened the angu­lar bits out but have retained the over­all feel. As a com­poser I’ve never really cared about melody, har­mony, and rhythm—all of which I think are ter­ri­bly over­rated and con­tribute to banal­ity. But for some rea­son in this piece, where I’ve imi­tated var­i­ous bits from Satie’s oeu­vre, I felt com­pelled to make use of these techniques.

Recently I came across some quotes from Cage talk­ing about sim­i­lar com­pro­mises he made when com­pos­ing his work Cheap Imi­ta­tion which was, inter­est­ingly, taken from Satie’s music.2 Is it Satie? Or is it Cage and his influ­ence on me? Inter­est­ing but even more inter­est­ing is that I don’t really care.

Per­haps in good post­mod­ernist fash­ion I view all the musi­cal ideas that have come before me as tools for com­po­si­tion. While I pre­fer some (Cagean exper­i­men­tal­ism) to oth­ers, there’s no longer any kind of aes­thetic con­straint keep­ing me in line with a reg­u­lar aes­thetic approach. Of course mod­ernists were under no actual con­straints either but it’s easy to imag­ine that given the con­stant “bat­tles” they were tak­ing part in to rede­fine our fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of music, that they felt a stronger pull to remain con­sis­tent. We post­mod­ernists real­ize that there are no fun­da­men­tal con­cepts about music left to rede­fine so we are, per­haps, lib­er­ated. Cage felt that mod­ernism was lib­er­at­ing. Do we need to be lib­er­ated from mod­ernism? Does that ques­tion even make sense?

In any case, this was a fun piece to write and to revisit all these years later. I think there are some inter­est­ing ideas. There’s cer­tainly a lot of Satie in it which can’t be a bad thing.

  1. With the excep­tion of Music for Erik Satie #2 which will be pub­lished here in the next cou­ple of weeks.
  2. His Socrate.

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