Quote of the Week: Recombinant Classical

Greg Sandow on the role of pop in contemporary classical music. This is the opening of his April 5 post, titled “In the DNA”:

    I’ve been pondering the reasons why the composers I call alt-classical seem to strike a nerve with the new young audience I keep talking about. It’s not just because these composers sometimes write music with a pop-like beat. First, the pop-like beat might not be steady, and might just pop up here and there.

    But second, and much more important, the music might not have a pop-like beat at all. And yet it feels like it fits into the culture where pop-like beats dominate. How does that work?

    I got some insight into that, I thought, when I heard a piece by Glenn Kotche, called Snap, at a performance by the Bang on a Can All-Stars at the University of Maryland last weekend. Kotche is the drummer in Wilco, but he’s also a free-jazz improviser and a composer, so his music can get complicated. And Snap is complicated. It’s based on classic R&B songs recorded by the Stax label in the 1960s. …

    But Kotche doesn’t even come close to imitating any of the songs. Instead, he picks them apart, finding rhythms and textures he likes, and then putting those (often in fragments) into a new piece that’s put together like classical music. Which means, in this case, that it’s an abstract construction, changing constantly, full of complexities and surprises, without any trace of a tune or the generally simple construction that we’d find in the original songs…

The piece continues at artsjournal.com/sandow.

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