I hear of composers being criticized for not being “new” enough, but what does that actually mean?
A piece of new music, as I am concerned, is a composition composed no more than fifty years ago that has not developed a documented history/tradition or performance practice analogous to pieces of the Western Musical Canon (Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Bartok, etc.) By that standard, any piece composed since 1966 is, to me, automatically new music.
So what is this “new” enough critique?
I don’t think it pertains so closely to music, but to sound. There is an expectation that newly composed pieces should incorporate new sounds, or sounds that are not exactly new, but have been neglected over time and gradually gained prominence into contemporary composers’ sonic vocabularies (i.e. sul ponticello, flutter tongue, inside-piano techniques, extreme instrumental registers, minor ninths, tone cluster, etc.) It seems dangerous to make new sound a mandatory requirement for music composed today. Making music pass a checklist for new sound would cause damage to artistic freedom, make new music less diverse, and encourage style favoritism. It might even make listening to new music boring; if each new piece must have prerequisite sounds for validity, we might have pieces that sound more and more alike.
Now are these sounds alone a problem? No! I love these sounds! They’re just as unique as any other sound that Brahms or Bach could have used. Each sound has its own identity. If past composers were required to feature enough new sounds (new for their time) in compositions, much of Mozart and Brahms could have been discarded (save their taste for dissonances.) An entire tradition of sound would be lost.
I think a composer should be more at fault than their sounds. With the unlimited possibilities of music, an original voice can be developed without requiring persistent new sound. I’d suggest criticizing a composer’s handling of material and not the material itself. Still, don’t think it’s wrong to encourage young composers to experiment with new sound. It is s a part of being well rounded in this century, to be knowledgeable of the diversity of sounds ready for you.
Above all, sound has no motivation but to express vibrations.
"Leave sound alone!"
- Chris Crocker/Morton Feldman