Music and Vision homepage All Risks Musical - an irreverent guide to the music profession by Alice McVeigh


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Rhythm and the New

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Down-beat, jump-cut to today. Our rhythms are suffused with the 'next new' as the hi-tech engines pump the daily-awaited unknown across our screens. There has never been a similar clamoring for the new of every stripe as technology spawns and hocks obsessively, with most every web-site shingle hung with the greatest of care.

Given the breath-taking, unending possibilities we forget that our bodies demand rapidity at their own rates of gesture.The arrival of the computer was the down-beat and everything is spilling forward. The rhythm has taken on a Toscanini-like pulse of democratic equality, as all scream equally aloud for their Andy Warhol fifteen minutes. With so many hungry cyber mouths to feed, each with their own take on the absolute best new-ahead, the effect is that of mercurial, free-flight, un-rooted speed. It's dizzying, exciting and essentially map-less. Given this breath-taking world of un-ending possibility we forget that our bodies demand rapidity at their own rates of gesture. Without sign-posts, accentuation - the stuff of rhythm, the intoxicating speed is only a cyber-illusion of potential, and not a grounded course of any specific real action.

The late Lester Trimble, the first resident composer with the New York Philharmonic, related the following during a composition lesson. Trimble himself had studied with Darius Milhaud. At the first lesson, Milhaud requested that Trimble write a melody for the next lesson. Trimble struggled all week to complete a melody which he wanted to be 'perfect' for Milhaud. At the next lesson Milhaud essentially approved the work after a few comments and suggestions, then requested that Trimble harmonize the melody for the next lesson. Again Trimble struggled all week to complete a 'perfect' harmonization for his teacher. Milhaud approved the work, made his comments, and then requested that Trimble write ten harmonizations of the same melody for the next week. Trimble's eyes became like orchestral cymbals and somewhere a crash was going off in his head. During the next week he barely slept... but he had ten 'perfect' harmonizations prepared for the following lesson. Milhaud spent a few moments with each, made his comments and then in complete sincerity looked squarely at Trimble and requested fifty harmonizations of the same melody for the next lesson... 'if you want to do that.'

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Copyright © 6 May 2000 Jeff Talman, New York City, USA


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