Not Yet Prepared For
I think being a composer was something I was on the path from, from when I was nine. But the question was that’s a really big category, right, and there’s lots of stuff that you can do. But the important thing that you have to do when you’re young, is figure out, of all the different options which are available, which are the ones that are most meaningful to you? Which are the things that you can really believe in? And the reason why that’s such a big issue is because there’s a lot of music in the world. In fact, most of it is written just where someone is going out of his or her way to please you or to manipulate you. So, when you think about it, you go to a film; the film composer on some level maybe asking himself or herself, how do I express myself? But there’s also a very real definition, of what success is in that world, and that’s not whether or not the composer is happy, but whether or not the director is happy, and whether or not the audience gets the message that they’re supposed to get. When you listen to pop music, it’s not about whether the songwriter is expressing something meaningful to the songwriter or even necessarily whether they’re expressing something that’s true to the song writer.
I mean there are some people who make their entire careers out of “I’m only writing songs about breaking up with people” and after a while you go “How many people can you break up with?” or “How many times can you have your heart broken?” Wouldn’t you — like God, I have a whole record of songs by this artist where every single one is about a different person breaking your heart. Aren’t you going to grow up finally? These things are not truthful, right. They’re about someone doing something in a beautiful and skilled way, that’s about manipulating your audience into having certain kinds of feelings. That’s the way most of music works. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We need that music, we enjoy that music and we depend on that music.
But that’s not the field of music I’m in. In my field of music, it can become very, very difficult to separate the things that express yourself, from the things that the audience wants to hear. And especially if you’re involved in something which is in any way experimental, in whatever way it is experimental, you may be dealing with things which go counter to an audience’s expectations, and go counter to the expectations of everyone else, or at least that should be the goal, that I’m trying to do something that people are unprepared for.1
So, when a pop music makes a piece of music, they’re making something new, which is important to them, and which they do a good job on, in which they believe in, in which they want to actually express themselves and they want to succeed, and they want to do a powerful job. But it’s been presented in a format which a listener is prepared for. I think a lot of the world which I am in, is about trying to build a world that an audience is not yet prepared for. And I just want to say one other thing, and that’s an incredible paradox if you think about it; that my job, and especially with Bang on a Can or with other things that I do with my students or — that my job is to help to build the audience which is prepared to receive the experience for which they are not prepared.