Tonight, at a party, I found myself commenting to a friend that most of the people who are making microtonal music just aren’t very good. In many cases, they seem to have latched onto microtonal composing as a handy cover for the fact that they have only very marginal ideas about what musical expression and creativity are, or can be.
Am I being too brutal? Maybe. But again and again, as I listen to the hideous thrashing noises that have been uploaded by this or that microtonalist, I find myself imagining, with something akin to embarrassment, the scene in which the guy is hunched over his equipment recording this stuff while his girlfriend, standing behind him, rolls her eyes in pained and stricken disbelief, clearly wondering, “What am I doing hooked up with this loser?”
There are happy exceptions. One is Prent Rodgers. He’s doing provocative and spicy things with alternate tunings, and he’s using the tunings to enhance compositions that would stand up and be listenable (though in some cases quite different and less effective) if they were in standard tuning.
In what follows, perhaps it would be well to bear in mind that my taste in music is far more conservative than my taste in politics. I love Bach, Haydn, Beethoven (well, some of Beethoven), Schubert, and Brahms. I find Shostakovich and Prokofiev challenging but rewarding. I have no use whatever for Babbitt, Cage, or Stockhausen. The entire school of 20th century composition that attempted to demolish the ideas of melody, harmony, and regular rhythmic pulse I regard as a swarm of arrogant poseurs and con men, not as artists.
Having said that….
The website of the American Festival of Microtonal Music is a complete failure. Not because the site design is graphically awful — that would be easy to forgive if the music were good. Some of the videos of performances require a special plug-in, but I didn’t bother to download it, because after I went to the page of YouTube videos on their site, I could see no reason to burden my hard drive or browser with another plug-in. The audio in the YouTube video of a trio (flute, oboe, bassoon) was badly recorded, the piece was in a harsh and uninteresting modern idiom, and the use of microtonality was … well, it just sounded like occasional intonation problems. Other YouTube videos on the same page didn’t play at all.