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The Avant-Garde Utilitarian: Musical Considerations of Advances in Technology and the Increasing Footprint of Popular Culture


When considering the creation of new musical compositions it occurs to me that there exists a variety of ways of relating to history. Many works call upon forms and harmonic languages spanning back hundreds of years. Some composers seek to eschew the past and present and imagine music of the future. Some composers ignore the issue entirely.

Music explicitly relating to the present time always fascinates me. Although one might respond to that notion by claiming that any piece of music ever written qualifies as "music of the present" upon its completion, my concern is not with the date of composition.

In this case I am concerned with music that embraces the cultural phenomena and innovations of the time during which it was composed. The Zeitoper pieces of Kurt Weill exemplify this concern wholly, as these pieces exploit current events and technological innovations as inspiration for musical content.

In this thesis I aim to highlight three other examples of "music of the present". Firstly, I will propose manners in which Edgard Varèse's Ionisation for percussion ensemble might be understood as related to the electrochemical process of ionization and the Neils Bohr model of the atom, proposed in 1913. Secondly, I will discuss Internet latency, a parameter inherent in telematic performance practice, as a usable compositional tool. Finally, I will discuss my recent composition, Microscope, with regards to its relationship to popular culture idioms and to the placement of musical and non-musical "hooks" throughout the work.

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