Survey Answers

1. What is your favorite musical genre?

At a certain point, it’s impossible to separate into genres. And if it’s impossible at any point, it’s impossible at all points for me. Not to be, y’know, *me* or anything, but genre rules are broken as often as they are followed. I would have to say that melodic music is more enchanting to me, although that would not be totally true. I am turned off by music that is too easy (unless the idea is simplicity), or not tune-ful enough (unless it is meant to challenge), or with obvious melodic turns (unless its a ballad designed to comfort).

2. Do you like your music to be slow (Danny Boy, Old Man River), medium tempo (I Want to Hold Your Hand, Honky Tonk Blues), fast (Blitzkrieg Bop, It’s Raining Men) or super fast (Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, car alarms)?

I want music to match its intention. I think if you listen to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ you will find that they have almost identical beats per minute, the Beatles might even be faster. I have a tendency to rush music that is written slower than I want it to be, but that is just in performance. Medium Tempo music can often seem to be non-committal to me, so I guess I would have to say Other Than That.

3. Do you most like music that is avant-garde (John Zorn, Melt Banana), contemporary (Nelly, The Strokes), ìclassicî (The Beatles, Bach), or traditional/neotraditional (Robert Johnson, the Chieftains)?

If these are the examples, I have to say Classic, although I don’t think that’s true. I love contemporary Pop (except for Nelly and The Strokes who sound like bad versions of that “You Got What I Need” dude from ’89 and Television). Mostly, though, I would listen to pop music or Hip-Hop, if I was listening to the radio. I have a blue collar reaction to Avante-garde that I usually ignore. But if something is difficult and unimportant, it infuriates me that I purused a degree in music just to understand it.

4. Do you prefer music from the industrialized West, or that of some other country/region?

I like Indian music, I love Asian music, particularly Asian folk music. Again, when Celtic music, Klesmer, Appalachian and Asian folk songs all have similar chord structure and pentatonic scales, it makes me wonder where you want to draw the line.

5. Which do you enjoy more, academic music (music created within the context of a rigid theoretical framework like Beethoven or U. Srinivas) or vernacular music (popular or folk music passed down through oral tradition or informal study like Hank Williams or Pearl Jam)?

I was speaking with my friend Ehren Gresehover about exactly this. Popular music is incredibly academic. The Beatles wouldn’t have done jack squat without a producer well versed in classical music. The guys from Pearl Jam spent hours every day practicing. Hank Williams probably sucked the first fifty times he performed. These people studied as much or more than people who were, in theory, raised and trained to be musicians. Mozart, arguably the most technical and academic performer ever, learned music from his father who learnt it from his father and so on.

I *don’t* like music that is undisciplined. I hate music that attempts little and feels good about achieving it. But most popular music in any field or genre has serious academia behind it. If someone finds a hot little girl with an okay voice and great dancing, she won’t be a star unless a team of serious musicians finds music she can record, uses every trick they have to keep the music performable and recordable, and then teach her as much as they can about music and singing.

If you are asking if I like music created in a structured environment for consumption vs. music created for personal use, I have to answer in the former. Because I often can’t swallow people’s horrible self indulgent, drooling-on-their-own-navel music.

6. Do you prefer music that is political?

No. Unless you mean music that shakes up the prevailing notions of music. Politically challenging to the history and future of music? Sure. Rite of Spring, Eroica, that kind of thing. But I think politics is incredibly sober, I think it is the kind of thing best kept to reasonable heads, and I think music, even when it isn’t great, is just this side of actual magic. Music is that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible, as the saying goes, and politics needs to be infinitely expressible. If you are singing a song of protest, I wish instead you would toss out any kind of lyrical restraint or cadential restraint, and tell me exactly what you think.

7. Do you prefer music that is religious?

I love religious music. I have never had a religious experience on any level that wasn’t associated with music. This is going to sound like an hyperbole, but I actualyl believe when I sing religious music. I believe things that I really don’t believe at all when there is no music.

8. Is music created with computers/samplers/turntables superior, inferior, or equally as good as music made from more traditional instruments?

This is a tricky question. First, let’s establish circumstances with a couple of assumptions.

1) Music exists as a means to relay experience in a more personal and profound way than simply re-telling stories. If you are conveying love or betrayal or whatever, music is a private statement that is then made public by performance

2) Music is best when it is as honest as possible.

3) The fewer steps between the writing of a piece of music and an audience, the more powerful that piece of music is.

Now, accepting these assumptions, I would actually argue that computers and samplers are superior and/or equally as good as music made from more traditional instruments. When a brilliant composer of limited instrumental skills gets to sit down with a machine that allows him to directly play *exactly* what he means for an audience, and he isn’t limited by the scope of tones he is able to achieve or by his having only two arms and hands, then you are getting the most honest expression possible.

The composer gets to make the sound appear in your mind exactly as it originally appeared in theirs. And each part of the music is expressed within the ideological framework of the composer, so you hear a bassoon phrased exactly as the composer wanted it to be phrased, you hear the piano play exactly where the composer wanted it played. This does not create a wooden experience unless the composer is wooden. Computer programs have become so elegant as to allow any kind of expression.

Here is a different set of assumptions.

1) Music is the expression of a people and a society. Music may be one of the few things that can be pointed to in order to establish ethnicity and cultural identity.

2) A great musical mind is like any other aspect of genius, it is more rare than we would admit and even if it does exist it may not exist when and where it can be of use. For the vast majority of minds, each aspect of being a musician or an instrumentalist takes a lifetime of diligence and dedication in order to be great.

3) Musical ideas, in and of themselves, are nothing. The ideas are only resonant when they are performed and consumed, so to speak, by other people. It is in the movement of a musical idea from one mind to another that the act of music takes place.

If these assumptions are true, I think you would have to argue that traditional instruments are superior to sampled music. When the question is asked, you normally think of The Man using mo-chines to replace instrumentalists, and a group of struggling renaissance men wearing frilly shirts clutching their bassoons looking imploringly at you not to replace them. That isn’t where the argument falls, actually. Singer-songwriters, who thirty years ago would have grabbed a nylon string guitar, are now staying up nights making their samplers loop stuff they recorded off TV. On the other side you have groups of nerds hammering out second violin parts and driving Yugos.

A composer brings in the same music he was going to create using his sampler and he puts it in front of an orchestra. The French Horn player has been playing this chunk of metal for thirty years, four hours a day. He has spent more time in his life playing the French Horn than you have spent, say putting on socks. His ability and elegance, his understanding of that one way of making music, his life spent in his country, with his language and his religion and his parents, he will bring all of that to the notes you have written for the French Horn. He won’t try to bring it, he won’t even care that he is, he just will.

And the first time he rehearses the piece with you and the orchestra, that is the first time that the musical idea will be expressed. And it will be shared, before it goes to the minds of people who haven’t trained a lifetime to understand it, with a performer who has been preparing his entire life to play that line of music. Maybe it’s perfect, maybe he won’t ask for a better voicing, maybe he won’t push the tempo or pull back into the beat. But for the casual listener, they won’t know why the French Horn part made them think of bread, it just will.

So, the short answer is that the circumstances determine what is best. But computers will never take the place of traditional instruments, only because music is, above all else, social and societal.

9. When evaluating a song, is the skill of the musicians very important, somewhat important, or not at all important?

If, by skill, you mean technical capacity, then it is less important than you might think I would say. If, by skill, you mean an ability to speak within the confines of the music, the ability to turn a phrase, then it’s all important. I don’t mind listening to people sing songs when they only know four chords, as long as they can speak to me through the song.

10. In what environment do you most often listen to music?

For other people’s music, in the car, at the gym, anywhere that I can use the music to quell tedium. For the music that I write, at home in otherwise silence, and almost constantly in my head until the piece I want to write is done.

11. Are you a musician?

Yes. But not a great one. Not even a really good one.

12. Aside from its economic importance for New York tourism, does musical theater have any place in the world?

You son of a bitch.

Musical theater is the only purely American art form. We accept that orchestral music is important. We accept that drama and dance are important. We accept that songwriting is important. Yet, the one art form that combines all of the available stage craft into one setting is constantly being decried as socially insignificant.

People who say they don’t like musical theater are as short sighted as those who say they don’t like Hip-Hop. You don’t have to like Oklahoma or Cats to have an appreciation for musical theater.

The question pisses me off because we never ask about the cultural relevance of Beethoven, a man who has been dead for 150 years. People always say, ‘Man, I should listen to more classical music’ (a term, by the way, that doesn’t mean a goddam thing. I have to assume ‘orchestral music’ when people say classical), and everyone loves the Flaming Lips when they dress up in clown costumes and become ‘theatrical’. But if Sondheim writes a show using all the characters in children’s stories and flips it around and fucks with it so much that at one point Little Red Riding hood and Snow White feed the narrator to The Giant in an effort to save their lives, people are too cool to even see what it’s all about.

Musical theater, outside the realm of Broadway, will continue to be relevant and relevatory, even if I have to write it my damn self.

13. Have you ever referred to a piece of music as being ‘important?’

I have. I think ‘We Shall Overcome’ is an important piece of music. ‘O, Canada’ is important. I don’t know that we would not fight for what we believe in if there was no music, but every situation that requires conflict or struggle seems to have music that matches it. Even in sports events now there are those Gary Glitter and Queen standards that everyone hollers along with.

Do I think other things are more important? Like loving your neighbor and electing good men and setting aside a little money for a rainy day? Totally. But I think a piece of music can be important.