When I’m hard up for inspiration or peace, I occasionally I need to read Ivan’s words. Ivan Tcherepnin was a music professor who provided me this handout maybe 25 years ago. It’s here for the artists who might be further unlocked by his words.


I am not Allah
and cannot make you become composers
—I can’t even try, since that is up to you

I assigned John Cage first, because he, more than any other composer,
writes in a lucid way how ANYone can be a composer
like MCDC saying, “Anything is beautiful if you think it is”
or Wittgenstein, “Beauty is in the use of our clickers”
It takes lots of work, discipline and persistence and self-honesty
to even GET to the place where a composition idea of value can be discovered

If friends asked you about your courses during vacation
and you were talking about the composition class
you would say that you studied melodies, phrasing and modes
The interrelation of text, melody and rhythm
the combination of several voices in polyphony
the use of the canon as a tool to organize multiple voices
the emergence of harmonic progressions from polyphony
and development of themes based on harmonic progression
the use of periods and sentences as tools to organize musical ideas (motives)
you were given oodles of music, music to study for technical and/or inspirational purposes
and so on.

You heard about the existence of a cave
or mine shaft to which composers, after much digging,
have access (not guaranteed to find anything in there, either)

You have listened to your own work and seen yourselves in the mirror of your music
and found the mirror to be uneven, sometimes opaque—
requiring more practice, more tooling, more facility
But beware. The tools, the facility, the techniques are not the goal
at best they can be facilitators; at worst deceivers, creators of an illusion
that you are able to compose without the most essential factor present
which has no name, no shape, no presence aside from your own consciousness and spirit

Whether it is Cage saying, “Hey, no sweat, anyone can do it, it’s free, it’s fun” or Schoenberg saying, “You have miles to go before you can even imagine what composition is all about, and even then, you will be light years away from knowing enough of the literature to create anything faintly original”

the art is in your hands, and through your awareness and craft alone will you create something
which can begin to breathe life, communicate awareness and transport the listeners

In some cases, you would do better to let go of wanting to master traditional practices and try to invent your own wheels; in other cases, that would be too much to ask to unlearn for the sake of music

In any case, you should always get back to basic human needs, primal feelings, unlearned patterns of perception and cognition, principles of life on the surface of the earth in this epoch, at the twilight of the 21st Century

too much looking back or fascination with the past is dangerous

better to leapfrog over the civilized past, leap back and forth between different parts of the earth, separated by time and place

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

this is a prelude to the Modal Modules, which focus, as did canon, on a technical, theoretical means to organize multiple voices in musical compositions
There is no substitute for your own experimentation, mentation and persistent, disciplined digging into the musical earth

—Ivan Tcherepnin

What will the Professor say today?

Now’s as good a time as any to start blogging again. What with Facebook and all the new new forms of 140-character communication, this dust-smelling form seems practically retro only a few years after its inception. Conveniently, this means that my parents have probably stopped reading this, and I can be a little more simple and direct. Anyway, I think most ideas worth repeating deserve more than 140 characters.

I woke up this afternoon. My sleep schedule has rotated severely with my work on this new musical, Zombie Vixens from Hell. As so many other people did, I read the dreadful news about the shootings in Colorado, and this in turn led me to do as much research as I possibly could about lone wolf terrorists in one hour. This search led me to read this interesting document, which describes the Internet as a fresh source of power for such terrorists. I think the Internet is awesome and wonderful. But I have seen a frightening tendency among my friends and me of only wanting to interact on the Internet with people who share our point of view. I find myself reaching for the Unfriend button on Facebook when someone has an opinion that disagrees with mine, and I’ve seen nearly all of my friends do the same. Which brings up the interesting question: What is it about us that makes us only want to interact with people who share our points of view? What about the Internet makes us more closed-minded, not less?

Here’s a completely unsupportable supposition that will, I think, demonstrate its own truth in time: James Holmes made posts in some back shithole of the Internet, describing whatever outrage he felt the need to avenge. And the kicker will be, of course, that he found support and encouragement there.

I think that Facebook is enemy number one in this regard. Facebook tracks every click we make, and little AI gremlins watch us, and determine what we should see next. And Facebook thinks that what we want to see is content from people who share our points of view, whether we’re birthers or Green Party or vegetarians or corrective makeup artists. Newspapers are clearly on their long slow slide into irrelevancy, but newspapers did something very very important for us: they made us read opinions that we didn’t automatically agree with. Facebook has no qualms about feeding our little cocaine monkey brains only what makes us happy; i.e. that which does not challenge our world view.

I make a point of trying to read as many news sources as possible. Each morning I read at least the front pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Gamasutra, National Review, The Economist,, Huffington Post, MCV UK, Slashdot, The Daily Pilot, and the OC Register. I read the Register mostly for comic relief; it’s also fun to play the game of Find The Spelling Or Usage Error Of The Day with the Register. It has been pointed out to me that I read at an unusual speed.

This reading list forces me to be exposed to opinions that I do not automatically agree with. I am hoping there’s some therapeutic value. Lifting weights makes you stronger.