There is no normal any more – Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet


So, as previously trailed, my article on Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet is now online at New Music Box. If you can excuse the second piece of self-publicity in a week, here’s a taste:

The actuality of sounds has become prioritized over their earthly creation. Yet for the American-born, British-based composer Aaron Cassidy the primacy of sound is a particularly 20th-century phenomenon, deriving from the fact that most of our listening experiences come from loudspeakers or headphones: we now regard sound as an entity that is immaculately conceived and born into the world without let or hindrance.

Almost all our musical experiences are now acousmatic: sounds are heard in isolation, at our desks, on our iPods, in our living rooms, detached from their source. We are told, through marketing and through the results of staggering research and development investments, that each of these new technologies represents a better way of listening. Thanks to the scale and power of the recording industry, we live in a world that has more music than ever before but less music-making. Listeners, renamed consumers, can have access to any music they desire without the burden of performers, instruments, or a training culture.

It is a tenet of Cassidy’s composition to resist the acousmatic “ideal.” His credo for more than a decade has been that “the way in which a sound is made, and the sound it makes, are fundamentally intertwined.” This is more than an echo of the UK Musician’s Union slogan to “Keep Music Live,” and it’s more even than a resistance to that commercial impulse that has—from sheet music to vinyl to CD to mp3—driven music technology into areas of increasingly low fidelity for the sake of consumer convenience and more efficient sales. It’s a belief that when we don’t attend to the role of muscle and sinew, we are losing a substantial layer of what makes music what it is: a human art, for playing as much as it is for listening. If we give that up too easily we risk losing a lot.

It’s not all that polemical – actually I think only that bit is. The rest is about the music, which is extraordinarily strange: fractured, focused, precarious, emphatic. There’s a short clip embedded in the article if you want to listen. And here’s a picture of Frank Gehry’s hotel for the Marqués de Riscal vineyard to look at while you do:

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