Once again on The Twitter, there’s a conversation going on that requires a longer prose response than fits comfortably in 140 characters. Sarah Baird Knight asked me about the experience of being an artist whose work “blurs” genres and is therefore subject to review from different critical angles, e.g. “pop” and “classical”. My response is as follows:
My latest album, Where are the Arms, is a pop record, plain and simple. Yes, it has classical elements in some of its arrangements, but it is unmistakably a collection of pop songs, architecturally speaking. Many have simple ABABCAB structures, or variants thereof, and while within those structures there are rhythmic and harmonic events unusual in pop music, they’re still pop songs.
While some may be inclined to throw it into the “alt-classical” pot, I would call that out as a cynical move. E.g., “Let’s take pop music that’s somewhat sophisticated and call it alt-c so that we can corner a portion of the classical market by offering something accessible, plus you only have to sell like 100 copies a week to chart on Billboard Classique.”
No one would make the argument that Eleanor Rigby is a “classical work” simply because it was recorded with a string quartet. Rather, it’s a pop song with strings on it.
My work in the pop realm is pop music.
I wouldn’t want a classical critic reviewing WatA, which is why I elected to have a strictly pop publicist pitch the record to strictly pop critics, despite the fact that more people (10>n>0) know who I am in the classical world than do in the pop world (n<0). If a classical critic did review it, she’d probably say, “hey, there are nice arrangements on these pop songs, but in purely musical terms, the more or less strophic architecture of the pieces prevents them from developing in anypalpable traditional sense.”
I guess what I’m getting at— and I realize this is subjective and maybe reactionary— is that I have too much respect for the people writingwhat I consider to be “classical” music today to have my little pop confections considered as being in the same realm. This is not to say that I don’t think my pop music is of artistic value, but rather to say: let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that the presence of strings, woodwinds, and brass doth a classical record make.
On Thursday night, I’m premiering a piece called Crane Palimpsestwith American Composers Orchestra at Zankel Hall in NYC, and much of it is an investigation of the ideas discussed herein, e.g. can the architecture of a pop song be exploded procedurally to the point where it is no longer a pop song? I’m not sure if I’ve been successful at all, but the longer form and broader palette feels like a good medium for the experiment. Come on down. See for yourself.