Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Making a Mistake a Masterpiece

My sketchbook is filled with many things. Some good, others decent, some that will never see the light of day. But I like to keep my not-so-great sketches. Why? Well, for different reasons. Sometimes I don't like something initially, but can go back and see what I was attempting to do, or I can see what had inspired me to start the sketch in the first place. And -though these events are rare- I can sometimes go back and see potential in these sketches, and rework them into something that I do like.

I know lots of other artists have had their flops. Picasso's painting, The Guitarist, was found, upon x-ray analysis, to have a painting of a bullfight underneath it. Many famous painters would start a work, and stop, leave it for months, and then come back to it and rework it. So, what I got to thinking was, given the method by which Cage composed his music, is it possible for him to have ever had a flop? Did he ever compose a piece that just didn't work out? Or, did he ever compose something that he gave up on, came back to, and then was happy with it? Was he ever happy with it? Could he have been happy or unhappy with the way things turned out when he threw his I-Ching coins and derived a musical score?

Guess it comes back to that saying in Alice in Wonderland: "If you don't know where you're going, then any road will take you there." Given that Cage didn't begin with the end in mind when he started, he can't really be unhappy with what was turned out, right? I mean, if you try to remove all of your own tastes and preferences from a work, then you can't complain that it isn't to your liking when it's finished. And I don't think that was the point.

I wonder how this works with other experimental composers. Not everyone goes as far as Cage in their method of composition, so I wonder how they go about deciding what is performance worthy and what merits flop status... And what is an experimental flop like?

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