Contemporary music, viewed a bit ironically, is a comfy filter bubble that, for decades now, has been inflating almost unnoticed by the worldwide public. Nourished by public subsidies, it grows happily away and even gets some late-night radio play from time to time. And festivals, awards, subsidies, etc. ensure that by far the most important recognition for many composers is the recognition that comes from their own peer group.
But does it have to be this way? Shouldn’t and mustn’t contemporary music be searching far more actively for a new audience? It really should! But how? A music that enters into artistic compromises and widens rather than narrows the gap between pretty triads and nasty dissonances, doing so according to the mantra “Contemporary music can be beautiful, too,” really only scores success for a particular piece or person. It doesn’t necessarily awaken general curiosity about a different, wider-ranging kind of listening experience. But it’s precisely this curiosity that listening to contemporary music requires.
A lot depends on enthusiastic and convincing explanation and presentation, including—and especially—in schools. Perhaps we shouldn’t always view contemporary music as a particularly refi ned and complex variant of serious art music (even if that is part of its very essence), but instead point out how to understand it through listening to and—where possible—actually making it. If any and every sound can potentially be music, then indeed everyone can access it; all it takes is curiosity and a willingness to listen.
To conclude on a slightly political note: if we could manage in this way to open up such an unassuming approach to contemporary music for a large number of people, the result will be more than just a larger potential contemporary music audience. We’d also manage to have a larger number of people realise that it’s sometimes worthwhile to listen more closely in order to understand the magic or the depth of a (musical) statement—which would be quite important in short-sighted times like our own. Yeah, I know, it’s utopian … but it really would be nice if our filter bubbles were to spring a leak or two.
A column of the student body of the mdw (hmdw)