The Need for Picture

Avante garde music is intimidating; mainly because it can seem so damn confusing. Most listeners don’t know what’s happening. All it appears to be is random noise. It’s no wonder most criticisms amount to declaring that a piece sounds like someone banging her hands wildly on a piano.

But we were never intimidated at first. We always listened to the avante garde when we were kids. Cartoons anyone? Take away the picture and what do you hear? My money is on some erratic music. Hell, cartoon music composers have used the musical language found in the music we find so challenging.

So what’s the difference?

The picture.

With the picture, everything the music is doing makes sense. That ascending chromatic passage is Bugs Bunny climbing up the stairs. The music shifting from a slow waltz to a frantic atonal burst is Sylvester pouncing on a Tweety Bird who was relaxing peacefully in a warm bath. We don’t mind how crazy the music is as long as its connected to what’s on the screen.

What if that’s what we need to do with the avante garde in concerts? No, not putting Bugs Bunny on while we play Webern. No, but presenting a better picture to the audience: explaining what the music is going for and how it achieves said goal.

We have to give them the picture to connect the frantic dots, the atonal dots, the serialist dots. Then people might understand it and from there, well, possibly start liking the stuff.


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