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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


The Golden Bruce Award

Kalvos's Response


Identifications removed with XXXXXX.


XXXXXX XXXXXX
XXXXXX XXXXXX
XXXXXX XXXXXX

Hi XXXXXX,

Thanks for your letter that greeted me on my return from Europe three days ago. I'm sure we can have some fun with it on Kalvos & Damian! (You sent a confidential letter to media people? And you weren't kidding? In the age of Clinton and Starr? At least were you giving us material for your upcoming show? Yes?) Insert smiley here...

Assuming you were serious, though: You did pay for the orchestras and recordings, right? It was a good deal, right? Fine performers and a good dollars-per-note ratio? Folks weren't asking you to record your music, and no audiences were clamoring to hear it over and over, so you did a vanity project, right? Then you struck a deal to put these pieces on the XXXXXX label, and regardless of our emotional resonances or whatchamacallit, you intended for them to be sold, also right? Of course, once they're public, you no longer have a choice of how your tunes are heard anyway, but you could have been a Sorabji, that Leon Dudley with a high fear level. Instead you dared instead to risk their release, correct?

I'm not challenging you on any of that, just doing the Kalvos-style reality-check, because there's the rest of the story that may not be apparent if you're feeling abused. Regardless of what you or I -- or any critics -- may think about our own music (you may not know that I'm a composer of over 500 works), we both know for absolute certain that the public doesn't give a hot damn about it or us. That's why we have to pay to get it played (like you did and David Gunn is doing), have to know a performer willing to present it (like XXXXXX did for all three of us) or, heaven-on-earth-itself, have to get someone to commission us (as the XXXXXX did with me a few months ago for the third time, a rare treat).

Our art music largely makes no sense to the untrained ear. That's the reality, brother, and if we can have some fun with it without our egos getting bent out of shape, then we keep the humor and provocation and intrigue going -- and keep the audiences awake!

You or I or any composer -- via Symphonic Workshops or VMM or Király or anyone else -- throwing money at orchestras to record CDs for us simply hasn't made our music any more listenable to a general classical-music public (such as the Kalvos & Damian audience). Critics haven't turned the tide with all their praise, nor has important airplay. My own recent CD Detritus of Mating has been played complete, all 63 langorous minutes of it, on radio in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and Perth, (and on New York's WBAI upcoming on October 10) as well as many smaller places, and excerpted frequently elsewhere. Kyle Gann reviewed it in the Village Voice. But not a single sale was generated by those plays or reviews, and no hordes of cheering fans materialized. That's life and art in fin-de-siècle America; as my stepdaughter said to me, get over it.

On the other hand, we mere deejays via Kalvos & Damian have come up with a formula that actually intrigues audiences and gets attention for composers. We passed 50,000 unique visitors to our website last week, representing over 5 million 'hits'; from March through August, our audio files have been listened to more than 3,600 times. This is one of the rare events in new music that regularly does generate interest.

As you have heard, on the air, we set up the listeners with quirky opinions, and see what happens next. We laugh and insult, empathize and probe, query and confound, mix and feature. We expose the frauds in no time, as we did with one recent famous composer, who hanged himself before all our very ears. Another composer resented that we noticed, on-air, the conclusion of his symphony -- an uncredited swipe directly from Berg. On the other hand, a composer of 'unlistenable' electroacoustics generated the most enthusiastic phone calls we've ever received.

We orchestrate interesting dynamics, and when a guest finally arrives, things shift and change in amazing ways, because the audience has already heard some of the music, perhaps they know how it came about, or at least they have some connection via the sound-bite biases of our on-air personae. The listeners remember Kalvos & Damian's comments or laughter or confusion or enthusiasm or lectures. We give them something extra-musical to hold until the composer and the composer's music draws them in.

It's a show, of course, which means we have no obligation to be nice to anyone, hold back K&D's opinions, or even like what we play. Gawd, we'd never have a single 'new age' composer on the show if Kalvos & Damian were based on our likes and dislikes, and AmsterDramm might never have happened in light of my first personal reaction to David Dramm's work. Though in fact we only need to entertain and impart familiarity, our personal agenda is also that we bring listeners into different audio worlds, give them information and experiences they can hold on to -- which might be, "we don't understand this either", generating empathy with our mutual reactions, and thus making your role as guest more interesting and dynamic when you finally arrive.

For example, I attended the premiere of Richard Barrett's new opera Unter Wasser in Amsterdam two weeks ago. He'll be on the show next year, and Kalvos will be merciless with the piece before he arrives, setting up the opening for him to talk about why it's entirely absent of melodic material in the orchestra, why the voice part sounds ancient like Pierrot Lunaire, and why the audience hated the whole deal. It will give Richard the opportunity to reveal how to listen to this music and why the performers loved it (though Damian certainly won't let him (or you, haha!) get away with phrases like, ahem, 'transformation procedure' or 'legato-detached exchange').

Certainly Dennis and David have opinions that are not necessarily Kalvos & Damian's. Dennis can put on XXXXXX XXXXXX's orchestral music at home and it will be fine. But Kalvos can't. On Saturdays, we're both our own ears and our audience's ears. It comes with the territory of maintaining our show's existence and surprise in a hot media age; if you want public-radio style programming, head for Larry Lake's Two New Hours on CBC with its $250,000 budget and low-key, old-school, Milton-Cross-style presentation. And no jokes.

On the other hand, life's so much simpler for us as mere composers (especially paying composers), who have final say about a composition and recording (until it leaves home, of course). Sadly, in our times, many composers are reluctant to stand behind the marketing of their tunes, only to beggingly apply for grants or ante up pocket money for the first step, the easy step ... which is a mistake, because other, weaker composers will in the meantime grab attention with enthusiastic marketing, hype, and media savvy.

Similarly, Dennis-the-Composer may spend months on a string quartet as he did recently, but his alter ego Kalvos-the-Deejay will never play it in full, and perhaps not play it at all ... at least not without some wisecracks invited by its title, Hoots & Honks. But then Damian might ask Kalvos to become Dennis and defend his own stuff (or vice versa with Damian/David) -- and changes happen. Things are learned. Music is grasped.

You never know how the moments of revelation will go. Kaija Saariaho was giving us the usual compositional party line until I asked how it was being a woman composer, who also had to be a wife and mother, among the Great Composing Men of Paris ... then there were icy fireworks of anger, and that stands out as a gem among our interviews. In another surprise, Steve Gryc was on the show yesterday, revealing that, overwhelmed by the power and complexity of the raw geyser material he had recorded at Yellowstone, he simply couldn't turn it into a composition as he'd planned. That fit beautifully with his previous appearance two years ago, and with the several times we've played his music and had some serious moments and chuckles with the same pieces.

That's also why our interviews, whether live or taped, are broadcast unedited. This is the composer's chance to sell the goods -- or step in the doo-doo. Sometimes they'll waste the time trying to be clever, or like one politically enthusiastic guest, they'll insist on pushing their own agendas. Like good students of journalism, we attempt to disarm the guest's agenda immediately, because rhetoric and lecture is musically pointless, not to mention it makes really dull radio. We work like Larry King, believing it's up to the guest to do the work, and try to clear our own knowledge out of the way ... at least until the composer turns weasel.

In retrospect, I was actually surprised to hear from you after such a long time and several invitations over the past few years. I had learned from XXXXXX that you'd taken up his offer, and was intrigued to learn the upshot of that. You and XXXXXX were the only composers we knew personally who could actually raise the scratch for this kind of orchestral project, and you probably know that XXXXXX went his own way with it. (I also recall you were a little touchy about my XXXXXX editorial in XXXXXX some years ago, and thought you were still nursing that disaffection. But then, we artists are touchy ... just look at the CECDiscuss listserv this month!)

For a moment, though, let me have the privilege of being a little touchy about your 'just a disk jockey' comment, because these two K&D just-deejays have put up $25,000 out of their own pockets (and over 20 hours of time each week of auditioning music, preparing a show, and updating web pages) ... not to trumpet their own music, but in order to broadcast and cybercast and webify other composers' music. We could have hired one of XXXXXX's orchestras for ourselves with that much money! We do have a serious purpose, which is to put listeners in touch with composers as human beings, showing the struggles and beliefs and (in your case and others') any cash agenda that may be involved in music-making today. These are really interesting factoids to a People-reading public, generating curiosity, loyalty and open ears rather than what you see as unfairness. That's why we did the rent-a-band show in the first place, and will do a few more programs on that theme. There's no shame in vanity projects (mine was, too), but it's an important artistic issue today, especially with music like yours that is quite often opaque on the first few hearings (as, alas, are the accompanying booklet notes you suggest will help making sense of XXXXXX. My day job is as an editor, and I say, "Go read 'em to a rocker!")

So I hope you can make sense of what we're doing, can get with the sound-bite spirit, and won't cancel your Kalvos & Damian show appearance.

Best to you,

Dennis Báthory-Kitsz
Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar
http://www.maltedmedia.com/kalvos/
176 Cox Brook Road
Northfield, Vermont 05663

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September 27, 1998