Over the past week I've been sending out invites for the second installment of Remote Hearing, and trying to articulate what it's all about as I encounter a gamut of responses from head-scratching to genial enthusiasm.
As a concept piece about synchronicity, Remote Hearing isn't terribly remarkable. On the other hand, as a format for socializing musically, it is equal in promise to any conventional setting, and better yet, it is still almost completely unexplored.
The creative music of the 20th century took root in a foundation of shared practice - standard procedures that belonged to everybody, that weren't proprietary, and that provided a low threshold for musical communication and collaboration. The bebop jam session format allows jazz musicians to throw down within seconds of meeting. Free improvisation is similar but with even less shared background needed (no tunes to memorize). These practices and others provided the soil in which twentieth-century experimentalism grew; by now the fruits of that experimentalism should have transformed it anew.
So what is our century's answer to the jam session? What is the 'new normal' of music after Cage? What is the concrete reality of the creative instrumentalist since the AACM pulled free improvisation away from its last stylistic tethers? What can we do together, on the spot, without preparing grant proposals or program applications, without rehearsals, without updating press kits, without promoting concerts so as to compensate people for these preparations, without the whole boatload of auxiliary requirements that creative artists are almost ubiquitously saddled with these days. Shouldn't making music together be easier than ever in the wake of indeterminacy, not harder?
It seems to me that we face a dilemma. We can join Steve Reich, for instance, in concluding that all of that experimentalism was clever, but that's not how music cognition works - now it's time to get serious again and go back to carefully weaving together tonality and meter. Or, we can say that the experimentalists opened up worlds as salient as any that came before, and now its time to reconsider the social fabric of music in their light. It's time for us to find our way in them, in the same way that previous generations found their way in the world of the solo opened up by Armstrong, instead of leaving it to him as a theoretical triumph.
Remote Hearing is one attempt to find our way - it's a tentative model of everyday creative musical collaboration, sharing, and socializing for the post-Cage internet era. Ease of participation again increases qualitatively - if free improvisation eliminated the necessity of memorizing showtunes, Remote Hearing eliminates the need for geographic or auditory proximity. In this sense, Ives, Cage, Coleman, Braxton, etc., have given us real utility - they have made our lives as musicians easier and more meaningful!
Remote Hearing takes a step into the world that they gave us. It is a world that sits on the precipice of the internet age, always already networked, but awaiting the menagerie of communication strategies that will engage us for decades to come.