Theory and aesthetics in new music are two very, very different things. There’s what goes in to a piece of music, and there’s what comes out, and keeping the two a healthy distance apart has been the sensible option since 1908 at the latest. Music is for the listener, after all, and in a sense the question of (for instance) how Stravinsky constructed his Requiem matters precisely as little as whether or not the Monkees wrote their own songs. The complex machinations of the compositional process should never come to obscure a resulting piece of music’s aesthetic worth. At least, that’s the theory.
The more I’ve listened to Richard Beaudoin’s new pair of CDs Microtimings, the more I’ve started to take Beaudoin’s compositions as direct challenges to the argument above. The pieces have been constructed according to a very particular and rather strange procedure, and this procedure is, as far as I’m concerned, all but inseparable from the listening experience. Go on, the pieces seem to say: appreciate us without thinking about how we were made. Put the concept aside, and just listen to the music. You can’t, can you? No? OK then.