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New Consonant Music

1. Introduction

The intent of this FAQ is to provide an up-to-date introduction and basic information to the New Consonant Music. It contains frequently asked questions with answers relating to New Consonant Music. It originally began as a general-purpose FAQ for the New Consonant Music web site. It was also distributed by mail and by fax to give quick answer to composers, performers or journalists interested in New Consonant Music.

The format of this FAQ is a simplification of RFC1153 digest format that is sufficient to be compatible with common newsreader digest, browsers and text processors on any plate-form. In consequence, it is encoded with ASCII 7-bit characters. Diacritics and East-European characters have been replaced by their closest equivalent. I apologise about this.

It is edited and compiled by Alain Van Kerckhoven since 01 July 1998. When the author of a paragraph is another identified person, his name between brackets, eventually with email address and date of writing) closes the paragraph.

In the following text, ‘New Consonant Music’ is sometimes abbreviated in ‘ncm’.

This article is copyrighted by Alain Van Kerckhoven. It may be freely redistributed in its entirety provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Permission is expressly granted for this document to be made available for file transfer from installations offering unrestricted anonymous file transfer on the Internet. 

This article is provided as is without any express or implied warranty.

No. The name of the other contributors are indicated between brackets after each paragraph they wrote. I thank all of them. I’d also like to acknowledge the following people who reviewed early drafts of this FAQ and made valuable suggestions for modifications, or otherwise contributed to the FAQ :

  • Pierre-André Boland
  • Mireille Gleizes
  • Michel Lysight
  • Philippe Massart
  • Goéric Timmermans

2. Definition

New Consonant Music has but one philosophy – that music must remain above all else a language, a means of communication. Language evolves, as does the expectation of continuing communication between composer, performer and audience. The experience must be direct, but not facile or superficial.

Thus, New Consonant Music can be listened to without the need for extensive technical or philosophical explanation. There is no one school, style or aesthetic – simply the conviction that music is much more than just notes, technique or intellectual game-playing. Music must speak for itself without the filters of explanation and classification – which lead to prejudgement and eventually to those artistic tyrannies which continue to result in the exclusion of some forms of contemporary music from ‘the reasonable expectation of communication’.

New consonant music is thus not a style nor an aesthetics. Many different composers write new consonant music. The form can be minimal or not, repetitive or not, tonal, modal or atonal. It can be a small accordion piece or a long large opera. So, the form has nothing to see with the definition of ncm.

So, even if some composers are reluctant to admit it, ncm can be defined as a reaction to the modernist period. New Consonant Music can be presented as a post-modern trend.

Modern composers – let’s say between 1940 and 1980 – were willing to innovate at first. Of course this is a generalisation and many exceptions exist (Messiaen, Ives…). The contact was broken between composers, performers and audience. Dodecaphonism, serialism, random music and other happenings revolutionised the music.

But, as for each language, evolution is better than revolution. Cage gave a great wind of freedom to music. But freedom is not always synonym of beauty. Stockhausen built intelligent concepts. But intelligence is not always synonym of beauty.

New consonant music tries to revive the broken link between composers, performers and audience, by the respect and the soft evolution of the common music language. And, of course, it integrates some ideas of modern composers.

What’s in a name? The term ‘consonant’ applies to ‘music’, and not to each element. Many works contain exotic and hard-to-classify chords or clusters. Consider them like pepper grains on a great steak! Even more, what is a dissonant chord in 1998? This becomes to be an old terminology.

The term ‘new consonant music’ is born on an April day of 1989 in the BRT (past VRTN) office of Boudewijn Buckinx. Boudewijn Buckinx (composer), Piotr Lachert (composer), Dominique Lawalree (composer) and Alain Van Kerckhoven (music publisher) were looking for the title of a score. This was one of the proposals. Who proposed it? Our remembrances diverge on this point. Finally, the score was named “Poetic Piano of the 80ies”, but the name “New Consonant Music” remained.

The origin of the music itself is much more fuzzy. As a reaction to modernism, it is certainly born with the modernism. Some piano pieces by John Cage may be considered as ncm works.

Here again, I cannot give scientific criterions. At least, a ncm work has to be new, consonant and music.

New : Mozart is not ncm, Richard Clayderman is not ncm (and Richard Clayderman is of course not Mozart)

Consonant : Large audience with a general culture is able to appreciate this music. No need to be musicologist, physician, or to receive a verbose introduction to the thoughts of the composer. “Le marteau sans maitre” by Boulez is not ncm ; “2**-13” by Pousseur is not ncm.

Music : Don’t expect to find here a good definition of this term.

3. Works

Here is a subjective top 15 list of CD featuring new consonant music pieces.

  • Abii ne viderem, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers (Giya Kancheli)
    1 CD ECM 1510 445 941-2
  • After the Requiem (Gavin Bryars)
    1 CD ECM 1424 847 537-2
  • Concerto grosso no 4, Concerto grosso no3 (Alfred Schnittke)
    1 CD Decca 430 698-2
  • De Staat (Louis Andriessen)
    1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79251-2
  • Desert of Roses (Robert Moran)
    1 CD Argo 436 128-2
  • Drowning by Numbers (Michael Nyman)
    1 CD Virgin E23
  • Grand Pianola Music (John Adams + Steve Reich)
    1 CD EMI 7 47331 2
  • In C (Terry Riley)
    1 CD CBS 7464-07178-2
  • La Koro Sutro, Varied Trio, Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (Lou Harrison)
    1 CD New Albion 015
  • Proverb, Nagoya Marimbas, City Life (Steve Reich)
    1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79430-2
  • Septet (Chick Corea)
    1 CD ECM 1297 827 258-2
  • Sit Down and Listen (Boudewijn Buckinx, Krysztof Knittel, Piotr Lachert, Michel Lysight, Gilberto Mendes, Henrique Morozowicz, Georgs Pelecis)
    1 CD AVK001
  • Tabula Rasa (Arvo Part)
    1 CD ECM 1275 817 764-2
  • Three Pieces in Olden Style, Symphonie no 3 and Amen (Henryk Mikola Gorecki)
    1 CD Olympia 313
  • Turtle Dream (Meredith Monk)
    1 CD ECM 1240 811 547-2

This is a most extended list, ordered by composers.

  • John Adams: Grand Pianola Music (+ S. Reich. 1 CD EMI 7 47331 2). El Dorado (+ Busoni et Liszt dans des orchestrations de J. Adams. 1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79359-2).
  • Louis Andriessen: De Staat (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79251-2). De Stijl, Trepidus, Dances (1 CD Attacca Babel 9375). De Materie (2 CD’s Nonesuch 7559-79367-2). Zilver (1 CD New Albion Records 094).
  • Gavin Bryars: After the Requiem (1 CD ECM 1424 847 537-2). The Last Days (1 CD Argo 448 175-2). A man in a room, gambling (1 CD Point Music 456 514-2).
  • Boudewijn Buckinx: Adagio, the famous one, of course (+ Knittel, Morozowicz, Pelecis, Lysight, Mendes, Lachert. 1 CD Alain Van Kerckhoven Productions 001). Opera: Karoena (1 CD Vox Temporis 92 028).
  • Chick Corea: Septet (1 CD ECM 1297 827 258-2).
  • Henri Cowell: Set of Five (+ Cage, Hovhaness, Satoh, Lou Harrison. 1 CD New Albion 036). Set of Five, Trio, Hymn & Fuguing Tune no9, Trio in nine short movements (1 CD Koch 3-7205-2H1).
  • George Crumb: Black Angels (+ Tallis, Marta, Ives, Shostakovich. 1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79242-2). Ancient Voices of Children, Music for a Summer Evening (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79149-2).
  • Thierry De Mey: Undo (1 CD Sub Rosa 016-39)
  • Graham Fitkin: Hook, Mesh, Stub, Cud (1 CD Argo 440 216-2).
  • Philip Glass: Songs from the Trilogy (1 CD CBS 45580). String Quartets nos 5, 4, 2, 3 (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79356-2). Opera: La Belle et la Bête (2 CD’s Nonesuch 7559-79347-2).
  • Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki: Three Pieces in Olden Style, Symphonie no3 and Amen (1 CD Olympia 313). Lerchenmusik (+ Lutoslawski et Prokofiev. 1 CD Olympia 343). Old Polish Music, Totus Tuus, Beatus Vir (1 CD Argo 436 835-2).
  • John Harle: Terror and Magnificence (1 CD Argo 452 605-2).
  • Lou Harrison: Piano Concerto, Suite For Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra (1 CD New World Records 366-2). First Concerto for Flute and Percussion (+ Jolivet, Cage, Sandstrom. 1 CD BIS 272).
  • La Koro Sutro, Varied Trio, Suite for Violin and American Gamelan (1 CD New Albion 015).
  • Giya Kancheli: Abii ne viderem, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers (1 CD ECM 1510 445 941-2). Exil (1 CD ECM 1535 447 808-2).
  • Aaron Jay Kernis: String Quartet, Symphony in Waves (1 CD Argo 436 287-2).
  • Michel Lysight: Oreades, Palimpsestes, Trois Instantanés, Samarkand, Monochrone, Soleil Bleu, Trois Croquis, Reflexion, Prelude et Toccata (1 CD Rene Gailly 87 111), Threne, Chronographie I, Trois Croquis, Epode, Chronographie III, Trois Instantanés, Labyrinthes (1 CD Cypres). Chronographie II (+ Mendelssohn, Gade, Grabowicz. 1 CD Rene Gailly 99 006), Sextuor (+ Jongen, Jadin. 1 CD Rene Gailly 87 147), Monochrone (+ Knittel, Morozowicz, Pelecis, Buckinx, Mendes, Lachert. 1 CD Alain Van Kerckhoven Productions 001).
  • Istvan Marta: Works (1 CD Hungaroton 31580).
  • Wim Mertens: Motives for writing (1 CD Les Disques du Crepuscule TWI 862-2). Maximizing the Audience (1 CD Les Disques du Crepuscule TWI 480). Shot and Echo (1 CD Les Disques du Cépuscule TWI 950-2).
  • Meredith Monk: Turtle Dream (1 CD ECM 1240 811 547-2).
  • Robert Moran: Desert of Roses (1 CD Argo 436 128-2).
  • Michael Nyman: Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs (1 CD Argo 440 842-2). Where the Bee Dances (+ Bryars, Westbrook. 1 CD Argo 433 847-2). The Draughtsman’s Contract (1 CD Charisma Records 1158). Drowning by Numbers (1 CD Virgin E23). The essential Michael Nyman Band (1 CD Argo 436 820-2).
  • Arvo Part: Tabula Rasa (1 CD ECM 1275 817 764-2). Arbos (1 CD ECM 1325 831 959-2). De Profundis (1 CD Harmonia Mundi 907 182).
  • Georgs Pelecis: Concertino bianco (1 CD Erato 0630-12709-2). Quatrième Suite (+ Knittel, Morozowicz, Lachert, Lysight, Mendes, Buckinx. 1 CD Alain Van Kerckhoven Productions 001).
  • Steve Reich: Sextet, Six Marimbas (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79138-2). Tehillim, Three Movements (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79295-2). Proverb, Nagoya Marimbas, City Life (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79430-2).
  • Terry Riley: In C (1 CD CBS 7464-07178-2).
  • Frederic Rzewski: Coming together – Attica (+ Szemzo, Reich, Melis. 1 CD Hungaroton 12545).
  • Laszlo Sary: The Voice of Time (1 CD Hungaroton 31643).
  • Alfred Schnittke: Concerto grosso no4, Concerto grosso no3 (1 CD Decca 430 698-2).
  • Michael Torke: Chamber Works (1 CD Argo 430 209-2). Music on the Floor (1 CD Argo 443 528-2).
  • Kevin Volans: White Man Sleeps (1 CD Nonesuch 7559-79275-2). String Quartets no2 & no3 (1 CD Argo 440 687-2).
  • Harald Weiss: Arche (1 CD Wergo SM 1060-50). Ade (1 CD Wergo SM 1077-50).

4. Miscellaneous

There is no Official New Consonant Music Label International Committee. It would be too expensive. So, use this term like ‘expressionist’ or ‘intelligent’ or ‘kind’, when you think you can use it…

No, ncm is not just a nostalgic and whining glimpse to the past. New consonant music is written in the continuance of the history. The absence of rupture involves that it uses all the musical resources, from ancient and from contemporary times. But anyone can’t pretend writing ncm whilst he just imitates the earlier composers without any personal and contemporary contribution.

Landru also was famous. The point is that music costs money. For a concert you have to pay the performers, the hall, the insurances, the advertising, the personnel etc. For the Spice Girls, no problem for a quick return. For contemporary music concert, the return are of course more hazardous. So, you need often subsides.

This means that you have to ask them to some politician. And it is much more easy for a politician (or an executive) to renew old subsidies than to hardly examine each project objectively. More you receive subsidies, more concerts you can do. And more concerts you do, more impressive will be your personal folder and easier will be the renewal of your subsidies.

Of course, sometimes a politician, an executive change or an influent composer die. Then the hunt is open, and this is a great show!

These are the rules of the game in Belgium, in France, in Italy, in Germany, maybe also in some other countries.

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