‘I’m not a futurologist, but when I think about the future I do have the feeling that I have, in a certain sense, a responsibility for which direction I would like music to move in. History has proved that the way society develops tells you how music will develop, and basically it’s very clear that it develops where the money is - we’ve seen that in Dijon in 1400, in Florence later, and so on. I consider specifically American culture, with its incredibly important influence from different cultures on one another. A composer like Morton Subotnick grew up in San Francisco, and by the time he was about 23 he had heard hundreds of Chinese operas but never a single Beethoven symphony. I suppose - and this is also to do with communications - that this interchangeable influence will become more and more important. I think we will be very happy when we can get rid of all nationalist feelings. I think states are totally old-fashioned, one of the last remains of the middle ages, and the sooner we can get rid of all borders the better. (That’s why I have my question marks ‘ about the ex-Soviet composers, because I simply hear that they lacked musical development of the last 40 years. Kancheli was once asked, ‘Mr Kancheli, how did it feel to live under Soviet dictatorship for 40 years?’ ‘Well I tell you one thing, until the early sixties, I thought Bela Bartok was a woman.’)
I think that almost all musical renewals come from America. They were the first to get rid of the Wagner-Mahler-Schoenberg line, and long before my generation took up another approach to composing many people in America didn’t care at all. I wouldn’t say they had an anti-historical, more like an ahistorical and nonwestern or European-oriented, approach, and it has absolutely to do with the constellation of the American people, where there are so many different cultures at present. John Cage could not have been born in Europe, The big thing is the difference between what’s happening in that generation, which is totally different from what Mahler’s doing with the landler in his symphonies: they don’t take the outside of non-western music, but the structural elements. Another person who has been very important for me and who I consider to be the composer for the future, as an example of how to deal with material, is of course Stravinsky. The big difference between Stravinsky and 19th-century composers is that he deals with folk music in a structural, rather than a textural, way.
Until about ten years ago music in America was divided into two groups, and the metaphor for that was the city of New York. In the 60s and 70s there were two types of composer: uptown and downtown. Uptown were the 12-tone composers around Babbitt, the academics in the universities who have good salaries, wives, mistresses, horses, second houses, that kind of thing. Downtown was the complete opposite. The younger composers, whose God was Cage, dealt with electronics and mixed-media, minimal music, with generally noisy, dirty sounds, and they were orientated much more towards non-western developments. Since David Lang’s generation I call them ‘midtown’ composers: that’s the future. Midtown composers deal with both up- and downtown material, with those elements which they think are relevant for developing their musical language, both from the complexities of chromaticism and from pulses, or repetitions, and all the other elements you get from ‘low-brow’ music, pop music, and that’s exactly what, if you make it into a more abstract example, Stravinsky does in The rite of spring. This piece sounds so revolutionary because he seems to be able to combine pulsed rhythms and diatonic melodies, which are elements from folk music, with highly chromatic harmony, and in a way that’s an example for me of how to deal with material. I think that for getting further in the next fifty years, dealing with chromatic and diatonic material could be a very interesting way out.