Judgement Day Brad Garton Three items during the past several months: Item 1 -- Mara Helmuth sent me the following e-mail: "What are means of evaluating the work of a computer music composer? Since traditional performance situations are often less available or sometimes even inappropriate, how can one justify what one does? Obviously, publishing recordings and articles etc., looks good. But it seems difficult to measure something as amorphous as people's interest in your work. I don't see the traditional measures of a composer as really appropriate for my work (commissions for some performing group, performances by big orchestras, and quantity of music written). I'm certainly willing to disseminate my music (I'd like to be on CD) but it's clearly not the whole story." Item 2 -- Perry Cook was offered (and has accepted) a position at Princeton University. The appointment is unique for Princeton, as it spans several departments (partly in Computer Science, partly in Music). As I understand it, the folks at Stanford University attempted to counter the offer from Princeton by putting together an appointment that would also bridge standard departmental boundaries (Linguistics, Computer Science and Music in this case). Item 3 -- I am coming up for review this year at Columbia University. While beginning to gather materials for my review, one of our senior faculty said that they weren't quite sure what criteria to use for my evaluation, it being obvious that my skills didn't quite fit the traditional music faculty model. And indeed these three items point out what is obvious to many of us -- that we as computer musicians inhabit a multi-faceted, cross-disciplinary academic niche. To do our work we draw upon a diverse array of capabilities, simultaneously scientific and artistic. We can't be easily categorized. People still persist in attempts to pigeonhole us according to archaic classification schemes, however. Categorical perception of one form or another seems deeply ingrained in the human cognitive apparatus. The ramifications of this aren't so pleasant, either. I'll bet each of us has heard at least one of the following criticisms: - Those are nice sounds, but it's not Real Music. - Interesting research, but it's not really Computer Science/Engineering/Physics/[fill in your favorite "objective" discipline here]. - Actually, it's not even Real Research. (or my personal favorite:) - Person X is No Composer! In a rather esoteric field this is almost to be expected from those on the "outside". When confronted with something new or unexplained, people map it onto their existing experience. Understanding is grounded upon a set of categories learned through living. What bothers me (besides the obvious negativity and close-mindedness of these particular reactions) is that I hear many of the above criticisms originating from inside our small world of academic computer music. In fact, our insular peer-bashing has become so much a part of our community that I now often hear the full-circle inverse comment: "that isn't REAL Computer Music". Of course, being inside a particular field or being a member of a certain scientific/artistic community doesn't stop us from being human. Besides being rooted in our innate desire to classify the world, many of the snide comments are by-products of our individual aesthetic judgements. We hear -- we judge; we are professionally trained to discern, to ascertain the best. The fruit of this aesthetic labor surrounds us. The impulse to judge underlies much of our public computer music activity, from the acceptance or rejection of works by various conference panels and the implicit hierarchy of concert venues to the more explicit discussions such as the recent "Good vs. Bad Electroacoustic Music" series of letters in the *Computer* *Music* *Journal* and the plethora of competitions open to those of us producing new music. So we embrace our humanity, we affirm our individual tastes and desires. I know what I like (and I know what I dislike!). The problem is that we don't stop at the individual level. We think ourselves universal: the only model I have for other people is myself, so naturally everyone thinks and feels as I do. It seems that most people certainly believe in an objective, positivist world. Look at The Facts marshalled to support Newt Gingrich's "social programs" here in the United States, or the silly *Bell* *Curve* approach to measuring intelligence/economic viability, or the hard *scientific* DNA evidence used to get at The Truth in the O. J. Simpson theater of the absurd. In every sphere of endeavor our goal is to nail down a solid, immutable reality, to define a common metric that can be used to define and indeed to judge. Is this a problem? To some extent it has to be true that people have certain perceptual similarities, otherwise most of our social and nearly all of our research activities would be impossible. But this species-similarity doesn't necessarily spill into the aesthetic realm. I am constantly surprised by what others hear as "good" and by the diverse array of sounds that disparate peoples count as valuable music. There are probably at least as many reasons for this state of affairs as there are sociocultural theories, but I bet much of it has to do with the infinite fluidity of musical sound. Being non-functional in a real physical sense (music doesn't have to support the weight of trucks over a river) frees music from adhering to physically-constrained forms. This gives us the ability to create and define *for* *ourselves* how we want our music to go. In the past, despite the politically-shaped concerts and conferences, I have truly enjoyed the wide range of musics encountered in the world of computer music. As our field matures, however, I sense that this aesthetic openness is beginning to close down. Perhaps as we further define our particular little society, we choose to gravitate towards a specific style of music to act as *our* cultural token. Whatever the reason, we are "settling in" with our music; we are creating a hegemony of sorts. We can now list what we consider the Great Works (and Workers!) of computer music. Thus the tradition is set, and it sustains itself through our pedagogy. What we teach, how we teach it, the techniques we ask our students to master, and the musical models we hold as examples will exert a profound influence on the future evolution of our art and research. Unfortunately, the maturing of these methodologies all too often leads to a self-reinforcing edifice that ossifies creativity and stifles real innovation. Obviously from my pejorative description I'm not thrilled by this potential eventuality. Why would anyone want to participate in the creation of this mausoleum of tradition? In his DMA defense at Columbia University last May, Sean Varah articulated one of the best reasons I've heard for desiring to work within an established tradition. He hopes to write for people with a common cultural background, using a shared musical language as a foundation for building an enhanced musical experience. But I can't help but wonder if it isn't possible to have our cultural cake and eat it, too. I'd like to propose that we strive for a "common cultural background" for computer music that has a broad aesthetic ecumenicalism as one of it's most outstanding features. Rather than fall into the Kuhnian oscillation of 'normal' paradigmatic output punctuated by periodic 'revolutions', we could work towards an alternative model where "the tradition" is in constant flux, where departures from the norm are not just tolerated but are actively encouraged in order to undermine any sense of "the norm" actually existing. I want to point out, however, that the hackneyed ad-agency phrase "a tradition of innovation" isn't exactly what I have in mind. I'm not promoting innovation for innovation's sake so much as I'm advocating innovation in order to preserve a rich diversity of musical expression. Just as the buzzword "biodiversity" is now used to mark an essential feature of a robust and healthy biological ecosystem, we should maintain a strong "musicodiversity" to maintain a growing and vital musical "ecosystem". Is this just another worn-out "PC" plea for multiculturalism from an academic ideologue? Possibly, but in a dynamic musical culture, I would think that multiculturalism would be a real -- not just political -- positive attribute. Speaking from a selfish-composer perspective, a variegated, multicultural sonic landscape gives me easy access to more musical ideas. I find it is often much easier to steal than to create! From a somewhat loftier, more ideological perspective, I believe it is important to take action to preserve the diversity of extant musical traditions. We can do this by promoting diversity in our own ranks, by nurturing the seeds of difference. Employing the biological metaphor again, the musical rainforest is being flattened as communications media shrinks the world. What sounds will be lost in a homogenous, McDonaldland future? What ranges of human expression will be bulldozed to make way for the musical Disneyworld of tomorrow? I also still hold the hope that music can change the world. We can show that it is possible for radically different world-views to coexist and actually be mutually enhanced because of this coexistence. Recent events in the small town where I live have shown me quite dramatically how much we need this perspective. The specific local issue isn't really relevant for my point here, but suffice it to say that it was quite divisive, involving deeply-held beliefs about the world. I have always felt that dialogue was possible, even in the face of radically different viewpoints. Several town meetings rapidly convinced me that I was living in a fantasy world. Never have I encountered so much shared hatred in one room. I began to understand the reality of how past human atrocities could happen. The truly frightening aspect of the experience is that this collective antagonism occurred among people who shared a "common cultural background" -- not among strangers, but among friends. It was a glimpse of a terrible future. A recent *New* *York* *Times* interview with anthropologist Clifford Geertz discussed how we all must now "confront the irreconcilable gap between 'Us' and 'Them' -- in other words, what to do about people who can't see the plain truths that you do." Geertz commented that "People are going to have to stand for a lot of things they don't like." So it is in computer music. I'm not advocating that we give up our own individual preferences -- judge for yourself what you like and what you abhor. However, we must be willing to relax a little to enter into alternative worlds. In fact, we must do what we can to foster the creation of these alternative worlds, to make the broadening of perspective part of our computer music heritage. For better or for worse, the way that we do our music can demonstrate how we might exist. I hope we can use our artistic power to beat down the hatred of intolerance. As maudlin as this may sound, I really do want a better world for our kids.