In memorial of Milton Babbitt, I am taking "Milton Babbitt listening, day 2." I original did one the weekend of his death, and am now undertaking a second.
I am listening to most of the same exact pieces and albums i hit the first time.
Babbitt was a staggering genius. His works are comical, powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. They are brain food.
My brain does not always "get" them. But i don't think it's Babbitt's fault. I really believe it's my fault. I'm listening incorrectly. I'm listening to him the same way i'd listen to Mozart, Beethoven, or any number of other composers throughout the ages. I'm listening for repetition, for form, for sign-posts, for a motive or theme...These do not exist as such in Babbitt.
His music is not about repetition in a strict sense. So while my ears still "don't get it" even if my mind can look at a work and perceive its structure, it doesn't mean i dislike Babbitt. I dislike Babbitt because i cannot be Babbitt. He was a genius extraordinaire. His music is deep, incredibly deep. It isn't something you put on in the background and "enjoy." This isn't music for someone who is not invested in music.
Babbitt didn't write what he thought people wanted to hear. I think he wrote what people should hear. and just like our mom's telling us "don't eat the pizza right away, it's still a little too hot," but we all did it anyway as kids and got burned. As is his music. There is beauty there, and whimsy. And slowly, i'm getting to the point of hearing it.
As one person states in the documentary "It touches my brain, and makes me think. And then through my brain it touches my heart..." (openly paraphrased from a bad memory...).
It is an odd path, reaching the heart through the brain. But then i jump with joy (literally) when i program sounds that get named "Reginald" and identified with a stodgy old Englishman with a cane and hat, opening his mouth, and these random gliding tones pop out of his mouth...so obviously my heart can be reached through my brain.
Perhaps we should all give Milton another try. and then a dozen more. And really listen. That's what i'm doing.
RIP Milton Babbitt