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The Golden Bruce Award

How It Came About -- And Our First Winner!

    Today, in honor of the fifth anniversary of the death of Frank Zappa, a composer who opened his address to the American Society of University Composers by pronouncing its acronym, Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar introduces a new award.

    Before announcing the award's name and its first recipients: Some history.

    Your hosts Kalvos and Damian have developed carefully tuned and easily tripped head-hanging, CD-tossing, compositional warning systems. We're your red alert in new music. Our alarms are triggered by subcutaneous plagiarism, easy-goin' noodlin', academic tower tunes, vanity recordings, and our own insubordinate impatience.

    Not long ago, we did our first rent-a-band show. We revealed new music's not-so-new dirty secret: If you have about $500 bucks a minute, you can get your music -- inspired, mediocre, or just plain insipid -- recorded by terrific but hungry world-class ensembles in cash-strapped Eastern Europe. The conductor and producer will stroke you, tell you about your artistic depth and genius, market your notes, and, of course, cash your check. Composers like yours-truly and Damian-truly share the overstuffed composer ego ... if we had deep pockets, we'd also litter the environment with orchestral CDs from hungry musicians.

    So we had a lot of fun with our rent-a-band show, elbowed a few artistic egos, most of whom shared in the sheepishness. But we got one letter from an American composer -- to protect his identity, we'll choose Monty Python's favorite generic and just call him "Bruce" -- whose feelings were bruised. He told us in a letter [read it all]:

    "If you don't enjoy the music and find no expressive resonance with it please don't play it on your show. I certainly don't wish to be interviewed by someone who's unsympathetic to my style of composition ... I was angry and disappointed to find that I had been set up for several put downs ... you are just a disc jockey -- a kind of modern classical Imus."

    Kalvos would have been more pleased to be called a Howard Stern, but naturally, Kalvos offered a pleasant, collegial response [read it all] -- in which he wasted some very good jokes, by the way -- explaining that what we do here on K&D -- despite the jokes -- is attempt to play music in its artistic, stylistic, social, temporal, or economic context. And that certainly means not hiding behind the microphones and uttering public-radio-style platitudes. So we've spoken about our time as a golden age of new music, and also told you about its seamy pay-for-play underbelly. We're two volunteer producers who are deeply committed to new music and tell you what's going on, without putting halos over our modern classical music. No hagiography at K&D! I must admit, though, I wouldn't mind pocketing some checks from composers who give them instead to Western entrepreneurs who've flooded Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow, Bucharest, and a dozen other struggling cities.

    Jeff Harrington is a quiet but brilliant composer with a hint of magnolias in his voice, but he writes with a high-voltage keyboard. Here's what he said about pay-for-play in a Usenet post [read it all] in late November 1998:

    "Your stock is tanking, what do you do? You buy more so that your break even point is lower. That, in a situation where the stock ain't going to go back up, is also called throwing good money at bad and that is the situation here. What is so sickening and heart-breaking to me, is that not only do we have the barriers of creating an original voice while working 9-7, not only do we have the barriers of getting beyond the crappy music education we all had, not only do we have the barriers of getting noticed in a world where if you're over 25 it's hopeless... now we have to save tens of thousands of dollars and spend them on 'professional recordings.' People are going to rape their little 401K to buy a hopeless dream!"

    Well, Jeff gave K&D heart. We didn't hear from this (name-changed-to-protect-the-innocent) Bruce for two months and kept his note in confidence, so we figured he was back to composing. Yesterday, though, something [read it all] came in the door with lots of postal paperwork attached, without any attention or response to Kalvos's letter. As it stands, we're still keeping the Pythonesque "Bruce" anonymous, even though he sprayed letters throughout officialdom:

    Please remove my music from your Kalvos and Damian's New Music Bazaar web site archives and composer profile pages. As the copyright owner and publisher of this music, I neither license nor authorize its use ... now or in the future. Please also remove my biography, photo, and all related materials from your composre pages. I don't wish to have these items on your site. I respectfully decline your invitation for an interview on your show now or in the future.

    Well, of course K&D will pull the plug on his tunes and allow him to censor his own work, but the affair has, as you might expect, inspired us. In fact, his letters, Jeff Harrington's post, and recalling Frank Zappa's straight-talk from ASUC to the Senate, inspired K&D's new award -- the Golden Bruce, dedicated to the music compositions, people, companies and issues that have put a curdle on our artistic sensibilities.

    In that spirit, the first Golden Bruce is awarded to Vienna Modern Masters and its catalog of pay-for-play music. Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but it ain't free, folks. Curdle us, VMM! And congratulations on your 1998 Golden Bruce!