Art reminds us of who we are, and shows what we can be. But these days the visual arts are undergoing a crisis of relevance. Art has been weaponized into an attack on the foundations of civilization itself, full of examples of irrelevance, carrion, excrement, pornography, and debris. Instead of being reverenced as a communion for all, contemporary art is being treated as a wedge, a social signifier of elitist attitudes. In doing so, the New Aristocracy of the Well-Connected block access to powerful resources.
Our self-aggrandizing ruling class’s tawdry and nihilistic vision of life is being inflicted upon us all. They are trying to remake the world in their own rotten image. They deny our society the inspiration to live up to ideals, the encouragement to think and feel deeply, the yearning to harmonize with truth and beauty. As a result, the mass audience has turned away. We’ve come to call this assault Postmodernism.
The elitists understood to maintain power, they had to undermine resistance. That’s why the top-down cultural forces have made Postmodernism so prevalent. Using mass media to communicate their sickening message, the establishment made dispiriting Postmodernism the terrain we all must navigate, the atmosphere we all must breathe, the environment we all must adapt to.
Postmodernism is now the consensus worldview of the ruling elite. It is also the reason their current hierarchy is weakened, and failing. Their would-be tool of domination is destroying them. They’ve been hollowed out by their own corrupt pretensions; their collapse is inevitable.
Postmodernism is dead. This is the beginning of the Remodern era.
Art is a more enduring and vital human experience than the power games of a greedy and fraudulent ruling class. The story of the 21st Century will be the dismantling of centralized power. As always, this course of history was prophesied by artists—those who are intuitively aware of the path unfolding ahead. Their works become maps so that others may find the way.
As Andrew Breitbart stated, “Politics is downstream from culture.” A ragtag group of UK artists fired the first shot against the abuses and ineptitude of the entrenched Postmodern establishment. What these artists initiated has spread across the world, in popular culture, the media, politics, gaining ever deeper significance and consequences. Enduring changes start in the arts.
Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization provides an historical overview of how art shapes society and politics. This book exposes how the contemporary art world is used as a tool of oppression. Most importantly, Remodern America provides the solution, and reveals how the power of art can be reclaimed as a force for liberty.
Remodernism is art of the people, by the people, for the people. Our freedom here in the United States should be producing the most moving and accomplished art in human history. America can be a world leader in culture, not just in military and industrial might. We, the people, deserve a better reflection of our character than the appalling mockery of the art favored by the elitists. So we, the people, are going to make it happen.
Remodernism is the recognition that Western civilization is still mighty. Remodernism knows we can still use our talents to create unprecedented growth. Remodernism is understanding our best days are still ahead of us, if we make the right choices, and do the needed work.
We will demonstrate this in art, to begin with. Imagine a new, decentralized creative class not invested in trashing our culture, but in celebrating it. What a choice to present to our citizens! Uplifting, honest artistry will change the tone of our entire society. Where we go one, we go all.
Renew the arts, and renew the civilization. Together, we can make art great again.
“This is our moment in the mighty continuum of art and life. Real art knows no boundaries; it communicates across all times, across all cultures. Art is as much an aspect of our species as the opposable thumb, and just as prevalent. The art world can be as big as all of humankind, if we do it right. Remodernism accepts responsibility for the art of our times, conveying the wisdom of tradition into the opportunities of the future. Remodernism is love made visible.”
Working as an intuitive artist carries risks. I paint directly onto the canvas from out of my imagination. I don’t work out problems in advance with preparatory sketches. I don’t cheat by letting a projector make my discoveries for me, and be a substitute for my own draftsmanship. I work to coordinate my mind, my hand, and my eye, to communicate the subtlety of inner vision.
The risk is I don’t always succeed in producing an effective image. This is okay, because I always have multiple paintings going at the same time. I put the unsatisfactory canvas aside.
I mentioned the Room of Shame in a previous post. It’s where the unfinished paintings wait. Some I will pull out and bring to proper resolution. But some are past saving. Case in point: Each in Their Garden.
The title is a reference to a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve had a vision of the prehistoric monumental chaos he describes in his mythos. I attempted to depict it on this 30″ x 30″ canvas. It ended up murky and congested. The more I tried to fix it the less cohesive it became.
The seething image I can see in my mind didn’t make it into this picture. It’s become too overworked to repair.
I am so unsatisfied with it I’m going to start an entirely new image on the canvas. It is still a vision of chaos, but in a much more tangible form. I’m excited to get to work on it.
I did want to give Each in Their Garden this one acknowledgement, because parts of it I really enjoy-mostly in the upper half of it. I will take what I learned from this, and move on.
“The making of true art is man’s desire to communicate with himself, his fellows and his God. Art that fails to address these issues is not art.”
Richard Bledsoe “Hollowsaurus” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 36″
On September 1, 2018, I finished Hollowsaurus, an epic painting 6 months in the making. It was an ambitious expansion of an image I first played with on a small canvas:
Richard Bledsoe “Table for Two” acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″
I was so intrigued by this vision I was presented with that it inspired a whole series of images in my mind. These pieces are the beginning of a new body of work for me. I have already started the next one. I feel the powerful symbolism flowing through these pictures. They speak to me without being reduced to mere words.
While I was making Hollowsaurus, I took pictures of its development. I think these photos give insight on how I build a painting, and how the works evolve.
Defining the elements
“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”
Richard Bledsoe “Night’s Forces” acrylic on canvas 30″ x 30″
Let me tell you about the room of shame.
The room of shame is the place where unfinished paintings are stacked, faces to the wall. It must have close to a dozen residents right now, some as large as 30″ x 36″. Some have been in there for many years.
These are paintings which I began, and then at some point in their development, I lost the plot, and the point, and my ability to finish them. This happens sometimes when working intuitively. The inspiration dries up before the work is complete.
I always have multiple works going. For example, right now, I have 4 unfinished paintings pending, 2 of which are practically done. So it’s no great blow to my productivity if I have to put something aside temporarily, or not so temporarily.
Some incomplete works are unsalvageable. I will paint over them, and create a whole new image.
But the paintings in the room of shame are worth completing. I still believe in them, and am waiting for their moment to return. They say the way you do something is the way you do everything. I may be slow, but I am persistent.
Case in point: Night’s Forces.
I began this painting in 2015. It was far advanced when I had to put it away. I’d had a series of studio sessions on it where instead of improving it, I was making it less effective, less resolved. It was a complex composition. I couldn’t get the colors and definitions to function. Off it went to the room of shame, where it lingered for years. Until a few weeks ago, when I brought it out again. I made some big moves on it, because at that point I had nothing to lose. The work would either crash, or crash through. Fortunately, it was the latter.
Night’s Forces is now finished, and I’m ready to move on with additional new projects. My wife Michele Bledsoe created a video of me working on it as it entered it final phases. See the video here:
“Remodernism reboots the culture. Remodernism is not a style of art, it is a form of motivation.”
Sometimes a painting needs a time out followed by an assertive jump start. This return is driven by Remodernist motivation: I need to show you what I saw, so we will better understand each other, and life as a whole.
Graphically Dull: The Stilted Stylings of Turner Prize nominee Forensic Architecture
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
It’s that time again. Time for ruling class apparatchiks to announce the latest slate of non-artists to be nominated for what is advertised as a prestigious award for art:
THE GUARDIAN: Turner prize shortlist pits research agency against film-makers. “A research agency that investigates international crimes and injustice, and comprises architects, film-makers, archaeologists, investigative journalists, lawyers and scientists, has been nominated for the 2018 Turner prize. Forensic Architecture, which has about 16 members and is based at Goldsmiths, University of London, will compete for the 33rd edition of the prize against three solo artists – Naeem Mohaiemen, Charlotte Prodger and Luke Willis Thompson.The list is more overtly political than in previous years, featuring artists tackling issues of post-colonialism and migration, queer identity, human rights abuses and racial violence. Once again, it raises questions about what precisely art is. The three solo artists primarily use film, whether shot on 35mm or iPhone.”
Over in the UK, the Tate Museum’s Turner Prize is one of those self-serving yearly events elitists create to congratulate themselves for extreme cleverness. Named after an actual artist, the great English painter J.M.W. Turner, this supposed recognition of achievement is anything but. First awarded in 1984, the Turner Prize has degenerated into the establishment’s way of trying to enforce pointless Postmodernism as the standard for contemporary art. It’s almost like they purposely look for the most numbskull non-art possible to distort the public’s perception of what art is, and what it does.
.If wisdom begins with the definition of terms, what do you call efforts to deliberately lie about what those definitions actually are? The manipulation of our shared understanding is too calculated to be merely inept; too consistent to be ascribed to simple ignorance; too debased to be just misguided. There is strategy here, relentlessly advanced and ferociously enforced.
Misdirection is at the core of the whole rotten Postmodern gambit. “Who is there among you, who, if his son. asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” The contemporary technocratic managerial class, that’s who. Our culture is saturated with globalist diktats that are fundamentally at odds with reality. They not only give us stones for bread, they give us leftist activism in place of art, and tell us to swallow it.
The art world makes a great example of the failure of elitist equivocations, because it exposes the lies with visual evidence. In their latest event to assure us that 2 + 2 = 5, the Tate scraped up some real scintillating content. Take for example the Guardian’s article headliner, Forensic Architecture. As their website describes:
“Forensic Architecture is an independent research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London. Our interdisciplinary team of investigators includes architects, scholars, artists, filmmakers, software developers, investigative journalists, archaeologists, lawyers, and scientists. Our evidence is presented in political and legal forums, truth commissions, courts, and human rights reports.We also undertake historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth.”
Not impressed by the vast list of ax-grinding bureaucracies and committees Forensic Architecture engages with? Don’t see what any of that has to do with art? Maybe their supporting imagery will get you woke, or maybe not:
Forensic Architecture’s reconstruction of the abduction of 43 students in Iguala, Mexico in 2014.
Nothing like graphics that could be out of a 1980s pain reliever television commercial to prove This-is-Serious-Guys. Or perhaps your artistic spirit is more stirred by a flow chart/subway map aesthetic:
Forensic Architecture: missed their stop
Nominated for a top art prize. Seriously. This is not art, this an activist power point presentation that seeped out of its think tank, and now threatens to bore all of humanity. Something has gone seriously wrong with standards and practices.
“This isn’t innocent linguistic drift or slang; it is a conscious effort to reshape society. The schemes include redefining words for personal gain, using modifiers to alter the meaning of a word, replacing technical words with colloquial ones, and creating new words. Each of these is a bullying tactic, which distort effective discourse.”
“Ruling class totalitarians use Postmodern art as a tool of oppression. Elitists have weaponized art into an assault on the foundations of Western civilization. This deceitful cabal seeks to destroy any principled perspective on the lies, manipulations, and abuses they commit. The scourge of Postmodern relativism as a cultural force is no accident; it’s a top-down driven campaign. Hyping soulless, unskilled art has a toxic, weakening effect on society as a whole.”
The story of the twenty-first century will be the dismantling of centralized power. We’ve been poorly served by the governing classes across all our institutions. The longer the current elitists attempt to cling to their privileges, the harsher the ultimate corrections will end up being. But an easy place to start undermining their pompous authority is by daring to state the obvious: nominating propaganda for an art prize doesn’t make it into art.
Edit: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please check out other entries for more commentary on the state of the arts.
EDIT: March 23, 2018. I’m so excited, we are going to see Jordan Peterson speak on June 1. He’s done much to expose Postmodern corruption in the culture. In honor of the upcoming event, I’m reposting a previous essay on the topic.
Maurizio Cattelan “L.O.V.E.” marble, 36′
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?'”
-David Foster Wallace, Postmodern novelist
The quote above does a good job converting the rhetorical question “Does a fish know it is is wet?” into a lightly amusing anecdote, a brief fable which delivers its twist ending of wisdom as if it were the punchline for a joke. What’s not so funny is the truth that the story demonstrates, and its implications for the state of our civilization today.
To understand the crisis we find ourselves in, it’s instructive to look at the cultural assumptions and preferences of our so-called ruling classes. Their presumptions can be tracked based on the visual art they collude to promote and subsidize. The contemporary art market is another weapon in their arsenal, a way they can inflict their will on society in the form of punishment, disorder, degradation, divisiveness, and heavy handed instruction.
In the recent past George Orwell was able to advance an accurate definition: “Liberal: a power worshipper without power.” But what happened in the meantime was the forces of liberalism/progressivism/Marxism/whatever-they’re-calling-themselves-now-ism managed to drag the cultural focus onto favorable terrain for themselves. Our would-be masters have woven a make-believe world where their particular skill sets dominate; for decades their influence has metastasized throughout our institutions. Art just happens to be a field where it’s easy to see the damage they’ve caused. We are enmeshed in the Matrix-like reign of a toxic philosophy which can referred to by the ambiguous term Postmodernism.
It seems so simple, just a description for what happened after the Modern age. Even though many people still refer to any recent baffling example of artistic excess as Modern art, the underlying principles that made art (and by extension our culture) Modern have been dead since the 1960s. Postmodernist thought started in academia, but has since bled out so its dogma now dominates our politics, media, and especially the arts.
Barbara Kruger “Belief & Doubt” installation, The Hirshhorn Gallery, Washington D.C.
I’ve written before on how elitists push this ideology because it makes an effective tool of oppression. To be Postmodern is to be relativistic, cynical, narcissistic, and conformist. For those who might question such an interpretation, we are fortunate to have a document found posthumously among the papers of one of the leading advocates of this world view, French writer Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 – October 9, 2004). Hugely influential amongst those susceptible to such pedantic banter, he pretty much summed up his accomplishments with this quote: “I’m no good for anything except taking the world apart and putting it together again (and I manage the latter less and less frequently).”
Derrida left behind a statement that bluntly summarizes the intentions of Postmodernism. I would suggest these days his ideas are like the water that we fish are ignorant of; propaganda so widely disbursed and unquestioned it’s invisible to us, even as we move through it, and are carried along by its flow.
Here is Derrida’s manifesto of Postmodernism: read it, and weep. Afterwards I give my thoughts on some of its precepts, and how I see us getting out of this mess.
1. The art of the past is past. What was true of art yesterday is false today.
2. The Postmodern art of today is defined and determined, not by artists, but by a new generation of curators, philosophers and intellectuals ignorant of the past and able to ignore it.
3. Postmodernism is a political undertaking, Marxist and Freudian.
4. Postmodernism is a new cultural condition.
5. Postmodernism is democratic and allied to popular culture.
6. Postmodernism denies the possibility of High Art.
7. Postmodernism deconstructs works of High Art to undermine them.
8. Postmodernism is subversive, seditiously resembling the precedents it mimics.
9. Postmodern art is pastiche, parody, irony, ironic conflict and paradox.
10. Postmodern art is self-consciously shallow, stylistically hybrid, ambiguous, provocative and endlessly repeatable.
11. Postmodern art is anti-elitist, but must protect its own elitism.
12. To the Postmodernist every work of art is a text, even if it employs no words and has no title, to be curatorially interpreted. Art cannot exist before it is interpreted.
13. Postmodernist interpretation depends on coining new words unknown and unknowable to the masses, on developing a critical jargon of impenetrable profundity, and on a quagmire of theory with which to reinforce endowed significance. Vive le Néologisme!
Long live the new word-ism? No thanks. we’ve had more than enough.
“The art of the past is past. What was true of art yesterday is false today.”
Says who? No one I recognize as any kind of authority.
“The Postmodern art of today is defined and determined, not by artists, but by a new generation of curators, philosophers and intellectuals ignorant of the past and able to ignore it.”
This plays into the Leftist conceit of the New Class: that in the Utopia to come, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others, and they get to call the shots. It is the dream of every progressive to join this most favored status clique.
To deny history is to deny any accountability for their achievements, any objective measure of their performance. So self-serving.
“Postmodernism is a political undertaking, Marxist and Freudian.”
Of course it is. The culture must be sacrificed to avenge their feelings of envy and inadequacy.
“Postmodernism denies the possibility of High Art.”
They deny it because they lack the means to accomplish it. Sour grapes.
“Postmodern art is self-consciously shallow, stylistically hybrid, ambiguous, provocative and endlessly repeatable.”
Real art is deep enough to support extended contemplation. It makes a definitive presence. Ambiguity is wishy washy compared to evoking enduring Mystery. To provoke is a minor reaction compared to inspiring. There is a magic inherent in the unique object made by human hands, heart, and mind working in conjunction each other.
Post modern art basically fails to actually function as art in every significant way.
“Postmodern art is anti-elitist, but must protect its own elitism.”
Postmodernists attempt to deny judgement, ratings of quality and effectiveness, because their own offerings are so feeble. The elitism they draw upon is the status in the herd, the correct observations of the obligatory declarations of loyalty and subservience to the hive mind, and the opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of their controllers.
“Postmodernist interpretation depends on coining new words unknown and unknowable to the masses, on developing a critical jargon of impenetrable profundity, and on a quagmire of theory with which to reinforce endowed significance…”
Real intelligence actually communicates very clearly and concisely. What the Postmodernist suggests is like mumbling to hide the fact you don’t know the answers. This world of sophistry and distraction is crumbling. The elitists are panicking, and attempting to convert their minions into shock troops to protect the status quo hierarchy.
From Banksy, the anonymous millionaire creator of half-baked editorial cartoons
The perpetrators of Postmodernism have gone beyond parody with their ridiculous posing, but it’s no longer harmless. From on high, the supplicants of the art world are receiving their orders: the culture must stop changing so the current power brokers remain in charge.
The obedient little fishes synchronize swim down the polluted stream issuing from practically every channel, doing the bidding of smug social media giants, partisan networks, repressive universities, biased newspapers, establishment politicians, empty headed celebrities, corrupt Hollywood, despotic foreign governments, and compromised corporations.
At the same time the little fishes flatter themselves that they are brave rebels, fighting the power. That’s what their masters are telling them that they are.
That disconnect takes an especially determined kind of ignorance.
Exhibit A: Shia Lebeouf, being divisive
There is already a sound artistic philosophy ready to take the place of the defeated dead end of Postmodernism.
Remodernism is a reboot of the culture. It takes the energy, vitality and exuberance of the Modern era and integrates art back into the mainstream. Remodernism reverences art as a means to bring communion and connection. Billy Childish and Charles Thomson created an open source art movement which is in perfect sync with this new era of renewal.
Come on in, the water’s fine.
“Remodernism discards and replaces Post-Modernism because of its failure to answer or address any important issues of being a human being.”
MC Escher: Inspiration for a Perpetual Canon by George Pepper
One of my sayings is, “if your life is not a spiritual adventure, you’re doing it wrong.” It applies to music as well. I feel connected to the Holy Spirit when I’m in the zone composing.
A mighty wave is crashing through the culture. The elitist strategy of Postmodernism has gone stale, and people are tuning out the institutions it has corrupted. The crisis of relevance that the visual arts have been undergoing for decades has spread. Now the media, entertainment, sports even, are paying the price for converting themselves into virus-like Postmodern replication vehicles. In larger society, viewership and trust are way down.
A healthy art movement spreads its influence into positive developments across varied forms of expression. As I’ve written about Remodernism in this blog and elsewhere, many have reached out to me to share their stories. Many truly creative people have been exiled by an establishment art scene that promotes the falsities and facades of Postmodernism.
Music is the most visceral of the arts. It puts the outpouring of the human spirit into a form that can be physically felt. This is probably why the efforts to redefine serious music was one of the least successful areas of the Modernist gambit. Nobody wants to listen to the meandering, atonal noise offered up as a substitute for the thrilling beauty of great music. Listen to this selection by Anton Webern, if you want to be bored: Symphonie op.21. Like the old joke goes, if you get near a song, play it.
Postmodernism made things even worse, like it does. It brought us John Cage. His masterpiece was 4’33. Spoiler alert: it’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Watch it “performed” here, if you’ve got some time to waste. Such a gimmicky mockery of the artistic abilities of humanity.
Charles Thomson and Billy Childish, the co-founders of the art movements Stuckism and Remodernism, were both musically engaged. Childish, with his band Thee Headcoats and its many mutant offshoots, in particular spawned a whole subgenre of punky garage rock, such as Thee Oh Sees. But there’s more to music than thrashing guitars.
Based on what I’ve been exposed to, I assumed there was no one who was interested in creating music with the same ambition, scale, and profundity of traditional music. Thank God for the internet! It proved me wrong again. A link from Instapundit led composer George Pepper to contact me.
He had an intriguing story to share about his own life. He responded to the spiritual emphasis of Remodernism, in contrast to the soulless stylings of most contemporary culture. George understands we need to build on the traditions of the past to create a vibrant contemporary culture. Best of all, he shared his work with us: graceful, soaring, inspirational music.
This is his five-voice Ricercare for symphony orchestra, the last movement of his first symphony. It is filled with perpetual canons and was inspired by the art of M.C. Escher, who he had loved since he was a boy.
This sonata he describes as a thought experiment: what if J.S. Bach knew the swing style?
Remodernism is rising to take the place of crumbling Postmodernism. Although it started in the visual arts, there will be Remodernist authors, film makers, and composers as well. Remodernism will reprogram and improve the efforts and expectations for the arts across society. Remodernism as a creative force is accessible to anyone who works with integrity to create the timeless, uplifting communal experience of art.
I asked George Pepper to share his experiences as he pursued his craft, moving against the ideological tides that have diminished our culture. It is a Remodern story.
Question: When did you begin your musical training? What was the first instrument you learned? Who influenced you?
George Pepper: The first albums I asked my parents to get me were Meet the Beatles and Beatles ’65, so I was about six or seven when Beatlemania hit. Saw the movie Help at a Saturday matinee, and so I was a huge fan. Later I got into all the wonderful popular music of the 60’s. Everything from Peter, Paul and Mary and Burl Ives through The Mamas and the Papas to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Motown too. My taste has always been eclectic and fairly inclusive.
I didn’t start my musical training until sixth grade, when I took violin lessons for a year. That got me started with the basics of reading music and the mechanics of string instruments. Seventh grade I made an abrupt shift to trombone, so I learned how brass and wind instruments worked, and bass clef that year. Then in eighth grade I was at a school that had guitar classes, so that was that. We learned easy guitar pieces like “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and others in that vein, so I learned the open chords that year.
Q: How did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a vocation?
GP: It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I realized I didn’t love anything in life as passionately as music. I had gotten pretty good on the guitar by then with the usual garage bands one went through in those days – I was just before the Wayne’s World generation, and of course I had the Frampton Comes Alive album, which came out my senior year – so my plan was to go to Berklee [music college in Boston -Ed.]. However, I decided to attend Texas A&M for two years to get the required courses out of the way. I didn’t want any distractions from music at Berklee. Then, a miracle occurred. Two guitar teachers from The Guitar Institute in California opened up The Guitar Institute of the Southwest in San Antonio, along with jazz guitar legend Herb Ellis. It was a one year course, and I used it as a prep school for Berklee. My earliest compositions that I’ve kept are from that time. A bossa nova that is an Aria in a sonata for two guitars now, a samba I’m planning to use for a guitar concerto, and a swing tune that is now the scherzo of my first sonata for solo classic guitar. Those were in the bag before I got to Berklee.
At Berklee I took the Professional Music degree program, which was their, “build your own degree” offering. I was going to major in Jazz Composition and Arranging, but it required a portfolio of pieces, and I knew they would be half-baked if I was forced to check off boxes. Many people used PM to make an easy degree, but I took every theory and composition course Berklee offered. A swinging jazz fusion piece from that time ended up as the scherzo in my sonata for two guitars, so I throw jazz pieces into my classical compositions. It’s a natural part of me, and that’s that.
Q: What were your experiences as you studied music in higher education?
GP: Berklee was a 24/7/365 blast. Just a wonderful experience all around. I developed so much those years – I went every semester including two summers, fall of ’80 to graduation in May of ’83 – that I was an entirely different musician when I got out. It was a super productive whirlwind.
After my rock band and electronic music days in NYC, I decided at 30 I’d had enough of that, and went to Texas State University (Then Southwest Texas State) for an MM (Master of Music) in traditional theory and composition. I figured a small program would allow me more freedom and would also allow me to rectify any shortcomings in my understanding of traditional theory and composition. As an aside, I began my voracious study of classical theory/comp when I was in NYC. Every week I’d go to Joseph Patelson Music across from Carnegie Hall and buy a theory or composition book. I was writing simple counterpoint pieces for classic guitar by then, and had eight keepers by the time I started at SWTSU. It was there that I first encountered some resistance to my quest, which I was quite firm about. But the school’s only composition prof was a fan of atonal music, which I always detested. It was a weird situation, because I was a professional musician and 31 years old, and I didn’t even consider him a peer of mine. But we got along well enough that I was able to earn the degree, but then another weird thing happened. When I got the degree, it was in Music Education and not Theory. A much more marketable degree than Theory! I never did get an explanation for that.
During that stint, I composed my first keeper fugue, and another half-dozen guitar studies, plus six or so preludes. So I was on a roll by this time.
I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I wanted to get a PhD in Theory, a PhD in Composition, or a DMA (Doctor in Musical Arts) in Composition. The Composition PhD and DMA programs were the same except for the thesis; the DMA didn’t have one, but they both required a composition of about twenty minutes duration. I decided I’d had enough theory, and I just wanted to compose. So, I went to The University of North Texas to pursue a DMA in comp. It was there that I began to encounter more direct conflict. I’m kind of a larger than life character in some ways, and these comp profs were very strange people to me. A couple of them flat out didn’t want me to compose traditional music! I had to toe the line with their postmodern views, or they wouldn’t award me the degree. Well, again, I considered myself to be a better musician and composer than any of them, so I wan’t going to do that. I took all the coursework, and composed a lot more great music, and then I moved on to greener pastures. But before I left, I had to play a colossal joke on them. I composed a subjective bit of BS I called “Division.” It was based on random pitch wedges opening and closing, and it was just valueless as music. The comp profs loved it! I didn’t say anything, but it was hard to keep a straight face.
I composed another set of guitar studies, more preludes, my first sonata process pieces, a fugue in J.S. Bach’s late Art of Fugue style – a huge breakthrough – and a fugue on a subject that is a twelve-tone row just like the atonal guys used, only it’s beautiful and not ugly. Beating those guys at their own game was deeply satisfying. So, I went on to other things and kept composing.
Q: What are some of your favorite compositions you’ve created?
GP: I have a literal lifetime of pieces now, and they have to have, “the magic” for me to keep them, so it’s not an easy task to single out a few. I would say the traditional Scherzo I wrote while still in NYC was a breakthrough piece – it’s in a pre-sonata I call Sonata Zero now – and the fugue I wrote at SWTSU was another. The J.S. Bach style fugue for sting quartet I wrote at UNT is a biggie, as are the two super-fugues I call Ricercares; One that is the Finale of Sonata One for solo guitar (Composed in 2005 after years of prep work), and the other is in five voices for symphony orchestra (From 2013, again, after many years of research: Ricercare means a researched piece).
But there’s also the electronic pop music I wrote in my twenties that is just otherworldly, and the jazzy pieces are also all gems. Those electronic pop pieces are arrangements of band pieces I did on the Synclavier, which was bleeding edge tech at the time.
Q: How does music express spirituality?
GP: It always has for me. Even music by other composers moves my spirit. And lots of genres too. The first thing I learned to jam on was the blues, so Stormy Monday Blues is one I’d say moves my spirit. Then lots of Charlie Parker, Larry Carlton, Jimi Hendrix – “Rainy Day Dream Away/Still Raining Still Dreaming” always moves me – The Who – I wore Quadrophenia out in high school – many others. In classical music, my single favorite piece in all of the symphonic literature is the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It is, in fact, my first musical memory. When I was really little, like three to five years old, that Scherzo was the intro music to the Huntley Brinkley Report news program. My dad watched it every night, and I would just stand there spellbound until it faded out. I remember it like it happened five minutes ago. But that piece takes me on a spiritual journey, as does the opening movement and the slow movement. The Finale, for some reason, doesn’t really work for me. It’s a sublime masterpiece by any objective measure, but it’s stubborn or something. The vocals and chorus don’t help for me. In fact, I actually prefer Liszt’s transcription of the finale for solo piano!
As a composer, every genera I touch has to move me spiritually. Latin jazz was the first jazz I fell in love with and started composing. Then swing, bebop, and fusion. Pop in my band days in NYC, with electronic on the side. Finally, classical. The feeling of spiritual connectedness is the same in whatever genera I’m working in, and the sense of satisfaction is profoundly deep when I complete a piece. Larger forms are deeper, but the euphoria after creating a simple and novel tune is indescribable. Just last year I wrote a Waltz. It was inspired by a theory and composition book I was studying. One of the examples was of a melodic formula Mozart used in several compositions, that was already ancient when Mozart discovered it. I took it someplace entirely different, and it ended up as the Scherzo for Sonata Three, which is for solo guitar again (Sonata Two is for two guitars). I listened to it over and over. It’s just a pluperfect little gem.
One of my sayings is, “if your life is not a spiritual adventure, you’re doing it wrong.” It applies to music as well. I feel connected to the Holy Spirit when I’m in the zone composing.
Q: How would you describe the state of music today?
GP: Awful. Symphony orchestras are unionized and sclerotic, playing the same music my grandfathers listened to. String quartets are the same. Pianists are the same, and forget classical guitarists; some of the most arrogant and opinionated musicians there are (Many are cool too, but not nearly enough). There are two other composers of guitar music I like, and both are friends of mine.
How many recordings of the Ninth do we need? If I never heard a Beethoven piano sonata again, it wouldn’t matter, because I have them all already! In a vibrant musical culture, conservatories would be producing composers with real, actual technique, and orchestras would have composition talent scouts.
Q: What changes are needed in the music world?
GP: Real requirements for composition faculty at universities and conservatories. If I took over, I’d demand first a simple 32 bar tune in AABA form with eight bar phrases. Just harmony and melody. If they couldn’t pass that test, bye. Then, if they want to head the department, they better be able to compose a four voice fugue, otherwise, hit the road, Jack.
As I mentioned above, orchestras should be open to playing new music, but that’s the catch-22; if there isn’t any good music, and/or they’re not looking for it, nothing will happen. I just do my thing and shake my head a lot.
Also, get politics out of music. If your music is a political statement, it certainly isn’t art and it’s probably not even music at all (Talking about instrumental music here). And if your politics makes you tell other composers what they should and should not write, you’re just a talentless scold who should probably have nothing whatsoever to do with music. Much less should these people have teaching positions.
In three years at UNT I heard exactly zero faculty compositions that were musical in the slightest. None of them could really, actually compose real, actual music. And this was in the 90’s, it’s way worse today.
This is why I only compose instrumental music. Absolute music’s it’s also called. No words, just music.
Q: What are you working on currently?
GP: A lot of things have started to gel over the past several years. Sonata Zero and Sonata One for solo guitar are settled in their final configuration now. Sonata Two for two guitars is 90% complete, and Sonata Three for guitar has just come together over the past few months. So Sonata Two is occupying my thoughts right now.
I have managed to rescue the electronic music I composed in the 80’s last year – from thirty year old 5.25” floppies! – by getting a Synclavier again, and I’m going to release that this year.
I’ve been working on a symphony since I was at Berklee, and one movement of that is now finished, the Ricercare for Orchestra. Plus, there are always a few ideas I’m tossing around in my head at any given time. I’d say only about one in ten ever see the light of day.
Here’s the title track to the electronic album. I’ve decided to realize all of my music with the Synclavier now. It’s the only instrument I was ever a virtuoso with. Almost all of the sounds I programmed from scratch.