It's not uncommon these days to find rock 'n' rollers browsing through the classical music section at the local record store, and vice versa. In fact, many of today's devoted vinyl junkies collect so many different types of music, that the words rock , jazz , classical , New Age , world music or new music are almost like items on the menu of a gourmet restaurant.
"It's a condominium of babel," observes composer and Post-Modernist Karl Kohn, who has taught music composition for 37 years at Pomona College in Claremont. A symposium entitled "Music in Post-Modern America" that began Friday and will continue through Sunday is helping to celebrate the centennial of Pomona College.
"Our symposium is celebrating contradiction and diversity in today's music world," Kohn explains. "Never before have so many different types of music been so accessible."
But so participating will be one of grandfathers of American Modernism, John Cage, who enrolled at Pomona College in the late 1920s but never finished (he was valedictorian at Los Angeles High School, class of '28).
"I don't understand what Post-Modernism is," Cage says. "Perhaps it's an attempt to escape Modernism or the avant-garde by returning to conventional music. But my father was an inventor, and I still need to create new things."
Even though many Post-Modernists have been defenders of Modernism, they also recognize a barrier between Modern composers and listeners that has been building up ever since the early 20th Century and the first experiments with atonality. To remedy this situation, Post-Modern composers are returning to tonality in various forms in an effort to help the average listener get more involved and enthusiastic about new music.
The term \o7 Post-Modern\f7 was coined by architect Joseph Hudnut in the late 1940s to describe a then current trend in architecture that was turning toward human metaphors and away from the machine metaphors that dominated architecture in the first half of the 20th Century.
In 1972, composer Eric Salzman wrote "The Nude Paper Sermon," a collection of electronic, prerecorded and newly composed music, fitting on a single LP record. In the liner notes, Salzman used the term \o7 Post-Modern\f7 , referring to an eclecticism in music occurring due to the increase of recorded music and the availability of many different kinds of music.
"The premise of Modern art is that every work is completely new," Salzman explains. "In Post-Modernism, familiar shapes or tonal melodies are used which the audience can immediately recognize. That's different than what the Modernists do."
Kohn and Salzman concur that the first seeds of Post-Modernism were planted during the 1960s with works like Terry Riley's "In C" (1964) and with the growing influence of rock music. Another participant in the symposium, musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock, sees Post-Modern trends happening in music even earlier, with composers like Gunther Schuller and William Bolcom, who in the 1950s were mixing jazz elements into their music.
Salzman divides Post-Modern music into three categories: Minimalism, neo-Romanticism and musical theater, which includes performance art, multimedia art and new opera.
Minimalists are Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Neo-Romanticism includes composers who have returned to the tonal language of the 19th Century, such as George Rochberg and David del Tredici. The third category includes Laurie Anderson and Paul Dresher to such opera composers as Philip Glass and John Adams.
Salzman and Hitchcock also single out pop artists such as Brian Eno and David Byrne who mix several different types of music into their own popular idioms and are thus a part of the Post-Modern movement. Both also mention New Age music as perhaps a perfect example of Post-Modernism, because of the unique way it mixes classical, jazz, pop and minimalism.
Salzman is the author of "Music of the 20th Century: an Introduction," which last summer came out with an enlarged third edition that includes a new 100-page chapter on Post-Modern music. Hitchcock also found the need to update his book, "Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction" (also from the Prentice Hall publishing house). Last month the third edition was released with added information on Post-Modernism. Both books have been standard textbooks in many music schools throughout the country for at least the last decade.
"The current diversity in today's music really shows how anyone with a modern record player can listen to music from all over the world, all walks of life and from any historical period," says Hitchcock. "I see a strong parallel between what is going on in the Post-Modern 1980s and what was going on in the early 17th Century," Hitchcock said.
"There are composers, like myself, who continue to write out music,"Cage observes, "but there are those who make their own instruments or in electronic music, they make their own circuits. They become musicians like troubadours, taking their equipment from one place to the other, setting it up and simply playing music. When they change the instrument or circuit, it ends a certain 'composition.' "