An American avant garde composer, who takes his inspiration from the most upstart composers of recent times, had a piece performed last night at Carnegie Hall, titled “Making Popcorn.”
The Boston Pops Orchestra, which commissioned the piece, left the stage to make way for the performance.
Stagehands then wheeled out a popcorn-making machine and prepared it for the performance by filling it with dry corn, butter, and salt.
When the machine was “tuned,” the composer entered to conduct his own work. Taking the podium, he raised his baton and the machine was switched on. When the first kernel popped, he gave a firm downbeat and then continued to conduct as the kernels popped away. The piece concluded when all the popcorn had contributed its sound.
In an interview prior to the concert, the composer told us, “It’s a new piece for percussion. As you know, there have been more additions to the percussion of the orchestra than to any other one. Take, for instance, the brake drum and the ratchet, which is really just a noisemaker. My hope is that the success of my new piece will make the popcorn machine a standard ingredient of the symphony orchestra.”
“Would you consider it to be a tuned or an untuned percussion instrument,” we asked, indulging the wayward simpleton.
“I’m not sure yet,” he told us. “While the individual pops do have different pitches, they’re impossible to control.”
After savoring the performance, this observer began to long for the once-scandalous composition by John Cage, called 4'33", in which, as you probably know, a pianist enters, sits down at the piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds,, and does absolutely nothing. Then he gets up and exits.
Who would have though a concert would come when one reconsidered Cage's work an instance of generous reticence?