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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Scandalous Call: Play De Bondt!

Cornelis de Bondt, Dutch composer, protested against the current Dutch cultural climate (read: budget cuts). He set free a helium balloon with an alarm in the Concertgebouw during a concert. The Concertgebouw was not amused. De Bondt was not amused that the Concertgebouw was not amused. The scandal was part of a concert series in the Concertgebouw called "Scandalous"; the organisers were looking for scandals like the scandal around the premiere of  Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, 100 years ago. De Bondt scandalised the organised Scandalous-series by creating an unorganised scandal. With his scandal he protested against the growing marketing-influences in the arts world, including the marketing-through-scandals by the concert organisers - and when asked whether his scandal was also a p.r. stunt for his next concert, his answer was, according to my newspaper, "of course".

Are you still there? I lost track midway the last paragraph.

Clifford Geertz would definitely like to know "what he hell is going on here".

De Bondt is an angry man. In the final paragraph of the interview in my newspaper, De Bondt says that art and entertainment are completely different ("I have nothing against art", he says, making the difference between art and entertainment effectively even more absolute), and that he does not want his compositions to be part of 'the market' because that pollutes his compositions. This seems to be pars pro toto for his thinking; in an article nearly two years ago in one of our national newspapers, he used a host of the well-known defensive (actually: offensive - in many senses of the word) arguments of culture's inner circles: art can only be judged by artists; art is far above 'the masses', which consist of people who behave like animals in their predilection for immediate needs satisfaction, people who make mistakes when they write or talk and therefore are unable to think. If you don't believe this and you know Dutch, just check it here.

De Bondt is even so angry that he has announced that he will withdraw his compositional oeuvre from the public sphere. I wonder, not about his reasons but about the effect. I predict the following: two percent of the Dutch population (or am I too optimistic?) will consider this a loss for culture in general, one percent will think "Good riddance!", and the remaining 97 percent couldn't care less. So basically he hurts the two percent who like him.

Give me a clue, someone. "What the hell...?"

Of course we can recur to an interpretation of all this as if it is some sort of art work in itself. Sander Maas does that in virtuoso style in his article "Erasing Cornelis", using phrases like "arriving in the past" and "an artistic via negativa". He finishes his article with admiration for De Bondt, whereas I can not feel anything but sincere regret for him - how must De Bondt feel, knowing that his work, meant to be listened to, will not be played in public anymore? It's far from heroic. It's simply a tragedy- for us and for him.

And the most wry feature of it all is that De Bondt's withdrawing of his oeuvre from the public sphere is possible only precisely because the composing and performing of music has become a market in the first place. Only  because makership on the market means ownership, only because music has become a commodity on the market - can be owned, sold, bought, hired, lend - can it be withdrawn from that market. Only because De Bondt owns a shop he can act against the world of commerce by closing it down.

But of course there are other ways to act against the market besides keeping things for yourself. The opposite may be just as powerful a reaction: give things away for free.
So let's make our own scandal. Let us not accept De Bondt's withdrawal. If music is not a market commodity, then it is of us all, isn't it? Who is he to decide about us not hearing his music any more, music with 'unversal values', as he himself proclaims? Let us play his compositions, illegally, but publicly. Continuously. Loudly. Everywhere.

Let us please the two percent liking Cornelis. Let us annoy the one percent not liking him. And let us convert the other 97 percent. Let's see how far we get.

1 comment:

  1. Two additional remarks:
    - I read it was not De Bondt, it was a fellow composer who made the balloon fly on De Bondt's behalf - as a result the fellow composer was threatened to be kicked out of the country and De Bondt had to come into action to save him;
    - someone asked whether De Bondt actually is allowed to withdraw his compositions from the public sphere, given the fact that they were written with the help of quite some public funding. Good question, I guess?