Lichtenbergian Precepts: Audience, part 1


The eighth Lichtenbergian Precept is AUDIENCE.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg says, in one of his WASTE BOOKS, “It is almost impossible to write anything good without imagining someone, or a certain group of people, whom one is addressing. In 999 cases out of a thousand it at any rate greatly facilitates the execution.”

True enough: if your audience is professionals in the field, you will create one thing; if it’s preteens, you will create quite a different thing. That just makes sense.

So who is your audience? Let’s talk first about who your audience is NOT: the New York Times bestseller list is not your audience. The Tony Awards committee is not your audience. The Museum of Modern Art is not your audience. You are not Making the Thing That Is Not for the award. It’s great to be a bestselling author, for sure, and we all want to create a thing that will impact a large AUDIENCE, but if that’s the reason you Make the Thing That Is Not you are dooming yourself to disappointment and ineffective creation.

Here are the three AUDIENCES you do have:

  1. Those people out there.

  2. Those people right here.

  3. You.

We’ll take a closer look at these three AUDIENCES over the next few posts. In the meantime, I’ll offer a cautionary tale about how I shot myself in the foot with AUDIENCE.

About a year and a half ago I became very frustrated as a composer. (For those who are just joining us, I am a non-prolific amateur composer.) After years of composing, my actual performances were mostly nil, and I was especially frustrated that William Blake’s Inn has never gotten an actual premiere.

So I decided that I would no longer waste my time writing music unless someone requested that I create a piece for them to perform, i.e., without a specific audience out there, I wouldn’t bother Making the Thing That Is Not.

The result was about what you’d expect: I wrote exactly one piece in 2017, the ballet Getting Through Getting Over for the Southern Arc Dance Company, and even that was mostly a cannibalization of the Cello Sonata. (Here’s my favorite bit of new music, the “Perpetuum Mobile.”)

In 2018, I didn’t write a single note, and no one asked me to.

This has not made me happy, as you might expect, and so in 2019 I shall follow Charles Ives’ example and write music for that most important of all audiences, myself.

vow not to write music w/o performance; Ives