Academie d’Underrated: Dane Rudhyar

One of the advantages of this blog is that it allows me to indulge in the news-pegless item. Those of us journalists who have a soft spot for obscure music, or who have even become leading experts in bodies of music few people have ever heard of, get frustrated waiting for the "news peg," the external event that justifies a subject to editors. When, after all, is there going to be an Ivan Wyschnegradsky concert in New York? How long will I wait to give my opinion of Ben Weber (1916-1979), if I am dependent on the prodding of external events? … [Read more...]

The Perfect Christmas Music

Well, the week before Christmas is a difficult time to blog, especially when my semester only ended six days earlier, and I had been prevented from Christmas shopping the last two weekends by a blizzard and cold, respectively. (My son's birthday is Dec. 23, too.) So I've been absent. And I'm not really the type to send out the obligatory Christmas greeting - just because it's obligatory. For the record, I am happy to express the usual lip service to peace on earth for us all, and all that. But I do have a triumphant bit of Christmas information … [Read more...]

Choral Music of the Future

1/1 is the unlikely name of a small but important journal published by Other Music, Inc., little known to the public but eagerly awaited and closely read by microtonal musicians. It's the most significant periodical devoted to the system of pure tuning known as Just Intonation - i.e., the practice of tuning pitches according to whole number ratios. And the current issue offers a cover article by LA microtonalist Bill Alves partly analyzing Toby Twining's Chrysalid Requiem. What's rare and exciting about this is that Twining's choral magnum opus … [Read more...]

Berlioz in Postclassical Context

A second thought about Berlioz. When we think of Brahms's life, we think of his works being championed by Joachim, Clara Schumann, Hans von Bulow. We think of Beethoven's aristocratic patrons begging him to remain in Vienna and pooling their resources to give him a salary. We think of Chopin and Liszt playing piano to entertain at aristocratic soirees. But when we think of Berlioz's life, it's of him consumed with scribbling newspaper reviews, writing about musical nonentities for money, forced to put together his own early performances without … [Read more...]

Beethoven vs. Berlioz

No one asked me to use the words "miserable failure" and "George W. Bush" in a sentence (I do it often enough without being asked - and look up "miserable failure" on Google if you don't know what I'm talking about), but I was asked to participate today in a "blog burst" for Beethoven's birthday. I don't have very original thoughts about Beethoven at the moment. Count Waldstein set the stage for a three-person Classical Era when he wrote to the young Beethoven, who was leaving for Vienna, "You will receive the spirit of Mozart from the hands of … [Read more...]

Postmodern Love Songs

I first met Corey Dargel years ago as a student at Oberlin. He subsequently made a beeline to New York City, where he has quickly become a rising master of the postmodern love song, in the fine kidding-on-the-square tradition of David Garland. As prime example, he's just posted a new song, "Antidepressants," on his web page. After you've listened to that one, scroll down to find some songs from his new CD, cry those sweet sweet tears on out, and you'll hear where I think post-rock and post-classical may collide circa 2004 or so. Dargel has a … [Read more...]

In Praise of Paul Simon

A severe head cold has kept me MIA lately. It's subsiding, and I hope to be back up to speed soon. I did want to note the passing of Senator Paul Simon, one of the finest men in the U.S. Congress and the finest senator I've ever had the pleasure of being represented by - a man of honesty and a great friend to the arts. When he ran for president in 1987, those of us in Illinois who knew his quality were excited, but the rest of the country just made fun of his big ears and bow ties. They don't realize what, in their silly superficiality, they … [Read more...]

One Book Found

As I said in my first blog entry, the purpose of this blog is to entice people to send me information I'm looking for. It works beautifully. Publisher Joseph Zitt informs me that one can still order Robert Cogan's and Pozzi Escot's magnificent book Sonic Design privately from their web site, at There's also a workbook to go with it, which I'd never seen. Maybe I'll get to teach my Sonic Design class after all. Zitt, of Metatron Press, also lusts to republish Cardew's Stockhausen Serves … [Read more...]

The Great American Music Book (Out of Print)

I had opportunity this week to teach with a classic music book that I rarely get to use: Sonic Design (Prentice-Hall) by Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot. Published in 1976, the book was an amazing and long-awaited achievement: a culturally neutral attempt at general, analytical musical principles. Starting with abstract, non-Eurocentric concepts such as pitchspace, contour, and density, and usually starting by graphing scale steps and rhythms onto graph paper, Cogan and Escot came up with methods for approaching music that worked equally well with … [Read more...]

Making the Rich Folks Happy

The Noam Chomsky passage to which I alluded in my last blog entry is worth reprinting here, worth memorizing, in fact, and worth being plastered on a wall of every building in this American Republic: ...In our society, real power does not happen to lie in the political system, it lies in the private economy: that's where the decisions are made about what's produced, how much is produced, what's consumed, where investment takes place, who has jobs, who controls the resources, and so on and so forth. And as long as that remains the case, changes … [Read more...]

Critics Versus Corporate Institutions

Alan Licht, composer and critic, came to speak at Bard the other night. He gave as a lecture an article that he had written for the e-magazine Bumpidee, "Improvisation and the New American Century," and which you can read either here or here. His anti-Bush-imperialist comments merely echo what I've long believed myself, but I was struck by parallels he draws between the acquiescence of Congress today and the acquiescence of critics who glorify whatever the industry releases. Here, from the middle of the article, are the relevant … [Read more...]

Guitar Mystery Solved: GAMA Did It

Long-time electronic composer and general Downtown raconteur Tom Hamilton sends me an interesting fact in response to my perceptions of the guitar's takeover of the composing world: In 1995, an industry group called the Guitar and Accessories Marketing Association (GAMA), along with the NAMM and MENC, started a launched a program to train teachers to start guitar programs in middle and high schools. That group estimated that by 2001, over 200,000 students have learned guitar in school, and over 38,000 students bought their own guitar. They … [Read more...]

Make Way for the Guitar Era

Something else I meant to add about my students and the piano: Perhaps it's just Bard culture, but I see many students today, perhaps a majority, coming to musical creativity from the guitar rather than the piano, as they used to, or any other instrument. This could have profound consequences. In the Renaissance, composers usually got their start as child singers. Baroque and Classical composers were often string players (Corelli and Haydn, the violin; Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, the viola). Romantic and modern composers were more often than … [Read more...]