The Masses Add to My Knowledge

One thing I love about writing this blog, I put information out into the world, and I get information back. [To tell you the truth, this is how and why critics gain authority, when they do - they send out their opinions into the world and see them come back all bruised and battered, and they learn by experience to send out better opinions, better protected. After some years, those opinions begin to accumulate powerful collective force from the fact that they are no longer just one person's. Any critic who sticks to his own egotism and doesn't … [Read more...]

The Postclassical Piano List

Like John Cusack's vinyl-obsessed character in the charming little film High Fidelity, I end up making a lot of lists, and for similar reasons - though my lists tend not to be "top five," but more like "top hundred, in no particular order." This week, for instance, a student pianist asked for some guidance in learning about recent piano repertoire, and so naturally with my Scorpio fanaticism I started obsessively pulling together a CD library of postclassical piano music. I'll be damned if I was going to concoct a list of the approved … [Read more...]

Thomson’s Mistake

Virgil Thomson liked to explain that artists become alcoholics more regularly than composers because composers' moments of triumph come in public, at the performance, while artists get their triumphs at home alone, in the studio - and then drink. But he was wrong. There's little triumphant about attending a performance of your music. The people you hoped would come don't. The performance is rarely what you envisioned (although mine tonight was excellent). Audience reaction seems perversely skewed toward superficial thrills. If you're being … [Read more...]

Well Put

I hope somone named Warren won't mind my stealing something he said on the Skeptomai blog: "Fighting terrorists with a military invasion is like trying to kill a bee by shooting its beehive with a shotgun." … [Read more...]

Sixty Minutes to Change Your Life

My Steinway baby grand is at a piano hospital for repairs to minor damage incurred in moving. A couple of weeks ago I got sick of not having a piano, and set up my 88-key MIDI controller with a sampler that has a pretty good piano sound, but I never have time to play anyway. I'd been feeling drained lately from being wrapped up in school committee work and running the music department. I was weary of sitting on committees, of arguing with the administration, handling student crises, doing departmental paperwork, and answering carping e-mails … [Read more...]

Gann Frolics at the Knitting Factory

Believe it or not, the expert Da Capo ensemble will play a piece of mine this coming Sunday at 7:30 in the Tap Room at the Knitting Factory in downtown Manhattan (74 Leonard Street, tickets $15/$10 students/seniors). The ostensibly all-Downtown program for this generally Uptown ensemble at this incorrigibly Downtown space looks something like this: Frederic Rzewski, Coming Together Derek Bermel, Coming Together Kyle Gann, Hovenweep David Lang, Thorn John Mackey, Breakdown Tango Dennis DeSantis, Make It. Stop. And it's described as "a … [Read more...]

Twelve-Step Programs Revisited

For various reasons I've found myself immersed in 12-tone music the last couple of months, and rethinking what it means. Most radically, in Berlin I found two CDs of the music of Josef Matthias Hauer (1883-1959), the Viennese composer who claimed independent credit for having invented 12-tone technique, along with Schoenberg. Hauer is known for having a stamp with which he stamped all his correspondence from 1937 on, calling himself: "The creative originator and (despite many imitators!) still the only authority and expert in the field of … [Read more...]

Classic Quote from a Jazzer

In case anyone out there reads me and not Jan Herman's blog (and you should, he's endlessly savvy and entertaining), I have to help disseminate a quotation he introduced me to. It's what drummer Max Roach replied when asked about rap music: "People who voted for defunding of music education programs in public schools are getting what they paid for." … [Read more...]

Are Ideas Getting Smaller?

My comments on improvisation from Friday brought a predictable yelp from electronic improviser and composer Tom Hamilton, my faithfulest post-blog correspondent, but his own diagnosis of recent musical ills completely blindsided me: The fact that the music doesn't work for you is not necessarily a sign that the performers come to the music with any less integrity and self-scrutiny than any other musicians. Your assertion that the music has become "replicatable" argues more for over-pollination than for your accusation that improvisers don't … [Read more...]

Notes from Outer Space

In response to criticisms of our Brainless Fearless Leader on my web page, I received an e-mail from some Republican woman out there pleading with me not to criticize the President. I didn't ask for permission to quote her, and so won't do so, but I'll paraphrase. I was interested, because I never talk to people like this and don't come across any socially - the precinct I vote in, on Election Day 2000, went 243 for Gore, 160 for Nader, and 80 for Bush (that's right, we're still looking for the sonuvabitch who managed to vote 80 times). So this … [Read more...]

Post-Concrete Music

Despite being a cool, avant-garde guy, I am a college professor, and the semester activity is at its height. You wouldn't want to hear what I'm up to this week - faculty evaluation committee meetings, written justifications for replacing retiring faculty, queries from prospective students - it would bore you to tears. What makes me so sure? It's boring me to tears. But the upside of committee meetings is that they give me plenty of time to think about my blog, and I have been thinking. Experimental musician/reader William Lawless had a … [Read more...]

Write About What You Know

While I'm on anecdotes, long-time correspondent John Dinwiddie sends a charming one: I have a good Henry Cowell tale for you, starring David Tudor and Lou Harrison. In 1967, I drove David Tudor down to the Lansing Speaker Corp. in Sunnyvale to pick up some speaker drivers for the first version of the Rainforest circuit. Afterwards, David decided that I needed to meet a man of real culture - still true - and that we should head down to Aptos to drop in on Lou. That we did, and late into an evening that would take a long chapter to describe, Lou … [Read more...]

The Problem with Sessions

The last few days I've been analyzing the slow movement of Roger Sessions's Third Symphony to present it in class. (Yes, it's true - I may denigrate 12-tone music as a critic, but as a historian and theorist I scrupulously study and teach it, and in fact compared works by Sessions, Copland (Inscape), Wallingford Riegger (Third Symphony) and Dallapiccola (Piccola Musica Notturna) to show different ways in which second-generation 12-tone composers slowed down the rotation of the twelve pitches to give the style more harmonic contrast. As a critic … [Read more...]