In a climactic moment of the wonderful movie Brazil, Robert DeNiro as Harry Tuttle, subversive free-lance electrical engineer, literally drowns, or dissolves, in the bureaucratic paperwork he has spent his career circumnavigating. I’ll die that way too, not in a mass of paper but in an ocean of CDs, as my friends grab up the fallen stacks of discs only to find that I’ve completely disappeared, absorbed into the microscopic pits in the polycarbonate plastic I spent my life obsessed with.
This combination of a blog and an internet radio station strikes me as really potent. Before, all I could do was harangue you – “Why the hell don’t you already know about all this wonderful music I listen to?!” Or, “Go buy this CD, and then you’ll know what I’m talking about!” Now, the music’s there if you want to listen to it (and, admittedly, if you have a cable modem connection; my willing friends with only dial-ups have been regrettably out of luck), and I can keep up a running commentary. In fact, it aids the fantasy I have of myself as the Harry Tuttle of music criticism – get in, get out, don’t wait for the ponderously slow commercial system to bring talent to light, but suddenly expose people to some wonderful music they would never in a million years have heard otherwise, then retreat for the next strike. You have to subvert and bypass all our social structures to make anything good happen today, because society’s arteries are clogged with the poison of money.
So let me tell you about the recordings I’ve got up so far. It seems that whenever I post music anywhere, some worthy instantly responds with, “Hell, I’ve heard that piece before, that’s not so new!” Apparently because I have a reputation as the Village Voice new-music critic, any music I champion had better be no more than 16 minutes old, and to boot made by some 20-year-old hotshot who just dropped out of college and came to New York yesterday, or I will be exposed as a pathetic fraud, and some people apparently derive a curious thrill from the thought that they’re hipper than Kyle Gann. I always have a few choice comments in response to this, and I’ll spare you the first two. Number three, I was active as a New York critic until 1997, when I cut back at the Voice and entered academia, and I have since always happily admitted that I am inevitably not right smack on the cutting edge of the era 1997-2004. I do keep up pretty well with the music of members of my own generation, who inexplicably get a year older every year. Number four – and this was particularly true of the listening page I posted for the recent Critics Conversation – I run into an awful lot of people who can’t name a non-pop piece of music more recent than Akhnaten, and I sometimes feel it is my mission to drag people through the 1980s and 1990s so they can understand what’s going on now. Also, if a truly great piece of music came out in 1988 and made no public impact whatever, and people have still never heard of it, I reserve the right to consider it absolutely now until somebody friggin’ listens to it and pays attention.
That said, many of the pieces on PostClassic Radio are 21st-century, most are post-1992, and I do include four composers in their 20s – Andrew Schulze, Erin Watson, Corey Dargel, and Max Giteck Duykers – so feign a little respect. And maybe Renske Vrolijk, I have no idea how old she is, but she’s Dutch and a major young new talent.
I’ve also performed a public service by resuscitating some music back to 1970 that some people my age may know, but is not available in the CD world. Two such recordings are Terry Riley’s lovely film score Happy Ending from about 1971, and Robert Ashley’s Music Word Fire and I Would Do It Again (Coocoo), a spin-off piece from his opera Perfect Lives that, being only 28 minutes, was never reissued on CD. One of his best discs, disappeared. I also happen to have, because I was in the right place at the right time, tapes of two multiple-piano pieces by the late Julius Eastman, an active underground New York figure of the early 1980s whose music came scarily close to disappearing without a trace when he was thrown out of his New York apartment by the sheriff and ended up living in Tomkins Square Park. There are a few people out there looking for this music, and I’ve got a little more up my sleeve. Plus a fine unsung Midwestern composer now moved to Arizona, Paul Sturm, whose vinyl record of the 1980s Long Distance deserves some 21st-century hearings.
If I were the 17-year-old Kyle Gann of today, I’d be out there with a tape recorder or audio software avidly recording everything on PostClassic Radio, waiting on pins and needles for gems such as these. But perhaps there is no such person. Young people don’t seem to check out music out of curiosity anymore. Just call me “Gramps.”
Mary Jane Leach’s Ceremony of the Bulls is within spitting distance of Arvo Pärt, and personally, I like it better.
A couple of people seem to appreciate that I’m offering cuts from the legendary Plunderphonics CD of John Oswald, the Canadian sampling-meister whose omnivorous thefts from well-known recordings (though he never charged money for the results) landed him in legal trouble. Out of 1000 printed Plunderphonics discs he was forced to destroy the last 300, and I got one of the first 700. I’m cool. There will be more from this absolutely unobtainable disc.
The music by Florentine Romantic/Postminimalist Giancarlo Cardini is now 20 years old, but it’s wonderful, and I keep pressing him on you, so you might as well listen.
Elizabeth Brown’s Lost Waltz is wonderful, and I go around humming it. She got a doctorate in flute at Juilliard, and started composing afterward. Paul Epstein is another highly underrated postminimalist figure.
My students all go nuts for Bald Boyfriend by Pamela Z and the Qube Chix:
I want a man who’s well-behaved,
Who’s neat and clean, whose head is shaved.
It’s maybe findable, but thrown in here as a teaser.
I recently raved here about Carolyn Yarnell’s The Same Sky, and I am happy to provide it. It’s already won new fans. I got the recording of Jim Tenney’s Song ‘n’ Dance for Harry Partch from Bob Gilmore, and it’s really charming. Also, I’ve put in a hint of Diamanda Galas; I assume her Restless/Mute recordings are very hard to find if not impossible, and I’ll be recirculating more of them.
Enough commentary for now. I’m going for the most obscure, the hardest-to-find as an opening gambit, but I will eventually have to swing a little more mainstream. Remember, the playlist is here on my web page, since Live 365 has room for giganto audio files but can’t be bothered with text information, especially in the quantities classical and postclassical music require. The playlist is also linked from the “Sites I Like” on the right of this page. Give it a listen! Now we’ve got some actual sounds to talk about.