D-I-Y LMY

Italian electronic composer Walter Cianciusi (q.v.) has made available an engine he's designed for playing La Monte Young's sine-tone installations - 23 of them so far, ranging from his early Composition 1960 No. 7 to The Prime Time Twins... from the current MELA Foundation Dream House. Download Cianciusi's Dream House package here, and it installs Max/MSP on your computer if you didn't already have it. Then you select an installation you want to hear, type in an appropriate base frequency and hit return so you can hear it, and press "Start." … [Read more...]

Habits of Classical Sentimentality Hard to Break

If I were to ask you which composer from history seemed to embody emotional uncertainty in his music, what names would spring to mind? Mahler, maybe? Bartok? Dallapiccola? I was initially heartened by Nicholas Kenyon's article in the Times demythologizing Mozart. Not that I have anything against Mozart - quite the contrary. In fact, I've long been interested in saving the guy from his father's slanderous picture of him as an eternal idiot child, someone who wrote heavenly music without effort. Mozart HATED that image of himself. Leopold Mozart … [Read more...]

How to Respond to Critics

A question came up at Sequenza 21 recently as to whether a composer should respond to a negative review. I know the answer to this one. My playing both sides of the game for 22 years has given me some insight into how to treat critics - as a critic myself I've had some blundering composers alienate me for years, and others charm the pants off me (only metaphorically speaking, of course). And as a composer, I've responded to many a review, with such surgical expertise as to never occasion (so far as I know) any negative consequences. It strikes … [Read more...]

I Got a Baaaad Feeling About this Country

In Salon there's a chilling report of the 1994 Rwanda genocide in the form of Suzy Hansen's review of Jean Hatzfeld's book Machete Season. It details how the Hutus became inured, over a three-month period, to getting up every day and hacking to death their neighbors, the Tutsis, without qualms and without remorse, just because they were Tutsis. And then I read Karl Rove's answer when someone asked him why he so ruthlessly set out to destroy and discredit Joseph Wilson: "Because he's a Democrat." … [Read more...]

Nothing Harder than Simplicity

Thanks to Lawrence for this wonderful quote from Eric Hoffer (1902-1983): In products of the human mind, simplicity marks the end of a process of refining, while complexity marks a primitive stage. Michelangelo's definition of art as the purgation of superfluities suggests that the creative effort consists largely in the elimination of that which complicates and confuses a pattern. Think of it as you're listening to Brian Ferneyhough's new opera at Lincoln Center this week. … [Read more...]

Disklavier FAQs

In response to my new CD Nude Rolling Down an Escalator the questions have started pouring in about the Disklavier, some of them the same questions that Conlon Nancarrow spent his late life fielding about the player piano. Let me see if I can head some of them off at the pass. I love the pieces, too bad the Disklavier sounds so electronic. Couldn't you have used some really good piano samples? Actually, the Disklavier is a regular acoustic piano. Those are physical, metal piano strings being struck by felt hammers, just like any other piano. I … [Read more...]

La Plus ça Change

A quotation I ran across from Virgil Thomson's The State of Music: When we made music that was simple, melodic, and harmonious, the fury of the vested interests of modernism flared up like a gas tank.... I am considered a graceless whelp, a frivolous mountebank, an unfair competitor, and a dangerous character. … [Read more...]

“Aspiring to the Condition of Music?” No Way

A friend of mine who will probably appreciate remaining nameless in this connection teaches in a highly interdisciplinary graduate program for the arts. Painters, photographers, performance artists, filmmakers, dancers, and composers all meet together and give critiques of each other's work. (Still echoing in my head 25 years hence is the comment of a philosophy prof on a paper of mine: "'Critique' is not a verb.") My friend notes that, except for the musicians, all the students and faculty speak the language of postmodernism and … [Read more...]

A Modest (Technical) Proposal

OK, music theory teachers, here's a more definite proposal. The teaching of music theory needs to be changed. Can we start by getting rid of inversion symbols? Bear with me while I develop my argument. I spend a lot of time beating inversion symbols (in Roman numeral analysis) into my students. They're seemingly arbitrary ("6" for first inversion, "6 - 4" for second), and difficult for the students to internalize. Now, I do agree that inversions of triads are important to note. Unless you're writing really eccentric music (and may the gods … [Read more...]

Tearful Reunion

This is what they call off-topic, but last night I shaved a 27-year-old mustache, and saw my upper lip for the first time since the Carter presidency. … [Read more...]

Where Do I Apply for My Holiness Card?

I went into Patelson's Music in New York the other day, one of my favorite places to while away time. Aside from the 200 most solidly canonical pieces of classical repertoire, musical scores are difficult to find, and it's always fun to see what odd things happen to spring up at Patelson's. This time, I came across a relatively modern piano piece that I didn't expect. It was just a few dozen noteheads, no specific rhythms notated, on two pages. There was a key signature of two sharps, and one dynamic marking at the beginning: p. If I showed it … [Read more...]

Carrying Around the Machinery of Knowledge

San Francisco composer Dan Becker sends a quotation from Krishnamurti relevant to the discussion of music theory. Perhaps not the most profoundly stated truths in the world, but one would certainly like to see these sentiments acknowledged in academia on a more regular basis: The function of education is to give the student abundant knowledge in the various fields of human endeavor and at the same time to free his mind from all traditions so that he is able to investigate, to find out, to discover. Otherwise the mind becomes mechanical, … [Read more...]