Meter: the Postclassical Paradigm

During Bard's Janacek festival a couple of years ago, I became rather impressed with that composer's textural and tonal originality, especially upon realizing that I had always thought of him as a 20th-century composer and he was actually born in 1854. So awhile later, browsing at Patelson's in New York, I ran across the sheet music to Janacek's On an Overgrown Path - the piece that the well-known eponymous blog is named for, I suppose - and picked it up. It sat on my piano for months, but since I moved to a new house, my Steinway has developed … [Read more...]

What They Get Away With in Lit’ratyoor

In his [1938] essay, "Paleface and Redskin," the literary critic Philip Rahv claims that American writers have always tended to choose sides in a contest between two camps the result of "a dichotomy," as he put it, "between experience and consciousness...between energy and sensibility, between conduct and theories of conduct." Our best-selling novelists and our leaders of popular literary movements, from Walt Whitman to Hemingway to Jack Kerouac, number among the group Rahv called the redskins. They represent the restless frontier mentality, … [Read more...]

Gann Raised from the Dead at Other Minds

A week from tomorrow, Saturday, December 3, the Other Minds festival is holding a "musical séance" at San Francisco’s Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon Street, at 2pm, 5:30pm and 8pm. The idea is to raise up the spirits of composers from the experimental (or rather, Postclassical) tradition such as Cage, Nancarrow, Cowell, Crawford, Satie, and Rudhyar. I'm not projected to be dead yet myself by that time (unless they know something I don't), but nevertheless their star pianist Sarah Cahill (pictured) will play a piece of mine, "Saintly" from my … [Read more...]

Dance Me Some Tolstoy

I’ve always had a weird fascination - don’t quite understand it myself - with music by famous people who were known for something other than music. I’ve enjoyed a long relationship with the music of Friedrich Nieztsche, own every recording of it ever made (including the old Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau vinyl disc), and savor my Xeroxes of his entire Musikalische Nachlass; I treasure my Wergo recording of the musical works of Theodor Adorno, and enjoy playing for students the hilarious completed bits of his projected opera on Tom Sawyer, Der Schatz … [Read more...]

The Downside of Expatriation

NOTE: This entry has been extensively apologized for and updated. I've always thought I should have moved to Europe decades ago, and never more than in the last five years. But a composer friend who lived in Europe for many years told me this week why he moved back to the U.S. It seems that when he applied for grants there, to foundations which preserved the anonymity of their applicants [emphasis added later], his music was regularly rejected with the comment: "too American-sounding." UPDATE: I have to apologize for so badly misstating this … [Read more...]

Blogged by Ross

That young whippersnapper Alex Ross has taken pity on an old man and mentioned some nice things about my Nude Rolling Down an Escalator CD, namely: "some of the pieces ('Texarkana,' 'Despotic Waltz') draw Chaplinesque comedy from the hyperkinetic action of the computerized piano, while others summon clouds of Ivesian mystery ('Unquiet Night') or simply make you happy ('Bud Ran Back Out')." I'm in a wrap-up along with recordings of Arvo Pärt, Mozart, Chopin, Victoria, Michael Finnissy, and my contemporary J.S. Bach. … [Read more...]

The Danger Duration

Composer Nic Collins was here the other day. He had an interesting insight that had never occurred to me. He tells his students that between five and ten minutes is the most dangerous length for a piece of music. A piece under five minutes can bore no one. A piece 15 minutes or more seems profound simply by virtue of its length, and generally receives the benefit of the doubt. But in between, a piece flirts with a certain attention threshhold, and can easily seem too long, or not serious enough in content to have gone past that five-minute … [Read more...]

Deplorable… If Only It Were True

Slate has a series on college education running lately, and in it is this statement about the “liberal” approach to education, as formulated by one Astrida Orle Tantillo, associate dean and associate professor of history and Germanic studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago: The assault on liberal education from the left presumes that pedagogy must be "student-centered," with professors no longer "teaching" but "facilitating" or serving as "architects of interaction" who "enable" students to teach one another. The assumptions … [Read more...]

Raised from the Dead

I thought I'd never live to see the day that more than three hours of Julius Eastman's music would be commercially available. But today is that day, for New World's three-disc set of archival recordings (New World 80638-2) - titled Unjust Malaise, an anagram of Eastman's name - is now in my hands. In case you haven't been tuned in to the recent buzz, Eastman (1940-1990) was a gay African-American whose rivetingly powerful postminimalist music confronted issues of race and sexual identity, and who died under rather mysterious circumstances at … [Read more...]

It Never Rains, But…

...it pours. After no performances in about a decade, my toy piano piece Paris Intermezzo was played last week in Worcester, Massachusetts, by John MacDonald - a really lovely performance - and it's about to be played again seven times. French pianist Wilhem Latchoumia will play it on November 18, 19 , 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26 with the Compagnie de Danse Stanilaw Wisniewski at the Centre Culturel Charlie Chaplin à Vaulx-en-Velin, near Lyon. If anyone's in the area (I won't be). Space is limited, and reservations are recommended, at 04 72 04 81 … [Read more...]

Superstition Be Damned

I’ve written a little keyboard work (for a retuned electronic keyboard, playable by human hands) that I’m proud of for reasons with which the reader has no reason to sympathize. One is that I’ve finally, after years of trying, broken past the barrier of the 11th harmonic to base a piece on the 13th harmonic and its resultant intervals. This will seem a small achievement to some microtonalists, many of whom run wild with 43rd and 79th harmonics and 53- and 72-tone scales, but I have always found myself unable to compose merely theoretically, … [Read more...]

Brave New World

There are two web sites that I think you should check out - not right this minute, but when you have some leisure time, for they both require and deserve a lot of time to get into: 1. The best paper I heard at the toy piano conference at Clark University last week was by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Helen Thorington, of NPR and radio sound art fame. She came to tell about her Networked Performance blog, a site where she and other bloggers keep track of internet performance projects from all around the world. The stuff she showed us ranged … [Read more...]