On the Limited Relevance of Readers’ Opinions

Thousands of people consider Elliott Carter a great composer. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes, and gets performances and even retrospectives out the wazoo. He is assured his chances with posterity, regardless of what I do, or what any other individual does. Aside from the royalties he’s missed by my not buying all of his recordings, twenty years of my expressing misgivings about Carter’s music has not caused five dollars’ worth of harm to his finances or his career. If I really thought any of my ideas could truly do harm to Carter, I would be more … [Read more...]

Metametrics: Origins

I thought I’d put up a more detailed example of an early totalist piece, to show precisely how composers started breaking away from minimalism in the early 1980s. Mikel Rouse’s Quick Thrust of 1984 is a work that both reaches back into minimalism’s most formalist concerns and also forecasts ideas that would later become widespread. For one thing, it was one of the first fully notated pieces for a pop instrumentation, written as it was, like most of his music of the ‘80s, for his rock-instrumentation quartet Broken Consort, consisting of soprano … [Read more...]

Soon Affordable by the Upper Middle Class

The most frequent and bitter complaint I've gotten about my book on Nancarrow over the years has been about the price. But I've just learned - over the internet, with the rest of the world - that a paperback edition is finally appearing this coming May. No price has been set yet, but I figure this should bring it down to no more than £150,000,000,000, or, in US dollars, approximately the monthly salary of an Exxon/Mobil CEO. So hold on a few more months and you'll save. I wish I could also correct a few of the errors in the book, most of which … [Read more...]

Creativity and Chronology, Rethought

David W. Galenson’s new book Old Masters and Young Geniuses (Princeton University Press) is an apparently unprecedented study of the relationship of age to creativity. Galenson, an economist with a yen for painting, charts out for many famous painters the age at which each one peaked creatively. His method, brilliant in its empirical objectivity if rather obvious in hindsight, is to rate each painting by three criteria: its top selling price, how often it is included in academic art textbooks, and how often it is included in retrospectives of … [Read more...]

More Evidence, If Evidence Were Needed

Just heard a conductor from the Wichita Symphony (whether the conductor, I didn't catch) participate in the NPR word puzzle show. The host asked him what Wichita was playing this season. His reply: "Oh, everything from Mozart and Beethoven up through Verdi and the Alpine Symphony. Something for everyone." No, Maestro, not quite for everyone. … [Read more...]

Totalist Orchestration

Composer Art Jarvinen, known as “the West-Coast totalist” (poor guy, he never got to come to any of the parties), writes to remind me, in detailing qualities of totalist music, that there was a characteristic totalist instrumentation as well as rhythmic style: For totalist music to really work requires an edge. A lot of totalist composers have guitar or saxophone or electric keyboards (Rhodes, Hammond, Mini-Moog), or drum set, as their main instrument. I wrote for chromatic harmonica and baritone sax. I don't want to hear a totalist piece for … [Read more...]

Metametric Mysteries Cleared Up

In my extensive post on Metametric music (you know, The Style Formerly Known as Totalism, c’mon, man, get with the program) I mentioned that I could never figure out how the California Ear Unit performed the three meters at once of Art Jarvinen’s Murphy-Nights. To save you from having to look, the piece starts off with an 8/4 ostinato (32 16th-notes) in the electric keyboard against a 33/16 ostinato in the electric bass - on top of which the rest of the ensemble enters in changing meters, starting in 6/4. (You can hear the effect here.) I wish … [Read more...]

Lucky, We Hardly Knew Ye

I always feel bad making a big deal out of a composer right after he dies. If I knew in advance, I’d make a big deal out of each one just before he died. (Don’t any of you write and tell me you’re not feeling well. I’ll need a note from a doctor.) It’s always made me happy that, a few months before he died, I called Morton Feldman, in print, the Greatest Living Composer, and he saw it. But even had I known in advance that Lucky Mosko (1947-2005) was going to die at 58, who knew he was that old already? I had never heard Mosko’s music, but was … [Read more...]


A helpful reader with a fake e-mail address has written in to accuse me of "writing myself into history" by including myself in the discussion of totalist music in my previous post. Lest there be any further confusion: This is my own personal blog, which I am not paid to write. While I do not knowingly publish falsehoods here, I may sometimes cast myself in a favorable light. The blog is not intended to replace scholarly musical reference works. If you would like to read scholarly accounts of the totalist movement that make no reference to me, … [Read more...]

Rules of the Word Game

We call Monet’s Rouen Cathedral an Impressionist painting. Imagine a skeptic challenging this statement. “Let us put the painting under a microscope,” he says, “analyze it, and determine once and for all whether it is actually Impressionist.” Can we go along with his experiment and prove him wrong? No; more appropriate to say, paraphrasing Wittgenstein, that this skeptic doesn’t understand the rules of the word game we’re playing. I don’t know whether it’s symptomatic of the decline of culture, but it seems that most people these days no longer … [Read more...]

Advertising Claims

Amazon is now listing my new book as available. As a special treat for all those who HATE it when I talk about Downtown music, the book is titled: Music Downtown! Amazon's editorial review is beyond flattering: "As provocative as Lester Bangs's rock writing and as uncompromising as Nat Hentoff's jazz and blues work" - Whoa! Hyperbole indeed. But oddly, they continue, "Although he regrets that some of his longer pieces are not included...." That's not true. All my worthwhile long pieces from the Voice are in the book, including my 1994 interview … [Read more...]

Executive Decision Made

I'm sitting here writing an article about the composer Melissa Hui. I'm engulfed in Hui, drowning in Hui, can't see the forest for the Hui's, and I finally say to myself, "Gann, look: you need a new composer-of-the-month for Postclassic Radio anyway. Why not Hui?" Why not indeed. So if you ever wonder how executive decisions get made here at Postclassic Radio, that's pretty much the gist of it. The most recurring word in Melissa Hui's titles is "still," and there's a real stillness to her music, even when it's fast or bumptious, that's quite … [Read more...]