Time Ends in Santa Fe

At 8:00 this Friday, March 3, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Fe, pianist Sarah Cahill will perform a concert for Santa Fe New Music that includes my own Time Does Not Exist. The devoutly American experimentalist program of mostly 21st-century music is as follows: Kyle Gann: Time Does Not Exist (2000) Bunita Marcus: Julia (1989) Peter Garland: Walk in Beauty (1989) Johanna Beyer: selections from Dissonant Counterpoint (1934) Guy Klucevsek: Don't Let the Boogie Man Get You (2005) Andrea Morricone: Studio I  (2005) Ruth Crawford: … [Read more...]

A New Breeze at Last

The February theme of Postclassic Radio was "doldrums," or perhaps "passivity," since I'd been too involved in other matters to add any tracks in several weeks. But I've made up for that today with more than 35 percent new content, including works by David Lang (Slow Movement), improvising violinist Kaffe Matthews, Ben Johnston's Ninth String Quartet from the new Kepler Quartet recording, Sarah Cahill playing Pondok from the new Evan Ziporyn album, a smattering of works by Barbara Benary, Janice Giteck's classic Breathing Songs from a Turning … [Read more...]

When Composing Is Your Day Job

I got to see composer George Tsontakis onstage tonight - as Otto Frank, the father, in The Diary of Anne Frank. George, who's always telling me how tired he is of composing these piano concertos and violin concertos he keeps getting commissions for, has taken up acting as a sideline. (I noticed from his bio in the program that he even studied acting in college.) Last year I missed him in Barefoot in the Park, so I made sure I got out to the Shandaken Theatrical Society Playhouse in Phoenicia, NY, to see him bring a certain benevolent gravity to … [Read more...]

The Power of Illogic

Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare is entertaining and insightful throughout, but when it reaches the year 1600 and Hamlet, it becomes brilliant. Greenblatt attributes the transcendence of Shakespeare’s late tragedies to a technical device that he labels excision of motive. In each case, Shakespeare made his story less logical than his historical sources by removing an obvious motivation. For instance, in the original Hamlet saga, Hamlet’s uncle kills Hamlet’s father the king in plain sight, so that there … [Read more...]

I Like ‘Im, but He Ain’t Me

Aside from printing "Caution: Contents may be hot" on a therma-foam coffee cup, I think the silliest disclaimer in common use is the one that seems to precede every compliment paid to a critic, viz.: "Although I don't always agree with him, Kyle Gann is an OK critic," etc. I thought it was understood that only Rush Limbaugh has Dittoheads. It makes me imagine distancing myself from all kinds of analogous syllogisms: "Even though I agree with his every utterance, I find Alex Ross a lousy critic..." "Although I am not her identical twin, and, in … [Read more...]

The New Nonpop Singers

There's a lovely article on New Music Box today by Corey Dargel, about the difference between the traditional art song or lieder of the classical music world and the new "artsongwriters" who write and sing their own lyrics - just like pop artists, but with a whole different structural sensibility. One of the prime practitioners of this 25-year-old art form, Dargel knows whereof he speaks. … [Read more...]

Metametrics, Postminimalist Version

As an addendum to my post on 4-against-5 rhythms, I should mention Paul Epstein’s 1998 harpsichord piece, 57:4/5/7. I think of Paul as a postminimalist rather than a totalist, but he goes the totalists one better: the piece is based on interfering periodicities of 4-against-5-against-7. (I tend to call pieces postminimalist when based on a steady beat unit throughout, and totalist when conflicting tempos are implied. For the record, I don’t give a damn whether anyone joins me in this.) I don’t know a mnemonic device for figuring out 4:5:7 - if … [Read more...]

Authorizing Tehillim

I'm not someone to whom "stories" tend to happen. But I told a story from my youth in class yesterday that I don't believe I've ever made public. In 1982, the New Music America festival was in Chicago, directed by Peter Gena (my by-then-former composition teacher) and Alene Valkanas. I was "administrative assistant," third in command. Fresh out of grad school, I had reached the hoary age of 26. The festival was being funded by the city of Chicago, via Mayor Jane Byrne's office; the official title was "Mayor Byrne's New Music America." The day … [Read more...]

Metametrics: A Brief History of 5-against-4

The rhythm in question, perhaps totalism’s second-favorite rhythm after 8-against-9, is an interference of two periodicities, one five units long against another 4 units long. It is given here with its standard American mnemonic device, and also with the one I learned in England: Several of Mikel Rouse’s pieces for his totalist rock quartet Broken Consort from the mid-1980s revolved around this rhythm. One that did so entirely was High Frontier. In High Frontier Mikel applied a Schillinger technique to this rhythm that was interestingly close … [Read more...]

Did Bang on a Can Kill Downtown?

Couple of soundbites I've run across on the web deserve wider play. One comes from Mary Jane Leach's capsule history of Downtown music posted to Sequenza 21. She mentions that the Bang on a Can festival "elbowed out what had been the real downtown scene." I've heard other Downtowners (or former Downtowners, if you insist on regarding the scene as dead) state this matter-of-factly too, that Bang on a Can came in, sponged up all the available funding and PR for Downtown music, rode off into Lincoln Center, Banglewood, and the sunset with it, and … [Read more...]

Provo and Los Angeles Premieres

I have two performances on the opposite side of the continent this week, while I'm stuck here in the snow. First is Friday, February 17, by the Group for New Music at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, directed by Michael Hicks. He's giving a "live" performance of my Disklavier piece Tango da Chiesa, on a program in honor of Morton Feldman's 80th birthday. The program: Bunita Marcus: Untrammeled Thought Jürg Baur: Petite Suite (for flute quartet) Leo Brouwer: Cuban Landscape with Rain (for guitar quartet) Kyle Gann: Tango da … [Read more...]

Against the Tide

I've put up a little display on my office door, Xeroxes of the opening pages from seven pieces of music: J.S. Bach: Violin Sonata in G minor (autograph) Josquin des Prez: Alma Redemptoris Mater Erik Satie: Pièces Froids Leo Ornstein: A Reverie Wayne Shorter: Nefertiti Christian Wolff: Snowdrop Frederic Rzewski: Attica What do they all have in common? There's not a printed dynamic marking in the bunch. Not a p, not an f, not a hairpin. Student composers in my environment are mandated to fill their scores with dynamic markings, crescendos and … [Read more...]

When Not In Rome…

I am in receipt of a book by Luca Conti entitled, Suoni di Una Terra Incognita: Il Microtonalismo in Nord America (1900-1940). It's published by Libreria Musicale Italiana. As you may have surmised, it's in Italian. There is much discussion of Ives, Cowell, Chavez, and Partch. I am mentioned, and several of my articles are listed in the bibliography. There are diagrams with lots of numbers and strangely configured keyboards. It looks interesting. … [Read more...]