A Theory Prof by Any Other Name

Every year I end up talking at some point about soggetto cavato, the practice of making themes from the letters of people's names, the way Schumann used "S - C - H - A," better known as "E-flat - C - B - A," to stand for himself in Carnaval (S being German for E-flat, and H for B natural). I commented on the limited possibilities of my own name in this regard, but my student Ezekiel Virant came up with a possibility I hadn't considered: a G and A followed by two Neapolitan chords, the Roman numeral analysis symbol for the Neapolitan being an … [Read more...]

Crepuscule with JLA

I caught the last night of John Luther Adams’ sound installations, Veils and Vesper, at Diapason Gallery in New York Saturday night. Now, right off, how can you not like pieces with titles like that? Immediately Veils conjures up some Debussy impressionism, and is there a piece with “Vesper” in the title that anyone can not like? You think of Monteverdi’s Vespers for the Blessed Virgin, and a little screwdriver pokes in and disconnects part of your critical apparatus before you walk in the door. As befits those titles, Veils and Vesper were … [Read more...]

G4 Behaving Badly

Pardon me for using this space as a technical support forum in reverse, but I'm not suppose to bother our college Mac guy with problems concerning our personal computers, and Apple charges me an arm and a leg for advice. My G4 laptop, OS 10.3.9, has developed a condition wherein sometimes basic applications like iTunes and Quicktime won't run. They'll seem to start up, but the console will never appear, and eventually I'll have to force-quit. The same thing happens to computer shut-down, it will pretend to begin and then simply won't go … [Read more...]

Electronic Snobbery, Its Causes and Cures

My umptillion-pitches-to-the-octave microtonalist cohort Brian McLaren sends me a link to a wonderful article on the deficiencies of "Computer Music" by composer Bob Ostertag. Ostertag does a concise job of explaining the snobbishness of those who divide off the "real" electronic composers from the composers "who merely use electronics": ...it is a phenomenon seen time and time again in academia: the more an area of knowledge becomes diffused in the public, the louder become the claims of those within the tower to exclusive expertise in the … [Read more...]

Post-Semester Rampage, Electronic Version

It shows my naivété, after 20 years of teaching, that I still hold any illusions about academia. Until recently I had nurtured a belief that electronic music was one area of music in which the otherwise pervasive distinctions between academic and non-academic did not apply. After all, electronic music is the only department in which (you will excuse the term) Downtown composers have been able to find positions in universities. As far as I know, there are currently only two Downtown composers in the country who have ridden into permanent … [Read more...]

Cursing the Man Who Invented the Computer

I had reported having trouble getting Kontakt 2 sampling software to work on my computer. In April the company released the 2.1 upgrade, which was supposed to make the program run smoother by making the samples much less CPU-intensive. But every time I tried to start up, my screen froze - on a G5 yet! This morning I set out to attack the problem. I spent hours going back and forth with Kontakt tech support. I reinstalled the program from scratch three times. Finally I narrowed it down to the audio setup. I reinstalled my MIDI interface driver … [Read more...]

In Which the Blogger Explains Himself

Blogmeister Douglas McLennan asks the question, Why do professional writers who have regular print gigs bother to write a blog, sans pay? It's a good question, and one I've been asked, but not one I've answered publicly, though it's fairly easy, with multiple answers. First of all, let's examine the premise that I'm a successful writer in a print medium. Last year, in an attempt to make the Village Voice more profitable for sale, free-lancer rates were slashed; my per-column pay was cut by 52%, which is the largest cut I heard of at the Voice. … [Read more...]

‘Bout Damn Time

Mark Swed offers a highly appreciative review of the recent REDCAT concert of Ben Johnston's music in the LA Times: "Why is a major composer and authentically original American voice so seldom heard?" Amen to that. … [Read more...]

Satie, mon semblable, mon frère

Eric [sic] Satie’s chief defect is that he did not know his place.... Lack of musicianship and discriminating invention, incapacity for clear and continuous thinking, set Satie fumbling for some sort of originality until he hit upon the idea of letting his poverty-stricken creations face the world under high-sounding names. - Eric Blom Astonishingly, one of our student singers - it was Elizabeth Przybylski, the same young woman who premiered a song of my own - sang Erik Satie’s magnificent Socrate as her senior project. Even more … [Read more...]

New CDs on Postclassic Radio

Postclassic Radio badly needed a fresh infusion, and it received one this week via a whole stack of new CDs that just arrived: Corey Dargel: Less Famous Than You (Use Your Teeth) Ingram Marshall: Savage Altars (New Albion) Eve Beglarian: Tell the Birds (New World) Warren Burt: The Animation of Lists and the Archytan Transpositions (XI) plus a couple of welcome CD reissues: Daniel Lentz: On the Leopard Altar (Cold Blue) Lou Harrison: Chamber and Gamelan Works (New World) All of these are now represented on the playlist by multiple tracks. … [Read more...]

World Premiere, 21 Years Later

My early music continues going through an odd renaissance lately. A week ago Sunday, the Bard flute ensemble - with no prodding from me - played my 1979 work Siren for five flutes, which hadn't been heard publicly since the year it was written. And tonight, at Bard, student vocalist Liz Przybylski and accompanist Sharon Bjorndal are giving the world premiere of a song I wrote in 1985, "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Morning Service," on a poem by T.S. Eliot. I once wanted to write a whole T.S. Eliot song cycle, but I read that his estate disallows musical … [Read more...]

Reports of My Death Exaggerated

I’ve been absent. From about mid-April to mid-May at Bard, we start having student concerts every night and senior and moderation boards every morning, crammed in around teaching all afternoon. Senior and moderation boards are Bard’s idiosyncratic system for evaluating student projects just before graduation and at the point of declaring a major, respectively. It becomes common, in this final month before summer, to go in at 9 or 10 AM and not drag home until 9, 10, or 11 at night, and there are always student crises to deal with. President … [Read more...]

Passing of a Gentleman

Death is stalking me lately. I was greatly saddened to learn, via Alex Ross, of the death of my long-time Village Voice colleague Leighton Kerner. When I started there in 1986, Leighton proposed, by phone, to meet me at a concert, and added, with his usual self-effacing charm, “You’ll be able to recognize me - I’m overweight and badly in need of a haircut.” Alex says he wrote for the Voice from 1955; I had thought he was only regular from 1960 or ‘61, but I’m not going to check the archives to find out. Either way he had a few decades’ … [Read more...]