The BBC Goes Downtown

This afternoon at 5:45 PM Greenwich time, which if I remember my time-zone conversions correctly is 12:45 PM New York time, BBC Radio will air a special edition of the show “Music Matters” on Steve Reich’s legacy in honor of his 70th birthday. The show examines Reich’s influence in – brace yourself – the context of Uptown and Downtown, the angle being that a disreputable Downtown composer is now the darling of places like Lincoln Center. Music journalist Tom Service, who does the show, also interviewed me for local color; we drove around to Lincoln Center, the Kitchen, and the Knitting Factory. If you miss it live today, it’ll be in the archives for one week. Presumably I will be quoted. tomkyle.jpg
Had I known that I would also be photographed for the web site, I wouldn’t have worn a bright pink shirt – I thought I was dressed just fine for radio.

For all those Downtown-deniers – those determined to pretend the Downtown scene never existed, those who want all memory of it obliterated, those who claim there was never any difference, those who think La Monte Young might have been a great composer if he’d only studied with Roger Sessions, those who’ve convinced themselves that Young actually did study with Sessions – the BBC interview’ll be just something else to hate me for. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

[UPDATE:] Interesting…. Carnegie Hall artistic director Ara Guzelimian, interviewed on the show, mentions that there was some thought of inaugurating Zankel Hall with the slogan “Downtown now begins at 57th Street.” I guess he hasn’t heard the news that Downtown never existed.


  1. Peter says

    Kyle — It’s actually on at 5:45 pm British Summer Time, rather than 5:45 pm Greenwich Mean Time (which would be 6:45 pm BST). This is, as you say correctly, 12:45 East Coast Summer Time in the US, since the UK is generally 5 hours ahead of the East Coast (except, in some years, for those odd weeks when changing to and from summer time). The show is on BBC Radio 3, for those (like me) in the UK.
    KG replies: Ah, thanks – pardon my time-zone parochialism.

  2. peter says

    Just heard the radio broadcast. Had to close my eyes because of the brightness of your shirt . . .
    KG replies: I understand completely. My condolences…

  3. Peter says

    I was thinking about Steve Reich’s comment in the radio program that University art departments understood his music sooner than did University music departments. It occurred to me (or maybe, I had already read this in your book, Kyle) that one feature of downtown music not shared by the uptown is a focus on the raw materials of music — the aural properties of the sounds used and of their possible combinations — which dates at least from Cage and Feldman, or even before (eg, some of Cowell).
    Serial music, in contrast, is so divorced from the raw sounds that it could exist with different sounds or instrumentations, or even without sounds at all, having its methods applied, say, to the manipulation of colours or to smells.
    This focus downtown on the materiality of sound is similar to the focus in post-War visual art on the materiality, texture and thinginess of paint and the materials used for sculpture. Perhaps it is not surprising that visual artists understood downtown music well before other composers did.
    KG replies: Excellent point.

  4. Peter says

    Kyle —
    At the risk of annoying you with yet more arcane comments, a further thought about this occurred to me. In its methods and aims, Serialism is an extreme example of the evil Modernity Agenda which philosopher Stephen Toulmin identified as having captivated western culture since the work of Rene Descartes. The agenda has a utopian vision he calls Cosmopolis, which views society as being rationally ordered (on the model of Netwonian physics), and which seeks to classify all of human life and activities into exact rational categories.
    Serialism (and IMO uptown music generally) seeks to be Universal not Particular, General not Local, Timeless not Time-specific, Formal not Informal, Written not Oral, and Permanent not Ephemeral. With these features, uptown music is part of a hegemonic movement which has dominated western culture and thought for 300 years.
    However, throughout this period, the hegemony has repeatedly faced opposition, although this opposition has usually been forgotten by the hegemons, or written out of their histories.
    See Stephen Toulmin: “Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity” (Chicago UP, 1990).