Look for the Karma that Benefits

Galen Brown makes an argument that the demise of Tower Records is no big deal. I almost believe him. Still, there's one telling fact no one's brought up. Last spring Tower finally opened a "Kyle Gann" bin. A few months later, the place "goes bankrupt." Coincidence? I think not. … [Read more...]

What the March of Time Told Me

I played my 20th-century music class several tracks from John Oswald's (in)famous 1990 Plunderphonics CD, in which he took illegal samples from Michael Jackson, the Beatles, Dolly Parton, The Rite of Spring, and other sources, making inventive new works by mixing, subverting, looping, and speed-shifting them. (Even though he gave the discs away for free he was threatened with legal action, and had to destroy 300 of the 1000 copies. I was a recipient of one of the original 700, a rare disc indeed.) As we were listening, I realized, though, how … [Read more...]

The Siren Call of Conformity

Today in three hours I finally finished my setting of E.E. Cummings' My father moved through dooms of love, in which James Bagwell will conduct the Dessoff Choir on March 10. I had quit working on the piece in July because I hit a snag. The setting of the following words just wasn't right, and so the accompaniment (for piano and violin) wouldn't write itself, and I knew it was because I didn't really understand them: then let men kill which cannot share, let blood and flesh be mud and mire, scheming imagine, passion willed, freedom a drug … [Read more...]

Music Downtown in TLS

I paid to read my one-paragraph review online in the Times Literary Supplement, but you shouldn't have to. Here it is, and much thanks to Wiley Hitchcock, my mentor and guiding angel, for alerting me: "At sixteen," writes Kyle Gann in his book Music Downtown, "I was so enwrapped in John Cage's ideas that I began to feel guilty listening to records when I could be outside listening to traffic". As "new music" columnist for the Village Voice from 1986 to 1998, Gann chronicled the waves of avant-garde musicians filling the lofts of lower … [Read more...]

Willing One Thing

Ninety-two years ago this week, between Nov. 20 and Dec. 2, 1914, Erik Satie penned Trois Poèmes d'Amour, a trio of brief love songs to poems of his own. At the risk of taxing my reader's browser, I offer the first here in its entirety: One notices right away that the voice sings the same rhythm in all eight measures: six 8th-notes and a quarter-note. This is also true of the other two songs: not only that they use the same rhythm in all eight measures, but that they all use this particular rhythm, six 8th-notes and a quarter-note. Thus not … [Read more...]

E-persons Become Flesh

I went to the Sequenza 21 concert at CUNY Graduate Center last night, and met in person quite a few people I had known only virtually, including Sequenza 21 guru Jerry Bowles, David Toub, Galen Brown, Ian Moss, and David Salvage. Performances were excellent, and the program divided half-and-half - much like Sequenza 21 itself - between postminimalism and modernism, though the latter was of a refined variety. Composer Dan Goode asked me why Sequenza 21 was moving from virtual existence to real-life events, when most organizations are swimming in … [Read more...]

Taking on the Postmoderns

Taking off several weeks in August to write a new work for pianist Sarah Cahill put me way behind in my work, and teaching five courses this semester made catching up a slow process. But I have just officially caught up tonight. Perhaps blogging will resume. I have been having an unexpectedly good time teaching my course "Populism versus Progress in 20th-Century Music." The students are aggressively thought-provoking. After I gave a long exposition on the origins of minimalism, one asked, "Why do you represent this as somehow a continuation of … [Read more...]

New Dutch Developments

Dutch composer Samuel Vriezen was just here at Bard, supervising a rehearsal of his piece The Weather Riots, which my Open Instrumentation Ensemble is playing soon, and giving a wonderfully lively lecture about his compositional process. (He's in New York for the riotous-looking Sequenza 21 concert happening this Monday at CUNY Graduate Center, where Weather Riots will also be performed, and which you can find out more about here.) Samuel usually writes pieces in which all the performers are playing similar material at the same time, … [Read more...]

Quip of the Day

Our pianist had the day's best line. Showing up late for a meeting, he said, "Sorry, I was out late last night celebrating the fact that the terrorists won. I burned an American flag." … [Read more...]

Music for a New World

Young (relative to me) composer Galen Brown has a musically and visually attractive music video up on YouTube, sort of a neo-geo Koyaanisqatsi for the new generation. Bright, passionate music for a brighter, more passionate new day. … [Read more...]

Whether We’re a We

Gary Kamiya at Salon: So for a lot of us, there's more at stake in Tuesday's elections than simply whether the Democrats will take control of the House or the Senate. It's a question of national identity, of finding out who we are -- and if we're a "we" at all. For six years, we've been waiting for the America we thought we knew to come back. And now, as we wait for the spinning windows in the great democratic slot machine to stop, we're torn between hope that it'll display the country we thought we knew, and fear that it'll show something … [Read more...]

To Secure Something Can Mean to Fasten It Down

Brian McLaren alerted me to a report by an organization called the Identity Project (at the ominous URL www.PapersPlease.org) that the Department of Homeland Security has proposed that, effective January, no U.S. Citizen be allowed to leave the country unless his or her name appears on a clearance list. As another organization called Friends of Liberty amplifies: Think this can't happen? Think again. It's ALREADY happening. Earlier this year, [Homeland Security] forbade airlines from transporting an 18-year-old a native-born U.S. citizen, back … [Read more...]

Composers Think Differently

Composers Joan Tower and George Tsontakis were in my office today, discussing composition with a student. George, the student's teacher, said, "We've been talking about the problem of how fast you can add contrasting new ideas to a piece without losing the listener and making the piece disunified." Joan replied, "Oh, that's a problem everyone faces." I said, "Adding new ideas? That had never occurred to me." … [Read more...]