Trivia Question for New Year’s Eve

What character figured in the lives of both John Cage and James Bond? (I'll refrain from posting any answers until there are several right ones, as there are bound to be.)[UPDATE] As five of you came up with in eight hours: Goldfinger. Ernö Goldfinger, the architect with whom Cage studied in Paris, was Ian Fleming's model for the villain Auric Goldfinger. Fleming altered many personal characteristics (the fictional Goldfinger was 14 inches shorter), but both were naturalized emigrés who liked fast cars, and the architect Goldfinger was a … [Read more...]


Public radio station WAMC from Albany runs pretty continuously in our house, and I support it and get a lot from it. But the stupidity of their music stories lately is about to drive me to random acts of violence. On Thanksgiving they did a vapid, all-morning "analysis" of the complete Beatles' White Album with a bunch of variously educated talking heads, of which the only comment I remember was the insightful, "Ooooooh, the maracas!" And this week they've been promising a "mathematical" analysis of the striking opening chord to "It's Been a … [Read more...]

Company I’ve Kept

It's not every day that I read Christopher Hitchens in Slate and he's lambasting people I know personally. But you know Rick Warren, the rightwing homophobe who's giving the prayer at Obama's inaugural? It turns out that one of his "leading allies and defenders" is Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, whom I knew in Sunday school as a kid. And Warren's mentor was Wally Amos Criswell, former pastor of the same church, whose sermons I grew up hearing weekly, and who, if memory serves, may have baptized me (I was six). I … [Read more...]

Compliment Sighting

A couple more reviews of my Private Dances CD, one from Devin Hurd, and a trés formidable one en français. They've all been favorable, but so rare!I'm in those precious few moments between the end of my semester and my son's birthday (Dec. 23). Meanwhile, amuse yourselves, as I do, by rereading Alex Ross's holiday hiatus message. … [Read more...]

The Psychology of Script

This was inevitable, but it hadn't happened to me before. We now have a student composing both string quartets and jazz tunes using Sibelius notation software. I found it amusing that he prints the string quartets in Sibelius's "normal" notation and the jazz pieces in its "inkpen" script:         I asked him why and he shrugged and didn't know. But it does subtly look like in the notation on the left the notes are fixed and must be played correctly, while the ones on the right are sort of just the "suggested" notes, and if you can think of … [Read more...]

Occasionally the Truth Is Spoken

This quote from the great Morton Feldman, supplied by Jodru, deserves its own entry:"There is something rotten here, and we don't have to go to Denmark to look for it. It's not the public. That was always a lie. It's not the mass media. A bigger lie. It's not the capitalist system - another lie. It's my colleagues. My fellow American composers. The most pedantic, the most boring, ungenerous bunch of human beings one can meet on an earth so crowded with the last men that hop and make it smaller and smaller. This earth, I mean."It's the college … [Read more...]

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The world hardly needs my voice added to the roar of acclamation attending the hundredth birthday of Olivier Messiaen. However, lest someone get the wrong idea, let me affirm:Without Turangalila, my creative life would have turned out far less rich than it has been. The 20th century afforded no clearly more magnificent musical work. … [Read more...]

Master Class of the Pod People

Someone wrote to chide me for pretending that Elliott Carter has more influence in the new-music world than he currently has. And then today I got a message from a teenaged composer:  I'll never forget when at a summer camp a distinguished guest composer came in to give us composers a lesson, and she informed me that my music "lacked that Elliot Carter mentality" and I ought to listen to his entire repertoire again before writing another piece.AAAARRRRGHHHHHHH CHOKE HACK SPIT GULP SKKKKKKKKKH GAG NNNNNNGHHH VOMIT NYANG NYANG NYANG OUCH I CAN'T … [Read more...]

Relentless Present

Here are three measures of a new piano piece for your perusal: Now, imagine something like that going on, pretty much the same texture and same intensity, for 53 solid minutes. That's Michael Byron's new Dreamers of Pearl (2005), just released on a New World CD by possibly the only pianist who could currently achieve such a feat, human player-piano Joe Kubera. There's a key signature, admittedly, but so many accidentals that it seems more hindrance than help, and the first movement has five flats in the right hand and none in the left. The … [Read more...]

Idiot’s Guide to PostClassic

Statistically speaking, you probably don't agree with a word I say. Out there in the larger world of contemporary music, Elliott Carter is king, we are smack dab in the middle of the modernist period which will never end, the purpose of serious music is to convey how terrible the world is, and art is infinitely superior to entertainment and should never be confused with it. This blog is a repository of minority opinion, a haven and beacon for those few of us who happen not to agree with those propositions. We are painfully aware how tiny our … [Read more...]

The Two Avant-Gardes

My own research and study into the quote-unquote avant-garde has revealed two distinct poles. There's the avant-garde of privilege, the avant-garde that primarily emphasizes quote-unquote art for art's sake aesthetics above everything else. Then there's what I would call the populist or the radical avant-garde. In America, I think those two kind of poles happened during the late '50s, and through the '60s and early '70s. I think the privileged avant-garde really wanted to create this wall between social activism, political radicalism, and … [Read more...]

The Gender Politics of Kickass

In my Analysis of Minimalism seminar - most rewarding course I've ever taught at Bard, at least for me - we finished with Michael Gordon's loud, propulsive Yo Shakespeare in the same class in which we started on Peter Garland's calm, delicate I Have Had to Learn the Simplest Things Last. The contrast moved me to get into one of my digressions (I live to digress) about the importance of kickass qualities in music of the Downtown scene in the 1980s and '90s. For several years there, kickass was the highest praise a Downtown composer could recieve … [Read more...]

Out of the Millions Available

Composer-video artist Betsey Biggs, currently completing graduate work at Princeton, presented some lovely work at the Sacramento State Festival I returned from last week. Her latest piece, Ton Yam I, was based nostalgically on the idea of California, and used as sound material only slowed, looped, and altered samples from the Beach Boys' song "God Only Knows." (The title read backward makes the point.) More bloggable is a Morton Feldman anecdote she mentioned in her talk that I hadn't heard before. It seems that one of his assignments was to … [Read more...]