All Indians Walk Single File

I'm moving a topic from a reply I made in the comments up to a new entry, because it strikes me that it may explain some things. I piss people off all the time by making what people think are generalizations, that might more charitably be characterized as descriptions of collective behavior. As someone rather hyper-aware of peer pressure and who reflexively recoils from it, perhaps collective behavior is something I'm more sensitive to than others.  Let's take that mythical animal, "the audience." "You can't talk about the audience, there is … [Read more...]

West Coast Meets Hudson Valley

Glory be, I am mentioned, quoted, and even pictured in tomorrow's Times. It's in Steve Smith's advance piece on the New Albion festival that starts at Bard next Friday, August 1, and runs until the 10th. The ever-wonderful Sarah Cahill will play my Private Dances on the 2nd. You can read the entire program here (scroll down). Should be a fun ten days, with lots of Downtowners and California composers and musicians, all recorded on the New Albion label, running around in my (metaphorical) back yard.By the way, you'll notice that the … [Read more...]

Blogging as Self-Demolition

It is certainly no original insight of mine that writing is a process of self-discovery. Like many compulsive writers, I often write in order to find out what I think. I started out my essay "The Complexity Issue" with a number of points to make, some of which got in and some didn't, but I mainly started with the first two propositions and attempted to see what would logically follow. I didn't anticipate mentioning Aaron Copland, though he became the article's lynchpin; I had some hogwash in mind about the composer's ethical attitude toward … [Read more...]

Class Action

"There's no such thing as 'the audience.' Each musical exchange is a private one between a performer and a listener, and everyone listens differently. You can't generalize about musical experiences." OK - there's no such thing as "The Nazis," either. Some Nazis shot Jews in the head with apparent unconcern, others felt quite anxious and guilty doing it, and still others managed to get themselves confined to clerical work. You can't generalize about the Nazis, because each one was an individual who acted and felt differently. And if we … [Read more...]

The Complexity Issue

I'm going to try to clarify the musical complexity issue. What we have now, left over from the previous post, is what I'll call the Byrne argument: that a lot of incomprehensible, audience-alienating music has been written out of a kind of reverse elitism - and what I'll call the Nonken argument (after superb pianist Marilyn Nonken, who wrote in): that there's a lot of difficult, complex music that will never appeal to a wide audience, but it has its admirers, and they should be allowed to have it. On the face of it, these assertions both seem … [Read more...]

Spot On, but a Little Late

[UPDATE BELOW] From David Byrne, as part of his response to Zimmermann's opera Die Soldaten on his web site: There are lots of books exploring what the fuck happened with 20th century classical music, when many composers willfully sought to alienate the general public and create purposefully difficult, inaccessible music. Why would they do anything that perverse? Why would they not only make music that was hard to listen to, but also demand, as in the case of Zimmerman, that the piece be performed on twelve separate stages simultaneously, with … [Read more...]

The Czar of P&R

This month's Musicworks magazine contains an interview with me, written by editors Gayle Young and David McCallum, and titled "Pitch and Rhythm Guy," which is something I called myself during the course of the interview. The accompanying disc contains two pieces of mine, the final scene of Custer and Sitting Bull in its sparkling new rendition with the sounds redone by M.C. Maguire, and a keyboard piece called Triskaidekaphonia, which I've written about here before. Gayle and David generously let me ramble on about my music, including my … [Read more...]

From Gamma to Ut

John Luther Adams writes in with a note about using gamuts in composition:The use of gamuts is among the most practically useful aspects of our inheritance from Cage.When we freeze the tonal space, we shift the focus of our music away from the manipulation of notes to listening to the sounds. It doesn't matter whether the elements of a particular gamut are obviously related at the outset. When we hear the music, we hear the continuity, the continuum of the sounds. The use of interval controls (a la Harrison) does something similar. In fact, I … [Read more...]

Cage Query

[UPDATED] In February of 1948, John Cage gave a lecture at Vassar, heralding his intention to write a silent piece:I have, for instance, several new desires (two may seem absurd, but I am serious about them): first to compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to the Muzak Co. It will be [3 or] 4 1/2 minutes long - these being the standard lengths of "canned" music, and its title will be "Silent Prayer."(The second desire was to write a piece for radios, which resulted in Imaginary Landscape No. 4.) The words in brackets are often … [Read more...]

Wheels Turning

I'm beginning to wonder whether there is any discernible theoretical difference between Cage's "gamut" technique of the 1940s, by which he precompositionally limited what sonorities he would have available, and what I've been calling postminimalism all these years. I've been tempted all along to refer to Cage's pieces like The Seasons and In a Landscape and the 1950 String Quartet (and even Feldman's 1951 string quartet Structures) as "protopostminimalist," but now I'm beginning to question what purpose the "proto-" serves. If there is a … [Read more...]

Academy d’Underrated: Ljubica Maric

Musicologist Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic was here from Serbia, researching Cage at the John Cage Trust at Bard. Chair of musicology at Belgrade's University of the Arts, she's just published a book of essays on contemporary music in Serbian, and she's working on two more, in English: a series of interviews with Vinko Globokar, Yugoslavia's leading emissary to the Darmstadt crowd, and a book on Conlon Nancarrow's correspondence. Reading her preliminary chapter for the latter taught me a lot I didn't know about Nancarrow (did anyone know he urged … [Read more...]

A Triumph of Musicology

Amazingly, composer Mary Jane Leach now has all of the late Julius Eastman's available scores up as PDFs online, including the much-rumored symphony which, in predictable Eastman style, is titled Symphony No. 2. Good luck deciphering them. There is also a cleaner, annotated score of Crazy Nigger, significantly easier to read, made by Dutch composer-pianist Cees Van Zeeland, who arranged a performance of the piece this spring. I also have in my possession my own arrangement of Gay Guerilla for nine guitars, which I would be happy to send a PDF … [Read more...]