Genius Captured at Last

Since the incredible sound artist known as Trimpin disdains loudspeakers and makes his music via huge sculptural assemblages that place acoustic sounds throughout three-dimensional space, his music is virtually impossible to do justice to on recordings, and there are no CDs of Trimpin's music you can buy. As a result, one of the awesome musical geniuses of the early 21st century remains rather ridiculously unknown and little experienced. However, filmmaker Peter Esmonde has now completed his documentary Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, which … [Read more...]

Light Me Five Postclassical Candles

The official debut of my blog took place on the 51st anniversary of the premiere of 4'33", the birthday of Charlie Parker, Diamanda Galas, and Mark Morris, and unfortunately on the day of the year upon which, two years later, Katrina would hit New Orleans. At least three of those anniversaries have personal resonance for me. Five years later, I'm a little surprised to find myself still doing it. On the average, I've posted a new entry every two days and 53 minutes, a little short of the vague every-other-day goal I'd set; the shortfall all came … [Read more...]

Mouths of Babes

The following is a not entirely accurate introduction to John Cage's thought: In order to even begin to understand the music of John Cage, it is necessary to examine some of his most important philosophies and ideas whether you agree with them or not. First of all is his use of silence. Cage considers silence a very integral part of a piece of music, given equal important with the sounded notes. And in conjunction with this I would like to remind you that there is no such thing as total silence, except in a vaccuum; that wherever there are … [Read more...]

The Whine of the Amateur, the Cry of the Critic

In 1877 the art critic John Ruskin damned James McNeil Whistler's magnificent Nocturne in Black and Gold by saying he "had never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued, and wrote afterward:Over and over again did the Attorney General cry out aloud, in the agony of his cause, "What is to become of painting if the critics withhold their lash?"As well might he ask what is to become of mathematics under similar circumstances, were they possible. I maintain that two and two … [Read more...]

Sources of Originality

Unless I mistake my readership, most of you will recognize the following excerpts from John Cage's "Experimental Music: Doctrine" (1955), one of the first essays in Silence: QUESTION: I have noticed that you write durations that are beyond the possibility of performance.ANSWER: Composing's one thing, performing's another, listening's a third. What can they have to do with one another?...QUESTION: And timbre?ANSWER: No wondering what's next. Going lively on "through many a perilous situation." Did you ever listen to a symphony … [Read more...]

Upstaged by My Progeny Again

[UPDATED BELOW] Tomorrow night my son Bernard is playing at Lincoln Center. That is, he's one of 200 electric guitarists performing Rhys Chatham's The Crimson Grail at Lincoln Center Outdoors. I had no idea the piece was already recorded (with 400 guitars) on the intrepid Table of the Elements label, which makes me suspect they don't have my current address. The program is called "800 years of Minimalism," and includes the Beata Viscera organum of the 12th-century Notre Dame composer Perotin (whom Steve Reich cites as an influence on his early … [Read more...]

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World

If the purpose of American grad school, as I've long maintained, is to teach young people to write badly, then the function of intellectuals in American life is to paralyze discourse. Take the common and useful words subjective and objective. I used to give a lecture on how to write about music in which I would distribute the various types of journalism along a continuum from most subjective to most objective. And some young Turk who'd been in grad school would inevitably pipe up with, "There's no such thing as objectivity, ultimately … [Read more...]

Calling All Minimalismologists

I'm figuring out how to manage the Society for Minimalist Music web page. It's now got information for applying to the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music, which takes place in Kansas City September 2-6, 2009, as well as the specifics of the one-day conference at Goldsmiths coming up in London this September 13. Sorry information heretofore has been so... minimal. … [Read more...]

A Chord Sequence You’ve Never Heard

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one of the thrills of composing microtonally is the ability to write logical chord progressions and feel virtually certain that no one has ever heard them before. When I was young harmony was a nightmare for me, and for good reason: I'd been taught to use pitch sets like everyone else, which were not conducive to good voice-leading or subtle nuance. Circa 1983 I decided to break a well-trained taboo and go back to triads and sevenths chords, on the grounds that it was insane to deny myself musical … [Read more...]

Downtown Descends on Annandale

There used to be a town called Annandale-on-Hudson where Bard College is, but the school has pretty much devoured it; only about three non-college houses remain. Here are some of the new-music personalities who crowded around tonight. First, Stephen Scott of bowed piano fame, upstate postminimalist composer Mary Jane Leach partaking of the fest's official Magic Hat beer, and in the background my son Bernard wearing the official New Albion festival T-shirt (temperature tonight wasn't much above 55):Leach again, composer Ingram Marshall whose … [Read more...]

The New Music Scene Comes to Me

I have never had so many old friends converge in my home territory as this week for the New Albion festival at Bard - and it's only half over! The pic below is a poor-quality cell-phone photo (I'll bring my camera this next weekend), but it gives some idea of the festivities outside the Spiegeltent where everyone's performing. From left to right: pianist Joe Kubera, mystic poet Ione, composers Pauline Oliveros and Larry Polansky, pianist Sarah Cahill, and electronic sampling maven Carl Stone (Update: Sarah has written a lovely precis of the … [Read more...]

Mini-Minimalism Conference

The Society for Minimalist Music, of which I am a proud founding member, is having an appropriately minimal conference at Goldsmiths, University of London, on September 13, as a kind of appetizer to tide us all over until the big conference coming in September of 2009. The poster with official information is below. As it says, you can contact Keith Potter (estimable author of Four Musical Minimalists) for registration details at the e-mail given. I won't be there, but rather in Kansas City at the time, scouting out strategies for next year.  … [Read more...]

Ominous (Off-Topic) Rumblings

Thankfully, we live in an area that has not yet been visibly hard hit by the economic downturn. But on Sunday our fanciest local liquor store - the only one where I can find really high-end single-malt scotches - closed down after eight years, the first seven of which were quite prosperous. The owner told me that he's dependent on New Yorkers coming up from the city on weekends for much of his business, and they're just not coming this year - which has to indicate that other local businesses are suffering as well. Then yesterday, the lady who … [Read more...]