Acousmatics Versus Soundscapers

I truly wish that it had been my lifelong dream to publish books about music, because it comes all too easily to me and I could have fulfilled my dream in short order. Unfortunately, in the late 1960s it became my passion to write music and get it performed, which 40 years later I still find a more challenging proposition (the getting-performed part, I mean). Writing a book is a solitary occupation that sometimes actually pays for itself; putting out a CD requires tremendous enthusiasm from performers and cooperation from sound engineers, plus … [Read more...]

Cleaning Out My Office

Composers Neely Bruce, Kyle Gann, William Duckworth, and Anthony Coleman grouped around pianist Lois Svard, Lewisburg, PA, 1989 or '90.(Photo: Nancy Cook) … [Read more...]

Macho Meters

Anyone ready for another year of music theory talk? I did my annual shtick this week on odd meters. You can anticipate me: Holst's "Mars," the ancient Greek "Hymn to Apollo," and Brubeck's Take Five for quintuple meter; Pink Floyd's "Money" for seven; a long passage from Roy Harris's Seventh Symphony, plus a Bulgarian "Krivo Horo" for eleven; the "Blues" movement of Ben Johnston's Suite for microtonal piano for thirteen; Waylon Jennings's "Amanda" for fifteen; and the end of the first movement of my Desert Sonata for a long passage in 41/16 … [Read more...]

Cleaning Up a Life

John Cage's life is getting sorted out, but you need to pick and choose your sources. David Tudor and Morton Feldman were both Stefan Wolpe students, and nearly everyone says Cage met Tudor through Feldman, but actually (according to Tudor scholar John Holzaepfel), Tudor was also sometime accompanist for dancer Jean Erdman, in whose apartment Cage and Xenia ended up living when they first came to New York in 1942. (Cage and Feldman met January 26, 1950.) Cage knew Tudor first through Erdman.Nearly everyone, including Cage, says that he met … [Read more...]

Revising History

John Cage, in Silence:While Meister Eckhart was alive, several attempts were made to excommunicate him... None of the trials against him was successful, for on each occasion he defended himself brilliantly. However, after his death, the attack was continued. Mute, Meister Eckhart was excommunicated. (p. 193) In Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, 1981), medievalist scholar Edmund Colledge gives quite a different picture. Noting that one of Eckhart's "heresies" was a direct … [Read more...]

That Obscure Disc of Desire

One thing I could sure use before finishing this book on 4'33" is an obscure recording on the Korm Plastics label called 45'18" (Forty-five Minutes, Eighteen Seconds). It's a CD of nine versions of 4'33" by Thurston Moore, Keith Rowe, the Deep Listening Band, Voice Crack, and others. It doesn't seem to be available anywhere at the moment. Is there someone out there who could dupe me a copy, with program info? I'd gladly pay a reasonable price for a CDR. (I mean, I am paying basically for silence, but it's really important silence.)One of the … [Read more...]

Musically At Home in the Land of Fountains and BBQ

Wow - I've hiked Arches, I've been hit by an 18-wheeler in Atoka, Oklahoma, I've ordered a steak in Lincoln, Nebraska, I've been photographed in a cowboy hat in the Badlands, I've scoured the Little Bighorn battlefield, and the Memphis pyramid and St. Louis arch are overly familiar landmarks for me, but somehow in all my travels across this country I seem to have missed Kansas City - postminimalism capitol of the world - until this week. I was down there lecturing at the conservatory at UMKC (Mikel Rouse, alumnus) and hearing the newEar … [Read more...]

Browning on the Sonata

In my Sonata class I play the first movement of a sonata by Baldessare Galuppi, and then I read my second-favorite Robert Browning poem, A Toccata of Galuppi's. Along with Richard Wilbur's C Minor, it's one of my favorite music poems ever written:IOh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find! I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind; But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind! II Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it brings.  What, they lived once thus at Venice where the … [Read more...]

Up to Date in KC, No. 2

For the next few days I'll be in Kansas City. I'm giving a couple of lectures to historians and composers at the University of Missouri, and on Saturday evening, 8 PM (with a preconcert talk at 7:15), the town's premiere new music ensemble newEar is performing my 1991 work Chicago Spiral. The concert's at All-Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut Street.  Also on the program are Wayne Siegel's delightful Jackdaw, three pieces from David Lang's Child, Imanaka by very talented young Kansas City composer Scott Unrein, and Mysterious … [Read more...]

Compliment from the Grave

Please pardon my self-indulgence in mentioning this, but musicologist Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic sends me an excerpt from a letter she found in the Paul Sacher Stiftung from Nancarrow to Charles Amirkhanian, and she insists that I blog it. It says,I forgot to tell you, Kyle Gann is going to do my biography. Before I went to Germany he was here for a few days and we had a very pleasant visit. I had never heard of him before, but he brought a cassette of his music, and apart from being very simpatico he is a very good composer.It's especially … [Read more...]

The Right to Steal Shall Not Be Abridged

Occasionally teaching is indeed its own reward, even discounting the involvement of the students. This semester I'm teaching my Advanced Analysis Seminar, which I'm devoting to minimalist and postminimalist music (partly in advance of my postminimalism book, partly in anticipation of next September's minimalism conference). The idea of the seminar is that we work on pieces I haven't yet analyzed myself, so that instead of me telling them ex cathedra what I already know, we all go through the discovery process together, and they watch me do what … [Read more...]

Too Many Pitches in Urbana

I only learned today that innovative young microtonalist Jacob Barton is playing my keyboard sampler piece Fugitive Objects tonight at a microtonal marathon at the Red Herring Coffeehouse in Urbana, Illinois between 8 PM and 1 AM. It's happening as I write. Also on the program, according to Jacob: "Three Short Poems" set in 7-limit just intonation by Paul Kotheimer, some 17-equal songs accompanied by the çümbüs, a sort of Turkish banjo, and a minimalist jam "In Something Else" (In C but different phrases). Sounds wild. … [Read more...]

Scholarly Confirmation Requested

Everyone knows that Gita Sarabhai gave to John Cage the definition of the purpose of music that her teacher had given her: "to quiet the mind and render it susceptible to divine influences." And everyone knows that Cage found confirmation for this definition in the fact that his friend Lou Harrison found the same words in a 1676 publication by the lutenist Thomas Mace. But I've been through just about all of Mace's Musick's Monument, his only treatise on music and his only book published that year, and I can't find any such words. I haven't yet … [Read more...]