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...]

Schroeder’s Minions

I am quoted in Rick Schulz's article about the toy piano as serious instrument in last Sunday's L.A. Times. It's a preview piece for a toy piano concert being given by Phyllis Chen this coming Sunday. The thing that Rick and I discussed that didn't get in the article - and having written for daily papers myself, I completely understand what limitations kept it out - was that, before Margaret Leng Tan began championing the instrument, composer Wendy Chambers had commissioned a whole repertoire of works for it in the late 1980s, including my own … [Read more...]

The Relentless Resurgence of 1981

Many of you know that in the early 1980s magnetic recording tape was made via some kind of process that facilitated quick deterioration, and that you can reclaim tapes from that era by baking them. Eric Bruskin has kindly done that for some reel-to-reel tapes of my own early music and several early postminimalist pieces by Peter Gena, my grad school composition teacher and (since he was only eight years senior) close friend. I hadn't heard any of these in many years. Peter's pieces - Beethoven in Soho, Unchained Melodies, Stabiles - First … [Read more...]

Coincidences Happen

Heavens, I've gotten so involved here that I've forgotten to publicize a second performance I have today. Pianist Aron Kallay is playing three of my microtonal keyboard works this afternoon, Fugitive Objects and the world premieres of Triskaidekaphonia and New Aunts. The concert is at 3 PM at Ramo Recital Hall at the University of Southern California, 820 West 34th Street, Los Angeles. My apologies for the late notification. Aron is doing very interesting-sounding graduate work on microtonal keyboard performance. I won't be there because I'm a … [Read more...]

Composing Generously

Sacramento - Harold Meltzer's new sextet Brion, played by the Cygnus Ensemble here at Sacramento State last night, opened with a quiet piccolo solo playing the same motive over and over. It was a high note followed by several staccato repetitions of a low note. Pianissimo string chords played underneath. At first the relation between them was tonal, but it branched out into bitonality and mild dissonance. Lasting maybe a virtual minute in experienced musical time, it was lovely. But what was better was that, almost halfway through the piece, … [Read more...]

The Trouble with Serialism

Though I've done it in other cases, I see little point in posting the keynote address I delivered yesterday for Sacramento State's 31st (!) annual new-music festival. The bulk of my spiel, about why the so-called American maverick composers aren't really loners but a pretty tightly-knit group, was sewn together from bits of material already available on this blog. But toward the end I changed subject and addressed another issue that's been on my mind lately, and I've been meaning to bring it up anyway. So I've adapted and expanded it for the … [Read more...]

Fear vs. Hope: Fear Lost

I'm from Texas, but the family story is that during the Civil War my ancestors were Northern sympathizers. One great grand-uncle was hung by the Confederacy for giving shoes to a Union soldier. I'm also a Civil War buff, and have read dozens of histories of it and visited more than 30 battlefields. And it feels like the Civil War finally ended tonight, with me here to see it happen. Not only because an eloquent Black man became president, but because Nixon's "Southern strategy" finally crashed to ignominious failure. I couldn't be happier. God … [Read more...]

Back with the Swallows

I'll be in California the second half of this week. I've been invited to Sacramento State's annual Festival of American Music. I'm involved in the following three events:Nov. 6: Thursday at noon, I start the event by giving the keynote address in the Music Recital Hall. Nov. 7: Friday at 10 AM, I give a Composer's Forum on my music in Capistrano Hall, room 205.Nov. 9: Sunday at 7 PM I give a pre-concert talk (Capistrano Hall 151) prior to a concert in the Music Recital Hall by the Seattle Chamber Players. My old Seattle friends will be playing … [Read more...]