The Twelve Tones of Christmas

[Update below] The last thing I should be thinking about right now is teaching, following my release from it last Friday. But I'm designing, for next fall, a course that I've threatened to teach for years: 12-tone Analysis. I've been recycling the same courses (Renaissance counterpoint, 18th-century sonata, 19th-century harmony, 20th-century analysis) for years, and if I don't come up with something new I'll bore myself to death. I even had a vivid dream that I was teaching a serialism course, and woke up excited about it, until I started … [Read more...]

A Snapshot of Life Circa 2009

I've kept you too long in suspense about the upshot of Saturday night's thingNY concert, which took place during a momentous blizzard that must have cut heavily into its audience. The evening consisted, not of pieces by all the composers on the program, but of just about everything the group got back in response to their mass e-mail, including a few "unsubscribe" messages, a Halloween greeting, some jpegs, a description of a piece submitted with way too large an instrumentation, some mp3s, and about half a dozen pieces, like mine, written for … [Read more...]


Several weeks ago I got an e-mail from some ensemble called thingNY purporting to offer a farflung, general spam commission for works to perform. The ensemble was listed as clarinet, saxophone, percussion, voice, violin, and cello. Now, you may recall that on my Amsterdam sabbatical I had the pants charmed off me by a local street-music group of clarinets, accordions, sax, and drum, and ever since then I've been itching to write something loud and fast for that combination. With its clarinet, sax, and drum, thingNY was close enough. I checked … [Read more...]

Thawing the Scale

Someone has finally come up with an easily retunable piano. Looks (and sounds) a little more like a clavichord, actually, and while I'm pleased about the retuning, each string appears to have only about a whole tone's leeway. You're still more or less limited to 12 pitches to the octave, but there's a lot you can do with that: not only meantone and other historical temperaments, but the tunings of most of the standard pieces for retuned piano: Ben Johnston's Suite for Microtonal Piano, The Well-Tuned Piano, The Harp of New Albion, and so on. … [Read more...]

Kierkegaard, Strolling through Toronto

Kierkegaard, Walking is one of my favorite of my works; I look through the score and get a smile from every measure. My former student Max Scheinin, a violinist, has arranged a performance of it for this Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 PM at St. Anne's Anglican Church in Toronto, 270 Gladstone Ave. The other performers are Jamie Thompson, flute; Camilo Davila, clarinet; and Lucas Tensen, cello. Other composers on the program include Bernstein, Bach, and Nils Vigeland, a superb composer who worked closely with Feldman as part of the Creative … [Read more...]

Keeping Good Company

I had expected to have two new CDs and a book out this fall, but two of them have been delayed until February. One of the CDs, however, has arrived, titled The Minimalists, by the Orkest de Volharding on Mode Records (Mode 214/5). It's a two-CD set, and the lineup consists of:Steve Reich: City LifeTerry Riley: In CLouis Andriessen: Worker's UnionKyle Gann: Sunken CityJohn (Coolidge) Adams: Short Ride in a Fast MachineDavid Lang: StreetSunken City, of course, is my piano concerto commemorating the disaster in New Orleans that attended hurricane … [Read more...]

Maryanne Amacher (1943-2009)

[For emendation to the above dates, see updates below.] The music world lost one of its most bizarre characters today, and I say that with the utmost affection. Maryanne Amacher was an amazing composer of sound installations, who occasionally taught courses at Bard. I first encountered her in 1980 at New Music America in Minneapolis. She had, as was her wont, fitted an entire house with loudspeakers, and the staff was in a state of jitters because at opening time she was still obsessively running around and changing things. She was a tireless … [Read more...]

Total Heaviosity

Liturgy opening the New Yorker Festival, October 16, 2009: Tyler Dusenbury, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Greg Fox, Bernard Gann. Listen here. The photo completely fails to convey the high-energy maelstrom of their strumming.  … [Read more...]

Silence and Noise

This Friday night, Oct. 16, my son's black metal band Liturgy plays at the New Yorker festival, at the Bell House in Brooklyn, 149 7th Street, 8 PM. The event is listed as already sold out, but I'm supposed to be on a guest list. I just heard the band play live on WFMU. Their new CD Renihilation is out on the 20 Buck Spin label. It's ecstatic, in a loud and rhythmically propulsive sort of way. Even my former newspaper seems to think they're a strange but inspired choice for the festival. Not sure what that means, except that maybe it took my … [Read more...]

Upcoming Appearances

Several performances of my music, or in which I am involved, are coming up. First of all, percussionist Andy Bliss will play my vibraphone piece Olana on a concert in Chicago this Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Chicago Temple, 77 Washington Street, at 2 PM. The concert, a duo with pianist Mabel Kwan, also includes pieces by John Luther Adams, Julia Wolfe, Eve Beglarian, Alvin Singleton, and others - looks like a great lineup.Sarah Cahill is giving several performances of her A Sweeter Music project, on October 12 in New York City, October 18 at the … [Read more...]

A Slope of Rugrats

Lord, am I enjoying wallowing in this wonderful recording of Sarah Cahill playing my transcription of Harold Budd's Children on the Hill from a few weeks ago at the Second International Minimalism Conference. Near the end of the fast part, every key change could signal a return to the A section, and every one that doesn't is a heartbreaking reassurance that the heaven of the piece isn't about to end yet. It's been a long teaching week, so I'm not in the mood to discuss why one should never, ever transcribe and recreate a recording of an … [Read more...]

The Things You Can Steal from Students

As you may know, I love using Sibelius to generate wacky rhythms, but one of my students, Ben Raker, showed me some in a piece of his today (50 minutes long!) that I'd never tried. For some reason I've generally shied away from tuplets-within-tuplets, but Ben had come up (accidentally, he admitted, by punching the tuplet button twice instead of once) with a scheme for a quasi-irrational but actually elegantly geometric acceleration and ritard:Hear the result here.I quickly realized you could get more gradual patterns with larger numbers:Hear … [Read more...]