Delayed Gratification

...is my middle name. Lucky I have a glacial attention span. After 15 years of working intermittently with the Relache ensemble, I finally got to hear the rest of my Planets last night, and I'm so happy with them. I'm posting mp3s for all the movements, at least until the recording comes out in the fall. There are a few patches from rehearsal takes due to note flubs and one violent stream of audience coughing:SunMoonVenusMarsJupiterMercurySaturnUranusNeptunePlutoThe whole piece lasts 70 minutes and change. I recommend reading the program … [Read more...]

“Motel rooms had lost their punch for him…”

It's official: my next book will be on the life and works of Robert Ashley, one of my favorite composers, and one of my favorite people on the planet. It's for the University of Illinois Press's series on American composers, the first two of which are excellent books on John Cage (by David Nicholls) and Lou Harrison (by Leta Miller). I've gotten sucked into the short-book industry. I'm still grinding away on that Music After Minimalism book, which is a huge project and keeps changing shape, but it has seemed professionally expedient for me to … [Read more...]

Online Articles Lost to Memory

Chicago critic Marc Geelhoed nicely noted my upcoming return to Chicago, and in so doing, noted that some eleven of my articles for the Chicago Reader, starting from 1987, are available online. I had no idea. In fact, I'd forgotten that I continued writing for the Reader so long after I joined the Village Voice, up through spring 1989 - just three months before I left Chicago for good. I've linked the available articles from my web site (scroll down a little, the titles are in green) - interviews with Harold Budd, Peter Gena, Elodie Lauten, … [Read more...]

The Art of Humiliating Dead Composers

A student, preparing for her senior recital, asked me how to write program notes, and I knew just what to tell her. I'll pass on my recipe. You need three kinds of sources. First, copy (assuming you can computer-access it) the entire article on the composer from Grove Online, just so you have the accepted skeletal facts in front of you and won't go astray. Next, assuming the composer is moldy enough, check out books of two kinds: an old-fashioned biography, pre-WWII if possible, of the conventional myth-making variety, and then a more recent … [Read more...]

Post-Rehearsal Musings

Big rehearsal for The Planets today. "Mercury": lightning fast, ripping atonal scales, constant meter changes from 3/4 to 15/16 to 11/16, different tempos at the same time like 8-against-9 - went great, sounded perfectly secure. "Saturn": slow, plodding pulse, rhythms in quarter- and 8th-notes - had a hell of a time pulling it together. I remember this from my early days as a competent pianist: difficult music is a lot easier to play than easy music. Scriabin's fiery D#-minor Etude, with its relentless triplets and huge leaps, used to just fall … [Read more...]

Roll Over, Holst

I'll be on the road and in the air all week, first Philadelphia and then Chicago. Thursday night, as the above poster indicates, will be the culmination of a 15-year dream - though the official premiere of all ten movements won't come until September. The Planetarium has arranged some awesome-sounding outer-space video to accompany my pieces. Sarah Cahill nudges me that I missed mentioning two recent performances: on May 8 she played my War Is Just a Racket again among the works in her "A Sweeter Music" project on the Wayward Music Series at … [Read more...]

The Orchestral Mystique

I'm not one of the composers who's allowed to write for orchestra much, so I don't teach orchestration. But I do have my own little orchestrational experimentation sandbox, which is that my composition students write orchestra pieces that get played when they graduate. So for a year they double clarinets with oboes, and voice brass chords with the horn on top, and ask me what I think, and I mumble things like, "I dunno," "Looks good to me," "Yeah, that might work." And you know what? Almost everything works. I heard two of my students' pieces … [Read more...]

Silence as Pretext for Pizza

The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago has an ongoing art exhibition called "Several Silences," and they invited me to lecture in connection with it Sunday, May 31, at 2:00. Here's their description of the exhibition:Titled after an essay by the late philosopher and literary theoretician Jean-Francois Lyotard, Several Silences is a group exhibition exploring various kinds of silence. As a discourse, the aesthetic of silence has been thoroughly domesticated within the visual arts. Although silence as a discourse in art arose out of … [Read more...]

Deafening Growls of a Composer’s Son

I'm not initiated into the MySpace phenomenon, and have no MySpace page nor any wish to have one. But it has finally dawned on me that my son's "black metal" band Liturgy has one. They have a CD coming out this fall - with accompanying vinyl 12-inch - on the label 20 Buck Spin, which is apparently a big deal in black metal terms. (Larger or smaller than "new-music" terms? I wonder.) If you watch the video at the bottom of their page, Bernard is the guitarist in the white shirt. I think maybe I shouldn't have played those Borbetomagus records … [Read more...]

Teaching Artists to Fail

A composition student of mine, mature and centered beyond his years, wrote a song cycle this semester. He wrote all the voice lines first. When it came to write the accompaniments, we threw around a lot of ideas. His ultimate choices were the simplest ones possible: arpeggiated triads in one case, changing drones in another. I had two impulses. One was a sense of disappointment, that I hadn't been able to get him to try something a little more complicated and "artistic." The other was that his solution was effective, that it would be … [Read more...]

Gannian AIFFs on Plastic Alert

Two recording projects I was excited about got delayed for a year for economic reasons (and this was before the crash), but they're now back on track. First, on Thursday, May 28, at 7 PM, the Relache ensemble will give a partial performance of my The Planets at Fels Auditorium in Philadelphia (222 N. 20th St., 215-448-1254). They'll play the six planets we hadn't recorded yet: Uranus, Mercury, Moon, Venus, Saturn, Pluto. It's in conjunction - to use the astrological term - with the Planetarium's exhibit, "Galileo, the Medici, and the Age of … [Read more...]

“So Near to My Inmost Self…”

I taught Mahler today in my 19th-century harmony class. I never teach Mahler without teaching Hans Rott. Rott (1858-1884) was a fellow student of Mahler's at Vienna Conservatory, and for a time Mahler's roommate. Rott went mad and died at the age of 25, after completing a symphony that sounds remarkably like Mahler. Rott wrote his symphony in 1878-1880; Mahler's First Symphony dates from 1884-1888. If you heard the scherzo of Rott's symphony without identification, you would swear it was some unknown Mahler work: it is identical in style, … [Read more...]