A Little Slow with the Index Cards

Speaking of Robert Ashley, I had a wonderful moment interviewing him a couple of weeks ago. We covered his entire life up to 1979, and then hit Perfect Lives. Of course I think Perfect Lives (then titled Private Parts) was the onset of the spectacular part of Ashley's career, the moment at which he transcended the post-Cage conceptualist movement he was a player in. The piece will get an entire chapter in my upcoming book. And as we discussed it I learned that I had been involved in the world premiere. On October 24, 1979 - I have the poster … [Read more...]

Young Avant-Gardists at Play

Anyone remember this?This is the submission under the name "Dennis" in the 1963 book An Anthology edited by La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low, and of course it's Dennis Johnson. (Sorry, I have an obsessive personality, and right now the latest of many, many obsessions is Dennis Johnson. Next up: Robert Ashley.) You may recall the book as a collection of outrageous avant-garde gestures and essays (I saw a copy on sale at Dia Beacon recently with a hefty price tag), and this letter from Dennis came as a loose piece of paper in an envelope pasted … [Read more...]

Notating Dennis

I've come up with what I think is a comfortable performance notation for Dennis Johnson's November. It's all noteheads in a pulseless continuum, but I needed to preserve his motivically significant phrasing without imposing any kind of rhythmic grid. So I made a Sibelius score of 5/4 measures, each lasting ten seconds at 8th-note = 60, and within that placed each note where its attack point comes on the tape, to the nearest 16th-note. Then I went through and deleted all rests, stems, and bar lines, reducing the music to stemless noteheads. The … [Read more...]

Trying to Remember that Kind of November

I'm almost done transcribing and analyzing Dennis Johnson's November, the ostensively six-hour 1959 piano piece that La Monte Young says inspired him to embark on The Well-Tuned Piano. I've listed some of November's innovations elsewhere. If it was indeed the first multi-hour continuous minimalist piece, the first tonal very slow work, the piece that pioneered additive process - and it may have been all that - those in themselves are enough to make it worth reviving and getting into the history books. But beyond that, I've become more and more … [Read more...]

Slam, Bam, Thank You, Professor

I'm back from a job interview in England, which was an exciting and peculiar event. I'll suppress the details, but I'm told by my British friends that my experience was entirely typical of UK academia, albeit startlingly different from the typical American process. British schools, it seems, interview all their candidates on the same day. So the four other hopefuls and I spent the day in the faculty lounge chatting, each of us dragged out one by one for our one 20-minute presentation and 30-minute interview. Only one faculty member did I talk … [Read more...]

Techno-Scammed Again

A couple of years ago, tired of endemic printer problems, I splurged on a big Hewlett Packard Color Laser 2600n. It uses four huge ink cartidges, the black costing $85 and the three color ones $95 each, but I was assured that they held so much ink that they'd last forever and I'd save money in the long run. Now - I print thousands of black-and-white pages a year, and maybe three or four color pages, when I need a Google map. But when the black cartridge runs out on this machine, it seems that I automatically get a message to replace the other … [Read more...]

Drawing the Connections

Back in Evanston, Illinois, in the early '80s, I used to know Evelyn Becker, the widow of composer John J. Becker. Becker is the member of the "American Five" that you can never think of, unless you also can't remember Wallingford Riegger. Riegger was a Communist, and Mrs. Becker reported that he had scandalized her by writing John letters that began, "Dear Comrade...." "After all," she shuddered, "we were good Catholics!" In 1933-34, John Cage moved to New York at Henry Cowell's advice, to study with Adolph Weiss - but also found himself … [Read more...]

When Morty Met Stefan

I'm reading Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964-1987, edited by Chris Villars. It's not quite as chock-packed with quotable gems as Give My Regards to Eighth Street, but there's a wealth of details I didn't know about Feldman's views, enough to power a whole other blog with.  For instance, in 1980 Austin Clarkson interviewed Morty about his teacher Stefan Wolpe, and asks him about Ernst Krenek: MF: Well, you see, what Krenek didn't do, what Stefan did was that he was a competitor. Krenek felt the fact that he had a … [Read more...]

Caution, Slow Listener

That my readers' defenses of Dvorak are falling on deaf ears says something about my own compositional technique which has been on my mind lately. It's not that I don't find Dvorak's music well crafted, but that his unit of craft is too often the one- or two-measure phrase, bounded by bar-lines. In my own music, I am obsessed with making the bar-line disappear. I don't have a lot of particular things I pick on students about, but a passage like the one I quoted from the New World Symphony, if a student had brought it to me, would drive me nuts. … [Read more...]

Sic ‘omm!

A site is now up for the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music that David McIntire and I are directing at the University of Missouri at Kansas City September 2-6. You can register, find out about performances, make housing arrangements, and so on. We'll be adding more details to the site as we firm up the schedule. … [Read more...]

Procrastinating with Percy

I don't care what the airline authorities say, Joe Biden is right. I walked onto the plane in Albany feeling fine, and walked off in Chicago two hours later with a cold. And I heard the guy sneeze behind me, big. Second cold this month, and I always get one when I fly. The dean's office is waiting for my final grades, but it's a beautiful summer day out on my screened-in porch. Which raises the question, how do people without blogs get out of doing the work people are expecting from them? Poor excuse-less schmucks must have to keep their noses … [Read more...]

My Fictional Professor

A new novel by Lori Andrews called Immunity contains a character named Peter Gena, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who creates computerized programs that turn the DNA sequences of various diseases into pieces of music. Although Peter is not truly fictional: in fact, he was my composition teacher in grad school at Northwestern, and he really does make a wide variety of scintillating pieces for Disklavier and other electronics from DNA sequences. Andrews heard about him through a mutual geneticist friend whom Peter … [Read more...]