A Knack for Mediation

If nature is not enthusiastic about explanation, why should Tschaikowsky be? - Ives, Essays Before a Sonata I suppose I shouldn't be so enthusiastic about explanation. It's a reaction to frustrations of my youth, in which there was so much information I couldn't get access to: all those years of knowing the names La Monte Young and Charlemagne Palestine, and not being able to hear their music, all those hints of how Le marteau was written in Boulez's On Music Today, but the final key withheld. Composers like Boulez build up a mystique by … [Read more...]

What’s Good for the Goose

Every composer has his champions, and I'm always happy to see people leap to a favorite composer's defense. It gives me a warm feeling inside, actually, even if I don't much care for the composer's music myself, because I think, "Someday that could be my music someone like that is defending." A friend whose tastes otherwise often parallel mine recently admitted that Feldman's music drove him up a wall, which I find amusing, rather than threatening. I have lived all my life with musicians around me putting down my favorite music. One of my … [Read more...]

Confessions of a Closet Midtowner

I live 50 miles from Tanglewood, but I've never been there until today. Not my kind of crowd - too much Mozart and Carter, not nearly enough Glenn Branca and Eliane Radigue. But I've also never heard Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" Symphony live until today, and the temptation smashed my resistance. "Age of Anxiety" is kind of a piano concerto, and I worked on the piano solo part in high school because I loved it so much. My old friend, former student (from 20 years ago), and sometime employer Tony DeRitis got me a ticket for the Boston … [Read more...]

Maybe You Can Still Get One There

Anybody know the musicological significance of this location?:[UPDATE] Wow, I'm glad I didn't promise an easy handout for that one. I suppose Partch didn't get a free meal there himself, just copied an inscription from someone who had. All these famous addresses in Partch's Barstow: I wonder if any of the people living there have any idea. You click on that blue square and it opens an information panel that says that house (next door) just sold for $449,000! In this economy! … [Read more...]

Agony Pays Off

Here's a preliminary version of my new piece, Solitaire (14:05). It's the piece I wrote about recently that I agonized over the tuning for for a week, 29 pitches to the octave. It's both a solitary piece and a private game. The recording needs a little finessing. More about it later.[UPDATE:] I think I've solved the problem of the inaudible bass line, and the whole thing sounds better on my laptop speakers than it did at first. … [Read more...]

Creep into the, oh forget it

Draw a straight line and follow it.Apparently I've just broken copyright law. I can't believe what's holding up my Cage book: you are no longer allowed to quote texts that are entire pieces of art. This means I've been trying to get permission simply to refer to Fluxus pieces like La Monte Young's "This piece is little whirlpools in the middle of the ocean," and Yoko Ono's "Listen to the sound of the earth turning." And of course, Yoko (whom I used to know) isn't responding, and La Monte is imposing so many requirements and restrictions that I … [Read more...]

The Return of Dr. Ch-ch-ch-ch-chicago

One of the things I needed to research for my Robert Ashley book was the Dr. Chicago films made by George Manupelli at the end of the ONCE festival era, 1968-71. I had seen them at Wesleyan University in, I believe, 1994, at a festival of Alvin Lucier's music - because they star Alvin Lucier. (At right are pictured Manupelli and Lucier during the filming of Cry Dr. Chicago, 1971.) Lucier had a famous and ferocious stutter which he and others made musical use of, and it is certainly part of the character here. Ashley did the sound and music for … [Read more...]

The Rest Is Falsehood

Speaking of titular colonicity (a term that has entered my vocabulary permanently), as we were, there's another universal constant in academic writing that sends shivers up my spine: "lies outside the scope of this paper." (I just Googled it and got 335,000 sites.) It appears so consistently once in every academic paper that you couldn't force me to write it with two thugs twisting my arm. And yet, when I wrote my article "La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano" for Perspectives of New Music, the editors inserted it: As one moves around the … [Read more...]


Since my book for Yale is part of a series (first in the series: The Hamburger: A History), I didn't think I would have any choice over the title, but it turns out they wanted me to come up with one, and so it's going to be No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33". I'm not much of a fan of colons in titles, considering them an academic affectation, but I don't think this one was avoidable. I had been worrying about how I was going to finesse being "the author of 4'33"," or "the author of John Cage's 4'33"." Colons in titles of musicology … [Read more...]

Original Instrument Movement Meets Avant-Garde

Curtis MacDonald has made a piece with samples of Conlon Nancarrow's player pianos, which don't sound like normal pianos. On one of them Conlon covered the hammers with steel straps, on the other he put leather straps capped with a metal tack. Like Lou Harrison's tack piano, they sound harsh and kind of honky-tonk, almost like harpsichords, and Conlon clearly came to rely on the extra clarity they gave his thick polyphony; I once heard Study No. 48 on a regular big Disklavier grand, and it sounded like mush. MacDonald's piece makes me realize … [Read more...]

Some People Can’t Take a Compliment

Beethoven had to churn, to some extent, to make his message carry. He had to pull the ear, hard and in the same place and several times...Charles Ives, Essays Before a SonataAh, it's like the old days again - just when I think the blogosphere has finally resignedly inured itself to Kyle Gann, furor can again erupt. I apparently mortified a number of people by mentioning, in a brief aside, what I thought was one of the most bare-faced facts in the musical universe, that Beethoven was not a subtle composer. (You can look up the comments.) Some … [Read more...]

Unidentified Rolling Objects

You know, I'm sitting here in my office doing creative work on Digital Performer, and I've had a couple of Nancarrow queries lately from people doing intensive analytical work on him, and it occurs to me that I've got all these Nancarrow player piano rolls as MIDI information on my computer, including more than 60 that were found in his studio that don't correspond to the canonical studies (and I do mean canonical, not canonic). Nancarrow was hypercritical of his own music, and, I think, consigned to oblivion some pieces just as good as some of … [Read more...]

A Procession of Earth Pigs

With some slight hesitation I post a new and rather comical work to the internet. It was supposed to be titled Triskaidekaphonia 2 because it uses the same tuning as my piece Triskaidekaphonia, but it turned out so programmatic that I couldn't leave it with such an abstract title. So it's The Aardvarks' Parade (click to listen, just over ten minutes), in honor of an animal with which I had a childhood fascination. For the first time ever I've written a microtonal piece in a scale I'd already used before, and it's the simplest one I've ever … [Read more...]