Resisting the Narrative

One of the things I love about Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music is its emphasis on how an evolving public narrative privileges some composers and marginalizes others. For instance, he writes about how when Ligeti came to Darmstadt, because he was Hungarian he had to rewrite (with Erno Lendvai's help) Bartok's reputation from that of a collector of folk music to that of a formalist using golden sections and axis systems. Communist Hungary needed to see Bartok as a champion of he proletariat (Lendvai's decadent-formalist book … [Read more...]

Doing the Wave Without a Sound

OK, you really do have to watch the video of Cage Against the Machine recording 4'33". Its good-natured absurdity would have made a joyful climax to my book, had I not already finished it. … [Read more...]

Chasing My Past with Harpoon and Row Matrix

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The semester is over, and so is my 12-tone analysis class, which made me work harder than any class I've ever taught. I added about 18 works to my analytical repertoire, including behemoths like Mantra, Sinfonia, Le Marteau, and Threni. Even having analyzed most of the music over the summer, I still spent most weekends checking rows and poring over dense JSTOR articles. And aside from me having wanted to learn all that stuff anyway, it was a continually rewarding class. I especially enjoyed showing the row matrix from Ben Johnston's String … [Read more...]

Direct Experience Is So Overrated, Apparently

For hundreds of years people believed that water contracts when it freezes. Why? Because Aristotle said so, and Aristotle was an unimpeachable authority. During hundreds of winters someone could have learned the truth and refuted the great man by leaving a bottle of water outside on a frosty night, but the force of authority overruled experience.Wikipedia operates by the same medieval principle. When I was researching Stockhausen's Mantra for my 12-tone class, I finally turned in some desperation to the Wikipedia page on the piece. It contains … [Read more...]

My Peripheral Consciousness is Tweaked

I suppose that people will keep e-mailing me until I acknowledge the "Cage Against the Machine" campaign in England, whereby musicians are trying to make a recording of 4'33" the hit single at Christmas time in order to irritate or otherwise inconvenience someone named Simon Cowell. I admire the wordplay, and am just hip enough to get the reference. On the chance that it might positively affect sales of my book, I hope they succeed. I presume Simon is no descendant of Henry. Otherwise, this falls into the same category as all the incessant … [Read more...]

Nothing to Say, and Saying It Again

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This Thursday, December 9, at 7 PM, I'll be giving a talk, "The Silences of John Cage," based on my 4'33" book, at the Unsound Lounge, presented by the Goethe Institute, 5 East 3rd St. between Bowery and 2nd Ave. in New York City. Hope to see some of you there.  … [Read more...]

Taking Away the Mystery

I had an interesting conversation with composer John Halle at a party last night. We were talking about how difficult it is to get information from books and articles about how certain serialist works were written. In European writings on the subject, and certain American academic writings as well, we agreed, it seems to be almost bad taste to state flatly how the rows are derived, what the rhythmic processes are, how the music is actually written. One is expected to know such matters but be coy in expressing them, and to talk more about the … [Read more...]

Surprise – It’s Me!

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I had a notice from the post office of a package waiting for me, so I stopped to pick it up on the way to school. It was a CD set. I get a lot of those sent to me. This one was Minimal Piano Collection Volume X-XX, a bunch of minimalist pieces for multiple pianos put together by Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen on the Brilliant Classics label. I had seen the first Volume (I-IX because it contains nine CDs) in Amsterdam, but hadn't bought it because I already had other recordings of some of the music. So I was glad to get this, and didn't think too … [Read more...]

November Again, in December

My article "Reconstructing November," detailing the process of coming up with a performance score for Dennis Johnson's epic 1959 piano piece, has just appeared in the journal American Music. I prefer not to repost it on the blog; it contains hardly any more information than I've already posted here, here, here, here, and here. It's available through JSTOR, or will be soon, I guess, for those who have access to that through their schools. This issue of American Music, by the way, is chock full of experimentalism: aside from myself, Maria Cizmic … [Read more...]

The Role of the Idea

I have an article on John Luther Adams's orchestral music coming out soon in a book about him. In it I describe a condition of his music that is not exclusive to him, and that I think could be profitably expanded upon. And since Carson Cooman and I are currently engaged in a thought-provoking correspondence on the role of the idea in experimental music, I'm moved to try to unfold the concept further here. My premise is that there are left-brain aspects of music, and right-brain aspects, that can occur independently. My beginning here owes much … [Read more...]

Ann Southam, 1937-2010

Warren Burt writes to tell me that Canadian composer Ann Southam died on Thanksgiving day. She only came to my attention two years ago when we both had pieces featured on the same Musicworks disc. So I don't yet know much about her except that her piano works In Retrospect and Simple Lines of Enquiry are attractively meditative, and seemingly process-oriented in a thoughtful, non-obvious way. Hopefully, as so often happens in such cases, we'll now be treated to a steady stream from her back catalogue. … [Read more...]

Cage in the Mind’s Repertoire

I find it a little odd that, to accompany John Coolidge Adams's review of Kenneth Silverman's new John Cage biography, the Times added a little side feature by asking Adams whether he actually listens to Cage's music. Adams's answer, in part: "It sounds absurd to say that Cage was 'hugely influential' and then admit you rarely listen to his music, but that's the truth for me, and I suspect it's the same for most composers I know." For the record, it's not true for me. In a Landscape, Experiences 1 & 2, Dream, and The Wonderful Widow of … [Read more...]

Prophets Outside their Own Country

I have in my possession a handsome book titled Musica per Pianoforte negli Stati Uniti - Piano Music of the United States - by pianist Emanuele Arciuli (EDT). It's in Italian, but I can read that there are sections on postminimalism and totalism in which I am quoted heavily. I see Daniel Lentz mentioned, and John Luther Adams, Eve Beglarian, Janice Giteck, William Duckworth, Harold Budd, Jerry Hunt, Jonathan Kramer, Ingram Marshall, Mary Jane Leach, Elodie Lauten, Peter Garland, David First, Jerome Kitzke, and other names that formed the daily … [Read more...]