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...]

Symphonic Slide

Listen to this eleven-minute excerpt, and don't bother clicking unless you'll commit to the whole thing. It's the ending of David First's Pipeline Witness Apologies to Dennis, and I hope the mp3 format doesn't dumb it down too much. First's new three-disc set Privacy Issues, on Phill Niblock's XI label, is the greatest new recording I've heard in awhile, and I've been relistening to it every few days. It's all drone-based works from the last 14 years. David's work is sometimes (amazingly) solo and sometimes ensemble; I picked an ensemble piece … [Read more...]

Reeling from a Masterpiece

In anticipation of a seminar I'm teaching on the Concord Sonata next spring, I'm finally reading through the selected Ives correspondence published a few years ago by Tom C. Owens (U. of California Press). I feel a little guilty reading the sweetie-pie letters between Ives and Harmony during their engagement, never meant for my prying eyes, but I'm fascinated by the responses he received to the Concord itself when he mailed out privately published copies to total strangers in 1921. This one was from John Spencer Camp, a Hartford music … [Read more...]

The Aging Professor

I am surprised to realize how much difference age makes in my teaching routine. Generally speaking, the older I get, the less students pay attention to me - and, admittedly, the less patience I often have for them. This doesn't apply to the students who have a particular interest in my areas of specialization, nor to the ones whose ambitions I applaud and encourage. Those students are as devoted as ever. But it does seem to apply to the casual students, the ones who take my general theory courses to fulfill requirements. I can guarantee that … [Read more...]

Reputations Never Die

I occasionally get invited lately to visit music departments and lecture about my own music "and/or the current scene." I appreciate that one of my functions in academia is that I will expose the students to crazy music that the resident faculty won't touch with a ten-foot pole. But I'm always surprised that anyone ever supposes that, given the choice of talking about my own music or someone else's, I would ever waste a sentence on someone else's. For one thing, I know very little about the current scene: I can describe the Downtown scene of … [Read more...]