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...]

Start Your Day

...with a nice microtonal piano piece by Chris Vaisvil using the Pianoteq system tuned to a segment of the harmonic series. Pianoteq is supposedly the state of the art digital piano simulator; I had never bought it because at first it wasn't fully retunable, but apparently that's changed. Good news. … [Read more...]

A Serenade Out of Season

I've loved George Rochberg's Serenata d'Estate (Summer Serenade) since I was in high school. Yesterday, for the first time, I finally analyzed it in the classroom. The little repeated-note gestures in the senza battute sections:have always reminded me of similar figures in George Crumb (Eleven Echoes of Autumn, Mikrokosmos I, and other works): In fact, such figures don't appear again in other Rochberg works I know (though I'm sure I've heard only half of his output at best), but they become very important in Crumb's 1970s music. Rochberg wrote … [Read more...]

Safe Haven for Us Oddballs

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of lecturing on Cage and my own music at the Hartt School in Hartford, at the invitation of Robert Carl and Ken Steen. I'm always joking with them about doing endorsements for the place, and I might as well proceed. Hartt is one of the few graduate schools I recommend for my own students and for those who share my anti-establishment musical interests - others are CalArts, Mills College, Yale, and Wesleyan. But Yale and Wesleyan accept only a tiny number of students and are all but impossible to get into; Hartt … [Read more...]

Thought for the Day

Composer Andrew Violette writes in to tell me that the only movement of 4'33" he really likes is the second. The others, he says, are too short. … [Read more...]

An Art Jarvinen Portrait

There were so many sides to Art Jarvinen that I can't possibly represent most of them here, but I offer several drops from his mercurial musical output, some of them commercially unavailable, others on extremely obscure labels:Egyptian Two-Step - the first piece I heard, and which made me sit up and take notice with its aerosol spray cans as percussion, performed by the E.A.R. UnitBreaking the Chink - performed by Icebreakerfrom Sgt. Pecker, his Beatles parody:Taller than JesusMan, My Guitar Playing Really ReeksWhere Can I Bury My Shark?9 … [Read more...]

The Great Art Jarvinen, 1956-2010

[TWO UPDATES BELOW] I begin the morning blindsided by the terrible news that one of the wildest and most imaginative composers of my generation, Art Jarvinen, has passed away at age 54. He was a bassist, percussionist, and co-founder of the California E.A.R. Unit, and one of the most thoroughly integrated rock-classical musicians around. His pieces Murphy Nights and The Paces of Yu were staples of my totalist lectures. He put out a scabrously funny Beatles satire CD called Sgt. Pecker. He sent me transcriptions of music he'd played with Captain … [Read more...]

Cakes for Oneself

I was happy to read this in the New York Times, in an essay by novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours):I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand -- that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between … [Read more...]

The Rest Is Sometimes Silence

Alex Ross has penned a long, informative essay on John Cage in this week's New Yorker (subscription required to read the whole thing, but you all subscribe, right?) which kindly quotes my 4'33" book at various points. More informatively to me, it also relies heavily on the new biography of Cage, Begin Again by Kenneth Silverman, which looks to be admirably thorough and chock full of new information, and which Amazon lists as due to appear Oct. 19. One bit I didn't know: I'm on record as being a little dubious about Schoenberg's having … [Read more...]

My Chicago Roots

I've always had a fascination with canons, even long before I wrote a book about a composer (Nancarrow) whose major works were mostly canons. In the late 1980s, when I was in the habit of lecturing on the history of Chicago's new-music scene at the School of the Art Institute and other places, I ran across, in a Chicago used bookstore, a little book called Canonical Studies, by Bernhard Ziehn (1845-1912, pictured). I recognized the name. Ziehn was one of two German composer-theorists who were living in Chicago when Ferruccio Busoni toured … [Read more...]