The Blind Alleys of Criticism

A particularly invidious form of comparison arises when critics appoint themselves to the rank of H[er]. M[ajesty's]. Customs and Excise officers whose function it is to spot composers smuggling contraband ideas from one work to another. To ask a composer if he has anything to declare while he is busily unrolling his music to public view is not a very intelligent question. Each act of composition is a declaration. If it did not owe something to somebody it would be intelligible to nobody. Elgar may be said to have "smuggled" the closing pages … [Read more...]

New Horizons in Terminology

I play around a lot with microtones in class when I probably shouldn't. My counterpoint students, for some reason (and they're not the first class to do so) find the Picardy third hilarious. One day I ended a three-part counterpoint in aeolian with a major third, A-C#, and they laughingly objected. So I offered to split the difference with them and made it a quarter-tone C half-sharp (a lovely 11/9 interval). I played the result with Sibelius's pitch-bend plug-in, and it was deliciously sour. One student immediately dubbed it the "Picardy … [Read more...]

Add Your Name

I will generally not use this blog as a forum to draw attention to other events, artists, or organizations, but this one is just too important. Sign up. UPDATE: In fact, the following comment in reaction to a Times article about the UC Davis pepper spray incident is enough to make me return (temporarily) to blogging political: The police use of violence to quash a peaceful protest serves one aim, and one aim only--to intimidate those on campus and off campus from engaging in lawful, peaceful protest throughout our cities. Living in Chapel … [Read more...]

The Score So Far

Björk - 46 Voltaire - 317 Marlo Thomas - 73 Rene Magritte - 113 Friedrich Schleiermacher - 243 Goldie Hawn - 66 Coleman Hawkins - 107 Judith Shatin - 62 Kyle Gann - 56 … [Read more...]

Correctly Pigeonholed for Once

PTYX - (d)'apres Satie

The PTYX ensemble in France will be playing a number of my works over the next year in a series they're calling "(d') apres SATIE," of music by living composers who followed Satie in some respect or another. They've certainly got me pegged right. You won't be able to read the light print at the top of the poster, but it lists the composers on their Dec. 1 concert: Birtwistle, Duckworth, Gann, Sellars, Skempton. I presume that's James Sellars, whose music I greatly admire, as I do the others. They're playing my Kierkegaard, Walking and Minute … [Read more...]

Tooting my Own Horn

I've been doubtful about how much journalistic attention the 50th-anniversary edition of Cage's Silence is going to get, but the distinguished literary critic Marjorie Perloff wrote a column about it in the Los Angeles Review of Books, and made several generous comments about my foreword. I appreciate her point that we all think of Cage as such a sunny character, but in retrospect some of those stories in Silence seem darker than we first thought. … [Read more...]

The Woman Behind The Greatest Man

Nuts and bolts music history today. In my keynote address to the festival of Charles Ives's complete songs, I noted that nothing was known about Anne Timoney Collins, author of the poem on which Ives based his song "The Greatest Man," a poem printed in 1921 in the New York Evening Sun. Liner notes to recordings of this song give no information, or merely mention that she "flourished" in the 1920s. A couple of weeks ago, however, I was contacted by Anne Timoney Collins's god-daughter, and between her and her mother and the internet I've been … [Read more...]

Music Video from the Hearts of Space


On October 12, the same day I will be in Belgium giving my keynote address at the Third International Conference on Minimalist Music at the University of Leuven, John Sanborn's video to my piece The Planets (as recorded by the indomitable Relache ensemble) will premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival at 6:45 at the Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, CA. (Above, a still from "Uranus.") A second showing will occur Friday, Oct. 14, at 8:45. The 11-day festival draws 40,000 audience members, and I'm very excited by the opportunity to get one … [Read more...]

Warp Speed

Here's a MIDI version of a microtonal rag I just wrote for pianist Aron Kallay, a fantastic West Coast player who's specializing in microtonal MIDI piano performance. It's the second (and shorter) movement of a piece called Every Something Is an Echo of Nothing - the title, as some of you will recall, is a quotation from Cage's Silence. Aron will premiere it next summer - I tend to complete my commissions pretty early. And I made it virtuosic because he's got the chops, but it is humanly playable. Think of the piece next time someone claims … [Read more...]

Whither Us Minimalists?

[UPDATE BELOW] On October 12 the Third Annual Conference on Minimalist Music will open at the University of Leuven, Belgium, with my keynote address, "The Boredom of Eventfulness." (Louis Andriessen will present the other keynote address on the 14th.) One of the urgent topics during the conference, among us Society for Minimalist Music members, will be the proposed location for the Fourth Annual Conference, to take place in 2013. We agreed from the beginning to alternate conferences between Europe and America, but finding an American host … [Read more...]

Revisionist History of a Term

Yesterday, after almost polishing off my article on postminimalism for The Ashgate Companion to Minimalist Music, I posted a description of my LexisNexis search for the origins of the musical use of the term postminimalism. Perhaps you read it before it disappeared. I traced the term back to a Jon Pareles review of March, 1983, and added some references by Joshua Kosman, K. Robert Schwarz, and Keith Potter. Then the inexhaustible Galen Brown wrote in to tell me about some earlier references I had missed. He was right. But then I noticed, in the … [Read more...]

Virtual Ashley Playground

Robert Ashley

University of Illinois Press doesn't allow musical examples in their books (scares off too many prospective buyers, I guess), and so, like so many musicological authors these days, I'm putting my musical examples for Robert Ashley on the internet. I've started a Robert Ashley Web Page on which you can see excerpts from Ashley's scores, hear some brief audio examples, and see a little analysis. Five pages are up now, covering passages from the Piano Sonata of 1959, Perfect Lives, eL/Aficionado, Outcome Inevitable, and Celestial Excursions. I'll … [Read more...]