The So-Called Editing Process

I am all in favor of peer-review on principle. Like everyone else I am prone to typos, misplaced bits of information, and unnoticed logical inconsistencies. I am thrilled to have these captured and remedied pre-publication. But in my case, the external reader then invariably goes on to characterize my style as unacceptably "breezy," "journalistic," and "colloquial," which means that my sentences flow well and are varied and to the point, so that the reader doesn't have to keep slapping himself to stay awake. And if I don't have enough clout in … [Read more...]

Concert Etiquette of the Greats

I've been interviewing my good friend Bill Duckworth for an eventual biography or something. He told me about meeting Virgil Thomson in the late '70s. David Stock was giving one of his new music concerts in Pittsburgh, and Duckworth and Thomson were the featured composers. After the pre-concert dinner, Thomson put his arm around Bill and said, "Young man, don't take it personally when you look at me during your performance tonight and see that I've fallen asleep. If you look at me during my piece, I will be asleep then too." Bill says, "And I … [Read more...]

Meeting of Minds


The current issue of the journal American Music (Volume 29, No. 1) contains an article by my Serbian musicologist friend Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic titled "The Carter-Nancarrow Correspondence." It will doubtless be available on the web via JSTOR soon, and if you're not in academia (we professors can access it for free), a private subscription to JSTOR would be well worth the money; I'd say 85% of the footnotes in my scholarly writing lately are references to articles i've found there. Dragana is the person who has gone most thoroughly through … [Read more...]

Vertiginously Relative

After giving my lecture on Feldman at yesterday's Feldman festival being presented in Philly by Bowerbird, I spent a half-hour talking to - Feldman's niece! Feldman's personality was so universally described as "avuncular" that I told her she must be one of the most effectively uncle-d people in history. She remembered, as a humiliating experience for a 13-year-old, Feldman (and Cage) being booed in 1964 when Leonard Bernstein performed their music with the Philharmonic. And when I told her that I considered her uncle the greatest composer of … [Read more...]

Upcoming Appearances

This Sunday at 4:30 I'm giving a lecture on Morton Feldman as part of American Sublime, Bowerbird's two-weekend tribute to Feldman with performances of several of his most important late works. I come at the end of an all-afternoon series of talks by Feldman experts, of whom I am probably the least knowledgeable - and I know a few things. That event is at Nexus at CraneArts, 1400 N American Street in Philadelphia. Later in the month, the West End String Quartet will be giving four performances of my Concord Spiral in four cities over two … [Read more...]

Call Me a Crazy Uncle

Speaking of criticisms of Ives, I was a little startled to read this in Martin Bresnick's op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, speaking about the composer Eric Stokes: Eric was the first “Ivesian” composer I ever met. There were very few of them in those days and there are not many now. I always felt vaguely embarrassed by Charles Ives. I found his music too candid, too forthright. It stuck out like a crazy, opinionated uncle at a polite social event — too unsophisticated for a sophisticated new music audience. He afterward says "I am … [Read more...]

Repeating Myself

I have often written about the 1989 review in which John Rockwell called my music "naively pictorial," and the fact that I liked it so much that I've ever since adopted "naive pictorialism" as my stylistic moniker. Recently I ran across the 1944 review in Modern Music in which Elliott Carter disparaged Charles Ives's music as - guess what? - "naively pictorial." This is company I will gladly keep. I wish Charlie and I could share a good laugh over that one. I wondered, when I was writing the 4'33" book, whether a renewed involvement with … [Read more...]

Curious Genealogies


My son's black metal band Liturgy has put out a four-minute video of their song "Returner." Apparently there's some big controversy (like father, like son) connected to the fact that they're "hipsters" playing black metal; Bernard says the fans would prefer that they be wearing bullets on their belts and rusty nails sticking out of their shoulders. I don't get it. After playing the South by Southwest festival they stopped in McKinney, Texas, and visited my 83-year-old mother. If you knew my mother, you would find the idea of her entertaining a … [Read more...]

Forced Conversions

I have been so deleriously busy in the last several months that I am having a harder time transitioning into summer than usual. I feel like a puppet whose strings have suddenly been cut. I am so accustomed to being driven by exigencies that the self-management of free time comes as an unfamiliar shock. I have also been a little discouraged by changes in this blog resulting from the reformatting. Journal-meister McLennan has managed to make the "Older Posts" button at the bottom of the main page start working, but, unlike in the older format, … [Read more...]

In Which I Am Poeticized


I would be loath to argue that seeing me talk about 4'33" in front of the Maverick Concert Hall adds anything worthwhile to what can be gleaned from my book on it, but filmmaker Cambiz A. Khosravi, a historian of Woodstock, NY, has created such a video from an interview he did with me. As it ends, note the length (you can guess). Toward the end I overstate the dearth of indigenous American musical influences prior to 4'33"; perhaps what I said made more sense in the context of the complete interview. I'm a good writer partly because I'm a good … [Read more...]

Descendants of the Prophets


Composer John Luther Adams is teaching at Harvard this semester, and he had never been to Walden Pond before - only 16 miles away, after all - so I drove out and we did the tour together. As you may recall, John is a hard-core Thoreauvian, I'm the Emersonian. Here we are united, however, on the site of Thoreau's cabin: So sharply do our mental processes differ and complement each other that we talked much about the Emerson-Ives-Gann world of ideas versus the Thoreau-Cage-Adams world. It amazes us that beings so overlapping in sympathy … [Read more...]

Fanfares and Funerals


In Michigan a few weeks ago, I saw the second copy I'd ever seen of Kathleen Hoover's and John Cage's 1959 book Virgil Thomson: His Life and Music, in the possession of Thomson scholar Jennifer Campbell. The first copy I saw was in Thomson's own apartment in 1989. I realized I had to have it, and of course was able to find a copy in pretty good shape via Amazon, for $75. Hoover wrote the biography, and Cage wrote about Thomson's music, in tremendous detail. Were one of the authors not so famous, the book would not at all deserve republication. … [Read more...]