The Difficulty of Seeing Music

Emerson 1-6 MIDI

Sort of looks like an old faded-then-digitized photograph of the Alps, doesn't it? I should make you guess the piece, but given my current obsession it's too easy. This is the MIDI info, player-piano-roll style, for the first six systems of the Concord Sonata. After the initial wedge motive Ives descends down to the lowest A# on the piano, and then ascends again to the highest G at the bottom of page 1, while the second half of the "Human Faith" theme is isolated, almost visually foregrounded here, in the lower register. Musical notation gives … [Read more...]

Music’s Quasi-Objectivity


Just before writing the Essays Before a Sonata, Ives had read a 1902 article by an Oxford tutor named Henry Sturt, called "Art and Personality." It's not a great article, and it's odd that Ives's imagination was caught by it, but he quotes it in the Essays more often than he acknowledges. (For instance, the line about the "Byronic fallacy" is Sturt's, but Ives doesn't attribute it.) Sturt seems to be building up to some kind of objective criterion to judge art by, but at the end (which is by far the most interesting part) he does a kind of … [Read more...]

Videos Worth Watching


I've always loved David Garland's songs, and have written about them many times. He's still making them, and he's got a new album coming out, Conversations with the Cinnamon Skeleton, that he's made - believe it or not - with Sean Lennon, supermodel Charlotte Kemp Muhl, and English songwriter Vashti Bunyan. Whew. One song from it, The Long View, is up on Vimeo with a charming animation, pictured here. Even better, David's moved into my neighborhood, so he's about the only former denizen of the old Downtown scene that I get to rail against the … [Read more...]

I Am Ralph Fiennes

Not really, but I am a total bardolator. I worked as a security guard in 1978-79, a year I took off between my master's and doctorate, and while "working" could basically do whatever I wanted as long as I kept my butt in the seat. The two self-improvement projects I completed that year were reading all the Shakespeare plays and analyzing all the Beethoven quartets (by "analyzing," I don't mean any more than formal and Roman numeral analysis, but I did get to know them). In the 1980s I watched the BBC productions of Shakespeare on TV, and have … [Read more...]


A repeated criticism that I get for my writing is that I am inconsistent in the level of expertise I assume in the reader. For instance, many people who don't know much about music assume that musicians always get paid for their work (hah!), and so their first response to 4'33" is that Cage got paid for not doing anything. In my book on 4'33", it was well worth taking one paragraph at the beginning to dispose of that objection, rather than let it stew unresolved in the minds of the uninformed. On the other hand, I indulge a bit of technical … [Read more...]

Excerpts from Outer Space


Here's a You Tube trailer for John Sanborn's video to my piece The Planets. The images are from all different movements, but the music is all "Mercury." The film will be featured at the Videoformes festival in France March 14-18. Relache will begin touring with it in the fall.   … [Read more...]

Warning: Self-Obsessed Post

I have nothing to say, and I'm not saying it. Or rather, I do have things to say, but not in this format for the moment. I am beginning my sabbatical, and withdrawing from the world somewhat to work on two of the most ambitious projects of my life. The more immediate is a long (hour-plus) work for three retuned Disklaviers. This will give me the opportunity, for the first time since Custer and Sitting Bull (1995-99) to combine my two great obsessions, the completely free-sounding rhythms of multitempos, and the free-sounding pitch space of … [Read more...]