Scenario at Last


In 2004 I completed a setting, for soprano and soundfile (tape? CD?) of a wild text by humorist S.J. Perelman called "Scenario." I haven't been able to find what year the text was first published, but I suppose Perelman (one of the funniest writers ever, and with an unparalleled genius for wordplay) had been slaving away in Hollywood, where he worked on the scripts for the early Marx Brothers movies. "Scenario" is a stream-of-consciousness satire of a scenario for a movie, a hysterical profusion of not only scene descriptions and actions but … [Read more...]

Bill’s Tunes

I'm remiss in not having let you know earlier that a tribute concert to Bill Duckworth is taking place tomorrow night (Tuesday) at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan, at 7:30 (doors open at 6:30). Neely Bruce, Lois Svard, Margaret Leng Tan, Tom Buckner, and others will perform his indelible music. … [Read more...]

Some Somethings Echo More than Others


[UPDATED] It strikes me lately that there are basically two types of performances in a composer's career, or at least in a half-assed composing career like mine. One is, you're invited to an event, they offer to play a piece of yours, it gets one rehearsal the day before, maybe, and they nominally play it. The other is, a performer (in my case, Sarah Cahill, Lois Svard, Relache, Aron Kallay) chooses to tour with a piece of your music, and he/she/they is/are highly motivated to show the world what wonderful performers they are, and so of course … [Read more...]

The Elusive Spinet Piano of Lizzy Alcott


One sentence in Essays Before a Sonata has already cost me more time and trouble, I think, than the entire sonata:  "And there sits the little old spinet piano Sophia Thoreau gave to the Alcott children, on which Beth played the old Scotch airs, and played at the Fifth Symphony." The full paragraph sounds as though Ives is describing Orchard House in Concord, Mass., after a visit there, which is entirely plausible; Orchard House opened to the public as a museum in 1912, Ives wrote the essays in 1919, and he and Harmony liked to visit Concord. … [Read more...]

Duckworth Memorial Service

A memorial service for Bill Duckworth will be held this Friday, September 28, from 5 to 8 PM in the penthouse of Westbeth Artist Housing, 55 Bethune Street in New York City. There had been a memorial for John Cage there, and Bill wanted his memorial there as well for that reason. A tribute concert is being planned for Oct. 2; more on that later.   … [Read more...]

Partch as Transcendentalist


Wednesday morning at 9:15, Sept. 19, in Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, I'm giving the keynote address for a Harry Partch conference hosted by NEC and Northeastern University where my incredibly brilliant former student Anthony DeRitis runs the music department. It's scheduled (my keynote, that is) to run until 10:30, and I'm making it as long as possible to leave no room for questions, and then I'm DONE. All I have to do for the next three days is listen to microtonal performances and papers on aspects of Partch. My … [Read more...]

A Timely Gesture

For those who may not know Bill Duckworth's music, David McIntire is making Andy Lee's lovely recording of The Time Curve Preludes on Irritable Hedgehog a free download through Sunday night. What hurts today is the visceral sense I have that Bill's sense of humor has disappeared from the earth. Bill had an attractive knack of finding life humorously absurd. Seen through his eyes, the world seemed petty, laughable, and nonthreatening, like it wasn't big enough to scare him. Even though I hadn't seen him much lately, I already miss that, like … [Read more...]

Strange Times: William Duckworth (1943-2012)


This morning I lost one of my dearest friends and most important musical role models, and the world lost one of its best composers. Bill Duckworth was diagnosed with pancreas cancer a year ago last February. He got into a state-of-the-art therapy program, and had the disease in remission, and for quite a few months it looked like he was going to beat one of the fastest and most lethal cancers there is (and the same one that killed Morton Feldman). But he finally started having bad reactions to the chemo, and it wore him down. I had heard about … [Read more...]

Planets Strike Small College


For those in the Hudson Valley or thereabouts tomorrow, September 13, the Relache ensemble is playing my suite The Planets live, with the amazing video by John Sanborn, at Bard College. It's in Olin Auditorium at 8. Nothing like airing your astrological interests to your colleagues in the science division. … [Read more...]

Weekend Concerts

Due to a rather hectic first week of school (I've been appointed chair of the arts division, with administrative duties - hope they know what they're getting into), this is a possibly too-late reminder that Relache will be performing my ten-movement suite The Planets tonight, for the first time playing it live with John Sanborn's wonderful video, at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway; call 888-616-0277. It's part of some big "First Friday" celebration fo all things Philadelphian, apparently. The event is … [Read more...]

Once Thought Extinct, Genre Resurfaces


My son's other band (besides Liturgy), Guardian Alien, is beginning to take off; just coming off a Midwest tour, they've got a new album out on Thrill Jockey, See the World Given to a One Love Entity, with an accompanying video. The album is one forty-minute track, high-energy and improvised but well structured, and fun to listen to. In fact, Bernard told me he took to heart some of the criticisms I had made of free improv in my early Village Voice writings, and took care to avoid the worst clichés. The genre, he says, is psychedelic rock. I … [Read more...]

Not Exactly Verbatim

John Cage used to enjoy what repeating what he said was a quotation from Thoreau. Thoreau's first book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers did not sell, and at some point the publisher sent him back the remaining 700 copies. According to Cage, Thoreau said in response, “It makes me feel so good that no one is interested in my work, because it leaves me free to go in any direction that is necessary.” I fear that I have played some role in the dissemination of this misquote, for when I Google it my name often comes up. But for a long time … [Read more...]

Oh Yeah, I’m a Composer

After a dry spell, I'm suddenly having eight nine performances in five months, with six world premieres included. (I guess for a lot of composers, nine in five months still sounds like a dry spell.) Two of the premieres slipped by me because I'm not very good at keeping track of dates. On June 23, Aron Kallay premiered my Echoes of Nothing at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. Last Friday, August 17, Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli premiered my Earth-Preserving Chant on a program of American Indian-inspired music by Peter Garland, John … [Read more...]