Just Sayin’

The news is so disgusting these days I try not to follow it. But I have followed the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO, closely. Because we are all Michael Brown. UPDATE: Look, before anyone else writes in, I did not mean to say that we are all literally Michael Brown. I, for instance, am Kyle Gann. But in 2004, some of my students peacefully protested the election and were physically harassed by the cops, one girl pushed to the ground and injured for having "stepped over the white line in the street." Some local cops pulled a gay gentleman … [Read more...]

Creating Worlds, Including Liturgical Ones


Composer Andrew Violette came to Bard to give a composer's forum last week. I'd followed his music via CDs for years and we'd corresponded, but I'd never met him. He's known for some really long, intense pieces, such as his three-hour-long Seventh Piano Sonata, which I wrote about years ago. He looks less tough in person than he does in his photos, and he spent several years as a Benedictine monk. He wanted to play something live, and since he hadn't written anything for piano since that 2001 sonata, he chose to play half of a book of chorale … [Read more...]

Quixotic Application of Dots to Paper

I wrote a symphony. It came to pass in this wise. I visited my friend Robert Carl at Yaddo. He was telling me his plans for his next two symphonies, one of which would be an orchestration of a two-piano piece he had written. I replied that I had a two-piano piece myself, in five movements (Implausible Sketches) that I think of as an unorchestrated symphony. He said I should arrange it for orchestra. I replied, Nah, I wouldn’t do that. The next morning I woke up obsessed with the certainty that I needed to make an orchestral version of … [Read more...]

Offspring on the Small Screen

This is late notice, but my son is supposedly on television tonight. His black metal band Liturgy is being used in the plot of the cop show The Blacklist, the episode featuring Peter Fonda as guest star. Fonda supposedly appears as a drummer in the band. No idea yet whether they'll be on for 10 seconds or three minutes, but they filmed. I don't have TV reception, so somebody please know what happened if you watch it. Thanks. [UPDATE:] Well, somebody noticed, anyway. … [Read more...]

Hiring Criteria

One of my students decided not to apply to a certain grad school because it had too many white men with dreadlocks in one department. I agreed that that was probably indicative of a certain aesthetic narrowness.   … [Read more...]

Free to not Understand


I am in receipt of James Klosty's handsome new coffee-table volume John Cage Was, a book of photographs of John Cage, many of them rare and unseen before, all of them telling. For the margins Klosty asked a lot of people connected with Cage to write descriptions of him of a hundred words or less, using the words "John Cage was...." For those who are unlikely to shell out for the book, here's what I wrote: John Cage was the figure who, for thousands of musicians, opened the door to the world beyond rationality. By introducing us to the I Ching, … [Read more...]

Fear of Learning

The faculty is once again rethinking the distribution requirements, the obstacle course of varied classes every student has to take to make sure they all have a more well-rounded education than I do. So we're having meetings about how to pitch courses to non-majors. I enjoy these. My colleagues in literature, the sciences, and the social sciences are so brilliant, so eloquent and thoughtful, that I've come to realize that I'm not all that smart - I'm just really smart for a musician. Today they asked what one thing I would want a … [Read more...]

Superficial Perceptions Are Permanent

"[Composer Rinaldo Di Capua] thinks composers have nothing to do now but to write themselves and others over again, and the only chance they have for obtaining the reputation of novelty or invention must arise either from the ignorance or want of memory in the public - as everything both in melody and modulation that is worth doing has already been done over and over again." - Charles Burney, Music, Men, and Manners in France and Italy, 1770 It's every bit as true now as it was then.   … [Read more...]

Zut Alors!


I am told that my copy of the French translation of No Such Thing as Silence - titled No Silence: 4'33" de John Cage (Allia Editions) - is in the mail. UPDATE: The French edition, which has arrived, is very classy, and is decorated with hundreds of photos of Cage, Tudor, Rauschenberg, Coomaraswamy, and others that weren't in the more austere American edition. Perhaps I should just publish my Ives book in French, they seem to have the money.   … [Read more...]

The Disappearing Publisher

It's almost official: my next book will be The Arithmetic of Listening: Tuning Theory and History for the Impractical Musician. I had given up trying to interest publishers in microtonality, but it seems to finally be an idea who's time has come. This will be basically a textbook, though in my characteristic style which the New York Times has designated as "chatty." There are worse words, I guess. And yet I'm not in any hurry to sign the contract. I haven't yet turned in my Concord Sonata book, which has been finished for weeks, because the … [Read more...]

New, Improved Tuning Examples

My good friend Anne Garland, wife of songwriter David, gave me some html code with which to make my Just Intonation Explained page far more convenient and practical by embedding the mp3s so that they don't jump to a new page to play, and you can keep reading the text while listening. She warned that it doesn't work on all browsers, and so if any of you find you can't access the recorded examples, please let me know and I'll put the original version back up as an alternative. This is going to open up a lot of possibilities: I've been considering … [Read more...]

Birthplace of Another Sonata

Rocky Trail

In the earliest years of the 20th century, Charles Ives was working for Charles H. Raymond & Co. insurance company in Wall Street. On weekends he would escape the city to Pine Mountain, a beautiful nature reserve south of Danbury where the Ives family owned land, in order to compose there. Some of his early works are marked with the notation "Pine Mountain," including the First Piano Sonata, whose earliest sketch is dated Aug. 4, 1901. And today there is a long trail through the Pine Mountain nature reserve called the Ives Trail, running … [Read more...]

Nothing Changes

The gold of Beethoven's day, of which he was himself the purest nugget, comes down to us bright and untarnished, so that we forget all the dross that has been thrown on the scrap-heap of time. Our own gold is almost hidden from us by the glitter of the tinsel. The world of music, says Sir Charles Stanford ["Pages from an Unwritten Diary"], is not substantially different from what it has been. It has always exalted those of its contemporary composers who dealt in frills and furbelows above those who considered the body more important than its … [Read more...]