PostClassic: April 2010 Archives
Vladan Radovanovic: Arms (1992)
One of the coolest things that happened to me in Belgrade was that my musicologist friend Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic secured me an introduction to Vladan Radovanovic. Born in 1932, Radovanovic founded Yugoslavia's first electronic music studio in Belgrade in 1972, and ran it until 1999. He first came to my attention as a supposed precursor of minimalism for some austere works he wrote in the '50s, but that turns out to be the least of his achievements. He refers to his work as "Art Synthesis," and besides being a composer he is an amazing painter, computer-graphics artist (see Arms, above), concrete poet, sculptor, and conceptualist. He makes images out of words, and writes texts of overlapping sentences that can be read in multiple directions - in Serbian, of course, so I couldn't fully enjoy them, and they are untranslatable. One of his pieces is the Serbian word for mirror with eccentric capitalization - OGleDalo - bisected by a mirror, demonstrating that it can be written as a vertical panlindrome. He showed me a film called Variations (1985) in which the images of three musicians performing tunes he wrote use retrogrades, palindromes, canons, and such, correlating the visual processes with the musical devices. He's made incredible artist's books like Changes (1991-2), below, in which the images metamorphose continuously, encompassing the whole of human experience:
He's got a text written on rings of paper inside a box that expand into a readable sphere when you open the box - I can't describe it any better than that. He's got a detailed portrait of Nicola Tesla made from a handwritten biography of the scientist done in different-colored inks. He played me a video of a piece called Constellations (1993-7) in which 12 singers carry lighted spheres while singing, and rearrange themselves in the form of various constellations in a darkened performance space. His music is often made from graphic scores, often employing spoken word and electronics, like this section from The Small Eternal Lake (1984):
He's produced tons and tons of work, all seemingly thought-provoking, original, relentlessly crafted, and extremely clever. Belgrade gave him a major retrospective a few years ago, but he's been out of touch with Western Europe because of Serbia's political situation in the last couple of decades. And he and his wife Ljiljana treated me to an absolutely delicious dinner, surrounded on either side by fascinating conversation. I really felt that I had stumbled across an isolated genius - someone who, if he lived in Paris or Berlin or Warsaw, would be a household name.
Unlike his visual work, which seems to me completely sui generis, Radovanovic's music roughly fits into a 1960s avant-garde East-European aesthetic, but it certainly has a distinct personality. I'm going to upload two longer works for you, because I think they're worth the time. One is Vocalinstra (1972-76), a 21-minute work for voices and instruments that mimics electronic sounds without using electronics. The other is a more neoclassic Sinfonia Concertante from 1956, in which Radovanovic's take on the style is idiosyncratically peculiar and kind of fascinating. I feel that this is far too little work to convey the Promethean impression he made on me, but it's a start, and perhaps will inspire some research. As a composer alone, he would be a distinctive and prolific voice; as a visual artist, he's an amazing innovator; as a poet I suspect he's one-of-a-kind. As all three, and more besides, he makes the mind boggle at the unity-within-variety of his massive output.
Vladan Radovanovic at home, March 2010; and as a proto-performance artist in 1957:
Colin Marshall of Marketplace of Ideas very kindly did a phone interview with me about my book on 4'33". You can hear the podcast here.
This week, April 15-17, I am the featured composer at the annual new-music festival at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. There appear to be six concerts, with my music on four of them, mixed with works by student composers there; click on the link to see the official site. I give a talk Friday morning at 11. I love looking at the list of composers from previous festivals: Peter Mennin in '62, my one-time teacher Kent Kennan in '63, Persichetti in '64, Sandor Varess in '65, Paul Creston in '71, Ben Johnston in '72, Elie Siegmeister in '91, and several I haven't heard of. But they brought John Luther Adams in '07 and Peter Garland last year, and given that progression I do look like a logical next choice. Plus the festival's directed by Brian Herrington and John Lane, the latter of whom runs their percussion ensemble, and I've got several percussion pieces, so I fit in. Also, a lot of their composers are Texas-related, and I'm originally from Texas - though I haven't had a performance in that state since 1976.
The comical thing for me is that when I was growing up Huntsville was where the big prison that executions were performed at was, and still is, and "getting sent to Huntsville" was our everyday grade-school euphemism for going to prison and maybe getting fried. Later I taught at Bucknell in Lewisburg, PA, where another famous federal pen is - the one where the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were incarcerated. When my family visited San Francisco we toured Alcatraz, and the prison guard-guides there were excited when they found out we were from Lewisburg - wanted to hear all about our prison. It's a closely-knit subculture, I guess. So while the town, near Houston, was where our legendary Sam Houston lived, the place looms large in my childhood imagination for other reasons. And I'm finally going there after all.
My orchestra piece The Disappearance of All Holy Things from this Once So Promising World is also being played Friday, the 16th, at my alma mater Oberlin Conservatory, conducted by John Kennedy. The schedule of the SHSU festival is below. [UPDATE: it turns out that they've scheduled several early works of mine, mostly songs, that have never been performed before, so that there will be at least four world premieres, including the work I wrote for the occasion, Snake Dance No. 3 for percussion quartet and three keyboard samplers]:
Spring 2010 Concert and Event Schedule (April 15th-17th, 2010)
Admission: FREE for SHSU Music Majors and Music Faculty, $5 SHSU Students, $10 General Public
Thursday, April 15th
Sam Houston State Student Composers Concert
Recital Hall; 4:00pm
Artist Faculty Spotlight: Daniel Saenz, Cello Recital
Recital Hall; 7:30pm
Friday, April 16th
Kyle Gann, Guest Lecture
11:00am; Music Building RM 202 (subject to change)
The Chamber Music of Kyle Gann and Sam Houston State Composers (Concert 1)
Recital Hall; 4:00pm
The Chamber Music of Kyle Gann and Sam Houston State Composers (Concert 2)
Recital Hall; 7:30pm
Saturday, April 17th
Intersection and the Sam Houston Percussion Group: The Music of Kyle Gann (Concert 1)
Directed by Brian Herrington and John Lane
Recital Hall; 4:30pm
Intersection and the Sam Houston Percussion Group: The Music of Kyle Gann (Concert 2)
Directed by Brian Herrington and John Lane
Recital Hall; 7:30pm - Pre-Concert Talk; 8:00pm - Concert
[Back from Serbia after a 24-hour door-to-door trip in which my plane made an unscheduled stop in Canada because a woman passenger had a seizure and needed medical attention. It was a classic "Is there a doctor on the plane?" situation out of a movie I don't want to see again.]
One minor note about the video that accompanies Frank Oteri's interview with me at New Music Box: The video is framed by passages (and even the score) of my first microtonal piece, Superparticular Woman, from 1992. This is one of those pieces I never play for anyone, won't put on a CD, and whose cheesy MIDI version makes me wince. I don't really believe in disowning works, or I'd disown this one. (I do think its sole virtue, though, is that its voice-leading within the tuning structure is rather elegant.) But Frank has, among other things, a genius for appreciating pieces most would scorn (years ago his favorite piece of mine was Ghost Town, which I also soft-pedal). And I have to admit, as intro/outro music, I think Superparticular Woman has finally found its niche. I wouldn't play it on a concert, but I could hear it as an ironic, intrinsically humorous logo tune for some NPR bit like "All Things Considered." You need more of an ear for media than I have to make a call like that.
BELGRADE - Saturn is sextiling my Sun and ascendant from my tenth house, if you know what that means. What it means is, I'm kind of difficult to escape at the moment. The always impressive Frank Oteri has a wonderful interview up with me today on New Music Box, in honor of my new book and two recent CDs. I always knew Frank was sort of ridiculously brilliant, but I didn't realize how brilliant until he started digging into my music and making me see it from a different angle than I'd ever seen it before. In addition there's another interview with me by John Ruscher on BOMB magazine about my Cage book. There's also a nice review of my Cage book by Robert Birnbaum at The Morning News. I'm all over the internet today. This, too, shall pass.
Meanwhile, after my lecture about my music at the University of the Arts, the leading lights of musical Belgrade and I relaxed over traditional Serbian food. Here are Marija Masnikosa, author of a book on Serbian minimalism and perhaps the first scholar to write her doctoral dissertation on postminimalism; Vladimir Tosic, Serbian composer of wonderful postminimalist music who was born and lives within 200 meters of the University of the Arts; Dragana Stojanovic-Novicic, Nancarrow scholar extraordinaire and head of musicology; myself letting what's left of my hair down; and Nada Kolundzija, new-music pianist with several fine recordings under her belt, whom the locals describe as a visionary:
Here are two of the best tracks from Nada's latest CD:
Vuk Kulenovic: Virginal (he lives in Boston now; some of the best Serbian composers escaped during the '90s)
It's a small but rich and vibrant music scene, pretty much hidden away from the rest of the world due to unfortunate political developments of the last 20 years. One told me that their devotion to this exciting little scene is what keeps them going from day to day. My growing affection for the Serbian music world has taken me by surprise. I've tried my darndest to learn some Serbian, which they don't expect any Westerner to do; their startled delight when I answer "Drago mi je" ("Glad t' meet you") is touching. And they found it hilarious that I thought Radno Vreme must be the Donald Trump of Serbia, because his name is on practically every downtown building. "Radno vreme," it turns out, means "Hours of operation." (Sava River in the evening, under a full moon:)
I don't know who might be reading this blog in Belgrade, but in case anyone is, I'll be speaking about my music (and its relation to American precedents) tonight from 6 to 8 at the University for the Arts in Belgrade.