Truly Music of the Spheres


When Pluto splashed into our collective consciousness last month suddenly ready for its closeup, I learned a lot I hadn't known. For instance, that although the orbits of Pluto and Neptune overlap, they are prevented from colliding by the stable 2-to-3 ratio in their rotations around the sun; Pluto goes around the sun in 247.94 earth years, and Neptune in 164.8, and 247.94/164.8 equals 1.50449.... This kind of mutually influenced periodicity, as it turns out (how was I an astrologer for thirty years without learning this?), is common among … [Read more...]

I’ll Take Well-Crafted

Just learned that my song cycle Your Staccato Ways was favorably reviewed by Joanne Sydney Lessner in last Month's Opera News: "Among the other premieres, Kyle Gann’s Your Staccato Ways stood out for its well-crafted songs, particularly the harmonically restless 'Couplets' and the rag-infused 'Hotel Minor,' delivered by the appealing tenor Corey Hart." UPDATE: And a few more odds and ends - as usual, more for my own bookkeeping than because they will edify you. Roberto Friedman at San Francisco's Edge Media Network liked my War Is Just a … [Read more...]

For Those Who Haven’t Met Me in Person

After every lecture I've ever given in the northeast part of the country, at least one person has come up to me afterward and immediately asked, "Where are you from?" I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I left there in 1973. In my youth I had a broad accent, and traces of it remain. If I could time-travel back to visit the twenty-year-old me, I would say, "Kyle, hie thee to a diction teacher post-haste and get rid of that Texas accent once and for all." It has worked against me throughout my career. For one thing, it kept me out of classical radio, … [Read more...]

So Sue Me


I have gone against my most deeply-held principles. I have, for the first time, written a quarter-tone piece. As a just-intonationist, I don't believe in quarter-tones on theoretical grounds. Quarter-tones provide good approximations for certain eleven-limit intervals: 11/9 (347¢), 11/8 (551¢), 11/6 (1049¢), but the quarter-tone scale emphasizes eleven-based intervals and skips over the seven-based ones. It's one of my core beliefs that, if we are to accustom the collective ear to assimilate intervals smaller than the half-step, we need to … [Read more...]

Index to My Concord Sonata Writings

My writings on Charles Ives's Concord Sonata on this blog are now so scattered around that I've decided I should index them for those who may be trying to do research, or who simply came late to the party. I'll expand this as I add more. The Concord itself: - The whole-tone-based harmonic structure of the Concord - MIDI version of the Concord's opening - Some early analytical insights upon looking into Ives - A more rational ten-part division of the Hawthorne movement - "Angel" notes in Hawthorne notated - Analysis of the Alcotts … [Read more...]

The Whole-Tone Hypothesis


A couple of doubtless tenured and prestigious music professors suggested, as an excuse for denying me grants, that instead of trying to publish an entire book on the Concord Sonata all at once, I should first publish the individual chapters in academic journals. That would be fun, wouldn't it?, spending months going through a whole extra session of peer review so that I could bury my insights in some obscure corner of JSTOR; and then I could get the whole book peer-reviewed and receive a second, doubtless contradictory aggregation of quibbles. … [Read more...]

An Oxymoronically Postminimalist Improviser


Thanks for indulging my mystery pianist contest. I was less interested in stumping the listeners than in collecting a set of comparison pianists to relate the style to. I am grateful to all who obliged. Not surprisingly, my Downtown comrade Tom Hamilton confidently nailed the answer: it's our late friend Elodie Lauten, playing her Variations on the Orange Cycle. Elodie was not only an early punk singer, Allen Ginsburg groupie, and composer of beautiful postminimalist operas, but a phenomenal improvising pianist. I wanted to introduce a … [Read more...]

Name that Pianist

Here's a three-minute excerpt from a piano improvisation:   The style varies considerably over the course of the excerpt. See if you can guess the pianist or at least tell me who it sounds like - I know many of my readers are far more steeped in the improvisation world than I am. I'll provide the answer, and the complete 40-minute recording, in a separate post. Thanks for the help.   … [Read more...]

Every 26 Years Like Clockwork

Believe it or not, my music is featured on this Sunday's Bang on a Can marathon at Mass MOCA. The last time I had a piece on Bang on a Can was either 1989 or 1990, I can't remember. They requested, this time, to perform my Snake Dance No. 3, a 2010 piece I'm a little dubious about. It's the piece in which I added synthesizers and fretless bass playing a 19-tone (non-equal) scale to the core percussion ensemble of my previous snake dances. The piece had some problems at its premiere, which was well played, but there was no attempt to sonically … [Read more...]

I Can Compose Catholic


Eleven days ago my friend, colleague, and department chair James Bagwell wrote me to ask me to write a piece for the May Festival Youth Chorus in Cincinnati, which he conducts. The premiere is to take place in a Catholic basilica, and so the text needed to be suitable. Ezra Pound was not going to do the trick. But among Catholic writers I have always found Thomas Merton enormously appealing, and among his voluminous poetry output I quickly settled on In Silence, which begins thus: Be still. Listen to the stones of the wall. Be silent, they … [Read more...]