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

merton_thomas

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...]

Owning Art

Natalie Levy And Then They Were Gone

The painting above is titled And Then They Were Gone, and it's by New York artist Natalie Levy. I chanced across it in the window at 510 Warren Gallery in Hudson, NY, and at first thought it was a photograph; then there was a delicious fifteen-second transition in which I slowly realized it was a painting. I went in to enquire; I thought I couldn't justify buying it, but I bought the gallery's postcard of it; I stole the artist's jpg of it (above) off her website and put it on my computer desktop; I went back later to see it again. And finally … [Read more...]

2017 Minimalist Conference Options Being Considered

The next conference of the Society for Minimalist Music will occur September 24-26 at the University of Turku and the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. Once again we will be discussing where the following conference will be in 2017, again in the U.S. this time (we alternate between Europe and America). We are not without ideas and offers, but we would like to have some solid alternatives to vote among, and it's not at all too early to begin preparations. As I've written before, it is difficult to find a school here with enough music … [Read more...]

We Are at War

John Halle is the most politically savvy composer I know: For while some of us want to avert our eyes, the left always recognized that the war by the rich against the poor is a war just as much as any other.  An economic war does not involve missiles, antipersonnel weapons and M-16s. Its weapons are state enforced privatization schemes, debt swaps and interest rate manipulation.  Rather than puncture wounds, severed limbs and  the casualties take the form of thousands of unnecessary deaths due to [in]adequately staffed and supplied hospitals, … [Read more...]

The Ten Sections of Hawthorne

Hawthorne-structure

My Concord Sonata book is the most ambitious thing I've ever done, and one of my proudest achievements, but it seems to bear the mark of Cain. It will indeed be published, but according to the schedule it will appear in fall of 2016. Having waited ten months since I turned in the manuscript, I have fifteen months to go, by which time I can't imagine I'm going to care anymore. Anything could happen by then. I want to make the information I have public and move on, and so I might as well blog the remaining best parts of the book. The world has … [Read more...]

Train to Concord Back on Track

I am thrilled to report that the University of Illinois Press has officially confirmed that they are going to publish my book Essays After a Sonata: Charles Ives's Concord. Here's what happened. Yale UP doesn't have a music series anymore. Nevertheless, a humanities editor there liked the idea of my book and accepted it, some three years ago. Naturally, he left. I had broken my own rule: Never approach a publisher until a book is virtually finished. Editors rarely stay at one publisher for the amount of time it takes to write a book. I don't … [Read more...]

Don’t Shoot the Player Piano

Nancarrow36-gliss

Here's an audience listening to a live performance of Nancarrow's Study No. 25 at the Whitney Museum yesterday: (As always, clicking on photos makes them appear in a new window in better focus. Don't know why.) There was a player piano roll of Nancarrow's Study No. 36 draped across one side of the room. Here are some high points: And, via Susan Schied of "Prufrock's Dilemma" blog fame, here I am standing in front of it. I had subconsciously chosen a shirt for the day that everyone thought was a player-piano-roll … [Read more...]

An Embarrassment of Nancarrovian Riches

Several people have noted that I am mentioned in connection with the Nancarrow festival at the Whitney Museum this week. (I've been quoted in the Times and the New Yorker.) I will indeed be present for it next Wednesday, the 24th. At 1 PM and again at 4 I'm supposed to give an informal talk on Nancarrow, and bring up my favorite Player Piano Studies, which will then be played "live" on an Ampico player piano like Conlon's. Sounds like a fun gig, but I can never decide which studies to play. The ones I wouldn't play are easy to pick, but I … [Read more...]

Rethinking Multimovement Form

I remember Morton Feldman saying in the '70s that if there was one musical idea that was finally dead, it was multimovement form. (Was I present when he said it? I can't recall.) That seemed about right at the time, and, like most of the progressive composers I associated with, I pretty much wrote only one-movement works in the 20th century. But starting with Transcendental Sonnets in 2001-2, I became interested in the multiple movement problem. In recent years many of my works have divided into movements, and I've had to grapple with what my … [Read more...]