Alternative to Despair

I had a vivid dream this morning that I was working for a music festival, which has happened to me in real life before, and in the course of my administrative work came across a conceptual piece by some early modernist artist (which I seemed to recall having known about before). It was a test tube with a scroll inside it directing one to open the much smaller test tube inside in case of suicidal thoughts. And the smaller test tube contained a tiny scroll of paper reading, “The usage is, instead of committing suicide, to write a canon.” This … [Read more...]

Reflections on Glass


Today marks my first appearance as a writer in the New York Times since 2003. They asked me for a review of Phil Glass's new memoir Words Without Music.   … [Read more...]

Some Early Minimalism Resurfaces


I was unaware of the Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble, which started in Baltimore and operated from 1970 to 1983 - surprisingly unaware, because though those were my college years, I was seeking out Terry Riley, John Cale, Brian Eno, and any shards of information I could find on La Monte Young and Charlemagne Palestine. I was spending hours a week in record stores, and their ambient style was right up my alley. But Wall Matthews, the group's "last surviving member," is launching a new web site for this group that was somewhat parallel, in … [Read more...]

My Trajectory Leads Back to Provence


"I knew at fifteen pretty much what I wanted to do... I resolved that at thirty I would know more about poetry than any man living, that I would know the dynamic content from the shell..." - Ezra Pound, "How I Began" (1913) A thrill ran up my spine when I read those words in college, for I harbored an identical ambition with respect to music. I recognized a kindred spirit, someone who was not only obsessed with an art form, but for whom creating in that art form was not enough: he had to devour and digest the entire history of the art, the … [Read more...]

Consumed with Architecture Envy

I heard Mahler's Ninth live today, for the first time since 1977 in Cleveland. I got a ticket (for an instantly sold-out concert) from the conductor, my employer, based on the fact that I wrote my senior paper at Oberlin on the piece. I analyzed the entire thing, but my paper was on the third-movement scherzo, a contrapuntal miracle. I know every note, and I registered every performance mistake. The performance was 85 minutes of me being consumed with envy. How did Mahler develop that continental sense of architecture? How did he know he could … [Read more...]

The Truth About Youth

From Robin Black's mouth to God's ears. And even more true, if possible, about composers. UPDATE: Allow me to amplify a little. The idea of helping young artists is an attractive one (I've done a lot of it myself via publicity and enjoyed doing so), and I eagerly concede Dave Seidel's point below about the young being at a disadvantage in this economy. It's not that I desperately need or desire the occasional $3000 cash prize. The issue is that prizes given to young composers often confer upon them a visibility that then tends to follow … [Read more...]

Canon to the Left of Me, and Now the Right

I had a great time working on my piece Hudson Spiral (2010) last week with the Sirius Quartet, whose career I'd followed from their beginnings - although three of the four players are new since I left the Voice in 2005. It was a rare experience to walk into rehearsal and find performers completely understanding the piece, no explanation necessary, including my totalist dotted-eighth/triplet-quarter rhythms. The performance at Symphony Space last week went great. Here's the recording. The piece is a canon at the major sixth, one of my spiral … [Read more...]

Minimalism Conference Deadline Extended

There was a clever joke to be made there, but I'm too foggy to come up with it. The minimalism conference being held in Finland in September has extended its deadline for paper proposals to April 15. Just follow this link, scroll down, and there's a very convenient online submission form. I submitted a précis for my upcoming paper "Elodie Lauten as Minimalist Improviser." Wish she were still around to enjoy it. … [Read more...]

What Am I, Chopped Liver?


David Garland interviews my son's black metal band Liturgy on Spinning on Air. At the end, all the band members say hello to their moms, over the radio. That's Bernard, second from left. … [Read more...]

The Crisis in Education Today

Only one student in my theory class today recognized the song "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," and I had to sing it to jog his memory. There is no hope. UPDATE, 3.28.15: Sometimes I feel impelled to resolve to no longer attempt to make jokes in this space, but if I ever come to that point, there will truly be no hope indeed. I can provide more context for the above remark for people who might want it. My students often surprise me with what they know. I would be neither disappointed nor dismayed if they were unfamiliar with Oklahoma or The Music … [Read more...]