main: October 2004 Archives

The November Composer-of-the-Month at Postclassic Radio is, logically enough, William Duckworth, whose elegant musical logic has been a tremendous influence on my own music. I've uploaded two major Duckworth works, The Time Curve Preludes (1978-79) for piano, played on Lovely Music by neely Bruce, and Southern Harmony (1980-81), a choral piece sung by the Gregg Smith Singers and the Rooke Chapel Choir of Bucknell University. The latter work is in 20 movements divided into four books, and I've separated the four books out among other works in the playlist. Duckworth's Imaginary Dances (1986) is also being aired, performed by pianist Lois Svard. These are all classic works of the postminimalist movement. There's no reason to upload performances from Duckworth's vast internet work Cathedral, because it's already on the web here, and you can hear it (and play it) yourself.

To upload a couple of pieces to Postclassic Radio every night is easy. What's proved more daunting, in my mid-semester work overload, is keeping the playlist current. My apologies for lagging behind in that area. Corrections coming shortly.

October 31, 2004 7:54 PM | |
I was listening to NPR on my way to New York today. I wouldn't believe what I heard if I hadn't heard it with my own ears. Our Potemkin President (as Doonesbury has finally called him - someone had to) was responding to Kerry's charges that he goofed in allowing 380 tons of munitions to be stolen in Iraq. And he shouted, in slow, emphatic words, as though explaining the simplest common sense:

"The president... needs to collect ALL the facts... before making politically-motivated statements!"

I laughed so hard I nearly drove off the road. I'm not sure I would feel better even if Bush DID collect all the facts before making his politically-motivated statements. I'd rather he just told the truth. But maybe, this once, he was.

October 29, 2004 12:43 AM | |
I have two performances coming up in San Francisco and Berkeley next week - one I’ll be present for, the other I won’t. Red-headed pianists Sarah Cahill and Kathleen Supové - I call attention to their hair color because the title of the concert is “Two Redheads and 88 Solenoids,” although I think of Cahill as more of a strawberry blonde - are playing some music for piano and Disklavier plus piano, dotted with pieces for Disklavier alone. The premiere in my case is Private Dances, a set of dances of which I wrote two in 2000 and four more last summer, 25 minutes in all. Cahill is also playing pieces by Carl Stone and Tania Leon, while Supové is offering works by Dan Becker, John Adams, and Randall Woolf. During intermission some of Becker’s and my Disklavier pieces will be featured. (The Disklavier, by the way, is an acoust-, oh forget it.) Details for the two identical concerts are as follows:

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004
8 PM
The Slavonic Cultural Center
60 Onondaga Ave. (corner of Alemany Blvd; near Balboa Bart)
San Francisco


Saturday, November 6th, 2004
8 PM
The Berkeley Arts Festival Gallery
2324 Shattuck Ave.

To make the first concert I would have had to fly across the country on Election Day, and it occured to me that Dick Cheney might choose that day to order his Pentagon friends to shoot a couple more planes out of the sky and then claim he was mistaken again. So I’ll wait until President-Elect Kerry is securely ratified, and go out for the Saturday performance.

October 27, 2004 8:16 PM | |
How many Bush administration officials does it take to change a light bulb?

None. There’s nothing wrong with that light bulb. There is no need to change anything. We made the right decision and nothing has happened to change our minds. People who criticize this light bulb now, just because it doesn’t work anymore, supported us when we first screwed it in, and when these flip-floppers insist on saying that it is burned out, they are merely giving aid and encouragement to the Forces of Darkness.

- John Cleese

Q: What's the difference between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War?

A: George W. Bush had a plan for getting out of the Vietnam War.

- courtesy of Antonio Celaya

October 25, 2004 11:09 AM | |
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to play my Disklavier pieces lately, in New York and at Bard. A Disklavier, just to be very clear since so many get the wrong idea, is an acoustic piano, with real strings struck by felt hammers and vibrating in the air, but operated from a computer (or disc) via MIDI instructions. The keys move, just as though a pianist were playing them. It’s a modern player piano, only the paper piano roll is now replaced by a sequence of digital information.

Anyway, the response I get is kind of deadeningly repetitive. The pieces I usually play are jazzy, impressively fast, and sort of humorous, and generally make a good impression. But afterward, I’m invariably approached by two or three or four people who ask, “Gee, isn’t there some way to make it possible for live pianists to play those pieces?” They ask as though they suspect it's a possibility I've never considered, as if they expect me to strike my forehead and shout, "Of course - a live pianist! Why didn't I think of it?"

Now, number one: I get a big kick out of watching the Disklavier. It’s fun to watch all those keys ripple up and down the keyboard; I take the front cover off, when it’s an upright, and you can watch the hammers fly by as well. In Australia I also hooked up my computer to a projector, so the audience could watch the Digital Performer file scroll by, which looks exactly like a player piano roll, only with the notes running horizontally instead of vertically. I got the idea from watching Conlon Nancarrow’s player pianos, which were incredibly more fun to watch live than to listen to a recording of. You’d see a diagonal line of holes appear on the piano roll, and know that a huge glissando was coming, and it would blast in a split second later - it was like being on a sonic roller coaster, because you could see what you were headed for just a second before it happened. I love watching player pianos as much as I’ve ever loved watching a live pianist.

Number two: I’ve written a lot of piano music and a lot of Disklavier music, and I approach them with different mindsets, just as though they were different instruments. When writing for Disklavier I don’t even think about spacing the notes so that a human hand can reach them. If I want to write a melody in lightning-fast quintuple octaves, or a whole string of six parallel sixths, I go right ahead. And the whole point is to be freed from downbeats and meters, so the first thing I’ll do is lay out a whole set of nested tempo relationships, like 7-against-9-against-11-against-13-against-17, and then fill in the notes, knowing that notes in one line will coincide with notes in another line only at downbeats, and then I try to avoid putting notes on downbeats. By doing that I get exactly what I want, which I feel is a wonderful spontaneity of notes bubbling up, not randomly, but like corks bobbing up and down on brisk waves, with patterns that are repetitive but wholly unsynchronized.

I know that there are pianists, like Ursula Oppens, who have trained themselves to play some pretty complex rhythms; in fact, the Helena Bugallo-Amy Williams Piano Duo played some of Conlon Nancarrow’s early Player Piano Studies in New York this past Thursday, and I couldn’t be there because I was impersonating Abraham Lincoln that night. (Scroll down if you really have to know why.) But it’s one thing to play a 22-tuplet over a 4/4 beat in a Chopin nocturne, it’s something else to play steady lines of 13-against-29-against-31 for several measures at a time. I imagine it can be done. What I don’t imagine is that it would sound the way I want it to sound, with the same spontaneity and bubbly effect. I did, by request, transform one of my Disklavier pieces (Folk Dance for Henry Cowell) into a live-pianist piece (Private Dance No. 2), and I’ve never been totally convinced by the result. In addition, pianists fudge rhythms like these, and I frequently change harmony in mid-measure among several lines at once, the notes all changing chord suddenly like a flock of birds mysteriously reversing course with one mind. I don’t see how a pair or trio of pianists would be able to “sort of” play all these tempos at once, and also be able to so closely synchronize that when one switches to the E minor triad on the fifth note of a 17-tuplet, the other switches to that chord on the corresponding fourth note of a 13-tuplet.

Maybe it could be done. If someone can figure out how to do it, I’ll applaud. But the other thing I can’t understand is, why would anyone want to go to that much trouble? Why are so many people so dissatisfied watching the Disklavier, even people who visibly enjoy it? Sometimes the question comes from a pianist who is dazzled by the music and wants to play it, and that’s flattering. I wish I could interest these pianists in the eight or so piano pieces I’ve written for human players, but I rarely do. One person said that the Disklavier doesn’t give the feel that a live pianist can. Well, that’s a point, I guess; but unlike the old player pianos, I can adjust the dynamic (hammer velocity) separately for every note, and I do a tremendous amount of fine-tuning to accent just the right note in a phrase, humanize the attack points, create the effect of a live pianist hesitating on a high note or beginning a trill slowly. I simulate live performance with what strikes me as a high degree of realism, and I am strongly tempted to assume that psychology plays a role in perception here - the music often sounds nuanced, tentative, slightly irregular just the way a pianist would play it, but since there is no pianist, the listener fools himself into believing that it sounds regular and mechanical.

Or is it just that people don’t enjoy watching machines play music? I’ve seen an entire orchestra of MIDI-operated machines play music in Trimpin’s studio in Seattle, and it was one of the great musical thrills of my life. Computer-operated acoustic instruments are coming, folks - they’re part of your future. Get used to ‘em or ignore ‘em, but you can’t stop ‘em.

I know Conlon used to be bothered by similar queries. In his day, there was always the complaint (he got it from Aaron Copland, among others) that a player piano performance was the same every time, that there was no interpretive deviation from one playing to the next. Conlon’s usual response was, a Picasso painting is the same every time you see it; a Shakespeare sonnet is the same every time you read it; why is only music required to be different every time or you can’t enjoy it? Today’s audiences, however, are so inured to recordings and even near-identical performances that that objection seems to have disappeared. But for some reason people are just bothered by using a computer to do something that humans have always done, and they seem willing - as I am not - to put up with any compromise to transfer that activity back into the traditional realm of the performer-audience relationship. I wish I understood why. Because, sadly, I think people who strongly feel that way are just going to have to listen to someone else’s music, and there’s a lot out there.

October 24, 2004 11:30 PM | |
I'm late in announcing this - things have been hectic - but there's a memorial concert tomorrow for Jonathan Kramer: Sunday, October 24th at 2:00 PM at Miller Theatre, Columbia University. Several of Jonathan's pieces will be performed, including Imagined Ancestors (of which this is the world premiere), Renascence, Whirled Piece, Remembrance of a People, and Atlanta Licks. All ticket money goes to a fund started in Jonathan's honor to commission young composers, a cause he greatly believed in.

October 23, 2004 2:06 PM | |
Today’s headlines:

The New York Times: The Year of Fear, by William Safire - "Fearmongers in the Kerry campaign are turning any breaking news story they can into a personal threat"

AP: Cheney: "terrorists may bomb U.S. cities"

UPDATE: Breaking news: Iran endorses Bush, because Democrats have this pesky concern with human rights. Not our Commander-in-Chimp! I mean Chief.

October 20, 2004 9:58 AM | |
You’re not going to believe this, but tomorrow night - Thursday, October 21, at 8 PM at New York’s Cooper Union - I’m going to play Abraham Lincoln in a new work by Gloria Coates. The piece is titled Abraham Lincoln´s Cooper Union Address, and I’ll be reading, in costume, a speech that Lincoln delivered in Cooper Union on February 27, 1860, disputing the notion that the framers of the U.S. Constitution supported the furtherance of slavery. I suppose what qualifies me for this role, beyond my enthusiastic support for Coates's music, is my past performances in my one-man theater piece Custer and Sitting Bull. In short, I’ve developed a reputation for impersonating people who eventually get shot.

The concert, organized by Birgit Ramsauer, is titled “Spinet: an experiment on Gesamtkunstwerk - Totalart.” The rest of the European program comprises:

Pär Frid, Totentanz für Spinett, 2004 (Sweden)
Stefano Giannotti, L´Arte des Paesaggio, 2000 (Italy)
Heinrich Hartl, Cemballissimo, 2003 (Germany)
Horst Lohse, Birgit´s Toy, 2004 (Germany)
Katharina Rosenberger, Echo, 2004 (Switzerland)

Coates is American, but has lived since the 1970s in Munich. Complete info about the concert here.

By the way, some may note an irony in a Southerner like myself reading the part of Abe Lincoln. In the first place, Gloria wanted a Southern voice because Lincoln was born in Kentucky and grew up in southern Indiana. Secondly, what little genealogical research we've received indicates that the Ganns of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were Northern sympathizers, and that, in fact, one of my ancestors was hung by the Confederacy for giving aid to a Union soldier. So I reckon I'm not too far out of line, and I'm fixin' to do it regardless.

October 20, 2004 9:23 AM | |
Less than a month after it went on the air, Postclassic Radio has won an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for internet service to new music. Actually, it’s a co-winner along with Iridian Radio, whose virtual DJ Robin Cox has been doing a fantastic job of coming up with really obscure yet attractive new music, stuff even I’ve never heard of. Thanks, ASCAP (and I’m a member).

With my performance in New York last week I didn’t have time to pay any attention to my station for several days, but I’ve made up for it: twelve new works have been added to Postclassic Radio in the last 24 hours, including two cuts from Pamela Z’s brand new CD A Delay Is Better (Starkland), and the 56-minute entirety of David First’s The Good Book's (Accurate) Jail of Escape Dust Coordinates, Part 2, a 1992, slowly evolving continuum piece of chords going slowly out of tune. The piece gets more active, even rock-oriented, in the last half-hour. And there’s so much more to come.

October 19, 2004 7:59 PM | |
My criticism class got lively today. There are a couple of jazz players in the class, a smattering of classical musicians, and the rest are all destined for the Village Voice, if not worse. I use anthologies by Virgil Thomson, Gary Giddins, and Lester Bangs as my textbooks. And one of the things I’m most interested in exploring is the differences in persona, tone, and expectations among jazz, classical, and pop writing. The students agreed that it can be hip, nonchalant, to profess ignorance in a pop review, but to express ignorance in a classical review would be like admitting a mistake after invading Iraq - you’d be dead meat. A classical critic, as one grindcore fan put it (and I just learned that word today), is supposed to come off as a well-educated, middle-aged, upper class white guy who’s heard everything and has exceedingly hard-to-please taste. The classical critic rarely reveals anything about his personal life (save for his exasperating problems of CD storage). The pop critic, by contrast, is supposed to be living on the edge, going to clubs at ungodly hours, inhaling substances, living the whole rock ‘n’ roll life. The essence of rock, they claimed, is attitude. Pop critics (except in the Times) frequently write about where they’ve been, who they saw hanging there, what they were doing, and who got arrested. Pop reviews are more often about action and worldview than music.

Relationship to the “canon,” if any, is different. Jazz critics have a vast and mandatory repertoire of specific recordings they have to have heard. Imagine being a jazz critic and knowing every Coltrane disc except one: you’d be crucified. For classical critics, the canon of works is pretty fixed, though subject to ongoing debate among experts. You can get away with not knowing the Wilhelm Stenhammar piano concerti, but you’d better be able to identify every last Chopin nocturne as such. The idea of a rock canon is not entirely nonsensical, but far more personal. Everyone agreed that to be unfamiliar with Velvet Underground and Nico would generally be humiliating, though if your obsessive specialty was death metal, they said, you might get away with it. The main difference between pop versus jazz and classical seems to be that pop music is far more Balkanized into a few hundred subgenres, so that hiphop, jungle, Mbase, and grindcore fans (love the word) might possess fanatical expertise without overlapping much. With all those subgenres, pop critics also make a fetish of detailing stylistic family trees.

The relations to the people written about are very different. What’s always impressed me about jazz criticism is its underlying assumption that every figure written about is a legend, somehow larger than human in both talent and suffering. Critics write not just about Billie Holiday’s singing and recordings but about her hard life, and how the pain of her youth comes through her interpretations. I’ve read few negative jazz reviews in my life; Miles Davis may have a bad day and a rocky session, but it’s not that he's faltering (as a classical maven would allege) - he's wrestling with inner demons, and every setback forecasts greater glories to come. Classical critics maintain both more reverent and more condescending attitudes toward their charges. Mozart was a divine genius, not to be questioned, but Beethoven’s astounding Missa solemnis is “a profound, though deeply flawed work.” The life of a classical musician is kept scrupulously separate from his or her music, except in selected cases marked by a whiff of scandal: Wagner’s anti-semitism, Schubert’s alleged homosexuality, Strauss's Nazi connections. Classical critics make a reputation by seeming impossible to please (why I’m in academia instead of at the Times - I’m impolitic enough to show enthusiasm). A totally positive classical review, at least in a high-class uptown paper, is about as rare as a negative jazz one.

Some of the older classical critics, in fact, like to talk about themselves as "gatekeepers" - the idea being that they should discourage every newcomer as much as possible, and if a composer succeeds in leaping over their wall of disapproval, that person has proved himself worthy of entering the canon. I consider this a stupid, pompous, anachronistic view of the critic's role, analogous to George W. Bush's sense of macho entitlement. And pop reviews treat their subjects as giants and targets at once, fated symbols for one part of the culture or another, but also media creations not to be taken too seriously. When John Lennon was shot, Lester Bangs wrote, "I don't know the guy. But I do know that when all was said and done, that's all he was - a guy." No jazz critic would have said that about Charlie Parker. No classical critic would have said that about Mozart. But it would have been no more or less true in either case. Jazz critics, I think one could say, view the musicians they write about from below; classicals from above; pop critics as parallel equals.

Pop musicians have to be discovered young, and fare better when they die out young, too. Jazz musicians seem to get to mature at a slower rate: you see Coltrane’s name first as sideman on a Charlie Parker disc, then as equal with Miles Davis, and later fronting his own albums, sort of the way you see Marilyn Monroe do a bit part in All About Eve before she’s the star of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Classical composers follow one of two invariable career trajectories: they either get scooped up by the establishment at 28 or 30 and made famous, whether anyone continues liking their music or not; or they’re ignored until they’re 60 or so and suddenly discovered as undersung geniuses. (I’m working, I reassured the students, on the latter plan.)

That’s one reason I wanted to teach this class. I think musicians in all genres buy into a whole complex set of interlocking myths invisibly woven into the genre. Why, when a composer gets lionized at 28, does he remain lionized at 45 even if his music hasn’t improved? Many composers mature and find their own voice at around age 40 or a little after; why do you never hear of 40-something composers becoming famous? What would happen if you reviewed classical music the way pop reviewers write?: talk about the scene, admit ignorance or indifference or antipathy to certain repertoires? What would happen if you wrote about pop as though it were classical?: talk about harmonic structure, compare melodies from one song to another? What if we could approach the irreverent Haydn irreverently ourselves? Viewing art forms through each other’s lenses, I think, could reveal much about our unacknowledged, even unconscious assumptions, and maybe begin to free up some of the malaise that fans of each seem to agree infect all three genres.

October 14, 2004 8:12 PM | |
The “Sounds Like Now” festival coming up this week looks like old home week for the Downtown scene. Microtonalist David First and electronics maven Tom Hamilton curated the festival, and text composer Chris Mann is emceeing. The schedule, running from Thursday through Sunday, October 14 to 17, at La MaMa Etc., 74A East 4th St. in New York City, is as follows:

Thursday, Oct 14 8PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny
Annea Lockwood
Petr Kotik
Alvin Lucier
Thomas Buckner

Friday, Oct 15 8PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny & Jon Gibson
Jin Hi Kim
David Behrman
Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell

Saturday Oct 16 2PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, Jon Gibson & Peter Zummo
Robert Ashley
Jim Staley
David Rosenboom
Douglas Ewart

Saturday Oct 16 8PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, Jon Gibson, Peter Zummo & Leroy Jenkins
Joshua Fried
Pauline Oliveros/Deep Listening Band
Phill Niblock
Downtown Ensemble (William Hellermann/Daniel Goode/Mary Jane Leach/Peter Zummo)

Sunday Oct 17 2PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, Jon Gibson, Peter Zummo, Leroy Jenkins & Mark Dresser
William Duckworth/Cathedral Band
Fast Forward
Carl Stone
Nicolas Collins
Michael J. Schumacher

Sunday Oct 17 8PM
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, Jon Gibson, Peter Zummo, Leroy Jenkins, Mark Dresser, & Roscoe Mitchell
David First & Tom Hamilton
Joan La Barbara
Kyle Gann
48nord & George Lewis
Morton Subotnick

That’s right, that’s yours truly in there on the final concert, and it’s my only New York performance this fall. (I have some San Francisco performances November 3 and 6 that I’ll tell you about later.) At “Sounds Like Now” I’m playing three of my Disklavier pieces, Bud Ran Back Out, Petty Larceny, and the world premiere of Unquiet Night - although if you’ve been listening to Postclassic Radio you may have already heard the last-named piece. [A Disklavier, since many people have no idea what one is, is an acoustic piano, with real strings struck by real felt hammers and vibrating in real air, played by a computer via MIDI cables. The sounds are not electronic, and do not play through loudspeakers.] So show up at La MaMa Etc., 74A East 4th St., and you’ll hear many of the stalwarts who inhabited the new-music scene of the 1980s and ‘90s with me.

October 10, 2004 10:05 PM | |
“I don’t really believe in program notes, I think the music should speak for itself.” Boy, do I get this from composers a lot. I’ve made a living for 22 years from explaining music in words, and I’d say half the composers I meet consider it a dishonest living - justified only insofar as I can praise them in print and help them get future gigs. Music should speak for itself, should communicate what it’s about, and thus the veiled hostility of the statement passes without notice. When music fails to communicate, it can be the music’s fault, and it can be the listener’s. If it’s the music’s fault, then program notes are of little avail. A program note for a poor piece is a lawyer defending a guilty client. But what if the defendant is innocent, and it’s the listener’s fault?

In an audience of any size, there will be a certain proportion of well-intended people who do not process new auditory information as accurately as they do verbal and visual information. Those people appreciate, and benefit from, a nudge in some direction as to how they should understand the music they’re hearing for the first time. It doesn’t even have to be the right direction, they’ll self-correct through experience soon enough. The most gratifying comment I’ve ever gotten is, “I didn’t really know what to think about that piece until I read your review.” As Virgil Thomson so incisively wrote, “The purpose of music criticism is to aid the public in the digestion of musical works. Not for nothing is it so often compared to bile.” It is a composer’s professional deformation to forget that, for most people, hearing a new piece of music in an unfamiliar style is a rare experience for which they have not spent any time mentally preparing. You can go through your career secretly despising these people, but the composer who despises the vast body of well-intended lay listeners amply deserves to fail - and will, unless he or she succeeds in a superficial sense by clever politicking in musical society, as so many do.

There are many routes to an interest in music, and the music-should-speak-for-itself crowd inexplicably want to close down all but one. I had a student from Danbury, Connecticut, who took up a particular interest in Charles Ives because he was from Danbury. Is that an ignoble reason to make a hobby of someone’s music? Had I told the class, “Who cares what city he was from, dammit, the music should speak for itself!” - she would never really have heard Ives’s music. Program notes can put a human face on strange-sounding music. Composer Jennifer Higdon told me that she once caught 41 bluegills in a pond in Tennessee where she grew up; that may reel in a segment of the audience less impressed by the 410 composition prizes she caught later. Music also, as we all ought to have learned by now, sometimes carries an ideational content that doesn’t register with unpracticed listeners until it’s pointed out to them in words. Another student didn’t care for Cage’s music at first hearing, but became fascinated with the I Ching. Everyone rightly respects the paradigmatic experience of suddenly hearing a piece of music and being so overwhelmed that you have to know more about it, but I have to admit that not every composition I now dearly love came into my heart through that direct route. And my favorite use of program notes is for after the concert - by listeners so impressed they had to know more. Pure experience is a wonderful thing, but to have a shared artistic culture we have to fit our experiences into a narrative. Program notes can be the humble building blocks of that narrative.

So let’s correctly interpret what “the music should speak for itself” usually means: “I just want my music played, and I’m too busy and important and self-absorbed to bother helping anyone who doesn’t get it. If they’re not sophisticated enough to understand it just by listening, SCREW ‘EM!” Is that really the image you want us poor music critics to think you intend to project to the world?

October 10, 2004 7:36 AM | |
I just realized that, on Postclassic Radio, I've been playing my own music theater piece Custer and Sitting Bull with the vocal part missing from the second, Sitting Bull scene. I must have accidentally uploaded that movement from the performance CD, which is a kind of "Music Minus One" version. (Does anyone besides me remember "Music Minus One" records, which would allow you to practice a concerto with a recorded orchestra?) I apologize for the confusion - most of all, to myself.

That piece is now followed by a beautiful 1992 work for multiple electric guitars - Sunrise over Fields of Withered Grain - by the great, undersung Paul Sturm, whose web site you should check out.

October 8, 2004 10:55 AM | |
I liked one question Gwen Ifill asked Cheney and Edwards, and was disappointed neither answered it: "What's wrong with a little flip-flopping?" I keep hoping someone will quote Emerson: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." A foolish consistency, which is the word missed by many people who quote the line. Of all the faults, misdeeds, and crimes against humanity that can be laid at George Bush's door, for which a special roasting pit in hell is doubtless being prepared for him, what would be easier to convict him of than a foolish consistency?

Then, I guess the very fact that I would quote America's greatest 19th-century thinker marks me as some kind of effete East-Coast elitist commie pinko Francophile child-molesting liberal. If every small mind in America votes for the guy who's been foolishly consistent, we're doomed.

October 6, 2004 8:11 AM | |
Of all the slow, stationary, eventless recordings on Postclassic Radio, Elodie Lauten's Harmonic Protection Circle is the slowest, most stationary, and most eventless. And absolutely gorgeous. It features the Elodie Lauten Ensemble: the composer herself on synthesizer, Jonathan Hirschman on guitar, Mustafa Ahmed on percussion, and Mathew Fieldes on contrabass. The brand new Studio 21 recording arrived in my mail last week, and is already up for your listening pleasure.

October 4, 2004 9:59 PM | |
All through my avant-garde-obsessed youth I heard about the notorious Nam June Paik, but there were no recordings of his music, and, given its conceptual nature, there didn't seem likely to be any: one of his most famous performances was to leap into the audience with a pair of scissors and cut off John Cage's tie; another (never confirmed) was that he interrupted playing a Beethoven sonata to moon the audience; and one published score consisted of the words: "Creep into the vagina of a living whale." However, in the early 1980s I finally ran across a record on Block Gramavision, from Germany's prestigious René Block Gallery, titled "Klavierduett: In memoriam George Maciunas," by Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys. It's a three-side (the fourth record side is blank) performance that these two Fluxus artists gave to comemmorate the death of George Maciunas, Fluxus' chief ringleader. In this crazy but strangely attractive recording, the two improvise on pianos, hit things, make mysterious noises, and mingle Gershwin's "Summertime" with Chopin's march from the Funeral Sonata. They decided in advance to play for 74 minutes (since Maciunas died at 47 - typical Fluxus logic), and at 74 minutes an alarm clock rings, ending the performance.

This recording, which is still obtainable on vinyl in Germany but has never made it to CD, can now be heard every 17 hours, starting this evening, on Postclassic Radio. I've been putting up some long pieces on the station, and this is the longest yet. That's one of the problems in presenting new music (for example, trying to publish a book about it with an accompanying CD) - many of postclassical music's most important strategies and innovations are length-dependent, and if you restrict yourself to pieces under, say, 15 minutes, you just can't give a representative picture of what's going on today. I hope listeners aren't disappointed when a piece they don't care for runs on forever, but I just can't fulfill the station's mission without adding some major works in their entirety. I've even been toying with the idea of uploading the five-hour 1981 recording of La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano someday, or Feldman's six-hour String Quartet II. But to kick off Postclassic Radio's second month, this rare Fluxus audio document of Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik is sufficiently momentous.

October 1, 2004 8:44 AM | |

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Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
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