main: October 2006 Archives

Once again, pianist extraordinaire Sarah Cahill will perform my new work On Reading Emerson tonight at 8 at the Berkeley Arts Festival at the Jazzschool, 2087 Addison St., Berkeley - along with works by Rzewski, Polansky, Andrea Morricone, Elizabeth Lauer, and Phil Collins, every one of them written in the last ten months.

October 27, 2006 9:35 AM | | Comments (0) |

Composer Mark So is helping to organize a publication about James Tenney to accompany an upcoming festival of the great man's music at CalArts. He'd like to include the little tribute I wrote to Tenney here, along with all of the wonderful comments that were left in respose. Does anyone who left a comment object? Please either drop a note to Mark at, or else leave a comment below granting permission. And thanks.

October 27, 2006 9:28 AM | | Comments (1) |

I'm composer-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in February and March. I had announced here that the deadline for applying to join me there was October 20, but somehow it got extended until October 27, which is tomorrow. If you're still interested but hadn't made up your mind, or were afraid all those terrible things Ann Coulter is saying about me might be true (they're all false except the online casino addiction), you can still sign up through tomorrow here. I'd love to see you, it's been too long.

Tonight's concert of Disklavier music in the Leonhardi Museum at the Carl Maria von Weber Hochschule in Dresden boasts the following program:

György Ligeti: Etude 3, Touches bloquées
Conlon Nancarrow: Study No. 24
Ligeti: Etude 8, Fém
Nancarrow: Study No. 4
Michael Jordan: RANKEN (UA)
Nancarrow: Study No. 31
Kyle Gann: Petty Larceny
Gann: Texarkana
Nancarrow: Study No. 18
Ligeti: Etude 13, L'escalier du diable
Nancarrow: Study No. 26
Ligeti: Etude 9, Vertige
Nancarrow: Study No. 11
Wolfgang Heisig: Ringparabel
Heisig: Opus 70
Nancarrow: Toccata for violin and piano
Luc Houtkamp: Duo for Man Alone
Nancarrow: Study No.33
Ligeti: Etude 11, En suspens
Nancarrow: Study No. 20
Ligeti: Etude 14A, Coloana fara sfarsit

Wish I could be there, hangin' out with György, Conlon, Wolfgang, and Alexander Plötz, who organized it.

October 26, 2006 7:52 AM | |

Does anyone still listen to Postclassic Radio? I wouldn't blame you if you'd quit, having heard everything on the long-stagnant current playlist over and over, but actually, according to my stats, listeners logged in 567 hours in September, at an average of 37 minutes per listening session, and the rate seems to be continuing for October. I'm teaching a five-course load this semester instead of my usual three, preparing for sabbatical, and in over my head, but I have lately been finding time to add some new tracks. If you're the guy who's listening, you'll notice some new pieces by the Southern-born Boston microtonalist Ezra Sims (including his lovely Sextet of 1981), and piano music by the cogent and brilliant Hartford postminimalist James Sellars. Other additions will be made very soon, I promise.

UPDATE: Promise kept. Home sick with a cold today, I uploaded more than 20 percent new material. The official composers of the month - at my current rate, they'll be around until March - are Linda Catlin Smith and Raphael Mostel, with several works each. Plus, new recordings of music by James Tenney and Jo Kondo, a rare vinyl disc of Zygmunt Krauze (Fete galante et pastorale), and Annea Lockwood's Thousand Year Dreaming. I'll try to keep it up, so that if you've been tired of Postclassic Radio, there'll be reason to come back. Don't make me start a pledge drive!

UPDATE AGAIN: With new pieces by Chiel Meijering, Chris Brown, Beata Moon, Reinhold Westerheide, Arvo Pärt, a couple more by Ezra Sims, and several installments of Alvin Curran's intermittently astonishing piano cycle Inner Cities, the playlist has been a good 40 percent updated, and the complete listing on my web site is momentarily up-to-date, too. After the hundreds of hours' worth of music I've programmed with virtually no repetitions, I still feel like I'm pulling things out of the top drawer.

UPDATE AGAIN AGAIN: And perhaps best of all, a deliciously strange and thrilling new work for three microtonal vibraphones, Orenda, by Kraig Grady.

October 19, 2006 9:53 AM | | Comments (1) |

Musico-scientific omnivore Brian McLaren points me to an interview with Malcolm Gladwell that debunks the significance of child prodigies. Gladwell was a child prodigy athlete who, as a teenager, found that his native talent was actually little better than mediocre. Becoming fascinated by the phenomenon, he studied it and found that the correspondence between remarkable early achievement and adult success in a field is actually almost statistically insignificant:

...the young Mozart's prowess can be chalked up to practice, practice, practice. Compelled to practice three hours a day from age three on, by age six the young Wolfgang had logged an astonishing 3,500 hours -- "three times more than anybody else in his peer group. No wonder they thought he was a genius." So Mozart's famous precociousness as a musician was not innate musical ability but rather his ability to work hard, and circumstances (i.e., his father) that pushed him to do so.

"That is a very different definition of precociousness than I think the one that we generally deal with."

A better poster child for what precociousness really entails, Gladwell hinted, may thus be the famous intellectual late-bloomer, Einstein. Gladwell cited a biographer's description of the future physicist, who displayed no remarkable native intelligence as a child but whose success seems to have derived from certain habits and personality traits -- curiosity, doggedness, determinedness -- that are the less glamorous but perhaps more essential components of genius.

The classical music world would do well to keep this in mind. We have a lot of brilliant composers going unperformed because their breakthrough came in their '40s - while we are relentlessly subjected to lousy music by composers who wrote a seemingly precocious piece once in grad school. Penderecki comes to mind - has he written anything worth sitting through since the '60s? And was his Threnody, penned at 26, anything more than a frisson of novel sounds? Therefore we are subjected to his uninsightful conservative mimickry, his pseudo-portentous Lisztian paeans to the chromatic scale, forever, as he racks up music awards a handful at a time? In classical music, precocity is an ironclad predictor of adult success - only because no one ever notices if you don't live up to your early promise.

I actually had an experience similar to Gladwell's. I was the "math genius" of my high school. I would occasionally look at an algebra problem and the correct answer would fly into my head, after which I'd have to work it out and prove it was correct. I'd catch my trigonometry teacher's mistakes. My teachers all urged me to go into math until I got into calculus, where it abruptly became apparent that my talent for all higher-level math was pedestrian at best. (Turns out, the math I had facility in was exactly the type needed for working in just intonation.) The difference between me and some of our Pulitzer hacks is that I am not enabled to inflict my mathematical expertise on the world just because of some deceptive early successes.

(By the way, don't just take my word on Penderecki. Even his bio in Grove Dictionary expresses doubts: "In 1998 he wrote in a foreword to a catalogue of his sketches that he felt he was getting close to the essence of music. By implication, these views are somewhat dismissive of his music of the 1960s, arguably his most distinctive contribution to 20th-century culture. Penderecki is a composer who has consistently engaged with the issues of the outside world, sometimes with piety, often with apparent anger and never without passion. Nevertheless, his stylistic shifts have often raised more questions than answers.")

October 15, 2006 11:57 AM | | Comments (6) |

Mikel Rouse's music for Merce Cunningham's dance eyeSpace, which I witnessed at the Joyce Theater in New York last night and is playing again tonight, was brilliantly post-Cagean. Cunningham and John Cage, as you know, made a decades-long joint career by making music and dance whose interaction was unplanned. Cage would make 20 minutes of music, Cunningham the same length dance, then just combine them, so that random coincidences could happen beyond the control of the creators. Mikel took the idea a step further - the dancers don't even hear the music, because it's on iPods. So the entire audience sat there listening with headphones to Mikel's music, and because each iPod was on shuffle mode, each audience member was hearing different tracks and experiencing a different accompaniment to Merce's dance.

And to make it even more interesting, Mikel and Merce's sound designer Stephan Moore were playing tracks of environmental sounds into the hall - car horns, people talking, subway noise - at greatly varying volumes. Sometimes the environmental sounds would intrude into the iPod music, either because the noises got very loud or Mikel's music very soft. So it was a partly communal experience, and more unpredictable than just listening to a series of Mikel's gently ambient songs, because the noises and songs interacted randomly, and you weren't always sure which sounds came from where. The whole concept realized Cage's kind of unpredictable liveliness on a new level, one that allowed for Mikel's pop-flavored beat. And one of the advantages to Mikel's and my kind of multitempo music, as we semi-joked afterward, was that no matter what kind of rhythm the dancers were making, there was probably some background tempo being articulated by the music that went right along with it.

Mikel's wife Lisa Boudreau (pictured) is one of Cunningham's dancers, and this was the first time she'd ever had the chance to dance to Mikel's music. Lisa.jpg The dancers were forming and reforming in pairs, and wore elastic bands that they would tie each other together with intermittently. Forgive me for not describing more: dance is the most difficult art form for me to grasp, and I've never had any vocabulary for it. It looked like the picture.

As if that weren't enough excitement for one evening, the concert also featured the original choreography (as recalled by Carolyn Brown and others) of Merce's dance, titled Crises, for Conlon Nancarrow's first seven Player Piano Studies, done back in 1960. The Cunningham Dance Group kept that in their repertoire until 1964, and there's apparently a primitive video that they were able to use in the reconstruction. (This Cunningham Dance tour eventually led to the short-lived 1969 Columbia recording of the early Studies.) The dance was kind of robotic and hiply modernist, in skin-tight yellow, red, and salmon tights. In Cage-Cunningham fashion, switches from one Study to the next were not synchronized with sections in the dance. I was paying especially close attention because next May in Boston, Mark Morris is choreographing some of my Disklavier Studies, and I was curious for something to comare with.

The strange thing, that several of us had a big powwow about afterwards, was that one of Conlon's Player Piano Studies was one no one recognized. Trimpin had supplied MIDI files of the early studies so they could dance to a Disklavier (Cunningham always uses "live" music), but they found that the current MIDI files (which I also have) didn't match the early tape. So they had to use the old tape, in the middle of which was there was a three- or four-minute Nancarrow study that I'd never heard before. Its melodic quirks sounded exactly like Nancarrow's style, except that the tune was a little more repetitive and sing-songy, more influenced, perhaps, by the jazz that Conlon had played on trumpet in his jazz gigs of the 1930s. Various theories were advanced, including the possibility that David Tudor had improvised something, but given Conlon's tendency to become dissatisfied with works and disown them, I strongly suspect that this was an early study that he threw away, probably because the jazz influence was too undigested. I'm going to get a recording and see if I can analyze the tempo relationships. Had they asked me a couple of months ago, I'm sure I could have supplied them with a MIDI version.

October 14, 2006 12:42 PM | | Comments (0) |

Performances are coming thick and fast and sneaking up on me. Da Capo is playing my Hovenweep at Hofstra University this afternoon at a 3 PM concert: sorry I don't have the details, but I assume if you can get to Hofstra you can find it.

This Sunday, October 15 at 4, Sarah Cahill will give the West Coast premiere, and I guess the official public world premiere, of my new piano piece On Reading Emerson, which she commissioned. It's at "one of the most idyllic places on earth," the Point Reyes Dance Palace at 5th and B Streets, Point Reyes Station. Works by Grainger, Cowell, and others also included.

Then, on Friday, October 27, at 8, Sarah will repeat On Reading Emerson at the Berkeley Arts Festival, at the Jazzschool, 2087 Addison St., Berkeley. The all-brand-new program, no musty old 20th-century music allowed, is as follows:

Snippets 2 (2006) - Frederic Rzewski (premiere)
Almost a Quintet (2006) - Larry Polansky (premiere)
On Reading Emerson (2006) - Kyle Gann
Tango (2006) - Andrea Morricone (premiere)
Improvviso (2006)- Andrea Morricone (premiere)
"Le Crepescule" Rag (2006)- Elizabeth Lauer
Pleasant Dreaming (2006)- Phil Collins

The pieces by Rzewski, Polansky, as well as Morricone's Improvviso, were, like my piece, written for Sarah. She's amazing.

On October 26 at 8, two of my Disklavier Studies will be played on a concert of mechanical piano music, lots of Nancarrow, Wolfgang Heisig, and others, at the Leonhardi Museum in Dresden. Composer Alexander Plötz is putting the whole thing together; more details later.

October 13, 2006 10:46 AM | | Comments (0) |

My good friend the brilliant composer Larry Polansky, who was closer to Jim Tenney than I was, weighs in nicely on his life and death.

October 12, 2006 12:23 AM | | Comments (0) |

The new minimalism. Dedicated to Alex Ross.

October 11, 2006 10:34 AM | | Comments (5) |

Gratifying unsigned item on the New York Times editorial page today:

It's easy to see why New Yorkers, being who they are, would like to claim Steve Reich as their own. He is widely considered one of the most important living composers, who along with contemporaries like La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and John Adams -- and Charles Ives and John Cage before them -- changed the course of music in the 20th century. And he is still very much a force in the 21st.

Incidentally, I also notice that Maureen Dowd was allowed to use the word "fart" in her column today. Does anyone know if that's an official shift of editorial policy? In 2000, in an article on the history of electronic music for the Times, I wasn't allowed to refer to the 1970s genre of electronic music, full of old-fashioned bloops and bleeps, universally referred to as "squeakfart music." "Censorship!" I cried, and pointed out that any synonym would be less precise and a weak euphemism, but to no avail. If I ever have the article reprinted, I will reinsert the correct term.

October 7, 2006 9:12 AM | | Comments (0) |

My North Carolina weekend gigs were a pleasure, and I had a wonderful time with composers Mikel Rouse, in Chapel Hill, and Lawrence Dillon in Winston-Salem. With the latter, at the North Carolina School for the Arts, I performed with the Philidor Percussion Quartet (which I will put on my resume from now on) in my Snake Dance No. 2. The piece is one of my perennial exercises in playing complex rhythms in unison, and I had forgotten how much I love performing in it.

Professor Dillon, whom I've corresponded with for years but had never met in person before, has written his own complimentary account of the event, so gracious that I won't even make any of the jokes we had contemplated pulling on each other.

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill I saw Mikel Rouse's new opera The End of Cinematics - actually, I'd been familiar with the music for seven years, but his operas take so long to come into production that this was only first staged a year ago at the Krannert Center. The work plays at Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. Go see it: in addition to featuring Mikel's intricately structured pop songs, it uses an elaborate set with live actor/dancers in front of huge video monitors and behind a scrim on which both live and prerecorded film is shown, using theater to comment on the film medium in ways that perplexed and delighted the audience I saw it with. Though the piece takes shots at commercial culture, it is less directly political than Dennis Cleveland, and its mystery makes it something of a Rorschach test for the audience.

My purpose there was to speak about Mikel on a symposium beforehand, for supporters of the arts in Chapel Hill. Once it was over, we were to dine with the guests, and the organizer caught my arm and said, "Hodding Carter III wants you at his table." Those my age will remember the name, and Google reminded me that he was assistant secretary of defense under Jimmy Carter, afterward president of the Knight Foundation; and I found myself surrounded by former employees of the Carter White House, who spent the meal trading eye-opening personal anecdotes about Bill Clinton. I won't repeat any of them, but I found my company more impressive than they had any reason to find me.

October 4, 2006 9:58 AM | | Comments (0) |

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