Minimalism Unbounded but Helsinki-Bound

All attend!: the Fifth International Conference on Minimalist Music, taking place at the University of Turku and the Sibelius Academy in Finland this September, has finally announced its call for papers. They will be focusing on "the relevance of the minimalist style in the 21st century," and are looking for papers on the core minimalist repertory but also postminimalism, Nordic minimalism, the migration of the style among genres, minimalism in popular culture, and so on. The keynote speakers will be scholars Robert Fink and Jelena Novak. This … [Read more...]

New Horizons in Microtonal Neoclassicism

I wrote some more of my Nursery Tunes for Demented Children that I recently mentioned here. They're silly little pieces, but they serve a serious purpose for me. I've been doing a lot of sketches for large works in what I call my 8x8 tuning, which contains potentialities that I need to explore and learn to hear before I can commit myself to basing entire pieces on them. In particular I've been trying out, in the second and fourth pieces here, more exotic triads a little higher in the harmonic series, such as 7:9:11, 10:13:15, and 8:11:13, which … [Read more...]

A Born Symphonist Heard at Last


For years I've been complaining about the unavailability of George Rochberg's symphonies on recording, aside from the 2nd and 5th. The 2nd is such a fantastic piece - just about the one 12-tone piece I can count on students going nuts for at first listening - that I've felt like an important slice of history was missing in especially the 3rd and 4th symphonies, the ones written during his turn toward romanticism and collage in the period of his Concord quartets. Well, several months ago the remaining symphonies were quietly added to YouTube, … [Read more...]

In Which I Am Danced to


I meant to post this earlier, but between semesters I lose all concept of time. Some of my microtonal music, specifically Charing Cross and Echoes of Nothing, is being used in a new dance today choreographed by my Bard colleague Peggy Florin. The event is at 3 PM at the Danspace Projects DraftWork Series at St. Mark's Church in New York on 10th Street and Second Avenue. Dances by Peggy and also Lisa Kusanagi, performed by Peggy, Harriett Meyer & Dana Florin-Weiss. Free event. I like people dancing to my music. Happens occasionally. And I … [Read more...]

Things Composers Can Do


Peter Burkholder’s book All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing is my bible. In it Peter systematically outlined all the various methods and intentions with which Ives quoted and borrowed from other music. Peter worked from the manuscripts outward, and when he found a folk song penciled next to the symphonic tune Ives derived from it, Ives was caught red-handed. There were many attributed quotes in Ives that I was reluctant to think were intentional, but when Peter shows the notes in the manuscript next to the score, … [Read more...]

Justifying the Strange Artist

For forty-five years, since I was a middle-schooler in Dallas, Ives's Essays before a Sonata has been one of the most important books in my life. Lately it's become tremendously underrated. Some Ives scholars have dismissed it nearly entirely as a jumble of psuedo-intellectual bloviations. The literature about the book has mined it piecemeal, a few sentences at a time, for insights into Ives's biography, or to prove that he was highly influenced by Emerson and considered himself a Transcendentalist - or to prove the opposite. One of the themes … [Read more...]

Bob Gilmore (1961-2015)


I am stunned by the news on Facebook that musicologist and my close friend Bob Gilmore has died at age 53. He had survived a bout of cancer when I saw him two years ago in Amsterdam and London, and was physically reduced, but last I'd heard he was on the road to complete recovery. What a loss! He was not only a superb scholar (biographer of Harry Partch, anthologizer of Ben Johnston) but an incredibly irreverent spirit, incisive and fearless. I'll never forget, after corresponding with him for years, pulling into Dartington, England, on the … [Read more...]

Charles Ives as Improviser


One of the passages in my book I'm most proud of is the one in which I analyze my transcriptions of Ives's recorded performances of the Four Transcriptions from Emerson (passages of the Concord's Emerson movement that he revised to be closer to the way he played them). One of my external readers advised firmly that this chapter should be stricken from the book. That's right: for the first time, someone transcribed what actual notes Charles Ives played when he considered that he was playing Emerson, giving us a chance to see how what Ives … [Read more...]

Ruskin’s Influence on Ives

All that is currently clear is that Essays After a Sonata: Charles Ives's Concord will be delayed, as musicologists argue over whether I've flattered them enough. But they can't silence me, and as I've been chary of posting excerpts of the book for fear of getting scooped on some of my ideas, it is perhaps time to spring some of those ideas out into the world. This way you can judge the book, piecemeal, for yourselves, and savor the naughty thrill of reading a book someone doesn't want you to read. Of course, it may be - who knows? - that my … [Read more...]

Analyzing Music No Longer Allowed

One of the things my Concord Sonata book is being criticized for is that all I do is analyze the music. Apparently I'm supposed to be bringing in multidisciplinary approaches: I dunno, historiography, reception history, gender studies. Musicology has moved on from the mere analysis of music, and by analyzing a piece I must be implicitly asserting that all I care about is the glorification of Dead White Males and the Great Western Canon. I am accused of a "music in a vacuum" approach (I thought that was called music theory) - and seriously, … [Read more...]

Part of a Targeted Audience for Once


At Robert Carl's urging I finally read Richard Powers's novel Orfeo. He told me it was a lifelike novel about a composer, but it's more than that: I think just to understand the novel you'd have to be a composer, or at least an inveterate new-music fan, because the contemporary music references fly thick and fast. One whole long scene takes place within a played recording of Steve Reich's Proverb. The protagonist, Richard Els, is a composition professor who studied at the University of Illinois in the 1960s, and actual people I knew like Ben … [Read more...]

The Mission Creep of Peer Review

I was recently at a reception where I found myself among three other authors who had written admirable, major books on American music. Every one of them said he or she was thinking about putting their next book on the internet, specifically to avoid the peer-review process. I empathized completely. I’m going through it now with my Concord Sonata book, and I’m committed to it one more time, for my Arithmetic of Listening book with U. of Illinois Press, and, because microtonalists are so argumentative, I’m already dreading that ordeal. It’s … [Read more...]

Easier than Literature

From Bernard Shaw's January 25, 1893, review of Dame Ethel Smyth's Mass in D: Whenever I hear the dictum, "Women cannot compose," uttered by some male musician whose whole endowment, intellectual and artistic, might be generously estimated as equivalent to that of the little finger of Miss Braddon or Miss Broughton, I always chuckle and say to myself, "Wait a bit, my lad, until they find out how much easier it is than literature, and how little the public shares your objection to hidden consecutives, descending leading notes, ascending … [Read more...]