For the first time in many years, I’ll be teaching a 20th-century history survey this fall. In preparation I’m transferring a lot of old vinyl records to CD, and a lot of CDs to my external hard drive (more than 8500 mp3s so far), so that any time a title flashes through my mind, I’ll be able to punch it up and play it in class. My entire musical youth, including many pieces never available on CD, is going onto this hard drive, and it’s a trip down memory lane. I’m using one computer to record the vinyl, another to rip the CDs, and so I’ve been enjoying a Cagean clash of simultaneous composers: Ligeti, Harbison, Jon Gibson, Betsy Jolas, Diamanda Galas, Barraqué, Del Tredici, Niblock, Sculthorpe, Nono, Carter, Ferneyhough, yada, yada, yada.
At one point I had Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony playing along with Diamanda’s Tragouthia Apo To Aima Exoun Fonos (Song from the Blood of Those Murdered). Diamanda was riffing off a high B, hitting notes all around it and always returning. The Rachmaninoff was in E minor, modulating in a way that kept B in the harmony as a pivot note. Like an avenging angel, she poured her passionate lament into Rachmaninoff’s gently commiserating chorale, perfectly in tune, like it was all planned out. It was the most thrilling musical moment I’d had in awhile.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Actually, it was in harmony, but out of tempo, which sounds like an average description of my own music. No wonder I loved it.