PRINT September 1979

Avant-Garde Issues in Seventies Music

THE MUSICAL AVANT-GARDE in the 1970s constitutes a complex mosaic whose integrative logic would seem to support a multitude of propositions, each with its own unique dialectical thrust. Today, when a composer’s sensibility can be dramatically influenced by such diverse musics as those of John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, North Indian improvisation or African drumming, to trace the various and variable ties among the many fragments of this mosaic becomes a difficult task indeed. This resembles the situation around the turn of the century, when the world of music exploded into a pluralistic universe comprising a myriad of compositional premises. Then—

What the dominant composers [of the early decades of this century] shared in common was a lack of, an avoidance of communality. . . . It was a struggle to create a world of musics, not a struggle between one music and another, serial and non-serial, tonal and a-tonal.1

As with the rejection of the a priori conditioning of traditional languages, attention was focused upon the absolute uniqueness of each individual creative act.

Later, in the 15 or 20 years immediately following the Second World War, one significant concern shared by many musicians and visual artists was the gradual integration of the compositional process into the very form of the artwork. The most striking works of this period had in common their identification of the form of a composition with the processes involved in its construction. This quality appeared in compositions of such diverse origins as Pierre Boulez’ Structures (1952) and Morton Feldman’s Last Pieces (1959).

During this period, two disparate structural premises in particular—chance and rigorous determinism—seemed to dominate much of Western musical thought and, understandably, have had a profound effect on much of the creative activity of the ‘70s. Chance was integrated into the composition in at lest two distinct ways, both still widely used. The first was through the involvement of variable performer decisions throughout the composition’s unfolding; the second made use of techniques the purpose of which was to eliminate, as much as possible, all bias from the various decision-making processes involved in creating a piece. In either case “chance . . . provide[d] a means for escaping the biases ingrained in our personality by our culture and personal past history, that is, a means of attaining greater generality.”2 The second notion, that which involves the use of highly deterministic systems, has, in many respects, addressed these same issues. A rigorous system also tends to minimize the input of personal bias in decision-making. In such cases structure is freed from its dependence on specific materials and styles. Over time, both of these concepts—and a resultant pluralism—have become crucial, if not necessarily exclusive, methodological bases operating in the world of music.

Significantly, then, these two radical concepts of structure, both of which were watersheds in the history of recent music, complement as much as they contradict one another. “Everything happens as if there were one-to-one oscillations between symmetry, order, rationality and asymmetry, disorder, irrationality in the reactions between epochs and civilizations.”3 In both cases, emphasis is taken away from the particular qualities of the end product and shifted onto those processes through which that end product came into being. Hardly a progressive composer now working seems not to have been touched in some way by these two important ideas, which naturally tends to center attention not so much on the end product of the creative act as on the source of that act; more specifically, on the mechanisms of perception and construction guiding that act. Indeed, many composers today recognize this shift in emphasis as they attempt some personal integration of the two approaches.

What the new music typically reveals is not so much the nature of one particular creative act, or of one particular creative methodology, but, rather, the nature of those particular modes of perceiving, transforming and understanding that constitute each individual creative style.

Reflection reveals that physical analysis is not a decomposition into real elements and that causality in its actual meaning is not a productive operation. The world is the ensemble of objective relations borne by consciousness.4

In the best new music issues seem to revolve not so much around what one understands when hearing or seeing a particular composition as how one goes about developing an understanding of that which is perceived, and, ultimately, what it means to be involved in the very act of understanding.

A recent series of concerts held in New York afforded a unique opportunity to explore the new music at length. From June 8th through June 16th the Kitchen Center for Video and Music, located at 484 Broome Street, presented “New Music, New York: A Festival of Composers and Their Music.” Over the course of nine concerts the works of over 50 composers from around the country were performed. The first evening sampled a fairly heterogeneous group but each of the remaining evenings presented a generally homogeneous collection of works by artists sharing some common concern or medium. The festival coincided with an Institute on Contemporary Experimental Music, sponsored by the Music Critics Association, at which critics from around the country discussed a variety of issues raised by avant-garde music today. This also coincided with the National Conference of Directors of New Music Centers, which met to discuss and coordinate future activities. As it would be impossible to present a detailed study of all the composers involved in the series, I will discuss instead a selection of the most original artists represented.

The first and, in general, most interesting concert on the Kitchen’s series included the music of two composers whose names are invariably linked, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. While their music does share some superficial similarities they are, in many respects, addressing quite different issues. Both are concerned with gradual processes of change, although in Glass’ case this concern is certainly not exclusive. In addition both integrate into their compositions that premise heralded by a number of predecessors that structure and process are one. As Reich himself notes: by music as gradual process “I do not mean the process of composition, but rather, pieces of music that are, literally, processes.”5

It is, however, the concern with gradualism that is unique in Reich’s music and this seems to have specific roots in problems of a perceptual nature. Again, in the composer’s own words: “I want to be able to hear the process happening throughout the sounding music. To facilitate close detailed listening, a musical process should happen extremely gradually.”6 Clearly, gradualism is not the only technique available to a composer interested in the projection of compositional processes as formal schemes as one might note in listening, for instance, to the music of Morton Feldman. As such, the emphasis on gradualism in Reich’s music would seem to have more complex origins.

Among the other issues involved is the crystallization of the significant differences distinguishing this music from that of Glass. Reich’s music invariably articulates a process the sole purpose of which is to transform some very specific sonic gesture, some pattern, with clearly identifiable pitch, rhythmic and timbral contours. Such a sonic “object,” so to speak, appears typically to precede the unfolding of the compositional process and becomes, in fact, the subject of that process’ explorations.

This is most readily heard in Reich’s early tape pieces dating from the mid-’60s such as It’s Gonna Rain or Come Out, in which the basic sound gesture of the piece might be considered analogous to a “found object.” For It’s Gonna Rain a tape was made of a preacher orating on the biblical story of the great flood. As the composer tells us:

I was extremely impressed with the melodic quality of his speech which seemed to be on the verge of singing. Early in 1965 I began making tape loops of his voice which made the musical quality of his speech emerge even more strongly. This is not to say that the meaning of his words on the loop, “it’s gonna rain,” were forgotten or obliterated. The incessant repetition intensified their meaning and their melody at one and the same time.7

Clearly then, the sonic gesture—in this case, the spoken phrase “it’s gonna rain” as enunciated by this particular speaker—became from the start the single essential element about which the structure evolved.

Specifically, in the finished composition Reich put identical copies of the preacher’s voice on two tape loops. These were lined up in such a way that they were first heard precisely in unison but then very gradually moved out of phase with respect to one another. This process, which defined the first section of the composition, completed itself as the two loops gradually moved back in unison with one another. Taken out of context, those passages in which the two tapes are quite far apart seem to have no recognizable relationship to the original spoken phrase. It is, however, precisely the gradual nature of the process which preserves this crucial relationship. As such, the exclusive use of gradualism is quite significant. It is through this technique that the composer insures that all the transforming activities of the piece are heard as rooted in, and growing from, the basic materials of the work. All change is, then, always understood as emerging from one common source. Were the composer to allow sudden or abrupt transformations, the crucial connections between those transformations and their source might be lost. As a result, the identity of the original sonic gesture—here the phrase “it’s gonna rain”—is preserved throughout the structure’s entire unfolding.

In this regard, it might be useful to recall some of the composer’s observations concerning another composition from this period, entitled Slow Motion Sound. Written in 1967, the instructions for this piece read as follows: “Very gradually slow down a recorded sound to many times its original length without changing its pitch or timbre at all.”8 Concerning the genesis of this piece the composer has noted: “Extreme slow motion seemed particularly interesting, since it allowed one to see minute details that were normally impossible to observe. The real moving image was left intact with its tempo slowed down.”9

One of the hallmarks of Reich’s style is that the distinction between the act of transforming and the pattern transformed is carefully and consistently preserved. Even as his structures become vastly more complex, as is the case with his most recent pieces, this basic notion remains central to the music’s thrust. Object and action are maintained as distinct parameters of structure. As a result, each work unfolds an intricate web of overlapped soundings of a single source pattern. One is reminded, say, of Robert Morris’ well-known early pieces employing identical L-shaped beams differently oriented, in which the same manner of interaction between object and content is evident. While in Reich’s music our perceptions of a single sonic gesture are altered by the shifting over time of relationships between that gesture and various reflections of itself, with Morris the same goal is achieved through the simultaneous presentation of three identical objects in very different spatial relationships to one another and to the room in which they are situated. In both instances the basic shape is understood to be its own frame of reference.10

The Steve Reich Ensemble opened the festival at the Kitchen with a performance of the first part of Drumming (1971). This section is scored for eight small tuned drums to be played by four percussionists, and consists of one basic 12-note rhythmic pattern which, in fact, serves as the foundation for all four sections of the piece. The complete pattern is introduced by the two drummers who first play in unison but then gradually move out of phase with one another. This process of phase shifting is soon extended as the other two drummers enter. Concurrently, the performers introduce derived patterns which they hear resulting from the juxtaposition of the original with itself.

Clearly, the same concerns discussed above are found here. The structure evolves as one fixed pattern is juxtaposed against itself in a variety of ways. In addition, however, two other aspects of this piece add further support to the ideas outlined above. First there is the technique of generating derived patterns. While these patterns may vary from performance to performance, they are always heard and understood as derived from one basic source, the structural predominance of which is thus further strengthened. Second is a process of adding and subtracting notes, used quite briefly and only at special moments in the piece, which is first heard at the very beginning of the composition, where it is actually used to construct, gradually, the basic 12-note pattern mentioned earlier. This procedure begins with two drummers articulating a single beat within a cycle of 12 pulses, 11 of which are, therefore, left silent. Gradually more and more notes are introduced until the complete pattern is heard and the main body of the piece begins. This procedure affords the listener the opportunity to observe the very making of the basic substance of the piece. It is an important gesture, which affirms to the listener the importance of that pattern as the central element of the structure and the subject to which all subsequent activity will be addressed.

The situation with respect to Philip Glass’ music seems quite different. The subject of Reich’s music is the presentation of multiple views of a single gesture within the context of gradual transformation. Thus, as we have seen, his works typically begin with a fixed pattern which itself remains unchanged over the course of the entire work. In Glass’ music, however, one finds no such fixed pattern but rather a series of constantly changing rhythmic configurations. The processes involved here are those of formation rather than transformation and the ramifications of this distinction are enormous. Specifically, in this music one finds no real separation between content and process. Here change and the subject of that change are utterly inseparable.

A clear example is found in the early solo violin piece entitled Strung Out, written in 1967, the same year as Steve Reich’s violin piece Violin Phase. Comparing the two pieces proves to be quite revealing. The structure of Violin Phase is typical of Reich’s compositions: one basic pattern is played simultaneously by several violinists in a variety of different phase relationships to one another. In contrast, referring to the structure of Strung Out Glass notes:

Structurally the piece is, I think, self-revealing. At the outset a first inversion triad is outlined. The upper notes become a point of departure for a series of rhythmic devices. Notes are added one by one to the initial figure finally producing continuous ascending and descending scales. At times the melodic figures are broken into smaller discontinuous rhythmic fragments contrasting markedly with the more continuous scale passages.11

Clearly, the subject of this piece is not so much the exploration of any specific sonic gesture as it is the creation of a rippling surface of change constituting different types and speeds of mutating processes. As such, in this music the transformational techniques employed are not simply tools directed toward the exploration of some specific sound pattern. Instead, they become the very substance of the composition. Here the patterns themselves are never static; rather, they create an unstable texture which at every moment of the structure’s unfolding reflects the quality and speed of change involved. Indeed, this music is about change and how we perceive change. While listening, interest is focused upon the various qualities distinguishing the many sonic formations that rapidly replace one another throughout the piece. Once again, in the composer’s own words:

Now each figure is related to the next figure, at least in [the] early music, by the addition or subtraction of one musical unit. So that there would be a figure that had five notes in it. And then the next figure would have six, the next would have seven, the next would have eight. . . .Then later in my music I began working with cyclic structures. That is, I would take an additive structure and put that within a recurring larger cycle of notes . . . like a c cycle of eighteen [articulated as] 6 + 6 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 5 + 4 + 5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 1.12

These simple progressions, however, are used not only to shape the flow of the composition but also to determine different qualities of motion to be felt along the way—“What I found was that the feeling would change very much between the feeling of five, the feeling of six and the feeling of seven.”13

One may think here of the so-called “optical” paintings of someone like Bridget Riley, where “our vision . . . is directed to highly mobile and unstable patterns of pictorial space and its fluctuating pulse.”14 There are even more striking analogies. “The movement Riley has been concerned with is twofold; firstly, to do with change in the form of variation in proportion, progressions conceived serially as time, and secondly, to do with psycho-physiological sensations (the visual vibrations resulting from a structured canvas conceived as a generator).”15 Sean Scully’s paintings of the last few years, in which a grille of evenly spaced stripes overlays a monochrome ground close in value to the stripes but different in hue, produce an effect closer still to Phil Glass. For the changing visual overtones that touch and optical effects allow depend on only the most subtle variations in an otherwise regular, but distinctly handmade, repetition. These works (by a painter who admires Glass’ music) do not depend on shifts in an otherwise “minimal” system to make themselves felt clearly as painting. Compare Glass: “It is that one would . . . be able to perceive the music as a ‘presence,’ freed from dramatic structure, a medium of pure sound.”16

At the Kitchen, Glass premiered one movement of a work in progress. Dance No. 4, a solo organ piece, is part of a forthcoming evening-long work entitled Dance which is a joint project shared with the composer by the artist Sol LeWitt and the choreographer Lucinda Childs to be premiered in Holland this October. The movement performed is quite different from any of the works already discussed. Among the new and rather striking techniques introduced here is the extensive use of more or less traditional harmonic progressions borrowed from tonal music. The sonic plateaus created through these tonal shifts help define and support multiple levels of activity which often shift back and forth quite rapidly, acting in various ways as foils to one another. Furthermore, certain changes are given added emphasis through the use of strong harmonic relationships. Writing of an earlier piece, Music in Twelve Parts, the composer once noted: “I was careful to make the harmonic relationship [between movements] a strong one . . . to emphasize the change in harmonic plateau.”17 In the recent piece, however, one finds that certain harmonic relationships employed are much stronger than others. This, coupled with the varying quality and intensity of the rhythmic activity involved, helps to define the hierarchical relationships heard among the different plateaus. The effect is analogous to rapid cross-cutting between different scenes in film, an idea reflected in music as early as Stravinsky’s Les Noces (1923). As is often the case in film, the high contrast felt between certain changes adds to the dramatic importance of the scenes involved. Such highly contrasted and rapidly shifting multi-levelled activity is new to Glass’ music. Unfortunately, this performance seemed a bit uneven. In addition, one could sense that this was only one movement of a larger work. For while the piece was complete it still suggested some larger context as its frame of reference. One awaits future opportunities to explore these new developments more fully.

One of the most striking results of Glass’ music is that it tends to situate the perceiver rather than the composer in the center of the creative experience. This concept is of paramount importance to the work of another composer represented on the Kitchen’s concert series, Robert Ashley, whose works are quite unique in their approach to this particular problem. Ashley has throughout much of his career been concerned with the understanding of structure as an expression of behavioral tendencies. This seems true even of such earlier works as the quartet, in memoriam . . . Esteban Gomez, or the symphony, in memoriam . . . Crazy Horse, both dating from the mid-’60s.18

In each of these open compositions structure emerges quite differently from one performance to the next. This variability is dependent upon both the unique acoustical and mechanical peculiarities of the various instruments involved and the ability of each individual performer to manipulate his or her instrument. The qualities of each particular performer/instrument combination vitally affects the crystallization of each work’s structure. In each of these pieces the performers and instruments are tied to one another through an interlocking series of stimulus/response patterns from which the work’s very form emerges. Thus, the behavioral characteristics of each individual performer take on a greater importance in the compositional process than had hitherto been the case.

In his more recent speech and conversation pieces this concern is addressed quite directly. In works such as the 1970 composition Fancy Free of Its There the performer’s activities and the listener’s multi-leveled responses are both brought sharply and equally into the focus of our consciousness. The work is for one male speaker and four cassette-recorder operators. The instructions read, in summary, as follows:

The cassette-machine players will record [the reader’s] speech simultaneously on four tapes, and each of them is obligated to reply various units of the text in which “imperfections” have occurred. Thus if [the reader] stutters or falters (Fancy Free), or if [he] chooses a version of the text that does not conform to a version they are expecting to hear (Its There), one or more players will replay the imperfection while [the reader] is speaking.19

In each case, the texts are spoken quite deliberately according to specific instructions for enunciation. The result is a fixation on two parallel planes of consciousness, one represented by the actual content of the rather poetic texts involved and the imagery which they evoke—neither of which reflects at all upon the activities of the cassette-operators—and the other by the manner and acoustical characteristics of the spoken delivery—which are highlighted by the cassette playbacks. The latter is a level on which one is rarely conscious when listening to someone speak, least of all when such highly evocative texts as these are being heard. In such cases, the mechanisms of communication are often overlooked as one concentrates instead on the content of the actual message communicated. In addition, in this particular case, the emphasis placed upon the mechanism involved is highly charged, since it is the human organism itself.

Commenting upon the genesis of such works, Ashley notes:

During any conversation— . . . but it would be particularly more obvious if you could detatch yourself from the immediacy of what’s being said; for instance if [the other participant] were insane—there is always imagery in your mind that is only remotely connected to what is being said. But you allow the conversation to dominate that imagery. In that sense the conversation is like the consciousness agreements that characterize western music: the audience submits its consciousness and the composer dominates it for a while . . . 20

He continues,

. . . I began being interested in a personal sense of how . . . self-consciousness works and how it manifests itself from moment to moment. I feel that there must be some sort of similarity or simultaneity between the way the music proceeds and the way the self-consciousness (evolves) in the audience.21

Toward this end, Ashley “began thinking of kinds of music that would be transparent [so as] to be self-conscious.”22

To me Ashley’s work has always suggested parallels to that of the sculptor Bruce Nauman, with whom he shares this concern for the creation of transparent structures which reveal to the perceiver some aspect of his own personal behavioral style. By raising the listener’s activities to a new level of conscious interaction with those of the creator, Ashley forces upon us the recognition that what we perceive in an artwork is as much a reflection of ourselves as it is of that work’s creator.

The piece heard last June at the Kitchen is in these respects quite interesting. It was an older piece, written in 1964, entitled The Wolfman, and here performed by the composer. The work began quite gradually and imperceptibly. While the audience was still speaking and shuffling around the tape began very softly, introducing a wash of sounds many of which seemed to blend quite well with ambient audience noises. As these sounds gradually became louder and louder, the audience began to quiet down. Finally, the tape, now accompanied from the side of the stage by a raucous live organ solo, reached a peak of unbelievable intensity. At this point Ashley entered, paced up and down the stage for a while and then began to produce vocal sounds. These too began softly and gradually got louder and louder until he finally seemed to be screaming into the microphone. The vocal sounds were produced at regular intervals, separated by approximately 10- to 15-second durations during which he seemed to be preparing himself for his next sound, even the loudest of which was invariably covered up by the other noises. The result was a rather grotesque dialogue which did seem, however, to share some of the same concerns as those works discussed above.

The excruciating noise from the tape and organ, of course, made the audience terribly uncomfortable. Many, in fact, either left or covered their ears. Meanwhile, Ashley rather deliberately and self-consciously acted out their projected responses. As is the case with many of his other pieces, those listening found themselves centered within the middle of the dialogue watching and listening as their responses were ritually exposed from the stage. In The Wolfman the composer plays with that very special relationship that exists between an audience and a performer. As the audience became self-conscious it became very aware of those restrictions under which it functions in any concert situation where it typically finds itself in the role of the silent observer of actions in which it may never participate. Thus, members of the audience reacting to both this role and to the sounds in the piece found they could respond, as they did, only in certain limited ways—listening in silence, covering their ears or walking out. Ashley, however, as the performer, became more actively involved in his responses, to a degree ordinarily unacceptable for a concert audience.

Another piece on the festival program, by Charlemagne Palestine, played this same game with the audience and, while rather humorous, was much more obvious and much less interesting than the Ashley. This work, an untitled composition for solo voice, dating from 1979, seemed atypical of Palestine’s concerns. His most interesting works are striking in their intense identification of each sound quality with the techniques of its production. Several earlier voice pieces, and the more recent instrumental pieces employing his innovative “strumming” techniques, are clear examples of these interests.23 Unfortunately, such explorations were absent from the rather idiosyncratic theater piece heard at the Kitchen in June.

Turning to the music of another innovative composer represented in the Kitchen’s series, that of Alvin Lucier, one finds other parallels with recent developments in the visual arts. The best of the sited visual works of the past decade or so are fraught with dialectical implications similar to those discussed above. The roles of the various reciprocal interactions between perceiver and site are crucial to the works of artists such as Carl Andre, Robert Irwin and Robert Smithson. As was the case with Ashley’s music, the most interesting structures created by these artists are also, in a sense, transparent, linking perceiver to site, or perhaps more precisely, to his consciousness of a site. The viewer develops a new awareness of himself as a cognitive being as he discovers his place within the landscape of things.

Unfortunately, many sonic works in this vein seem to have lost this dialectical thrust. For the visual arts the notion of rooting an object to a particular site was a major concern and, indeed, one which the medium itself seemed to demand. Over the past few decades, as questions were raised concerning the central role which context plays in the creation and perception of structure, the integration of an artwork’s environment into its structure became a major concern. Sound, however, is a very different medium, and the desire to fix sound to a specific place and determine its meaning within the framework of a composition from the structure of that place arises from different concerns and, of course, involves different problems.

Alvin Lucier is indeed one of the most interesting and successful composers working with these ideas. A clear example may be found in his composition I am Sitting in a Room, from 1968. In this piece a reader recites a simple text which is taped as he speaks. The tape itself is then replayed in the concert hall or some other performance space and retaped on a second recorder. This retaping process is then repeated many times within that same space until a reading many generations old is produced.

. . . you know when you speak in a room certain components of your voice sound strong. That’s because those pitches that are in those components reflect off the surface of the room and get amplified. The pitches that don’t correspond don’t get amplified . . . Now you’re unable to perceive that under ordinary circumstances, but if you could amplify that in some way, then you could perceive that. The way I amplify it is by recycling the sounds into the room again, again, again and again, until . . . those pitches that do correspond to the resonances get amplified and those that don’t go away.24

As a result, those sonic characteristics of the space to which one’s attention is not ordinarily drawn are forced out into the open. The acoustical qualities of the performance space are slowly unveiled and become, simultaneously, the mechanism for structuring the piece and the work’s structure itself. That which, for music, has been, traditionally, the most imperceptible of backdrops moves into the foreground and becomes the very subject of the piece: “I decided to use the simplest speech I could find . . . because I didn’t want the input to be so composed as to take away from the idea of the piece. . . . What the room does is the content.”25

Clearly, however, even though Lucier’s work is situated in one specific place and draws its structure from the particular acoustical characteristics of that place, the piece is movable. The specific sonic qualities of different spaces may be different, but the fundamental acoustical concept supporting the composition would remain unchanged as it shifted its location. Different spaces reinforce different sounds on the tape and often produce very different results. This situation is quite dissimilar to those found in some of the recent pieces of Robert Irwin, for example, which are conceived and created for only one place and which are meaningful only in that place. Lucier’s work, in contrast, is concerned with acknowledging the varieties of acoustical properties found in whatever space is given. Thus, I am Sitting in a Room is truly pluralistic in structure, encompassing and incorporating many different spaces, as is the case with many of this composer’s works. Indeed, its full richness is only revealed after it is heard performed in several vastly different acoustical environments, for it always remains dependent upon its variable but particular location for its logic and meaning.

As the critic Kenneth Baker once noted in speaking of Carl Andre’s work: “In the very best experience of [his] work one gets the sense of being presented with something for the first time, a feeling that I associate with learning the name of something—the thing is there in a new way. . . . In short, I think Andre’s best work is about presence to the world as presence to oneself.”26 This same quality of self-reflection is also present in Lucier’s best work. He is one of the few composers successfully to have bridged the traditional boundaries separating the composition from its environment, and in so doing he has revealed hidden qualities of each listener’s relationship to his acoustical environment.

The work heard at the Kitchen was a work-in-progress for amplified piano, as of that date untitled. The piece was very subtle but, nonetheless, quite impressive. With the aid of an electronic amplification system the composer was able to capture and project the particular spatial configurations determined by a variety of different keyboard tones.

When a key on the piano is struck, the sound does not emanate evenly in all directions from the instrument. Instead, sound waves disperse in an irregular array of patterns determined by the particular disposition of overtones. These patterns create a total sonic configuration unique to each individual tone on each particular instrument. The purpose of Lucier’s piece was to delineate this spatial configuration for the audience.

Toward this end two microphones were positioned quite close to the edge of an opened grand piano. The pianist then played an ascending series of tones very slowly and at a moderate dynamic level, allowing each sound to die away completely before beginning the next. As each tone sounded it was picked up and amplified in such a way that its unique acoustical/ spatial flow was perceptibly delineated for the audience. The spatial configuration which each tone produced was, therefore, magnified so that each member of the audience could perceive it as clearly as if he were actually on stage leaning over the piano itself.

As with I am Sitting in a Room, the structure of this new piece is simultaneously determined by, and equated with, certain spatial phenomena which typically, though perhaps imperceptibly, affect the sounds we hear. Sound is made tactile as its spatial qualities are brought into prominence. The space of a sound is the subject here, as new dimensions of our hearing are revealed.

Two areas of importance to contemporary music which did not seem well represented in the Kitchen’s series were those of extended exploration into the psycho-acoustic properties of traditional instruments and computer-aided composition. The composer/choreographer Meredith Monk, for instance, sang some of her own songs at the opening concert. These were purported to combine various styles from both Western and non-Western music. They seemed, unfortunately, to be rather fortuitous collections of vocal effects, few of which actually explored the enormous timbral and registral potential of the voice as an instrument.

In the hands of certain composers, however, the human voice has proven to be one of the richest sources for psycho-acoustic exploration and composition, and this approach, as such, deserved more substantial representation. Much more striking examples would have been found, for instance, among the works of Robert Cogan, a composer and theorist who has been exploring the potential of the human voice for over a decade, integrating the unique sonic qualities of a diverse collection of languages with an extraordinary range of timbral variety. His 1978 composition utterances . . ., for example, would have been a significant addition to the Kitchen’s avant-garde series, as it represents one of the most important contributions to the literature of 20th-century vocal composition.

The situation was quite similar with respect to the quality of computer-aided composition which was presented. Works by Joel Chadabe, Charles Dodge, George Lewis and David Behrman were heard. The Chadabe and Behrman were innovative in their experimentation with various techniques, enabling live improvisation with the computer. Chadabe, for example, was able to interact with his computer using two theremins to control, simultaneously, the timbre and duration of tones generated by his own composition program. The results, however, were not especially interesting, and one hopes for an opportunity in the near future to sample a more diverse and perhaps more striking collection of computer-oriented projects.

The music of the 1970s has borne the fruits of some of the richest ideas to emerge during the postwar period, ideas which have challenged many traditional concepts of structure and have revealed an affinity with some of today’s most progressive ideas in philosophy, the sciences and the visual arts. In particular, what seems to be central to much of this new music is its re-evaluation of those attitudes which support the traditional boundaries separating composer and listener; that is, its desire to remove those barriers distinguishing the creation of an art work from its experience. Of paramount importance to much of this work are those qualities which lead the perceiver to experience the discovery of relationships, and the emergence of form, from a vantage point once reserved for the composer alone.

The only art which truly recognizes tradition is that art which transforms its content in some way. Over the past ten years the composers discussed above have guided some of the most original explorations witnessed by the music world. Their individuality and intellectual rigor have placed them in the forefront of today’s creative activity.

Thomas DeLio



1. Milnon Babint, “Edgard Varese: A Few Observations of his Music,” in Perspectives on American Composers, Benjamin Boretz and Edward Cone, eds., New York, 1971, p. 45.

2. George Brecht, “Chance-Imagery,” in The Discontinous Universe, Sallie Sears and Georgianna W. Lord, eds., New York, 1972, p. 93.

3. Iannis Xenakis, Formalized Music, Bloomington, Ind., 1971, p. 25.

4. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behavior, Boston, 1963, p. 3.

5. Steve Reich, Writings About Music, Halifax and New York, 1974, p. 9.

6. Ibid., p. 9.

7. Ibid., p. 49. These comments originally appeared in an interview with Emily Wasserman, in Artforum, May 1972, pp. 44–48.

8. Ibid., p. 14.

9. Ibid., p. 15.

10. Kenneth Baker, in his article “Some Exercises in Slow Perception,” Artforum, November 1977, pp. 28–31, analyzes Reich’s music as it relates to certain questions of intention also raised by recent visual artists.

11. Philip Glass, notes from record jacket, Strung Out, (CP2 Recordings), 1976.

12. Philip Glass, Interview with Walter Zimmerman, in Desert Plants: Conversations with 23 American Musicians, Walner Zimmerman, ed., 1976, p. 111.

13. Ibid., p. 11.

14. Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art, London, 1967, pp. 84–85.

15. Maurice de Sausmarez, Bridget Riley, Greenwich, Conn., p. 90.

16. Philip Glass, notes from record jacket, Music in Twelve Parts (Virgin Records Ltd.), 1974.

17. Glass, Interview (note 11), p. 114.

18. Robert Ashley, “in memoriam . . . Esteban Gomez” and “in memoriam . . . Crazy Horse”, Source Magazine, (Davis, Calif.), 1967, pp. 41–42.

19. Robert Ashley, “Fancy Free or Its There”, reprinted in Desert Plants, (note 12), p. 132.

20. Robert Ashley, Interview with Walter Zimmerman, in Desert Plants note 12, p. 125.

21. Ibid., p. 124.

22. Ibid., p. 124.

23. For more extensive discussion of Palestine’s earlier works, see Lizzie Borden, “The New Dialectic,” Artforum, March 1974, pp. 49–50.

24. Alvin Lucier, Interview with Loren Means, Composer Magazine, 1977–78 issue, p. 9.

25. Ibid., p. 9.

26. Kenneth Baker, from a review of a show held in 1971 at the Divan Gallery in New York, Artforum, June 1971, p. 81.