Last week I was on a cruise to Central America (Honduras, Belize, Mexico) with my wife. So relaxing. So amazing. I recommend it.
This weekend (Friday and Saturday evenings) Mark Hirsch, Charles Halka, and I will be part of Frame Dance Productions show called Ecouter. If you are in Houston, please check it out! Mark, Lydia Hance (choreographer and Frame Dance Founder), and I have a spot on KUHF's Front Row tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon.
6 hours. 6 hours long. That's right. This piece is longer than Wagner opera. But, it is filled with absolutely beautiful music that will put your mind at ease and relax your soul. I first found out about this piece while I was at the University of Arizona. I attempted and failed many, many times to try to listen to the piece without stopping for its entire duration. It is not only a mental commitment but also a physical one. I've managed to listen to this monster straight through only once. It was while I was writing a paper on Verdi opera. You may question if I was actively listening or not but, I don't believe that Feldman expects one to actively listen at all times to this piece. Just like anything else, there must be mundane, nothing-at-all-special music to make the truly brilliant passages sound that much more beautiful. Thus, my attention drifts at those moments but regains when something awesome happens. It is a piece to which I frequently return when I need something in the background. I don't think Feldman would be upset at that statement since the piece resembles one of his oriental rugs he was so fond of collecting. It is floor cover, really, really interesting floor cover, but floor cover none-the-less. My favorite moments though have to be in pages 20-24. If you only listen to some of the piece, I would start there.
When I was at Bowling Green State University, I didn't take advantage of all of the new music that was happening there as much as I should have. Then again, what did I know back then and I'll be saying the same thing in 10 more years. But, I do remember a concert presented of entirely Mark Applebaum's music. He "performed" this piece on the concert. As I remember, 8 speakers surrounded the audience. Applebaum sat in the middle of the stage and did nothing. The action occurs in his brain. As you will hear, the music consists of 8 competing characters or alternate personalities that are vying to put their stamp (or just simply get through it) on the piece of music at hand in the pre-composition process.
I love this piece for many reasons. (1) Its funny. It may be audio nerd humor but, what can I say, I'm an audio nerd. (2) It is a great piece for teaching because it demonstrates surround sound techniques, diffusion, and it is a lighter bit of music amidst a bog of heavy pieces in the EA rep. (3) Mark Applebaum is an incredibly generous and accommodating composer. I sent him an email during the first semester I was teaching Electronic Music asking if he would send me the 8 channel version so I could teach it to my class. A DVD with all of the stems was in my hand int he next week. Hope you like it.
I remember the first time I heard this piece. I was up late at night in bed listening to music and reading from Pierre Boulez's book, Orientations. I remember having to put the book down because I couldn't focus on it any more. The music was far too interesting (not saying that Boulez is uninteresting because I really, really enjoy reading him). The outbursts of bongos/congas and bass drum against a relatively thin orchestration exploring single notes or clusters with a compositional use of silence keeps you anticipating. The material for bongos/congas was particularly interesting to me. There are several sets of drums and they are positioned antiphonally. This piece probably contains the most active bongo/conga percussion writing in all of the orchestral rep. It is a layer that is used almost continuously. You aren't supposed to be drawn to it. But, I love the slinky gestures he creates with just a few hand drums. It gives the orchestra such a distinct sound. The drums have a hollow quality to them which fits with the general sonic construction of the piece.
There really isn't much to say about this piece. It is an absolute masterpiece in the electronic music repertoire. As with any Stockhausen piece, the layers of technique and meaning are astounding. Stockhausen's ability to create very interesting gestures using purely electronically created sounds at a time when cutting and splicing tape was the only game in town is incredible. There are many pieces in the EA rep that I teach from the early era of the genre. This is the only piece to which I love listening again and again.
I have an affinity for this piece large due to the time I spent analyzing it for my Music from 1900-1950 course at Rice. It was the first presentation I gave as a doctoral student. It was also the first round of presentations in the class and I presented on the first day. Tony Brandt, our professor came up to me after I was done and thanked me for setting the bar for presentations not only in organization and presentation quality but also in content. It is a brilliant piece built around Varese's characteristic idea of the sound mass. It is arguably the first percussion ensemble work (though there is some dispute).
I enjoy the below recording due to the instruments selected. The tam-tams in particular are sonically very rich. The idea of not only writing for the right instrument but also choosing the best instrumental sound and mixing your percussion instruments with intention came from Norm Weinberg and Gary Cook at the University of Arizona. Its not enough to have a snare drum, you have to have the right snare drum with the right sticks and the right tension. I think this is sometimes overlooked in classical music because so much of the musician's focus goes to tuning pitches and rhythm. A brilliant performance or recording results from not only technical mastery, but also from choosing or producing the right sound. And sound was Varese's main focus.