09-03: Morton Feldman : Coptic Light / Tilson Thomas 1995 | Rothko Chapel / New Albion 1990 - Harry Partch : The Bewitched 1957 / CRI - Canned Heat : Living the Blues 1968 - Noah Howard : The Black Ark 1969 - Coleman Hawkins : The Hawk Flies High 1957

1708 – Christian Liebe (German composer & organist, teacher of Andreas Silbermann)
1714 – Pietro Antonio Fiocco (Italian composer & choirmaster)
1790 – Thomas Norris (English organist, composer & singer)
1811 – Ignaz Fränzl (German violinist & composer)
1871 – Václav Emanuel Horák (Czech composer, church musician & teacher)
1914 – Albéric Magnard (French composer)
1944 – František Drdla (Czech violinist & composer)
1946 – Paul Lincke (German composer & violinist, "Berliner Luft")
1946 – Moriz Rosenthal (Polish pianist, composer & wit)
1951 – Robert Hernried (Austrian composer, musicologist & music editor)
1960 – Joseph Lamb (American ragtime composer)
1963 – Frico Kafenda (Slovak composer, teacher, pianist & conductor)
1964 – Joseph Marx (Austrian composer, teacher & music critic)
1970 – Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson (American blues-rock singer, songwriter, guitarist & harmonica player, Canned Heat)
1974 – Harry Partch (American experimental composer, instrument inventor, music theorist & hobo)
1981 – Mafalda Favero (Italian operatic soprano)
1984 – Dora Labbette (English operatic & concert soprano, mistress of Sir Thomas Beecham)
1985 – Johnny Marks (American writer of many Christmas songs, e.g. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer")
1985 – Papa Jo Jones (American jazz drummer)
1985 – John Herbert McDowell (American composer for dance, theater & film)
1987 – Morton Feldman (American experimental composer)
1994 – Major Lance (American R&B & soul singer)
2007 – Carter Albrecht (American rock keyboardist & guitarist, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians)
2010 – Noah Howard (American free jazz alto saxophonist)

Well, what a banner day for good, old-fashioned, solid American experimental composition... it's a tradition that started with Charles Ives and Henry Cowell, and continues up to this very day! We have Harry Partch and Morton Feldman, both pooping on September 3rd. Partch - gay, iconoclastic, and a man who spent much of the Great Depression as a train-hopping vagabond - stretches our ears with his unequal 43-note scale that maps closely onto an 11-limit just intonation (a tuning system which is derived from acoustically pure intervals through the first 11 partials of an overtone series, if that's any easier for you to understand), and the truly weird-looking and even weirder-sounding instruments he had to design and build himself so that one could play in this scale. A few of them are seen above in our little Partch mini-collage: the Cloud Chamber Bowls, the Chromelodeon, the Bamboo Marimba, the Adapted Viola, the Quadrangularis Reversum, and the Gourd Tree. Partch's collection of exotic instruments continues to be curated and used in performance by Dean Drummond and the ensemble Newband.

In contrast, Feldman (a member of the so-called "New York School," which also includes John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff) stretches our musical perceptions in a very different way, requiring us to recalibrate our relationship to musical sonority and musical time. (Feldman has his own mini-collage up there. He was a curiously photogenic and charismatic individual - I love how even the Iranian teen next to the gong seems intrigued by the man. Go here to look at some rarely-seen vacation slides of Feldman.) He came to prefer softer sounds only, finding them more interesting than louder ones. This causes the sound of "silence" - really, the ambient sounds of the space, especially those of the performers themselves moving around, breathing, etc. - to be bumped up in Feldman's sound-world. In his mature style of the late 60s and thereafter, a Feldman work consists of dissonant yet delicate patterns and textures that evolve so slowly they almost create an effect of complete stasis. This is extended over longer and longer time-spans throughout the 70s, culminating in the String Quartet II of 1983, which takes several hours to perform. So both Partch and Feldman are composers who require some major adjustments to the ways we're accustomed to listening to and processing music. To some, maybe frightening... to you and me, full of the excitement of discovery... (Read more about both Partch and Feldman below)

There's so much more to say about so many others (like jazz drummer Jo Jones... no, not "Philly" Joe Jones, but "Papa" Jo Jones - people have been getting the two of them confused for 60 years, and the situation isn't helped by the fact that they died not just in the same year, but within four days of one another), but I'll just have to say "Remainder of write-up pending" for now...


  1. I have the full recording (on DVD audio) of Feldman's "String quartet II". I tried listening to the whole six hours; I made it into the 2d hour before giving up. Still, it gave me a high not unlike meditation. And I never could quite get into Partch. His music sounds lazily improvised. But I love microtonal music in general. Wendy Carlos has stated that it is the future. I hope so, and I'd love to hear 24 tone pop! Also I have a box which, through midi, retunes my 88 key digital piano to a multitude of tunings.

  2. Yeah, Feldman's a favorite of mine. Really beautiful stuff, the guy had an amazing ear. The SQII really is going overboard, time-wise. I think he just got to the point where, after writing a lot of 20-to-25 minute pieces that would fit on one side of an LP, he decided "Why should I let the technology dictate my work?" I know what you mean about Partch. Somehow the idea of his music sounds better than the actual product. On the other hand, there are many of his later pieces I haven't heard. As far as equal temperaments go, I don't know about 24. It's convenient because it's a subdivision of the familiar 12, but it doesn't do anything to produce more pure intervals. The smallest EDOs that do that well, at the 5-limit, at least, are 19, 22, 31 & 53. If you want one that divides 12 evenly, 72 is the one to go with, and it's pretty good all the way up through the 11-limit: http://www.enotes.com/topic/72_equal_temperament

  3. I'll remember the tuning recomendations once I get a midi interface so I can add tunings to my tuning box. There's one called "equal beating" that may be the 72 split. I like 24 because I don't know much about microtones and it's easy to bend a guitar note a quarter step up. My favorite microtonal composer has to be Scelsi. It doesn't take too much metamorphisis to transorm his one note pieces into doom metal. John Cale had a project called the Dream Syndicate with Tony Conrad. The recordings are lofi but the performances inpire me more than the VU!

  4. I used to see Tony Conrad all the time when I was in Buffalo. He was teaching a course there, I think. This was several years ago, and at the time, I really knew next to nothing about him, except that he and LaMonte Young had something to do with each other. Probably for the best, or else I would have peppered him with all kinds of dumb questions and annoyed the hell out of him.

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