Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Two Observations

TWO OBSERVATIONS together only because I wrote them in pencil in the end-papers of a book. (Middlemarch by George Eliot):

These wispy things—clouds—gathering around the hard geometry of the city buildings and their silhouettes. (As seen from my roof.)

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Mahler 9th, first movement: The simplicity of the surface-level melody forces the increasing intensities of the orchestra counterpoint. That is, the surface melody is Mahler’s “earworm? Did he have (suffer from) them? How would we know? Just what is an earworm? If he had them, were they vernacular borrowings or original , possibly, or not (interesting—this) inspired by vernacular.

Open Letter to Dean Rosenthal

Below is my letter to Dean Rosenthal, composer, a follow-up to my post about Tom Johnson’s new book, Other Harmony:

Well, I think my non-review was really quite simple-minded. Yes, the important issues were raised in very basic terms. But the incredible interweaving of intellect, feeling, aesthetic standards, not to mention history and tradition is very hard to get beyond, thus we have to write theory books, and have to compose (I hate to say write, that’s the nub of it—writing is what we do when we compose, but composing is not about writing).

I see the two poles of minimalism as being something like: trance-music vs. systems music. Minimalism spawned both at the same time. The “counting pieces” of Charlie Morrow (no, never Tom) were in the trance music direction, as much as Tom’s were in the systems direction. True, Tom, if you pressed him, would grant the theatrical reality of the performance, but I never felt he would admit the Dionysian reality of repetition. Freud was certainly correct in trying to incorporate both in his “Id, ego, superego” trio, completely condemned as unscientific by all future scientists of the field. But essentially he was right to “square the circle.” The incorporation of drugs into music was basically an admission that music and intoxication were brother/sisters, and everyone knew that. The early music of Glass and Reich, and many OTHERS was essentially trance music. People in my circle vacillated about trance and system, or tried to just avoid the issue by keeping to technical ground, historical precedent or whatever. But everyone knew that minimalism was “dangerous.” I was fired at Rutgers for practicing “minimal music requiring minimal preparation” by the Harvard trained head of the Rutgers Music Department. (BTW I won my grievance and got tenure because of this man’s dumb move of putting that phrase in writing. Choice of style was sacrosanct even in the academy: it was FREEDOM of SPEECH!)

But he, the head of the tenure committee, knew minimalism was “dangerous.” He even was smart enough to say that it went one step beyond Satie (=repetition) by adding trance. You have to give Wagner credit for knowing that intellect and trance or “swooning” or being transported (as in Dionysian frenzy) had to be combined to get a really great art. (Of course not every piece has to be a masterpiece of swooning logic! What about some little ditty like “This old man, this old man…”).

Even Cage understood, but couched it in kind pseudo-zen: if something is boring, do it for 4 hours. If it’s still boring do it for 8 hours, etc. The music world would never admit into music this Zen saying, either before, during or after minimalism. And I can agree that pure trance without music is not as satisfying as with. Zen was never about artistic satisfaction, or even bodily satisfaction.

My non-review of Tom Johnson’s book also didn’t take on its content. And as of when I wrote my non-review, I still haven’t finished it, though I’ve skimmed ahead to see where it’s going. An actual review of Tom’s book in its own terms would have to be by someone other than me. There probably already is one someplace in the academy.

You [Dean Rosenthal] are the only one who responded to my request for comments, except for Phil Corner who sent me a set of beautiful calligraphic scores. And I wrote back to him this:

‘Your beautiful scores say here and there: “no redeeming musical value.” This seems to buffer you from being thought “music” if it’s “theory” and theory if it’s thought to be music, so you get out of it free—of the controversy. Yes? No?’ He said that was very well put!

Tom Johnson’s Other Harmony

 In spite of my continuing series of “Thumbnail Reviews,” this is not a review. First because I haven’t finished Tom’s book yet, and second because I don’t do reviews in the journalistic meaning of the word. More like: reflections.

I’ve known Tom since he appeared in the downtown scene of new music in the ‘70s around when I did, and admired his music, his theoretical approach, and his important role as a music critic for the Village Voice; his “beat” being the very downtown scene we were part of. I’ve performed some of his music with my DownTown Ensemble, and Flexible Orchestra. And I visited him after he had become an ex-pat in Paris in 2005, and where he has lived since leaving New York in the ‘80s.  His habit for visitors was to offer to play you some of his “deductive music” and when he thought you had heard enough he would say something like: that’s enough deductive music for today—and stop.

So this important, and I hope, controversial (and index-less book), which goes “beyond tonal and atonal” music (that’s his subtitle) pits once more the music as a listened-to phenomenon against the theory of music: a tradition of quasi opposition that goes back to Greek and Roman times. The most interesting of these writers are the ones who are also important composers, like Olivier Messiaen, about whose theory Tom has much—very positive—to say.

I’ve been ambivalent about this opposition. Partly because on one side, I contributed to a “structuralist” approach through my minimalist pieces, and through the “systems group” which we briefly had in the late ‘70s in New York with artists from several media, including composer, Philip Corner. Tom doesn’t remember this group when I recently brought it up to him. But it was a fun and wonderful thing to have for its short life. The other side of the ambivalence comes out below.

My biggest question about the kind of structuralist approach that equates notes with numbers, is: Would any of this have happened if we didn’t have discrete entities like twelve pitches to our “Western” scale? And my answer to my self is: maybe we have to have discrete numbered entities because of who (or what) we are. We are counters, enumerators, makers of discrete intellectual things, alphabetizers, and so on. But is that what music should be doing? All counting, I thought, was in the service of music, not music in the service of counting. But then Tom and Charlie Morrow did counting pieces. And they were interesting, even fascinating. Whether or not they were “music” seemed beside the point. Even when “boring.”

“Equal and Complete” is one of the chapters of the book. In it he means that the system behind the notes should have equality and completeness. An example of equality might be the interval between notes of a chord, like a major 7th. Or, simply, our system of “equal temperament” whereby the distance between each note of the 12 in the octave is the same. Completeness is something like: what are all the four note chords made up of such-and-such group of notes in a scale.

So then the eternal question is: What is the purpose (and use) of music? Is it to exhibit or manifest a system or process or structure, OR to move, invite, satisfy, transport, or amuse the listener? Can it be both? Difficult, but yes, it can be.  I count my self in both camps, at least for several of my pieces. Though Tom is firmly in the former, some of his earlier compositions like the Shaggy Dog Operas are in both camps. In those, the system or process was kept discretely (other meaning of that word!) behind the surface sound. And they were comedic, theatrical.

What is true of this book is that Tom Johnson has thoroughly brought the discussion up to date. Will he compose captivating music now, from the “other harmony” he’s written about? Does it have to be captivating? I would hope yes. But that’s because I like as much to be happening as possible.

Thumbnail Review No. 45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial for Elaine Summers (1925-2015) at Niblock’s, NYC

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tonight at 9
224 centre
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Phill Niblock’s email to me. The memorial was just like any other Experimental Intermedia event. The sound was too loud for my left ear. My right ear was less complaining. The audience members, some young, some not so, seemed dazed in the pleasant trance of the avant-garde. Friends gathered beforehand in Phill’s kitchen, sipping wine, eating seitan, talking occasionally. I spoke separately to one or two people about how important Elaine was to me. They seemed glad to hear it.

Elaine’s dance loft at 537 Broadway, 5th floor was where I did my first solo concert. Was it 1973? ’75? I’ll have to check. The faded flyer pops up every so often among other papers. I think the concert started at 8:30—before the standardized 8 PM had taken effect. Elaine was like an open door, encouraging me to come in, to make a piece, have an audience. Nothing like that had come my way in the New York of my birth. (Had that happened to me earlier, I might not have exiled myself from New York for ten years after graduate school.) I took her movement class, Kinetic Awareness: the body is important, pay attention! I did.

So it’s all the more amazing to me that after all the years until now, the night of her memorial, I had never seen a film of hers, though I knew she was a filmmaker as well as dancer and choreographer. She didn’t push them. She didn’t push herself. So un-New York. It takes people not born in NY to make the city humane.

Five of her films were shown, the longest was seventeen minutes. Jerky hand-held camera in most, muted colors. A video by someone else in which she appears is mainly about Malcolm Goldstein—the shamanic violin improviser whose bright red hair, long red side-burns, pearly white skull punctuated his manic closed-eyed playing. Action-painting, but on a violin, and on the roof of her loft building. TV ariels and pipes, nearby buildings panned—hard not to say ugly. But they are, and no music can change that.

“Judson Fragments” was an interesting cross-cutting of dance moments, dancers in street clothes walking towards and away from each other (I think I recognized Simone Forti), other odd collaged images, somehow reminding me of Alain Resnais’s  “Last Year at Marienbad.” Not surprising. Both are in the same time capsule.

What do I come away with from the films? The grittiness, materiality of New York, not gussied up. An object is an object, neither beautiful nor ugly. Perfect fantasies of special effects are not yet in fashion. One can relax in this. Take a deep breath. Thank you, Elaine!

Thumbnail Review No. 44

Nielsen, McGill, the NY Phil, and the Future

Such delicacy in the large orchestra which, incidentally, had two harps in the Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, and was then chamber-sized for the Carl Nielsen Clarinet Concerto, beautifully performed by the NY Phil’s Anthony McGill in this January’s New York Philharmonic concert. It has fiendishly difficult cadenzas, and I’ve just only “played at it,”  His playing was exquisite, delicate, very straight, and more like a clarinet solo emerging from the orchestra’s wind section than a front-and-center concerto style. Though I’d never heard a live performance of it before, I hear the concerto in a more raucous style than McGill’s Mozartian sound. Nevertheless his is a valid interpretation and Nielsen is a refreshing composer—one without rhetoric who found a way of threading through 19th century symphony style into 20th century modernism, while holding on to poignant, sometimes witty, always expressive sound. Often this concerto shaped itself into treble-bass two-part counterpoint with occasional hectic fast figuration in the strings which became a texture within that frame. Shifting harmonic implications. A satisfying piece!

Delicacy was again the quality, in the Tchaikovsky suite from Swan Lake. The solo violin and harp movement, the violin and cello and harp movement, for example. Then, unexpectedly the full orchestra tutti brass-laced chords. What a sudden voluptuous, extravagant sound!… Thrilled.
The “future of the orchestra,” my concern. Ever since I started playing and listening to Indonesian gamelan music, a “national” music, I’ve reflected on our own, Western “gamelan”—the symphony orchestra, suddenly valuing it more because it is a unique sound in world music: nothing else like it. I wonder about its ability to negotiate the poly-stylistics of all the music around us which competes for our attention, and especially that of young people. Everything is “niched.” But symphony is not low-overhead, unlike gamelan, punk bands, or  myself!… Also gamelan can use relatively inexperienced, or untrained musicians who can count. Only amateur choruses can do that with professional orchestras. Think symphony and then think doctor’s and lawyer’s training. And think ticket prices. Third tier, row DD was $55 and the back wall was just behind me. Binoculars were glued to my face because I like to watch orchestration. [Clear throat: Ahem.] Binoculars were glued to my face, but not only because I like to “watch” the orchestration. I couldn’t tell without them where the second violins and violas were placed. I’m not sure even now. I was “living to the back.” (Talk to your Jewish ancestors or friends about this phrase).
Though Ravel and Nielsen are firmly 20th century composers, their roots were in the 19th, and the 19th century is still the basis of the symphony orchestra’s repertoire. The kaleidoscopic variety of sound, even its wonderful excess come from that century. What of the future? The Flexible Orchestra is my commentary on the symphony orchestra, and my attempt to secure its future by trying different palettes, all firmly orchestral. But more will have to be done, imaginatively done, I suspect. And composers will have to do it. With some help. Think: copyist, parts editing, revision and recording. Think arts and market capitalism. I did. I am.
Thumbnail Review #43
All thumbnail reviews are at danielgoode.com

Soho Gamelan Walk, Winter 2014

Winter Solstice, Make Music New York

Video by Dana McCurdy

Also see WSJ feature on Daniel Goode and the Soho Gamelan Walk (Click Here).

Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof”- a reaction not a review

Too long by a lot, yet magisterial, a spectacle, with twenty-three dancers on stage much of the time. Women in ballroom solid color dresses danced either in heels or barefoot. Men were in ugly charcoal black or grey suits over white shirts with ties. Music hall, tango-ish numbers on scratchy low fidelity recordings, in German, dancers often speaking, in English, sometimes screaming, insufferable repetition of “darling” by one, overuse of the same recorded songs became finally a good move, supplemented by the “Third Man” theme, and a music-hall kind of recording of Sibelius’s “Valse Triste.”

Yes, “kontakt,” lots of it: from curiosity, sensuality, hostility, mixtures of all, sometimes very fast transitions from one to the other, very heterosexual. Sense of discomfort, awkwardness was an affect of the dancers, a theme of the choreographer. A lot of this piece appeared in Wim Wenders wonderful documentary of the Tanztheater of Pina Bausch (who died in 2009). Typical of the company’s easy-going approach to time was a line-up of all the dancers sitting in a row facing the audience each telling some personal story softly in their own language while another took the mic from to each one of all twenty-two, letting each story fall where it may in the middle. “Heavenly length?” An issue worth pursuing. In spite of the speaking, singing, screaming, no attempt to have a sculpted vocal theater like Meredith Monk’s.

Big age range, it seems, in the dancers. Lots over forty and beyond.

The appropriation of everyday movements into dance is familiar to us, and I’m guessing this piece is from the ’70’s or so when this was happening here too. It must have been shocking to a staid German audience of the time. Yet even now, some images were frightening: a female dancer being felt, felt up, slapped, lifted, manipulated by a large group of the men dancers. With my binoculars I was able to see that it was not a smile on her face, but an open-mouthed crying. Not funny. Yet a lot of the piece was mildly parodistic, and just plain pleasant. Especially the large rings of dancers walking in time over the generous whole of the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM.

Thumbnail Review #42

An Open Letter: To CEO, Laura Walker of WNYC

Laura Walker, CEO                                                            October 12, 2014
WNYC
160 Varick Street
NY NY 10012

A BIT OF ANTI-INTELLECTUAL MIDDLE-BROW CORPORATISM AT WNYC

~an open letter to CEO, Laura Walker of WNYC.

This letter is a protest at your cancelling the free-wheeling, exciting Socratic tria-logue of “Gabfest Radio” and its replacement with a DOA humdrum digest of free-market anecdotes called “Market Place Weekend.”

If this were not part of a pattern, I might not have noticed it. But it is: you like digest call-ins with pre-screened questions to humdrum programs like the “DR Show,” “ On Point,” the one mentioned above, and many others.

You don’t like: intellectually brilliant formats like your former show from California public radio, “To the Point”, or as I said, the—let me add younger generation of intellectuals demonstrated in Gabfest Radio.

You’re going to tell me that all those things I like are available on podcasts. Oh, phooey! You know that radio is Power and Community at a single click. That’s why you’re in radio, Ms. CEO Walker, and not just some obscure blogger out there in the ether.

I won’t go back and repeat my praise for the cancelled “To the Point” or start an extended analysis of the trenchant, raw, live interactional show, “Gabfest Radio.”

I’ll just mark this place. And put this up on my blog, danielgoode.com where anyone can comment. You are invited to do so, and I’ll be back on your case right away!

Daniel Goode
167 Spring Street #3
NY NY 10012

P.S. At this very moment I am in receipt of a fundraising letter from you. Very funny!

Take Back the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center—Now!

Take Back the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center—Now! And good riddance to the Met Museum’s Koch Plaza, too.

These places belong to the people, not to the extremist right-wing plutocrat, Koch. Our civic cultural institutions made a bargain with the devil in taking his money for the display of his name. We find this disgusting. We should leave flyers to this effect whenever we visit.

We should express our opinion vigorously to any functionary of either institution. And we should all put a statement to this effect on all our websites.

So for renaming, how about: “The New York Theater.” And for the plaza, how about:

“The Fountains of New York.” But whatever names, not the notorious money man’s.

Waves of Noise at the Climate Change March, Sept. 21st

But first, my favorite signs around me as we marched, leisurely, I have to say, pleasantly, were:

“There is no PLAN-et B”
“Shower together—Save water”
“Extinction is forever”
“Their greed crushes our spirit” (a sad looking young man in a baseball cap wore this T-shirt)
“Save the Humans” (spoken by a bunch of endangered animals, pictured)

We were still about a couple hundred yards from the head of the march at Columbus Circle at 1 PM when a mighty noise was scheduled to happen. Later I learned why it started a little early: there was to be a minute of silence before the giant noise made by everyone. And as surely as people can hardly be silent for long, that minute was cut short, so the big noise started about a minute or so before 1 PM. But it was a wonderful sound wafting over Columbus Circle to where we stood south of the front-most part of the marchers.

Later, when we had joined, and more than once, and mysteriously—why did it happen? a large mostly vocal noise swept up from behind us. We joined, and it subsided. It was thrilling each time. Ann and I had loud metal rattles from India, and a couple of mouth whistles. Some drums with a “sol-do” (up) tonality were happening near us, fun to play along with. We got quite tired by 42nd St. and took the subway home. Struck up conversations with others on the subway that never would have happened on a normal day.

I heard that at Wall Street civil disobedience today (the day after), the “people’s mike” technique was used to forward information to the protesters. (That’s this fabulous innovation of Occupy Wall Street in which succeeding rows or clumps of people repeat the message to the next group and on and on as necessary to reach the whole crowd.)

The estimate was of 311,000 people at the Sunday march.

Thumbnail Review #41

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