Return and Recognizance of the Gripping Tyranny of Clock Time

11thSep. × ’09

So much for my attempt at a La Monte Young/Terry Riley kind of title. The Second International Conference on Minimalist Music is almost a week into the past now, but that means I’m beginning to have a bit broader view of the proceedings. There are all sort of fiddly, bitchy things that I wish I would have done different (I likely could have gotten hours of tape about Julius Eastman) but the conference was everything I was hoping for and more. In my preparations for the event I at time was feeling like I had “maxed out” the academic literature on minimalism. There’s a handful of articles as well as monographs by Keith Potter and Robert Fink, but it takes considerable digging to find information on anyone other than the Fab Four. 1 The conference very capably kicked open the door of composers, techniques, and analyses I hadn’t even heard of before. I needed to know this stuff!

A number of the papers were spookily accurate in answering specific questions I had coming in. One particularly focus of attention was a paper by Indiana’s Kerry O’Brien providing a cultural context to Steve Reich’s Phase Shifting Pulse Gate, a period of his work he has all but disowned. I’m not so sure about posting my own paper on the topic as I was planning to since this one runs circles around me, and hope she finds an avenue to publish it soon. This obviously wasn’t the limit of engaging topics. La Monte Young’s Dream House! Sense of dread and loss in Arvo Part! Additive process in metal! Dream Theater no less!

Kyle Gann made a crack on his blog before the conference that one of the points of discussion was “why aren’t there any musicologists here?” That didn’t come up because there were a metric fuckton of us there. The crowd did notably break down into two strata:

  1. Thugs who have been there since the beginning. I’m serious. Tom Johnson, the guy who held down the Village Voice job before Kyle Gann and a gnarly composer of his own right, gave a stunning session on European ultraminimalism that we likely will never hear again. Fantastic contributions were also made by Gann, Neely Bruce, Paul Epstein, and Robert Carl. The real deal, and such.
  2. Us young turk musicologists, usually doctoral students with a standard deviation of a degree or so. Some established scholars were there like Potter, Timothy Johnson, David McIntyre, and Jeremy Grimshaw, but the majority were students. Presumably this means that we’re on some sort of watershed moment. These are the papers that, should some journal be good enough to grant them time, will be cited by Intro to Grad Studies papers for years and years.

I still noticed gaps in the scholarship still, or lacuna as we’re encouraged to call them. There was a great deal of work on a battery of postminimalists, but the Bang on a Can school, as self-promotional as they are accused to be, were solely represented by David Lang. Sure, he’s the one with the Pulitzer, but my scattershot reading of Downtown Music tends towards Michael Gordon as the push toward the postminimal. And forget any mention of Julia Wolfe.

But the concerts! The concerts! Every one had charm and the promise of entire new sonic landscape to be explored. The newEar Ensemble re-premiered a Terry Riley work that with any luck will be adopted by conservatory kids at midnight everywhere, and a piece by Tom Johnson that expands the interminably dry wit of Failing to an ensemble of your choosing. As Ray Smuckles would likely say, Sarah Cahill: Fuck! Charlemagne Palestine: FFUUUUUUUCCCCKKKKKK.

The conference ended with a performance of Dennis Johnson’s November as reconstructed by Kyle Gann, a piece of glacial scope. This was a fantastic conclusion for me, before Kansas City I had identified strongly with pulse minimalism and didn’t know a damn thing about drone minimalism. Of course now I have a lot of La Monte Young and Phill Niblock to listen to. The extended scale of November trashes the sense of teleology much more effectively than pulse does, and gives a lot of time to think. The flipside of this is that by concluding the conference, those thoughts inevitably drifted towards homesickness and anxiety of all the business that must be taken care of upon the return to the real world. But when else are you going to program a five to six hour performance!I was only able to stay for the first two and half hours, but it still took a lot of effort of me leave.

The next one is in Belgium in 2011, and I’m already saving up for it. Who knows where the scholarship will be then? It’ll probably still be hiding in our little club.

  1. This leads to the inevitable assignment of instruments, there is only one real solution.
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