The River, Its Dreams, and the Communal Time-Voyage Cathedral (Minimalism Conference Part 2)

Submitted by Andy on Mon, 09/14/2009 - 09:09

While I wasn't foolhardy enough to attempt a daily blog about the conference as some attempted, the previous large missive I guess wasn't enough to encompass everything involved as well as all the repercussions.

I acquired a sizeable amount of La Monte Young's music that I've been sifting through since. It's been a singular experience for sure. A tortured metaphor would be if you were a fan of a well-worn and beloved series of books, but you started with the second one because the first one is out of print because the series hadn't starting making money yet. You can surmise what's in it from the later books, but you can't bring yourself to spend the $500 for a copy on eBay. Then someone just gives it to you!

My knowledge of Young seemed to be entirely backwards of others of my generation. It was entirely secondhand, except for one night's determined wanderings in Tribeca to experience the Dream House. But now the Black LP and the Well-Tuned Piano had fallen from the sky along with Phill Niblock's scintillating textures to kick my ass into drone minimalism.

Young and Niblock featured heavily in the immersion session on temporality in music, which itself rotated mostly around Jonathon Kramer's fancy terms like "vertical temporality" and the aforementioned "clock time". These papers sped ahead of even the analysis papers in terms of jargon but were exploring the most essential and yet most ephemeral aspect of minimalism, so they were discussed both snidely and enthusiastically. Had this been a more traditional conference (coughAMScough) they would have sank in a sea of pretension, but the evening's concerts reminded everyone of that this really was how we were perceiving the music.

So a week separated from Kansas City, as Angela rehearsed with the Quad Cities Symphony, I decided to see if I could do it again. By the banks of the Mississippi in Moline I put the first side of Young's Black LP on my iPod and tried to, as the experts say, "bliss out". Tom Johnson said numerous times throughout the temporality session that you can never really eliminate a perception of time, and this was immediately true. People walked by, ducks floated on, the river stayed the course.

Thinking back to the Charlemagne Palestine concert, I was also aware that time itself was passing but either through the duration of the notes or the sheer physicality of the organ that much vaunted "end to teleology" actually happened. I had no idea was the next chord would be and couldn't remember at all what had come before (except maybe that it hadn't been quite as loud earlier). Something similar happens with me and ultramodernist music like Boulez or Wuorinen, but rather than irritating this was immersive. This was accompanied by an utter breakdown of concert decorum, people hanging out in the pulpit, behind the altar, sitting on the kneeler, etc. Not to use really trite language, but throughout the performance the church felt like a vessel, a ship of some sort. We were all on a voyage through TIME ITSELF. hand waving

Young by the Mississippi was different. Admittedly, Young's work is considerably more active than Palestine's and I couldn't have it nearly as loud. But all the passersby not in on the secret gave my listening a oddly Cageian quality. A maintenance worker with a weedwhacker passed by, and its motor harmonized with Young and Zazeela's oscillator in a way I probably couldn't duplicate if I tried. Other people at the conference talked about the importance of community. At the business meeting, more than one person said they'd love to host the 2013 conference back in the States, but could never get the rest of their musicology or composition departments on board. Everyone (except for Indiana! fist shake) seemed to be their own islands of study and were sort of shocked to find so many other interested parties.

I'm going to postulate that the sense of community is just as important for the audience of minimalism. The discarding of concert etiquette at the Palestine concert felt like we were all committing to it. During it I had a panic of self-awareness when I realized I was laying on the floor of a church in Missouri in front of a bunch of strangers, but they I realized nobody cared. This harks back to a discussion of audience as individual listeners vs. a teeming mob, but this "suspension of judgement" is something that other new music scenes could certainly use more of.