This re-edition of Canti Illuminati, 25 years after its appearance as my 3rd LP, is indeed a pleasure, and as one can imagine occasions a welcome moment of reflection: In the 70s when downtown musical-america fully embraced delirious repetition, the key of C, asymmetrical beats, unison everything, performance art, innocent melodies, phase shifting, long delays, fedback loops, wierd instruments, ambient sounds, body art, story telling, emotion and progressive politics; not to mention audiences seated or lying on the floor listening to compositions and improvisations lasting up to 2 hours or more, we all knew we were in for trouble. New York City then was a centrifuge of incredible activity where composers, dancers, authors, performers, electronic engineers and arts administrators engaged in a feverish search for a new art-music accessible to anyone - a utopian trans-national people's music, that reflected above all the elementary and irresistable unifying powers of the great traditional and classical musics from around the world, europe included.
The music of this period and place, never a formal movement, was anchored both aesthetically and philosophically in the vital secrets of minimalism, in the sounds of the environment, however unassuming or flawed, in the cyclical generation of tones and voltage controlled substances, solo voice, and the whole body as solo performer, in men and women as equals, in stories of ordinary people, in gestures of eloquent simplicity as well as open spirituality, in irony as well as transcendental yearning. Improvisation and composition were reconciled as children of the same parents and immaculate mathematical structures could easily cohabit under the same roof with chance . Instrumental virtuosity and implaccable drones were augmented to their human limits. And Rock music and musique concrete both contributed new values to amplification beat and noise. Lofts, garages, storefronts, art-galleries and living rooms along with malls, rivers, ports and other improbable spaces became the new concert halls, and the idolized "musica da camera" of the establishment aristocrats now became exquisitely egalitarian in its pulsing walls of sound, delicate melodies, well-tuned drones and contrapuntal loops. Cage's fatherly shadow was everpresent, but his call for monastic rigor in this ebullient moment went largely unheeded.
In Europe, the feared attack of the young American hordes on the bastions of Western music were way over-rated, and while Darmstadt and IRCAM continued on their ossified missions, the New-Downtowners began captivating large audiences everywhere under the aegis of a new generation of concert producers . Whether it was Laurie Anderson, Lamonte Young or Anthony Braxton, the musical offering was of an imagination, execution and listening experience perhaps as revolutionary as Schoenberg's brilliant but unpopular attempt to liberate the musical tones from their natural tendencies some 60 years earlier. The significant difference here is that the Downtown music was hip, it swung and was in completely tune with the musical currents – both experimental and popular from everywhere.
It was its own cultural Zeitgiest or at least the locomotive
the Zeitgeist piloted.
As seen from the centers of power, the contamination of the high culture by these apparent primitive musical techniques and disloyal tendencies, simply appeared as a territorial threat; in reality it was a blessing, ne a tonal-blessing, and happily for all, nobody got hurt in the mix; we're still trying to estimate the import of this legacy.
To whatever extent the strikingly personal musics of Maryanne Amacher, Bob Ashley, Evan Parker, Joan La Barbara, La Monte Young, Laurie Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Mort Subotnick, David,Tudor, Alvin Lucier, David Behrman, Charlie Morrow, Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Chicago Arts Ensemble, Paul Dresher, Derek Bailey, Phill Niblock, Malcolm Goldstein, Glenn Branca, Joe Celli, George Lewis, Meredith Monk, Ivan Tcherepnin, Philip Corner, Louis Andreissen, Diamanda Galas, Frederic Rzewski, Rhys Chatham, Jerry Hunt, Leo Smith, Jon Gibson, Teitelbaum, Muhal Abrams, Larry Austin, Eugene Chadbourne, Misha Mengelberg, Pauline Oliveros, John Zorn, Glass and Reich and many others could be the seeds of today's unplugged-diversity, this moment, this non-movement, has no doubt left a strong mark on musical life ever since; personally I am happy to have been a part of it.
Canti Illuminati, was of course my early tribute to the human voice, as the most natural source of music known. In this period there were many experiments going on in the world based on collective vocal improvisation -Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening work at UCSD, Roberto Laneri's Roman group Prima Materia, David Hykes and his Harmonic Choir - in New York, now based in France, and my own work in group vocal Improvisation at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica in Rome, where I taught between 1975 and 1980. I always told my students: don't forget! when the electricity gets turned off, you always have your voice/ your entire body as a basic musical instrument. When this work was being considered for an LP recording I decided to make it into a two part piece, which, on side one, explores a variegated soundscape of structured choral improvisation, and from this (side two) there emerges a solo platform for my own voice, tape delayed feedback, and my then trusty Serge Synthesizer and Sequencer. In later solo performances I concentrated entirely on this latter music, developing an intense and slowly expanding "microtonal" unison by matching my voice with a finely detuned keyboard. In retrospect this could be seen as a direct hommage to Giacinto Scelsi, who opened avenues of magical perspectives to many of us young composers in Rome at that time.
Alvin Curran, October -November 2002