In a recent email from a Jonas tank on Mars, I wrote: like clockwork she wakes up every day, fixes herself coffee and meusli, turns on the computer, opens her observatory roof and begins to scan for unknown objects of love, triads included. Later in the day she can be seen sitting by the Tiber River singing quietly from her fake book. That's where all the chords come from, mine included.
On my way to see the new Woody Allen Musical "here comes everybody" I was in Boston so I stopped over to hear John Cage give a talk at Harvard. This was no talk, it was a 90 minute solo forest fire, now hot now cold like spontaneous melody, a combustible prophecy. Nobody could understand a word, but those who were listening felt they were somehow in touch with "undertanding." And it was all in english. John was not covered in snakes and did not speak in tongues, but was wearing denim and spoke in music - pure folk music; it belonged to everybody. "How do i know it's folk music?" exclaimed Malcolm Goldstein, "because it comes from the earth."
That's where all the chords come from. they grow from anything that falls. You can also order them from early Elizabethan seed catalogues. As a child, I ordered a small mail order publication entitled "modern substitute chords," thinking this would surely make me modern. I had no idea what they were a substitute for either; I later found out that these modern chords where in fact frozen artifacts, like a neanderthal's boot. Their more simple ancestors - pure two and three note aggregates, like the ones that JSBach and later Schumann and Fats Waller used, were , I discovered, all I needed to make music and be contemporary. In a word these musics are about plain naked triads, chords of would and cords of love - stuff with no frills and almost nowhere to go. That's about all I can say about these pieces - they just walk from one sound to the other in a logic remeniscent of a pair of old shoes. Memoires of Josquin enmeshed in Arnold's Harmonielehrer and printed in the Fake-Book. It's not only about these kinds of sounds, but the spaces in between them and the almost palpable connections created by tones moving through the glue of our past, present and future in familiar but wierd steps. Thelonius Monk spinning in place.
Each work is of course different and concerns itself with different kinds of motion and stasis. things repeat, others don't, sometimes there are visible ritonelli, like slow circling flocks of sand hill cranes. But the music never looses grasp of its obsessive chordiness, they keep bobbing un and down - a million look- alike buoys on the distant water. and once in a while there's even something that reminds you of counterpoint.
John Cage's texts are taken from his Norton Lectures, "I-VI" given at Harvard University in 1988-89. Like almost all of Cage's writings they are Mesostics composed from 487 fragments of writings of a selected number of source texts ranging from Cage's own writings, to Fred C Hoyle, to Thoreau, to the Wall st. Journal. And these are then composed according to a set of strict rules of computer mediated chance operations. The resulting 6 one hour "lectures" are largely asyntactical made always form the same limited source materials, recomposed differently in each lecture. They are not supposed to mean anything, but of course do when they reach our ears.
I took the liberty (counter to Cage's faithful pursuit of non-intention) to choose by instinct and desire only certain phrases I liked which contained largely monosyllabic words. This of course was to facilitate my musical task of "setting" one word/chord, which is largely the way I treat the text material.
The addition of Tuba, Trumpet and Percussion to this music is pure indulgence. While the inclusion of the short piano piece ''Endangered Species" (From my recent set of works "Inner Cities") is there to make a brief interlude in lieu of an intermission.
Many thanks to Paul Hillier who brought my music together with this fine chorus and director Boyd Jarrel.
Alvin Curran, February 1997
Mills College, Oakland