Photo of Ben Johnston at his home in Illinois, by William Gedney, circa 1966.
Ben recalled this photo as being “staged”–but it’s an amazing look back in time nevertheless.
The wonderful SWR orchestra of Baden-Baden and Freiburg will be performing two concerts of Ben Johnston’s music in April:
They will be performing an ambitious program for the Composer’s Portrait of Ben Johnston, including European and World Premieres. The program features: Septet, Octet, String Quartet #9, Duo for Flute and String Bass, and Duo for Two Violins. The program will be recorded for later broadcast on SWR2, one of the best and most progressive radio stations in Germany.
Even better news is that Ben Johnston will be in attendance for the concert. I will be there to document the events. We look forward to seeing many of our colleagues and lovers of new music at the concert. More to come on the events and pieces being featured.
(This is a response by Leigh Cross to a previous post.)
The major problem of we who like to build things is our tendency to see all answers to all questions in terms of a device. I have placed my keyboard in the dumpster.
It is as irrelevant as gourmet rat-poison.
Toward the end of the 14th century, with the advent of keyboards and finger-boards came equal temperament to facilitate easy chromaticism, in those days all the rage. Keyboards and fingerboards may have facilitated chromaticism but it pushed intonation into a restrictive iron cage.
We are now at a point where intonation as an art form is breaking out of that iron cage. There are an infinite number of pitches within the scope of human hearing. The selection of pitch is now a resource of the composer. Ben Johnson does it proportionally; other composers may choose other systems. To try to cage this infinity of resources in a restrictive set, as does a keyboard or fretted fingerboard, is, to put it bluntly, a fools errand.
(Editor’s note: Leigh Cross is a master craftsman who studied music at Juilliard in the 1950s, crossed paths with Harry Partch along the way, worked as a logger, and is an incomparable champion of New Music.)
Wright State University: American Innovators Series
The Music of Stuart Saunders Smith: Continuing the Transcendentalist Tradition
Transcendentalism and Experimentalism
Wright State University Department of Music, Feb. 2-3, 2013
Colloquium on Stuart Saunders Smith and the Transcendentalist Tradition
Sat., Feb. 2, 3-7 p.m. and Sun., Feb. 3, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Concert 1: The Music of Stuart Saunders Smith Sat., Feb. 2, 8 p.m., Schuster Hall Guest Artists, featuring Dr. Lisa Cella, flute
Concert 2: The Music of Stuart Saunders Smith Sun., Feb. 3, 2 p.m., Schuster Hall WSU Percussion Studio, Gerald Noble, director
The 2013 American Innovators conference will focus on the music of Stuart Saunders Smith. It will at the same time explore the heritage of the transcendentalist and experimental traditions in music.
Stuart Saunders Smith has carved an unusual niche in modern American music. Although he is usually associated with the experimental tradition, many elements of his music, such as its often direct and powerful expressivity, do not fit neatly into the Cageian ethics of experimentation without concern for ends. The literary allusions and influences in his work also indicate that his music is oriented toward expressive and experiential aims rather than concerned primarily with autonomous processes. On the other hand, many aspects of his compositional outlook––such as his modular approach to form, his welcome of chance interactions in performance, and his allowance of broad latitude to the performer in determining many details and even the form of the work presented––place it close to the experimental tradition.
One central idea to be explored in this conference is the possibility that transcendentalism can be viewed as the strongest influence in Smith’s music, and a powerful influence in experimentalism as well. Certainly two of the leading figures in the American experimental tradition, Charles Ives and John Cage, were both grounded deeply in the transcendental tradition.
A wide range of topics involving aesthetic, cultural, and political questions connected to transcendentalism, the experimental tradition, and Smith’s music are welcome.
The Saturday evening concert will feature Guest Artist Dr. Lisa Cella from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who has premièred numerous compositions by Smith. It will also include performances by several participants in the seminar.
All conference participants are invited as guests to the Sunday afternoon concert featuring the WSU Percussion Ensemble, directed by Mr. Gerald Noble.
Presentations at the Colloquium should last no longer than 30 minutes, followed by a 10-minute question/discussion session. Either abstracts (maximum three pages, excluding figures, tables, and bibliography) or complete papers may be submitted. When submitting a proposal, please indicate what media will be used in the presentation (CD, projector, etc.). An electronic classroom with stereo will be available for the Colloquium; the room will also have an upright piano.
All submissions should include full contact information for the author and indicate the author’s academic position, if applicable. The deadline for submission of paper or abstract is Jan. 10, 2013.
Some or all papers from the colloquia may be published in the forthcoming “American Innovators” book series.
Submissions can be sent electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to:
Dr. Franklin Cox
Department of Music, Wright State University
3640 Col. Glenn Highway
Dayton, OH 45424-0001
“Just intonation is a matter of reducing pitch relations to simple ratios. When I did the same with rhythms, I got Knocking Piece. That piece has nothing to do with serialization; it just so happens that the pitch sequences that I used as the model for Knocking Piece came from a serial piece. But the rhythmic organization is proportional, very much so. I mean, it’s sort of the ultimate exercise in Elliott Carter’s technique, since there’s a metrical modulation in every bar.”
Performance by CCM Percussion Ensemble, April 2008. Phil Andrews and Joey Van Hassel:
Another recent performance for the John Cage centenary, this is a great interpretation of Four4 I recorded at the Goat Farm in Atlanta last month. Audio only. Enjoy!
Piece for Four Percussionists:
Caleb Herron, Olivia Kieffer, Aaron Butler, Brandon Dodge (Chamber Cartel)
Ben Johnston, Kepler Quartet violinist Eric Segnitz, and I were in attendance for this wonderful and interesting performance of a too-little known late Cage work. Luckily I was able to be there to record it. One note: if you have the bandwidth, play the video in 720p HD!
John Cage’s Europera 5
Dated: April, 1991
Instrumentation: two singers, piano, victrola, television, radio, truckera (i.e. tape), light and director
Performed July 2012, Milwaukee, WI
Performers: Zachary Cohen, Karim Suluayman, David Friend, Miranda Loud
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photo by jon roy. please do not use or reproduce without permission.
As part of Microfest there will be an evening of Ben Johnston’s music at 7:30 PM, April 25th at Chapman University in Orange, California. The concert will feature a premiere of Johnston’s “Parable”, plus the Los Angeles premiere of the String Quartet #10 performed by San Francisco’s Del Sol Quartet. Also, John Schneider’s performance of The Tavern for microtonal guitar and voice and the bluesy, rollicking Suite for Microtonal Piano performed by Aron Kallay.