New York Downtown in the 1980s

It’s amazing how sometimes two things come along that go together — maybe not a match, but one follows along from another, comments on it, contradicts it maybe. In the last 24 hours, we found two such things. We’ll deal with the most recent first, because it may be a scene you know: Peter Gordon’s Love of Life Orchestra performing ‘Siberia’ live at CBGBs. For all the balance and intonation problems, this is a great evocation of the New York scene in the early 1980s.

The other New York connection is less well known: John Kuhlman was a fascinating West Coast composer, associated in the early years with what would eventually be Cold Blue Recordings. He studied composition with Barney Childs at the University of Redlands and played in the Redlands Improvisers’ Orchestra with Jim Fox, Rick Cox, Read Miller, Anne Noble, and Marty Walker in the mid-1970s. Kuhlamn’s early composition had a lovely West Coast jazz-based ‘pretty music’ sound. In 1979, Kuhlman moved to New York, where he and his bands played in clubs like CBGBs, Roulette, the Mud Club, and elsewhere. He also became ‘handyman to the stars’, fixing up lofts and apartments for Yoko Ono and other leading lights of the New York arts scene.

John Kuhlman is not well known because he died young (in 1996). The trombonist, and his former flatmate, Fred Parcells, has put up a web page dedicated to John Kuhlman’s memory, including some recordings of his performances in New York.

This is a fascinating ‘what if’ history of a very talented composer, and a great portrait of a good friend of those who knew him at the University of Redlands and those who knew him in New York.

John Cage in Italy, 1977

An interesting account of John Cage’s Empty Words performance at the Teatro Lirico in Milan in December 1977, sponsored by Cramps Records. The performance was billed as if Cage were a band or a rock star. Members of the audience who didn’t know him protested with loud spoken interruptions and slow hand claps. The documentary on this page (and on YouTube) follows the lead-up (tech rehearsal, vox pop interviews, press conference) to the show, which, if your Italian is very good, is absolutely fascinating. The English-language article, and translations of reviews, on this web page, are very useful. The last four minutes of the film, showing rare footage of Cage’s performance, is stunning.

Also see:

Happy birthday!

A big happy birthday to John White (b. 5 April 1936). For those who don’t know it, John White is the originator of Machine and systems processes, and essentially is the father of minimalism in Britain. He has also been the greatest composer of music using postmodern irony, and has done so when most composers in Britain were only just beginning to accept serialism. He has written a number of symphonies, most of them (those written since the early 1980s) for electronic keyboards and computer processes. His series of piano sonatas (since 1956 and now numbering almost 200) have acted as a kind of diary of musical thoughts and information. John has also written extensively for the stage, dance, and television/film, and is musical director for Drama Centre London.

John White’s music has never failed to enthral us, surprise us and make us laugh. There are some pieces by John White on the Experimental Music Catalogue; we would like them all, if we could. Very happy birthday, John: can’t wait to see what you will come up with next!