Seeing that John White is getting his Prom this evening (see this link), it is rather wonderful that our friend, the New York artist John Emr has provided a link to Morgan Fisher’s blog page with a lovely account of John’s quiet revolution in music. Find it here.
It’s amazing what one comes across when idly surfing the web. For one thing, although we know Music from Other Minds Friday radio show on KALW and love what Richard Friedman and Charles Amirkhanian does with it, we have missed a lot of these programmes. Luckily, these days we can get to them any time, such as this show, 308: Mostly Rare, from 11 May 2012: http://rchrd.com/mfom/wp/2012/05/10/308/ , which features (along with a bit of Delius, Hauer and Stephen Montague), two excerpts from Marty Walker’s old Advance album. There’s Hal Budd’s In Delius’ Sleep (1974), played by Walker (Bb clarinet) and Barney Childs (piano and percussion) and Chris Hobbs’ Recitative (1979), played by Walker (bass clarinet), Childs (celesta), Virginia Anderson (percussion), and Hobbs (vibraphone). If you haven’t heard these two pieces from the 1970s, it’s worth a listen.
Whilst trawling through the EMC attic, admin found this very short guide and tribute, which was meant to last only for the occasion. It is now very much out of date; if you wish to know anything about Cornelius Cardew, you must start with John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished (Essex 2008). We have noticed, however, that this little note is listed in WorldCat as a library holding. It might have interested someone, so I put it up here, as a blast from the past.
Cornelius Cardew: A source guide and personal tribute on the anniversary of his death
As my major interest is British experimental music, today marks the anniversary of an important event. Some of you may be interested in this directly, or at least might need such information for undergraduate classes and library orders.
Twenty years ago this evening, the British composer Cornelius Cardew was killed by a hit-and-run driver while he was walking in deep snow to his home in East Leyton, London. Cardew could roughly (but with some justification) be called the “Cage” of Britain, in that he developed a particularly British philosophy of notation and indeterminacy which was wholly new. Morton Feldman said (in “Conversations Without Stravinsky,” Source 2 (July 1967), p. 43) that
[a]ny direction modern music will take in England will come about only through Cardew, because of him, by way of him. If the new ideas in music are felt today as a movement in England, it’s because he acts as a moral force, a moral center. Without him, the young ‘far-out’ composer would be lost. With him, he’s still young, but not really lost.
Cardew’s work divides very neatly into the tripartite format of Beethoven and others (which I was warned not to adopt automatically in undergraduate history classes). His early work was modernist and he was a briefly a student and then assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen, performing most of the realisation of Stockhausen’s notes to Carre’ (and then parting company with this work and with avant-garde modernism in “Report on Stockhausen’s Carre’,” The Musical Times, September, 1961, p. 619 (Part 2 in November 1961, p. 700)).
At the same time Cardew met Christian Wolff and John Cage, and soon he found that music notations which spurred the performer to action, leaving other elements indeterminate, was more attractive. Cardew wrote, during this second period in his working life, two landmark pieces of writing on notation, its psychology and aesthetics: “Notation, Interpretation, etc.,” Tempo 58:21 (1961), pp. 21-33, and the often overlooked Treatise Handbook. Both pieces concentrate on Cardew’s ideas which led up to Treatise (New York: Gallery Upstairs Press, 1967; now sold through Peters), his 193-page graphic score.
Cardew also worked with the improvisatory group AMM and became interest in a kind of notation which would not need literacy in music (by means of common-practice notations) nor in the visual arts (by means of graphic notations), but rather in written English (or by translation, any spoken tongue). His concern with a music which anyone might, with practice and thought, play at a high artistic level, led to the founding of the Scratch Orchestra (particularly in Scratch Music (London: Latimer Press, 1971) and to his largest-scale work, The Great Learning (London: Experimental Music Catalogue, 1971; available through http://www.matchlessrecordings.com). This work might arguably be the largest, most complex work of experimental music, having seven sections and taking about seven hours to complete, and forms a compendium of experimental techniques and styles.
During this period Cardew showed his gifts as leader and teacher, inspiring a whole movement of British experimental performers and composers: John Tilbury, Cardew’s equivalent to Cage’s David Tudor, an accomplished pianist who allied himself to the movement; Gavin Bryars, John White, Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons, contemporary composers who joined him; Christopher Hobbs, Hugh Shrapnel and other students in his Royal Academy of Music classes; critics like Michael Nyman; improvisatory musicians like Keith Rowe and Eddie Prevost; visual artists like Tom Phillips. The classic work which dealt contemporaneously with both American and British experimental music is Michael Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (London: Studio Vista, 1974; reprinted Cambridge: CUP, 1999).
After Cardew completed The Great Learning he entered a new phase in which he (at least at first) repudiated his previous avant-garde and experimental works as part of a concern with Marxist-Leninist philosophy and Maoist aesthetics. For most people this break with modernism came in his book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism (London: Latimer Press, 1974); musically it can be heard in the re-release of his album Four Principles on Ireland and Other Pieces (Ampersand ampere7, 2001 (for which I wrote the update’s liner notes)); scores of the music (the Piano Albums from 1973 and 1974) can be found on the Experimental Music Catalogue http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk. Another personal view of graphic works from a late-Maoist angle is Cardew’s “Wiggly Lines and Wobbly Music,” Studio International, November/December 1976, pp. 247-55 (part of their Art and Experimental Music issue).
From here many uninformed commentators have merely dismissed Cardew as a political agitator (for he was a leading figure in his political sphere) and writer of protest songs for workers (one writer whose name I have, perhaps thankfully, forgotten seemed to think that the entire British experimental scene had disappeared from music into politics), but there remain works of note, particularly Mountains (1976) for bass clarinet, which Cardew wrote for Harry Spaarnay, and Boolavogue (1981) for two pianos. After Mao’s death Marxist-Leninist aesthetics seemed to allow more use of art-music techniques while retaining political content: Mountains is a Bach-like fantasia which, at one point, moves into a section of graphic notation, and Boolavogue allows limited performer choice at one point. This late work is harder to find: one may try Forward Music (2013: now out of business) and http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk for scores published by the Cornelius Cardew Foundation. The Scratch Orchestra and Composers’ Project site, Musicnow http://www.musicnow.co.uk is also useful as a source of recordings and information.
Cardew’s long-time friend and performer John Tilbury has been, for years, working on his monumental biography of Cardew; from the taste he gave in “Cornelius Cardew,” in Contact, Spring 1983, pp. 4-12, and from discussions of his work and its scope, this should be the major Cardew source when it appears. For a larger overview of Cardew and the scene in general, I have to set aside humility and suggest my MA thesis: “British Experimental Music: Cornelius Cardew and His Contemporaries,” (Unpublished thesis: University of Redlands, 1983, 278 pp.; reprinted by the Experimental Music Catalogue http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk, 2000 2013: now out of print), which goes into the subject in a little more depth than Nyman’s and is a good companion to that book.
Those who live in Britain will find Julian Cowley’s “Revolutions from Scratch,” The Wire December 2001, pp. 26-31 to provide a good overview of Cardew’s life and memorial of the 20th anniversary of his death, as it includes interviews with many of the people who worked with him. Those who can tear themselves away from the queue for the Harrods’ sale in London (do people still do this?) can come to the Conway Hall in London on 29 December for a day (2pm-6.30pm) devoted to Cardew’s works performed by those who knew him.
A personal note: I had completed my second semester of my MA and my first trip to Britain was the usual cheap haul nightmare on December 18, 1981. We had to disembark from the plane far out on the tarmac and be bused to customs because of heavy snow. I waited for almost an hour for my host, Christopher Hobbs, to appear: he had had to run two miles to his nearest tube station because the buses could not make it up the hill to his part of town because of heavy snows. As we made our way from Heathrow to his house, Chris told me that he would have to leave me the next day because he had to go to his Cardew’s funeral, and explained what he knew of the circumstances, the most serious outcome of that season’s rotten weather.
Chris went. He told me that it was a moving service: Bach was played and the Internationale sung. I felt that I couldn’t go. I hadn’t met him, although I knew him — his works — well. I had first come across his views of notational aesthetics and psychology in “Notation, Interpretation, etc.,” while doing a paper on notational aesthetics as an undergraduate and had played Octet ’61, Autumn ’60, and Paragraph 6 of The Great Learning. I owned Scratch Music— as did most of the people I knew, as its 99¢ cover price made it about the cheapest book in any music book store, even in the 1970s. I was a fan, but a fan who would have called him “Mr. Cardew” (or would have avoided any address until I had felt comfortable enough for a first name). I still refer to “Cardew”, as I will never have a chance to meet him; “Cornelius” – still more, “Cor” – is for his friends.
Cardew’s death had hit everyone in British experimental music and to some extent brought them back together for the first time since the Scratch Orchestra. Spats between Marxists and non-Marxists of professional and non-professional musicians were put aside. Cardew’s young age — he was only 45 at the time — made the sense of urgency to keep ties and to take note of important events and works more keen. I was caught up in this: the people I talked to on that vacation all had Cardew’s life and works at the forefront of their discussions and this led to my choosing Cardew and other British experimentalists for my MA thesis and pretty much everything I written about since.
At the time of his death there were signs that Cardew was going to enter more fully back into experimental and new music: he had agreed to take part in a concert with AMM, for instance. It’s too bad that we couldn’t see how that artistic life may have continued. I really wish that I had met Cardew. I’m only one among many who learned from him and who were affected deeply by his ideas.
Virginia Anderson, 13 December 2001
We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I, Variation II, Variation III, and Variation IV for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!
Well, this small series of Video Watch on Drinking and Hooting Machine has brought up a number of issues about performing indeterminate music. One of the most interesting points made about the UCLA performance was Paul Epstein’s comment on our Facebook page: ‘Frankly, I don’t regard the piece as all that experimental; the instructions seem fairly precise and the concept elegant’. I agree that the piece is precise and elegant. The piece is experimental/systemic, or experimental/minimal, though. It comes from a time when minimalism was a type of experimental music (think In C, Pendulum Music, and so forth). Drinking and Hooting uses compositional indeterminacy or chance, like Cage’s Music of Changes. Unlike Music of Changes, however, Drinking and Hooting also employs performance indeterminacy. We can compare this to Cornelius Cardew’s graphic piece, Treatise, which was very carefully structured and organised syntactically, but played freely. The ‘good’ performances — the ones that I return to and think about — are the ones in which the performers exercise thought and care as to what to do with it. Whether they interpret it syntactically or not is not the issue — Cardew didn’t provide instructions — what matters is that the performers treat it sensitively and creatively.
Paul Epstein obviously takes care about what kinds of bottles he can use in an observant performance of Drinking and Hooting. And given his care and attention, I would like to step back (but not completely back) from my tentative approval —actually an understanding — of any performance using only the two sections of the piece that exist in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Certainly we can say that such a performance is an arrangement of Drinking and Hooting, or a paraphrase or exercise on it. A partial performance is less artistic, though, and probably more educative, analytical, and pedagogical. One of the first mature performances of a graphic piece in which I took part was also an ‘arrangement’: an ensemble reading of Earle Brown’s Four Systems (1954). Four Systems does not specify its instrumentation, but Brown limits it implicitly, first, by dedicating it to David Tudor on his birthday (which begs the question of whether a ‘good’ version could only be played by Tudor, perhaps only on his birthday); second, by explaining that the boundaries of the graphics indicate the limits of the keyboard. But our group at Barney Childs’ New Music Ensemble at the University of Redlands in 1974 — consisting of first-time members — learned so much about playing suggestive indeterminacy (which has limits of pitch and time) that I have used this piece as an introduction to the interpretation of indeterminate music ever since.
And since the last variation, I received an email from the director of the UCLA Contempo Flux group, the pianist Gloria Cheng, informing me about their performance. First, she took care to find the official version of Drinking and Hooting Machine, which meant getting the Scratch Anthology of Compositions through interlibrary loan from Australia. She knew of the student version in Brian Dennis’s Projects in Sound, which would have been shorter, but is also a viable version, but she took that extra step to ensure a good performance. Water bottles were supplied by the concert committee. The Contempo Flux performers rehearsed, then were placed throughout the hall to provide examples for the rest of the audience. One of the students explained the method to the audience, and the piece provided the end to the concert — a happy one, from the video evidence. Now, you can’t fault that preparation, which resulted in our favourite online version of Drinking and Hooting thus far.
But this is the final entry for this Video Watch piece at present. After looking at the variations in performances, we now reveal the theme: the score itself. John White has graciously allowed the EMC to make Drinking and Hooting, in a facsimile of the official Scratch Anthology version, available for download. You can access this piece on the EMC Freebies page. On this page you will also find pieces that Michael Parsons and Chris Hobbs have equally generously allowed us to offer. Just click here: http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk/emc/Freebies.html . We’d like to pass on the information and any good words you might have for these composers if you do download any pieces, so please get in touch. And whatever you do, keep drinking and hooting!
There’s a lot to tell about the With Four Hands conference, but for now, the best. Christopher Hobbs and Dave Smith played pieces by Michael Parsons, Howard Skempton, John White, Dave Smith and Hobbs. With help from the session chair, we were able to put our portable recording device in a good place (rather than bootlegging it as we had planned). The raw recording sounds good. Many historic moments made in this concert: some pieces not played for 30 years or more, the first public duo performance by Hobbs (of Hobbs-White) and Smith (of Smith-Lewis) for over 15 years. Chris is going to do some edits (mostly sounds of moving piano benches around, rather inaudible spoken programme notes, the bleeding-chunk excerpt of Remorseless Lamb, cut because of time, which Chris announced as ‘scrag end of Lamb’), and then we’ll see what we can do to make it available. Short teasers: John White’s pieces, from 1966 and 1974, prove that this music didn’t evolve from experimental/minimal to postminimal in the clear evolutionary way that the Americans’ music did. And Dave Smith’s systems piece, Swings, sounds much like it would sound if Bernard Hermann had gradually taken up gamelan with Meredith Monk. One wants to dance….
We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I, Variation II and Variation III for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!
Speaking of Facebook, a little while ago, the LA composer Sean McCann sent out a YouTube link for a performance of Drinking and Hooting Machine in the Powell Library Rotunda at UCLA. Marked ‘Hooting and Drinking Machine’ by the poster/filmmaker, it is a successful and rather beautiful performance. You can see it here:
There are several factors in this version that suggest that the performers may not stick strictly to the rules of the piece itself. First, the grouping is unclear: White specifically states that this piece is for four main groups of performers, with up to five sub-groups, making 4-20 distinct parts. White does not limit how many performers may play each part. Moreover, the actions requested in each part are different, but due to the instrumentation (bottles), the timbre is pretty close. And even if everyone played the same part, their choice of breath, ability to hold a note, and what constitutes a SIP, SWIG, or GULP differs. This is another reason that Drinking and Hooting Machine is so like Riley’s In C, which itself has only one part, and which performers move through the material at their own speed. But there’s another factor in this and other performances that is referred to by a person commenting on the YouTube upload. Bruno Ruviaro asks if they used the full score, as he had only been able to access the score excerpt in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. (Well, Bruno, we have a fix for you there — stay tuned!).
So, can a performance using only half a score be a legitimate performance? This reminds us of Christopher Hobbs’s piece Pretty Tough Cookie, which is built up from one figure in an internal horn part in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. That certainly is more Hobbs than Tchaikovsky in that one, and it’s designed that way. Half a Drinking and Hooting Machine actually destroys White’s random series and the system itself. But there is still an identity there that we can see as being Drinking and Hooting.
The UCLA performance is certainly White, and it’s a good one. Why? First, the acoustics in the Rotunda are gloriously resonant, sustaining the rather short breaths of the assembled masses (this is audience participation). And the simple fact that there are so many players solves the problem that appears early on in the Zeitkratzer video of silence appearing between hoots. The players in the UCLA video settle into longer hoots as the performance goes on, just like the Zeitkratzers do. But even though some performers hoot almost as fast as the Isle of Wight students in our first video (perhaps because of unfamiliarity with their instruments), the sound is always covered by other performers.
Was it universally liked? I think I heard the words, ‘Stop it, now!’ about 2 and a half minutes in. But what was absolutely lovely was the response at the end: joyous laughter, rather than the embarrassed laughter of the first video. They came, they drank, they hooted, and they enjoyed. What could be more fun? It’s almost like hanging out with White himself.
Right, that finishes this series on videos about John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine, in its four variations. But next, we’re going to supply the theme itself. John White has agreed to allow the Experimental Music Catalogue to make Drinking and Hooting Machine — the official version published in the Scratch Anthology of Compositions — available on the web. This is coming soon, so keep watching, and of course, keep hooting!
For its setting, this might be called the ‘university departmental meeting’ version of Drinking and Hooting. This version, by Zeitkratzer, as part of, or in preparation for the 2007 Donaufestival in Austria, shows a row of performers sitting as if they are in a seminar (or at high table). There are some unusual shots of one performer’s ear, but otherwise, this is a pretty focused and documentary style of Drinking and Hooting filming. At about 1’20” one sees a player taking two short sips, very fast. As to the quality of the performance, the players begin by allowing too many silences, as they do not hold their notes long enough. However, by a few minutes in, the players settle in very well and there are a number of rather pretty sonorities. The lesson here is that it is probably best to warm up on the long tones so that you can settle into the Drinking and Hooting world.
For those who are interested in Zeitkratzer, Julian Cowley’s Wire article from 2005, although pretty old, is a fascinating introduction. We wonder what happened to their proposed British experimental music concert mentioned in this article?
Having experienced the efforts of the Isle of Wight students, we might compare it with the recording of Drinking and Hooting Machine on Machine Music (Obscure 8, 1978), performed by Brian Eno, Christopher Hobbs, Gavin Bryars, John White, and Susan Dorey. Those familiar with Terry Riley’s piece In C (1964) will see how similar its structure and ending is to Drinking and Hooting Machine. D & H uses bottles rather than ‘real’ instruments. It’s also slower than In C, but it has the same, easily-followed process, albeit through changes in pitch, rather than In C‘s motives. White wrote, ‘The effect of this piece has been compared to that of a large aviary of owls all practising very slow descending scales’ (liner notes to Drinking and Hooting Machine, Obscure 8). You can hear a bit of the Obscure version here:
Although we can’t see the performers on the Obscure recording, we can hear several distinct differences. The primary difference is how slowly the Obscure recording progresses. White asked performers to blow their bottles for a ‘whole breath’. What does this mean? One must empty one’s lungs, of course. The IoW students huff and puff like a jug band, but their short breaths are, in some way, ‘whole’. If their breaths were not at least mostly whole, the students would become hyperventilated as their lungs filled with unused air. But on the Obscure recording we can hear the players leisurely breathing in, then equally leisurely blowing long tones over their bottles. This brings us from score-reading to performance practice. Here the ‘whole breath’ means an intake of breath that results in a long (or longish) note that uses up the air with the end of the note.
Another feature of the Obscure recording we can hear is the professional approach to the piece. The players have practiced their ‘instruments’ enough to hold a clear and steady tone. They have worked out what constitutes the varying intensities of drinking that White has written (these include ‘SIP’, ‘SWIG’, ‘GULP’, and to leave the level ‘AS IS’), which lowers the pitch on each successive groups of hoots. There is no giggling. Whatever is funny about the piece — for instance, seeing competent performers playing on old bottles — is is interpreted as funny by the audience members themselves. There is a concern with the pace and placement of the notes to balance the texture of the music throughout (White writes that notes should be played without significant gaps, other than the intake of breath and the required drinking to change the pitch of the bottle). Of course, the students are students, and the Obscure players are professional. But all performers should approach their performance in a professional manner, no matter whether they play an old wine bottle or a Stradivarius violin.
The Obscure performers therefore avoid the coordinated pulse that the students achieve in their ‘rhythmic’ version (the instructions clearly state the ‘There is no rhythmical pulse other than that produced by the individual length of breath of each performer’). Lastly, although we cannot see the Obscure performers, we are confident that they did not put bottles on their heads when they finished their drink — at least not until after the piece had ended.* Why? The instructions clearly state that once each player finishes the required number of hoots, he or she enters the coda. Here the performers hoot on their empty bottle until all have finished their bottles and, at a signal, they end together.
One only wonders how the Isle of Wight students found this piece, whether they decided it to be ‘infamous’, and whether they decided on their performance strategy alone. They certainly couldn’t have been taught this by their teacher. Could they? I’m not trying to be a killjoy. Rather the reverse: all the fun in this piece comes from playing it as a piece; arse around with it, and it’s just arsing around.
*What the players do with the bottles after the performance is up to them, of course.
Since people like the link to the disastrous performance of Christopher Hobbs’ Voicepiece a while ago, we thought we might begin our current investigation of performances of John White’s great minimalist masterwork, Drinking and Hooting Machine, with a performance by GCSE and A-Level students at Sandown High School on the Isle of Wight. Now, we don’t want to do down any real efforts on the part of the students, but for some reason, we suspect that this performance was not thought quite through. Like the Voicepiece performance, there is no sign that the students have actually read the instructions. If they had done, they wouldn’t have been able to describe Drinking and Hooting as ‘infamous’. So, lesson 1, folks: RTFI [the last letter is ‘instructions’, equivalent to ‘manual’ in computer terminology].More versions to come, but in the meantime, enjoy, and let us know your thoughts!
Here’s some relatively new goodness we got about Jim Fox’s label Cold Blue, a March review of Cold Blue 2 on New Music Box:
which includes a very pretty track by Jim. If you haven’t got this record, then it’s worth checking out — the best in that kind of long, lovely and almost lonesome music that CB does so well. It’s very much an ‘LA’ sound, even though some of the composers (like Gavin Bryars) are not LA people.
But that’s not all. Two of the pieces at least, James Tenney’s and Larry Polanski’s use Partch instruments, with their special tuning, and NMB has offered a little contextual information. At the bottom we found a link to a very old article (2002! Love the picture, Dean!) by Dean Suzuki on invented instruments in experimental music, covering a wide range of instruments:
If you haven’t read it, do. It’s an enjoyable read for general audiences and covers a range of instruments and their uses in experimental music from all over the world.