3 may. 2011

Feldman Notes

One of my persistent obsessions is the music of Morton Feldman. Here's a few things I know.

(1) He liked to give names of instruments or dedications as the titles of his works. "For Frank O'Hara" or "Piano." The other main category of title refers to the process or structure of a piece: "Projection," "Crippled Symmetries." He tends to avoid the names of musical genres in the title--like "Waltz" or "Sonata."

(2) He is a precursor of miminalism, but I find his music quite different from most minimalism. It is hypnotic, but does not depend as much on rhythm. It is more introspective, less facile, more involved with visual and poetics arts.

(3) I like him better than Cage because the music seems less didactic, less theological.

(4) He uses a lot of percussion, but not for rhythmic or bombastic effects; more for timbre and texture.

(5) He was an interesting writer, and his writing still provides the best entrance into his musical world. His writing is interesting even if you don't know his music. In this, he is like Cage, but once again, I am more interested in Fedlman's writing than in Cage's.

7 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

A couple more.

(6) There is short Feldman (mostly early) and long Feldman (mostly late).

(7) Indeterminacy, in a sense, plays a big role throughout. However, in the early work it tends to be specified through instructions to improvise; while in the late work it is specified by tricky and even literally impossible rhythmic notation.

I'm interested that you prefer his writing to Cage's. There's a clear link in their love of anecdote, though Cage is of course dry and polished where Feldman is more personal.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, I am going to comment later on on issues of duration and scale. I find it interesting that he only leaves pitch indeterminate in some very early works, and that by being too determinate, a rhythmic notation might become impossible to realize and thus indeterminate again.

Vance Maverick dijo...

It goes beyond the "mere complexity" problem, to tuples where you can see you're expected to play 7 notes, but the start and end points aren't quite obvious, not to speak of the alignment with other players.

Also: his harmony tends to consist of chromatic clusters spaced out with extra octaves (e.g. C in one octave, B in another, C# in yet another). It's a lovely sound, but some find it unsatisfying, lacking in range.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Also, "precursor of minimalism"? None of his pattern pieces is earlier than "In C", as far as I know. On the other hand, if you're talking about minimalism in the sense of sparseness and few notes, Webern was well out ahead of him. Maybe you could adduce Feldman as a thickening of the narrative around minimalism, rather than a precursor.

Jonathan dijo...

Even Feldman's early work is quite sparse and repetitive. I think a case could be made. I hadn't realized "In C" was as early as it actually is. I somehow had it in my mind as around 1974, ten years later that it actually was. I guess I associate Feldman with a previous generation than Glass, Reich... I'll have to come up with a more nuanced account.

Vance Maverick dijo...

What repetitive pieces are you thinking of from before 1964?

The minimal moment of the 1960s -- baptized by Barbara Rose, I think, w.r.t. visual art -- is an element of cultural literacy. I don't mean exact dates, but a grasp of the currents around e.g. Donald Judd and Aram Saroyan.

If I remember right, Riley, Pauline Oliveros, and La Monte Young were all in a composition class together at Berkeley around 1960, and Oliveros may have been the first to move toward the drone -- Young not far behind.

Jonathan dijo...

I was thinking of the "Durations" from around 1960. Almost all music uses repetition as a structural device, but I was thinking more particularly about how Feldman creates an effect of static duration, like a sonic wallpaper.