Sunday, February 27, 2011

1970: The "Guggenheim Year"

I have written in the past about the significance of the year 1970 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, not just for myself but for its general impact on a shift in listening habits and the expectations shaping them.  This was the year in which three avant-garde performing groups each presented a concert in the Auditorium of that Museum.  This was, admittedly, a major personal experience, because it gave me the opportunity to perform with one of them, the Sonic Arts Union.  (My “instrument” was one of the earliest computer keyboards equipped with a modem.  I was connected by telephone to my computer back at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where a computer was issuing instructions to other performers in the work “Conspiracy 8,” which I had co-composed with Gordon Mumma.)

Over on my attention to this concert series focused on the concert given over to Philip Glass, which I previously described as follows:

By that time Glass had built up enough repertoire to fill an entire program with three compositions embodying what he now tends to call "music with repetitive structures," the description he seems to prefer to "minimalism."  On the basis of his Wikipedia entry, I would guess that the works I heard were "Music in Similar Motion," "Music with Changing Parts," and "Music in Fifths."  I am pretty sure about the last one, because it was written in parallel fifths;  and I knew that this was music that would drive all of my music teachers crazy!  Beyond this obvious bit of nose-thumbing, however, the music was challenging in its exhaustive repetitions over a sustained duration with little sense of a journey from a beginning through a middle to an end;  but it was exhilarating for being so damned different from just about anything I had previously heard (almost all of which had been mediated by the approval of my teachers).

What I realized today is that I have not given any attention to the third of these concerts.  A major reason is that this is the of the three that I missed, but it is important to recognized that this third concert consisted of early works by Steve Reich.  The only work that I know for sure was on the program was “Four Organs,” which remains one of Reich’s most demanding works.  I know this because I have the Mantra CD of this performance, from which I discovered that one of the four organists was Philip Glass!  This was, indeed, a time when those breaking new ground had no problems about working together closely!

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