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Music 109

Notes on Experimental Music

Alvin Lucier

Publication Year: 2012

Composer and peformer Alvin Lucier brings clarity to the world of experimental music as he takes the reader through more than a hundred groundbreaking musical works, including those of Robert Ashley, John Cage, Charles Ives, Morton Feldman, Philip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Christian Wolff, and La Monte Young. Lucier explains in detail how each piece is made, unlocking secrets of the composers' style and technique. The book as a whole charts the progress of American experimental music from the 1950s to the present, covering such topics as indeterminacy, electronics, and minimalism, as well as radical innovations in music for the piano, string quartet, and opera. Clear, approachable and lively, Music 109 is Lucier's indispensable guide to late 20th-century composition. No previous musical knowledge is required, and all readers are welcome.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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p. ii-ii


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p. iii-iii


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p. iv-iv


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p. v-v


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xi

Music 109 is a thorough, modern history of a particular group of composers and their work. This history begins in the 1950s and ends roughly in the 1980s. In colleges and universities where the history of contemporary music is part of the ...

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1. Symphony

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pp. 1-4

Symphony No. 4 When I went to college we studied the masterpieces of European music. If you wanted to be a professional composer, you would go to Europe after college to finish up your musical education. Before World War...

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2. Studio Fonologico

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pp. 5-11

Music Walk with Dancers In 1960 I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study music in Italy. I spent the first summer in Venice, followed by two years in Rome. I was lucky to have a scholarship. I remember ...

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3. Indeterminacy

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pp. 12-22

Indeterminacy is a collection of ninety stories that John Cage began writing in 1958. I’d like to play some of them. It’s a good way to start the year. They always make me feel good, especially when the weather gets bad. These cds were sent to me by Leslie ...

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4. Graphic Notation

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pp. 23-26

The King of Denmark. Does anybody know why a piece of music would be called The King of Denmark? You would have to know something about the history of World War II. When the Nazis invaded Denmark they made all the Jewish ...

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5. Town Hall

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pp. 27-43

The Swallows of Salangan. Morton Feldman’s The Swallows of Salangan (1960) is a work for chorus and orchestra. The title was taken from Safe Conduct, a biographical essay by Boris Pasternak. Here is a passage that appears in Feldman’s ...

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6. Rose Art Museum

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pp. 44-55

In 1965 Sam Hunter, Director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, invited John Cage to come up for a concert. I called Cage. He agreed and suggested we include a work of Christian Wolff, who was teaching at nearby Harvard, as well as a work ...

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7. Cage and Tudor

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pp. 56-69

Cartridge Music Does anyone have a toothpick? This is the question I usually ask when I talk about John Cage’s Cartridge Music (1960). Most people think of a toothpick as a trivial thing but in fact it is rather a sophisticated manufactured ...

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8. Sonic Arts Union

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pp. 70-93

Wolfman In 1966 Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, and I formed The Sonic Arts Union. I first met Bob and Gordon at the Feldman-Brown Concert in 1963. They had driven down to New York from Ann Arbor. Gordon ...

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9. Bell Labs

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pp. 94-98

Blue Suede. I first came across James Tenney in New York in the Sixties. He and Malcolm Goldstein and Philip Corner had organized The Tone Roads Ensemble (Tone Roads is the title of a set of pieces by Charles Ives), which gave ...

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10. Lenses, Intervals

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pp. 99-102

Handphone Table. Laurie Anderson is best known as a multimedia performance and recording artist. She makes large-scale performance works and even wrote an immensely popular song, “O Superman,” which got ...

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11. Tape Recorders

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pp. 103-108

Come Out. It’s shocking to realize how old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorders have become. When I started, they were the workhorses for composing electronic music. Now everything is digital, and there ...

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12. Repetition

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pp. 109-125

In C. “ In C” is a phrase used by jazz musicians to indicate improvising in the key of C. When you go to an engagement and want to warm up, the leader might simply say to the other players, “In C,” and they know what he means. ...

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13. Prose

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pp. 126-127

Stones. Christian Wolff went to England in the Seventies. The most interesting musical things were happening in art schools, not music schools. So he made a collection of pieces for art students. Since most ...

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14. The Piano

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pp. 128-143

A Valentine Out of Season. In 1938 John Cage invented the prepared piano. The story goes that while he was teaching at the Cornish School in Seattle he needed percussion sounds for a dance piece he was working on. Having only a piano available, and ...

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15. Long String Instrument

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pp. 144-149

Ellen Fullman said something beautiful about her piece, The Long String Instrument (1980). She said that the activity of its composition had become her personal music school. It led her to read and study as the information she sought got put to use in ...

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16. Recording

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pp. 150-153

Sferics. Sferics is the shortened term for atmospherics, electromagnetic disturbances in the ionosphere. They’re natural radio waves in the audible spectrum caused by electrical storms in the ionosphere. You can’t hear them with the naked ear. They’re not ...

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17. Opera

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pp. 154-168

Einstein on the Beach. The first thing you hear in Einstein on the Beach is a three-note bass line played on an electric organ. It is repeated over and over again as the audience comes in to the theater. It takes the place of an overture. The notes ...

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18. Words

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pp. 169-176

Empty Words. When John Cage came to Wesleyan in the early Seventies, he carried with him the journals of Thoreau. He said he found wonderful things on every page, not to mention phrases concerned with sound. He said that ...

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19. Voices

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pp. 177-181

Three Voices. It just started snowing outside so let’s listen to Three Voices by Morton Feldman. It was written for Joan La Barbara. Her voice is pre-recorded on two channels of tape. She’s the third voice. Joan stands between two ...

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20 String Quartets

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pp. 182-199

The Grosse Fuge. When I was a student at Tanglewood in the late Fifties, I met the South American composer Mario Davidovsky, who was a student there also. We were having coffee one morning, and I asked him about his music. Because ...

Author’s Note

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p. 201-201


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pp. 203-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572981
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819572974

Page Count: 236
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Lucier, Alvin.
  • Avant-garde (Music).
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