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Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music

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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, un 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.


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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, un 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.

30 review for Music 109: Notes on Experimental Music

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Alvin Lucier is an experimental composer who got his start in the late 1960s alongside Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, and others. Those four formed the Sonic Arts Union and toured under that umbrella. Of the four of them, Lucier's always struck me as the scientist of the lot, his work being based as much in explorations of acoustic phenomena as musical compositional strategies. He created a device to catch and amplify brainwaves in "Music for Solo Performer." In "Music on a Long Thi Alvin Lucier is an experimental composer who got his start in the late 1960s alongside Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, and others. Those four formed the Sonic Arts Union and toured under that umbrella. Of the four of them, Lucier's always struck me as the scientist of the lot, his work being based as much in explorations of acoustic phenomena as musical compositional strategies. He created a device to catch and amplify brainwaves in "Music for Solo Performer." In "Music on a Long Thin Wire," he found incredible sub-harmonics within the reverberations of the titular material. Best of all is "I Am Sitting in a Room," in which Lucier speaks a piece of text for one minute, noting his slight stutter and describing the intention of the piece, runs the voice text into the room, which accumulates the room tone as well as the speech fragment. With each new iteration, the tape contains the voice plus another layer of the room tone; on the next iteration, it's the speech plus the room tone plus the room tone; on the third pass, it's speech plus room tone plus room tone plus room tone, etc. After 40 minutes (!) have elapsed, the voice is completely unrecognizable. In its place is a ghostly hum, rising and falling where the speech once was, created from layers upon layers of a sound we would never be able to recognize (the intrinsic reverberations of the room) and carved in relief by the punctuations of speech. That's the key to Lucier's work. When you read that the composition "Clocker" is music "For amplified clock, performer with galvanic skin response sensor and digital delay system," your first thought might not be "beauty." but Lucier, despite working in some purely acoustic and almost scientific phenomena, usually finds something beautiful, human, and even a bit melancholic in these process-based pieces. He finds other ways to remove the composer from the system (a la John Cage and his chance operations), letting the process find its own ways. In later years, Lucier introduced more composing into his process-based pieces, and his body of work is never less than inventive and intriguing. Like most avant garde composers, Lucier has a day job. He teaches music at Wesleyan University, including his "Music 109" class, in which he introduces incoming students to the century-long history of experimental music. Music 109 the book is Lucier's class notes, refined over years of teaching and built to be as wide-ranging as possible. Unlike Witold Gombrowicz's A Guide to Philosophy in Seven Hours and Fifteen Minutes, Music 109 is written to be read. It's not just shorthand and memory prompts, but multi-page narratives and remembrances. Even without Lucier's presence and, presumably, his playing of the pieces in person, this is a thoroughly usable book no matter where you are in your exploration of experimental music. To accommodate all of the different conventions that have been expanded, flouted, or broken in the 20th century, Lucier divides the chapters into their classical components -- string quartets, symphonies, voice, percussion, piano -- as well as more expected sections on extended techniques like tape recorders, repetition, indeterminacy, graphic notation, and so forth. For those of us who have followed Lucier's career, the first big surprise is that Lucier seems altogether like a friendly, almost avuncular, teacher. Go Google image search "Alvin Lucier" and try to find a pic where he's smiling, or even not scowling fiercely. Here, though, he seems like he's having fun engaging the students, cracking wise about modern technology, and spouting endless fascinating anecdotes and remembrances about a who's who of 20th century experimental music, from Morton Feldman to Robert Ashley to James Tenney to Phillip Glass. If you're just getting interested in music at the fringes, this is a lovely primer. Now that youtube has pretty much all world knowledge on it, you could spend weeks plugging in composition names Lucier mentions and hear for yourself. That can't be anything but a great thing. If you're on the fence and want to just get a little taste, the concise chapters make it easy to jump in and out. If you're, say, a classical vocalist who is specifically interested in extensions for voice, there's nothing wrong with just focusing on the parts that apply to you. It's very useful that way, and easy to access the materials you want. Because it's not an end-to-end history of the developments, it needn't get bogged down in precise chronology. It leapfrogs freely from style to style, from Phillip Glass's repetitions on the keyboard to Steve Reich's use of tape loops to create a similar hypnotic effect. Lucier's own works are mentioned sparingly alongside similar works by David Behrman or Gordon Mumma, not he's careful not to make it all about himself, but not downplaying his considerable contribution to the experimental canon, either. And of course, it does the other thing I'd hoped/feared it would do -- it grew my album want-list by at least another fifty titles. Fun, funny, breezy, but substantial. Recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I love this book. If you are interested in music and composition of the non-run-of-the-mill sort, I cannot recommend this enough. Very enjoyable, and so many new things to try and to seek out and listen to.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anton

    This is a great starting point for those who want to know how the post-war avant-garde music of the last century evolved and, in a sense, gradually blurred the line between itself and other art forms. In short chapters (often divided in subchapters by certain works), Alvin Lucier discusses new techniques and ideas developed by academic/experimental composers with examples of their works. A lot of mentions of John Cage and his works, which might bore some people (if they're well aware of them), b This is a great starting point for those who want to know how the post-war avant-garde music of the last century evolved and, in a sense, gradually blurred the line between itself and other art forms. In short chapters (often divided in subchapters by certain works), Alvin Lucier discusses new techniques and ideas developed by academic/experimental composers with examples of their works. A lot of mentions of John Cage and his works, which might bore some people (if they're well aware of them), but that only emphasizes how influential he and his ideas were at that time. What makes this an easy read is that Lucier's language is not specialized, but a common one, and his style is quite anecdotal. My favourite bits are on Morton Feldman (he's probably the 2nd most mentioned after Cage here), La Monte Young and Ellen Fullman (the long string instrument!).

  4. 5 out of 5

    FL

    This book sits somewhere between lecture notes and autobiography. That is, it's transcribed lectures from a course the author taught about artistic movements he'd been involved in, including his own works. Individual pieces are described, then, in an informal and engaged narrative style that reveals something both about the pieces and about Lucier's perspective. What I find most striking about the book is that so little background knowledge is required that the usual canon of Western music ends u This book sits somewhere between lecture notes and autobiography. That is, it's transcribed lectures from a course the author taught about artistic movements he'd been involved in, including his own works. Individual pieces are described, then, in an informal and engaged narrative style that reveals something both about the pieces and about Lucier's perspective. What I find most striking about the book is that so little background knowledge is required that the usual canon of Western music ends up being defamiliarized. He spends so much time detailing electronic works that when the "usual stuff" of Beethoven or Bach shows up, it's almost uncanny to see it explained with the same sort of methodological tone. Maybe it's more fun to read history backwards, in a sense.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cody

    A varied collection of ideas that, when taken together, form a substantial glossary of experimentation (I like to think of it as a rather provocative sonic buffet). Throughout, Lucier's clear, spare prose belies a deep, dry wit and ever-present playfulness. A must read for anyone interested in experimental art and sound. A varied collection of ideas that, when taken together, form a substantial glossary of experimentation (I like to think of it as a rather provocative sonic buffet). Throughout, Lucier's clear, spare prose belies a deep, dry wit and ever-present playfulness. A must read for anyone interested in experimental art and sound.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nate Trier

    This book is a conversational and charmingly personal overview of some of the most important works in "contemporary classical" music. In the endnote, Lucier says that he picked the pieces in this book on the basis of either his personal involvement with the pieces or just because he really loved them. The personal involvement angle makes this a unique book - Lucier was apparently a fly on the wall during the development of some of the most noteworthy (and/or notorious) pieces of 20th century cla This book is a conversational and charmingly personal overview of some of the most important works in "contemporary classical" music. In the endnote, Lucier says that he picked the pieces in this book on the basis of either his personal involvement with the pieces or just because he really loved them. The personal involvement angle makes this a unique book - Lucier was apparently a fly on the wall during the development of some of the most noteworthy (and/or notorious) pieces of 20th century classical music. Pair this with some listening research and you'll have a pretty good knowledge of the landscape of 20th century classical music.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eric Steere

    These anecdotal articles follow 20th century musical explorations in clear detail, their organisation and tone suggest that these actually WERE lecture notes for his undergrads (i'm presuming by the level of scholarship). The endearing thing here is that Lucier, a sonic pioneer in his own right, virtually removes himself from the scope but his "being-there" is so hot at times one has to remember that co-ordinated and composed with many of the individuals mentioned, his John Cage is outrageous! S These anecdotal articles follow 20th century musical explorations in clear detail, their organisation and tone suggest that these actually WERE lecture notes for his undergrads (i'm presuming by the level of scholarship). The endearing thing here is that Lucier, a sonic pioneer in his own right, virtually removes himself from the scope but his "being-there" is so hot at times one has to remember that co-ordinated and composed with many of the individuals mentioned, his John Cage is outrageous! So is John Cage!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brooks

    Interesting. I would love to sit in on the class these lectures came from. It would be really neat to have the music that he's talking about to listen to as you read. I certainly noted a few pieces that I wanted to follow up on. Interesting. I would love to sit in on the class these lectures came from. It would be really neat to have the music that he's talking about to listen to as you read. I certainly noted a few pieces that I wanted to follow up on.

  9. 5 out of 5

    May Ryan

    Probably closer to a 3.5. If you read this as a series of notes like the title suggests, it's pretty good. It flows a lot like the experimental music the author writes about. Probably closer to a 3.5. If you read this as a series of notes like the title suggests, it's pretty good. It flows a lot like the experimental music the author writes about.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Platon Bibik

    A collection of anecdotes about some the most prominent American avant-garde composers. Nice language and no snobbery. Loved it

  11. 5 out of 5

    _ladan

  12. 5 out of 5

    Connor Merchant

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex Jacobsen

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nolan Vallier

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ali1632

  17. 5 out of 5

    steve savage

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cat

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cory Macdonald

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marcia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Harry Gottfried

  22. 4 out of 5

    Darren Miller

  23. 4 out of 5

    maraca

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dmitry Kurkin

  25. 4 out of 5

    El

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bainst

  27. 4 out of 5

    Frances Miller

  28. 4 out of 5

    William

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gleb

  30. 5 out of 5

    Slawkenbergius

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