A Famous Composer Agrees With My Interpretation of Ego In Aleatoric and Totally Serial Music

Aleatoric, in the ‘rationalists’ usage, means dependent on chance or, in the usage of the advocates of New Music, set free from the ‘subject’.

Here the subject is clearly meant to be the composer’s ‘ego’.

But even if the ‘integral rationalisation’ succeeds and everything is ‘calculated’ in advance down to the last detail, there must be a ‘subject’ to do the calculations. Even the most formidable electronic computer can only calculate what a man gives it to calculate.

Krenek, E. (1966). Exploring music; essays. New York: October House.

Fantastic observation! Even in totally serial music, indeterminate music and chance music, the ego of the composer cannot be removed because the subject is still making choices about the process! What question we ask as composers immediately limits the answers we will receive.


Sleepy days in Inwood


Some Notes On Open Hearts

Whatever music might do, it does only when one approaches it with an open heart and shares actively in its being.

~Ernst Krenek

Today I was reading a blog post about Minimal music and boredom by Andrew Lee on and some good points were made.

Last May, I had the wonderful opportunity to present at a conference on time and the arts in Caen, France. A number of papers addressed time in contemporary music, but it became quickly apparent that most authors had a greater affinity for the music of Stockhausen or Boulez than Reich or Glass. Moreover, there seemed to be a general distaste for all things minimalist among many attendees, something that I forgot even exists outside my own circle of friends and colleagues.

I presented a paper on temporality as a means of analyzing Tom Johnson’s An Hour for Piano, the details of which I will spare you. It was generally well received, but at the same time there seemed to be a slight edge to some of the questions. I don’t necessarily think that it was incredulity at my findings so much as my interest in this music. (Easy for me to think, no doubt.) At one point, a questioner even went so far as to ask, “So you admit that this music is boring.”

My response: “Yes.”

I don’t think anyone expected me to come out and say that. My point, of course, was that minimalist music is in some ways intentionally “boring” on the surface so that one’s attention is drawn to other details, that a different sort of listening experience becomes possible. If one does not allow for other possibilities, does not move beyond the immediacy of the notes and teleological listening, then naturally the music is frustrating and boring.

It was interesting to me as I’ve been thinking a bit about how people inside our  musical world approach different musical Movements. Movements not being sections of a larger piece of art, but rather a group of people making some sort of impact on the world.  In Europe, Andrew encountered an underlying hostility to Minimal music which he implies is due to a musical heritage stemming from the arch-modernists, a general cultural preference.

What kills me the most about this kind of turf war is that the philosophical underpinnings of what these different sub-genres of music are meant to do to is change the way we listen to music.  Andrew states clearly that, “minimalist music is in some ways intentionally “boring” on the surface so that one’s attention is drawn to other details”.  I remember the program notes to Glass’ Einstein on the Beach as another example, where it asked the audience to listen to super structures that occur over time.  The music of Boulez, Stockhausen and Babbitt all asked us to open our ears to greater harmonic and coloristic content.  The totally serialist works and indeterminate music that made such an impact in the second half of the 20th century asked our ears to open up the possibility of what music could be.

This idea along with the intentional fallacy are foundations of artistic thought in the 20th century and now.  What these composers did was use this philosophy to carve out justifications for their work, but then they turned around and trashed people that weren’t writing like themselves, just trying to make their own music.

This brings me back to the quote I started with.  Since I’ve been plowing through so much Krenek, it sometimes startles me how inconsistent he can sometimes be.  After arriving at such a great quote that clearly defines a way of listening that is open to what could be, not two pages before that he had trashed popular forms in the context of radio play.

Now the most popular form of enjoyment is, without a doubt, love.  The musical experience of the ‘ordinary man’ is frequently connected with affairs of the heart: he takes his girl friend to a dance for instance, thus paving the way for a less formal approach.  So it is felt that the music which serves such ends must possess an absolute enjoyment value.  And for that reason, radio with devastating logicality pumps out dance music at all times of day.  In consequence the state of bliss engendered by music becomes associated irrevocable with the idea of the noisy consumption of expensive drinks.

Krenek, E. (1966). Exploring music; essays. New York: October House.

Krenek! Stop imposing subjective considerations of value on popular forms!!!

Adorno Convinces Krenek of Rochbergian Idea of Musical Space-Time

Many years earlier Adorno had convinced Krenek that music might be moving toward the condition of extemporaneous speech, developing its subject matter on a line through time as a thought is developed in speech.  Forward movement was achieved by exploration, confrontation, interlocution, contradiction—perfect process for piecing together his interesting cells.  Such an open form did not allow for patterns of theme and variation, and interest tended to be concentrated in discrete moments.  But these moments could be woven into a loose network of contrast, similarity, and repetition of cellular bits—or, as Krenek liked to think of them, objects in space.  What is significant here is that in relying on intuition rather than on arrays of numbers, Krenek was returning to the practice of his early days, and now, as then, his intuition was personal, sonorous, expressive, and emotional, even though he continued to use the stylistic features—wide intervals, abrupt dynamic shifts, percussive instrumentation—of his most mechanistic serial works.

Stewart, J. L. (1991). Ernst Krenek: The man and his music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Perhaps this parallel idea I wrote about earlier is coming from similar sources?  That would be surprising as I’m finding Rochberg and Adorno to have been likely opposed in intellectual and philosophical opinions on music.  This is SO interesting!!

Review of Canis Major in Feast of Music

The project I was working on all spring with my composer collective Circles and Lines and Cadillac Moon Ensemble was reviewed by online publication Feast of Music.

Eric Lemmon’s unfinished version of Canis Major, acelestial saga that combined a broad range of extended techniques and complex rhythms to create both a creepy and beautifully ethereal nebulousness of sound. Flutist Roberta Michel performed her atmospheric effects particularly well (such as circular breathing, whistletones, and slap-tonguing), greatly heightening the piece’s effectiveness.


Interview with Melanie Wong for Feast of Music

Circles and Lines is interviewed by Melanie Wong of Feast of Music.

“In preparation for their upcoming concert, composer collective Circles and Lines—Angelica Negron, Eric Lemmon, Dylan Glatthorn, Noam Faingold (via Skype), Conrad Winslow (absent)—and contemporary chamber group Cadillac Moon Ensemble—flutist Roberta Michel, violinist Patti Kilroy, cellist Meaghan Burke, and percussionist Sean Statser—sat down with FoM to discuss contemporary music and their unique collaboration.”

Sheesh, such a busy spring! But exciting, with tons of press!

Circles and Lines & Cadillac Moon Ensemble on WRIU’s Music For Internets with Justin Brierley

Tune in tomorrow from 10:00-12:30 to hear Circles and Lines with Cadillac Moon Ensemble! Some of the clips you hear on WRIU 90.3 will be a sneak peak at the program from our upcoming concert Cadillac Moon Ensemble and Circles & Lines: A Friendly Collaboration. May 17th, 5:00PM.

Tune in here:

I’ll be talking about some of the inspirations of my new work Canis Major, and some of the structural considerations that went into the 2nd movement of my 1st String Quartet.  Hope you all can tune in!


As part of a yearlong collaborative project, Cadillac Moon Ensemble presents an evening of pieces from composer collective Circles and Lines. This concert is the culminating event of a long-standing collaboration with CME and C&L, which has included interviews with WVUM 90.5 in Miami, Florida and WRIU 90.3 in Kingston, Rhode Island, and an open rehearsal held at New York University and streamed for a worldwide audience.

CME will perform new works by Eric Lemmon and Dylan Glatthorn, as well as previously performed works by Angélica Negron, Conrad Winslow and Noam Faingold that have long been regarded as favorites in CME’s repertoire. Immediately following the concert, there will be a Q&A session with the audience and both groups discussing the collaborative process.

The concert is Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:00pm at Tenri Cultural Center (43A West 13th Street, Manhattan). Tickets are: $15 general; $10 students and seniors.


  • Angélica Negrón – Quimbombó*#
  • Eric Lemmon – Canis Major * # †
  • Dylan Glatthorn – Fever Dreams * # †
  • Noam Faingold – A Knife in the Water
  • Conrad Winslow – Abiding Shapes * #

* commissioned by CME
# premiered by CME
† World Premiere

Funded in part through New MusicUSA’s MetLife Creative Connections program.

Cadillac Moon Ensemble and Circles and Lines is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

CME_postcard CME_postcard_back

Circles & Lines + Cadillac Moon Live Stream Video

Here is the recording of the Live Stream Cadillac Moon and my composers group Circles and Lines put on.  My segment is at the end, and I hope you enjoy!  During the course of the rehearsal, Meaghan (Cadillac’s cellist) asked me why I had chosen to use dashed bar lines in the score.  After the short rehearsal I thought on the question more and I remember that as I had begun to write the movement a|STL: Wormhole.  I imagined it was originally to exposit in a far more free way, much like the very beginning (which you hear).  Time signatures were to be non-existant and gestures were supposed to be quasi-aleatoric in their temporal execution (after all time and space warp in wormholes!).

Eventually though, I found the material that I was bringing in from other movements demanded a more rigid structure for practical purposes.  For example, the fast leggiero section from the last movement would be silly to represent in a dashed bar line setting without time signatures, so I threw in double bar lines to demarcate the major section and put in time signatures to make it easier to read.  It turned out I had to keep returning to this kind of scoring to the point that having dashed bar lines in an attempt to elegantly convey the freeness of the movement and gestures became meaningless.

Live Stream of Cadillac Moon Ensemble and Circles and Lines in Open Rehearsal at NYU, April 14th, 2013 from Circles and Lines on Vimeo.