Newsletter Issue:

Imported item 143

TT: What is more part music?TC: Meaning not just Gregorian chants with their single line, but ones with a second voice or a third voice going on at the same time, what we now call counterpoint. Finally the Pope had to put a stop to those gaudy processions but, fortunately, not their music. If that too had been banned then the whole course of Western music’s evolution would have changed. I couldn’t then have been reminded at the Circus of the more-part music’s two medieval composers at the Cathedral, Leoninus and Perotinus. That being the case, I wouldn’t have been inspired to do what now follows.By 1966, John Reeves White, whom I’ve already mentioned as one of my great teachers at Colorado College, had gotten to be the head of the New York Pro Musica which represented the best troupe in the United States doing medieval and renaissance music. Thus, the very next night after my Sunday afternoon experience I had dinner with him and I said “This Electric Circus is fantastic! We have got to get the New York Pro Musica into the Electric Circus with its rock and gaudy multimedia goings-on and show the resemblance between what was happening in 1200 and what’s happening today.” Without blinking an eye, John said “You get in touch with the Circus and set things up.” “Me!!!” “Yes, you!”After many timid noon-time walk-ups the Circus’s stairs and cold-feet back-down agains, I forcibly ran into Dennis Wright, the Manager of the Electric Circus, on his way up. “Can I help you?” With a gulp, I explained my idea. Like John, with an unblinking eye, he said “Have the head of the New York Pro Musica immediately get in touch.” As everything was nearing ready for the multimedia-era show I had had in mind to take place at the Electric Circus during the Christmas season, John remembered that the Pro Musica also had something scheduled about the same time at Carnegie Hall and thought to check with the Hall’s agent, George Schutz, that such close timing wouldn’t be considered a conflict. “Oh no, quite the contrary! Let’s move the whole thing up to Carnegie on Dec. 27th and 29th and call it the “Electric Christmas.”What an event that turned out to be!...with all the aforementioned participants plus the Circus Maximus rock group...lavishly advertised, completely sold-out, plus fabulous next-day reviews. Then there came a glowing article in Time Magazine and another in the New York Times in which its head music critic, Harold Schonberg, called the show ‘The Gesamtkunstwerk of the future.’ Not surprisingly, another show was planned, this time the “Electric Easter” which was to take place at the Electric Circus itself everyday over a whole week and involve the same caste except for a different rock band, the Chambers Brothers. Indeed, another great show was put together but by the time it came off, suddenly we were in a very sad time: Martin Luther King had just been assassinated to be followed shortly by Robert Kennedy’s.However, one good thing occurred. One of my former classmates at the Yale Music School, Thais Lathem, had recently returned from England where she had showcased concerts of Broadway and multimedia American music at the American embassy in London. She was now involved with Judith Blinken in producing multimedia shows at Hunter College. Hearing about my “electric” adventures, she contacted me about the possibility of her staging a series of multimedia concerts at the Electric Circus too. And so I made the proper introductions...not only to Dennis Wright but now also to Jerry Brandt and Stan Freeman, the owners of the Electric Circus. With them she worked out an agreement to let a composer/media artist of her choosing (with advice and help from Mort Subotnick, Tony Martin, and David Rosenboom, the Circus’s music and lightshow programmers) put on a multimedia production each Monday night in the Circus during the summer of 1968 and spring of 1969. On each of those evenings the entire disco space, electrical/computer facilities, and technical staff were available to that evening’s composer. Leading off with John Cage, among these were Lejaren Hiller, Pauline Oliveros, Salvatore Martirano, Terry Riley, Subotnick/Martin, and Rosenboom. The resulting powerhouse of a series was called the Electric Ear.Yes, it was all multimedia and not in a usual setting. With that, the music staff of the New York Times jumped to attention! They realized that this represented two things (and this is what we talked about the Pace Gallery-hosted IDSVA event in January): there was a new kind of orchestra emerging that was electronic and that, with the lightshows and so forth, couldn’t fit on a stage. Where could it fit? In the caverns of discos! The second thing that the NYT recognized was that the baby-boomers were coming along, the offspring of the veterans of WWII, and were now in college or soon would be and that this was becoming their entertainment environment, not the usual concert hall. So the Time people saw this was a big sociological thing they had to cover and, indeed, they did: every one of these Electric Ear shows! This all vividly reminded itself to me anew when Milly Glimcher sent me her just published book in February of 2012. At that point it seemed to me almost beyond doubt that the Electric Ear had at least in spirit grown out of the earlier Happenings. After all, both the Happenings and the Electric Ear movement borrowed liberally from the other arts, especially theater, both took place in off-beat locations such as minor store-like galleries for the first and a disco for the second, both suddenly got lots of press attention and both seemed to have John Cage as a philosopher leader in common. Allan Kaprow, the leader of the art-world Happenings was very overtly a follower of Cage. In music, certainly Lejaren Hiller credited him as an important influence as did his multimedia peers, Gordon Mumma, David Tudor, and Nam June Paik. Then I recalled Dennis Wright himself saying in 1968 that one of the Electric Ear events reminded him of a Happening that took place at Princeton when he was a student there in the early 1960s. I mentioned all this to Milly as soon as her book caught my attention. However, it was not until a breakfast conversation between her, George Smith, and me at NoHo Star last November, over two years later, that the resolve to feature the connection took root. The venue for that was to be an IDSVA-sponsored discussion session between Milly and me at the 534 W. 25th St. Pace Gallery that, in fact, took place this past January 8th.It was while I was preparing for the discussion session during my winter-break vacation in California that I started studying closely what Milly had written about Allen Kaprow’s guiding role in the Happenings and looking carefully at the Electric Ear from how Mort Subotnick’s and Tony Martin’s viewed its significance. Then I began to see critical differences between the two movements in what they were trying to accomplish within themselves, where and how they were trying to do it, and in relation to the zeitgeists—approximately 10 years apart—in which they existed. Further, when the discussion session itself took place, Robert (Bob) Whitman and Julie Martin—emergency replacements for Milly chosen because of their original involvement in the Happenings—focused oddly not upon that era but upon the make-up and use ofelectronic equipment for art experiments contemporary with the Electric Ear’s multimedia. I was kind of stunned. The event wasn’t adding up to the comparison it had been billed to do. There was a peculiarity somewhere that needed clarification.Thus, after the event, I thought long and hard about what had gone on and started a back-and-forth dialogue with Milly about it on paper. What puzzled me most was how cavalier Bob Whitman had been about the Happening movement’s allegiance to John Cage’s use of “chance” (aleatoric) methods, like the throw of dice or his divination use of the I Ching, to optimize creativity in artistic decisions by making them free from the tyranny of “cause” from the past. I knew that the movement’s primary exponent, Allen Kaprow, had been very influenced by Cage so must have subscribed to Cage’s philosophy and approach in this regard. That being the case, so too must have been those artists that followed in Kaprow’s path. For me the truth of this assumption would serve as perhaps the most compelling proof of at least a strong philosophical link between art’s Happenings and multimedia’s Electric Ear in that Cage’s adoption of aleatoric methods in 1951 had long also been very influential in music too as attested by a number of the composers represented in the Electric Ear being devotees of Cage.But Milly in our exchanges quickly disabused me of Allen Kaprow’s and his followers’ allegiance to Cage’s promotion of chance methods of artistic creation. Yes, toward the very end Kaprow, indeed, did some work using the aleatoric approach, but for the most part he was very precise in exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it, and for why. Nothing was left to chance. Rather, Milly says, Kaprow’s fascination was not with the I Ching but with how Cage produced and innovated with ‘sound’ and with ‘no sound’ as ‘objects’ of art.TT: This circles back to the philosophy of the two movements, and since we study philosophy at IDSVA it’s always an effort to get back to that aspect of things.Yes, with the downplay of John Cage as a philosophical guru linking the Happenings and the Electric Ear movements I had to really start taking seriously what I had begun to see as not the samenesses but the differences between those movements, some of them very nuts-and-bolts in nature but some deeply philosophical. In terms of differences in what they were each trying to accomplish, let’s look at what motivated them in the moment. Milly points out that the original impetus behind Kaprow’s pioneering of the Happenings, utilizing as they did crude material, ephemeral theatre, and tacky settings, was to circumvent what he saw as the corrupting potential of the Art Market by making art that couldn’t be sold. Of course the later motivations of his followers were at least somewhat altered by the subsequent popularity of the movement. On the other hand the motivations of the multimedia composers of the Electric Ear were largely driven by the impulse to explore the immense artistic potentials of all the computer and other technological advances born of the United States’ highly funded efforts during the late 1950s and the 60s to reach the moon ahead of the Soviet Union.But probably the most important differences between the two movements stems from the differences in the zeitgeists—approximately 10 years apart—in which they existed. By the late 1950’s and through the early 60’s the overall aura of the times in the United States was centered about the national striving for racial equality and the sense of at last making some true advancements. Somehow consonant with that spirit was the Happenings’ democratization of materials, locations, and the free selection among a multimedia of art, dance, music, poetry in it productions along with an accompanying sense of energy and economic optimism in their employ. However, by the time of the Electric Ear, in the 1968-69 period the zeitgeist was considerably different. There had been assassinations, we were in burdened by Vietnam War, but at the same time there was the optimism of reaching the moon and, as already mentioned, the technological fruits of the effort. But perhaps most of all, the children of the WWII veterans, the Baby Boomers, were reaching teenage and entering college. The Electric Circus and the associated Electric Ear can be viewed as a timely response. To paraphrase Mort Subotnick’s analysis: The Baby Boomers’ gravitation for entertainment was not to the concert hall of their parents but to the very discos where a new space-age-generated “orchestra” with its capabilities for creating psychedelic effects could fit and, as consequence, also lucratively garner unto itself, its creators, artistic programmers, and operators the prices of admission these Baby Boomers were willing to pay. A new entertainment industry was born that still reigns. The New York Times understood that all of this was a brave new world and, hence, saw the Electric Ear and its events as the initial show cases always to be reported upon. TT: In our preparation for the Pace Gallery lecture comparing the Happenings and Multimedia movements we discussed the notion of “cause,” the philosophical importance of the revolt against it played in both movements, and the role of “chance” there. Since we study philosophy at IDSVA, please elaborate.TC: I think I’ve already covered this in my preceding comments. However, they were in large part drawn from the email dialogue between Milly Glimcher and me. There the issues of cause and chance were much more elaborately considered. I am appending these in case you would also like to make them available.TT: First-year ISDVA students read Kaprow’s writing in the ‘white book’ (Art in Theory 1900-2000), so it’s wonderful to hear your comments on this particular aspect of Kaprow’s work. Please now share with us your current workload activities and plans.TC: Taliesin, much of that is unrelated to IDSVA concerns and shouldn’t take up space here. But more relevantly to the plans you’ve asked about, George Smith hopes Milly and I will revisit and expand on some of the issues discussed above. There is also another issue, one he picked up from Milly, which he’s suggested that she and I might worry about collaboratively and that is the growing loss of contact with one’s own culture as imposed by the internationalization of the art world. I am not sure this will happen, but Milly is very interested in what’s going on in the art world, which is the loss of contact with one’s culture. It’s the degradation of art because of the loss of where you have come from. The same thing is going on in music, too.To explain: The last three centuries of music have been called its “common practice era.” Very stable rules of harmony had evolved that governed how music was composed and by what criteria the listeners were to judge its correctness. Essentially, the interplay of the two or more lines proceeding simultaneously in more-part music had resulted in such standard vertical alignments of one line on top of the other that these coincidences started being experienced as entities in and of themselves, called chords. Some of these chords were perceived as a piece’s tonic, “home base” so to speak. Others began to be viewed as departures away from the tonic, some more adventurous than others. Thus, from the Renaissance had evolved a sense of a piece having a dominating tonal center called its key. For composers, ways to make a piece interesting to a listener could be achieved by manipulating how far away from piece’s tonal center these departures would go and return and how often. Next, the composer began to experiment in actually changing from one perceived tonal center to another within the same piece. During the Nineteenth Century the composers got more and more inventive in changing from one tonal center to another and their audiences more and more tolerant of this happening. Finally it got to the point where composers were moving around so fast that the listener began to lose track of what was a piece’s tonal center at any given moment. It was then that Arnold Schoenberg said what the hell! It’s just all atonal! There is no such thing as tonal center. To help his listeners now hear atonally he created what he called the twelve tone system in which the notes and their chords are manipulated so that none are seen as dominant.

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