Sunday, February 07, 2010

D is for Drift

Lesson of a late January snowstorm: you can't shovel the same snowdrift twice.   La Monte Young: Drift Study:  analog oscillators slowly, naturally drift out of phase from one another, calling attention to the emergence of complexity and detail in the most reduced     Phasing in early Steve Reich, first in the analog tape works, then in gradual, player-controlled phasing.  A move (drift, even) from informal to formal methods, from continuous to striated time;  a piece like Piano Phase emulates aspects of drift, but is too controlled and directional to be drift.  There's still plenty of good music to be made in the continuum between accidental and intentional drift.  


Paul Chihara: Driftwood (for string quartet with two violas): not a related process, but still a useful image.  


I heard quite a good performance of Morton Feldman's Why Patterns? Friday evening, a piece that shocked a generation ago with its asynchronous barlines (read more about them here), the players inevitably, yes, drifting apart, but is now just sweet music with as variegated and eventful a landscape as Feldman ever produced. (Whenever things approached familiarity, i.e. the patterns approached articulation at the surface, some surprising move would be made, usually involving a sudden change in registration or speed of articulation.)  One concern: the glockenspiel used was a very fine, state-of-the-art instrument, in-tune and well-balanced in tone throughout the entire range of the instrument, never displaying the typical mechanical clunk produced by standard glockenspiels; the poor little glock has drifted into high quality.  Feldman wrote with that not-quite-in-tune, awkward, and clunky instrument in mind; does that make performances like this one — as beautiful as it was — unidiomatic? 


The best conversations drift.  Conversations don't have the formal burdens of interviews or essays, of having direction, sustained themes and dialectical movement and all that.  Dale Pendell's Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brown is a nice record of the best conversationalist (and finest teacher) that I have known.



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