Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Return to (the) SOURCE

The new anthology SOURCE: Music of the Avant-garde, 1966-1973, edited by Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn has arrived (UC Press, 2011*) and a revisit to that eponymous journal is well worth it, if only for a bit of time travel into that lively era**. The anthology has a good smattering of the content of the eleven published issues, including scores, articles, questionnaires, photo-documentation, and transcribed interviews/conversations. It is not as visually striking as the orginal multi-colored, multi-textured spiral bound original volumes, but I suppose that's just another example of how all the advantages of current technology and publishing don't necessarily add up to affordable production at the quality and variety of times past. But, all-in-all, the book is delightful and it is constantly striking how prescient Austin and his editorial brethren were in identifying music to which attention ought be paid, from Cage and Feldman to Steve Reich and Daniel Lentz to Harry Partch, Robert Ashley, and Pauline Oliveros, to new instrument builders acoustic and electric, indeterminate scores, theatre pieces, environmental musics, political musics, etc..

My major quarrel with the publication is the low ratio of whole scores to everything else; in the end, the music itself, as represented by the scores, was the main attraction and many of the most extraordinary of them really did get played with some frequency and had a real lasting impact, thus not emphasizing them risks giving undue weight to the persistent myth that the avant-garde music of the time didn't have any traction in the concert hall or effect on music today. The scores that were included reflect the editors' own tastes (and, one imagines, some complicated practical questions about space and publishing rights), and I can't argue with that, but a few personal favorites were among the missing: Daniel Lentz's gorgeous music-theatre scores, Slonimsky's Minitudes, Leedy's usable music I for very small instruments with holes, and the photo spread of Robert Erickson's homemade instruments for Cardenitas.


* For the record, I was not sent a review copy; I bought the book myself.

** Best line-of-the-times in the book: Terry Riley, when asked if his music had been used for political or social ends, replies "You mean the big politics in the sky? No, i don't think so." Second best line, Pauline Oliveros quoting Loren Rush: "the reason for studying counterpoint is that you may have to teach it some day." (I happen to disagree with that, profoundly disagree, in fact, but that takes nothing away from the fact that it's still funny.)

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