|An Interview with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela
Listen to the interview part 1 (68:00s) part 2 (89:39s)
ZUCKERMAN: Let's talk about the first sounds that you were aware of as a child.
LA MONTE YOUNG: As some people know, I have written extensively about my childhood experiences with sound. There were certain sounds that were especially influential to me, such as the sound of the wind blowing around the corners and through the attic of the log cabin that I was born in, in Bern, Idaho in 1935. Bern was a little Swiss dairy community that had 149 residents at that time, and it was in Bear Lake Valley. In the winter, the wind would come up at forty miles an hour over the lake, and in a blizzard you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. This wind going through the log cabin was really something.
The other sound that really had a big influence on me was the sound of step-down transformers on telephone poles in an electrical yard. I would ask my mother, "What is the wind?" I was very curious, and I would talk about the wind at ages as early as 2 or 3 years old. Looking out the window and seeing it move the alfalfa that was growing outside the cabin, my mother would try to explain to me what the wind was. But while she was talking, I was also listening to the sound of these telephone poles, and it was just a continuous steady hum. This continuous steady hum is the ancestral origin of my work with sixty-cycles, which is the frequency that the electrical companies provide the power to us in the United States: 60 cycles per second. Everywhere we go, we hear this 60 cycle drone and, or, other frequency components that are related to this drone. Eventually I began to tune all of my music that I do in the U.S. with electronics to this 60 cycle per second drone, because even in today's year, 2001-2002, and even with the best equipment, there is still some residual hum. (60 cycles per second.) If you create music that is in tune with this hum, then there can never be an interference with the music that you are creating. It's the idea that it is the strongest drone in our vicinity.
For example, when I sing outdoors, I listen to the resonance of the canyon or the ocean, or whatever is the natural resonance of the woods... Let's say I'm walking through the woods. I sit and listen to the resonant frequency. It's easy to hear it because the birds sing at this frequency. They tune in to the resonance of the woods. You hear different birdcalls reflecting this resonance, although the calls are different. What is a resonance? A resonance is that frequency which, if you assume that you have two parallel walls, a resonant frequency is that frequency which starts on one wall, hits the other wall, and gets back to wall number 1 just in time to reinforce the very next positive pulse of the frequency. This is resonance of the simplest type. These occur in many different kinds of situations including outdoors, in canyons and in caves, tunnels, and in the woods. So, in that kind of situation, one might choose this natural resonance that is taking place, and perform with that. In the case of electronics, the 60 cycles is really the strongest frequency that we have to deal with.
It's like looking for universal constants. Eventually we're all looking for these special frequencies to which everything else is related, frequencies that have then a harmonic structure, which in turn is related to the structure of the universe. In Indian classical thought there is the idea that the universe was created with sound. In fact, it is said that when Vishnu decided to create the cosmos, he first cut himself in half and made out of one half of himself Brahma. Brahma created the world as we know it through sound. There is a famous Sanskrit line "Nada Brahma"- "Sound is God". Out of the center of himself, Vishnu created Shiva. Brahma had the soul function of creating the cosmos. Shiva destroys the cosmos and recreates it again, and again on through time. When we speak of Nada-Sound, there are two types of sound: Anahata Nada and Ahata Nada. Ahata Nada is sound as we know it in a medium: a "struck sound". They call it a struck sound, but it really means more like a bowed sound; it means the sound of my voice talking, it means the sound of my voice singing. Anahata Nada is theoretically the sound of the ethers vibrating. It is this vibration that can be a model for the sound that we actually hear and experience. Anahata Nada is the sound of universal structure. Why was it interesting for me to listen to these long sustained sounds of telephone poles, and why did I eventually introduce long sustained sounds into music?
Over the years, I've talked about various reasons why I did this. I began to discover that while I had the sustained sound, I could listen to the harmonic relationships better. This led me into my work with just intonation, or harmonic relationships. I also began to realize that when we think of the concept of the universal structure of sound, intuitively we think of something that is continuous. It is for this reason that I was called upon to introduce sustained sound into the world. Before that, there were hints, indications that there could be a sustained sound, such as the tanpura, which is used as a drone in the background in Indian Classical music. One of the new recordings that we put out on our new label is the tanpuras of Pandit Pran Nath. This is an example of Marian and I playing tanpuras, and it is the best tuning that I was ever able to record. We have made this available because so many of our students have requested it. Our teacher, Pandit Pran Nath, liked this recording so much that after we created it, he practiced with it every day for the rest of his life.
It's interesting that even at the age of 2 or 3, I began to get an intuition about the way to create music. I didn't really start to do it until 1958, when I wrote the Trio for Strings, which is the first work in the history of music that is completely composed of long sustained tones and silences. I had actually begun to write using sustained tones a year before in Four Brass in 1957, but the entire work was not composed of them.
Can we go back a little bit and talk about the saxophone? What's the first instrument you ever played?
YOUNG: My Aunt Norma was a rodeo singer, and she started to teach me to sing cowboy songs and play guitar when I was 2 years old. I also walked across the field from the cabin to Emma and Davie J's house, where their son Ira had a harmonica. I also played that a little bit right around that time. My Dad taught me to sing cowboy songs too. So I sang and played guitar and a little bit of harmonica until I was 7. Meanwhile, I made my first stage appearance when I was 5. I was tap-dancing and singing at the Rich Theater in Montpelier Idaho. Montpelier is about five miles from Bern. We left Bern and had moved to the big city where there were about 2000 people, this big city. That's where I danced and sang at the Riche Theater.
Then we moved to L.A. It was the depression--I was born during the depression in 1935--and my Dad hitchhiked to L.A. to find work when I was about 4 years old. Then he brought us by train when I was 5 years old. While we were in L.A., I used to herd goats up in the L.A. hills where Shabez Ravini used to be. I was still singing then, but at age 7, after we moved over by Riverside Drive, my Dad bought me a saxophone. He started to teach me saxophone. Saxophone really became my first main instrument. I played all the way through grade school and junior high school, through high school, then on into time. I later had coaching in Utah from my father's uncle Thorton who had been my father's saxophone teacher. Uncle Thorton had been from Kansas City and had had a swing band in L.A. in the 30's. He taught me a little bit more about, let's say dance music. He bought me Jimmy Dorsey sheet music, and he gave me his dance band arrangements and showed me that they had chord changes, which people improvised over. So now I'm back to L.A. in high school in 1953. (We're jumping fast here; I'm covering a lot of territory.) I went to John Marshall high school which was a really great high school because there you could be a music major, and I met a lot of young jazz musicians who told me how important it was that I prepare myself to enter the dance band at L.A. city college, which was the best dance band in the U.S. at the time. They were also introducing me to Bebop and cool jazz, and were bringing me Charlie Parker and Miles Davis records to listen to--the birth of Cool. At the same time, they were telling me how many great jazz musicians had gone to John Marshall before me. They were preparing me to go to L.A. City College.
When I actually went to L.A. City College, I had to try out…actually it was very surprising. You could never get the first alto chair, because it was sowed up by this guy named Lanny Morgan who was a wonderful player. He knew the book inside and out. He was playing first alto in the group already. So, I had to compete for the second alto saxaphone chair with Eric Dolphy. I ended up getting the chair, although I thought Eric really sounded great and I was surprised that I beat him out. However, people who heard me play at the time said I just sounded like an explosion. In the orchestra Eric and I played together and he played first clarinet and I played second. It was really exciting growing up in L.A. because there was so much going on in music, and so many young talents. I was playing at sessions with Ornette Colemen and Don Cherry. I had a group with Billy Higgins, he was my drummer, and Dennis Butimer playing guitar. Gradually, after I came to New York City in 1960, in 1962, I began playing soprano saxophone. This lead to my work with the Theater of Eternal Music and produced such works as "Young's Dorian Blues" which I had played on piano in an earlier recording.
So, stepping back for a moment, while I was still living in Utah on my Uncle Thorton's celery farm from the sixth grade through the ninth grade, not only did I become introduced to jazz and swing music through my Uncle Thorton, but I actually composed something which was a simple little waltz--just a melody. Whatever it was, I've lost it. I've often reminisced as to what it probably was. I'm sure it was something simple and very nostalgic. If you've heard the kind of cowboy songs and things that I tend to sing, you can be sure that it was something in that vein. What I was listening to then was totally cowboy, all the time. Then, after we moved back to L.A. in 1950 and I went to John Marshall High School. Not only was it a hot bed of jazz musicians, it was really a great school to go to, to learn about music theory and composition. I was very fortunate that my harmony teacher there, Clyde Sorenson had studied with Schönberg at UCLA. Not only did he teach me harmony… I took 5 semesters of harmony. I loved harmony. I composed my next composition in his harmony 5 or harmony 6 class, whatever it was... and it was a piece that I had planned to have played by saxophones based on the whole tone scale. (Saxophones with no vibrato like the sound of the Stan Kenton saxophone section.) This was before I took myself so seriously.
On the other hand, Clyde Sorenson played the first Schönberg that I ever heard. One of these pieces, the piece number...I believe it's number 5 that has a repeated note motif, a G and a B natural. (singing) This motif really impressed me: this static element going on, it was like time was being measured. You hear the similar effect of time being measured in the third of the five pieces for orchestra. The third piece is called "Summer Morning by a lake" or "Colors" and there are many ostinati and other special repetitive patterns that give the feeling of time passing. We also hear this in certain of the Webern works, such as the Six Bagatelles and the small pieces for orchestra from around the same period. This was something that the serial composers were extremely aware of, and they focused on this concept. The idea was that repetition was an important organizing factor, even though it had not yet been stated in quite that way. And of course minimalism as a movement had not yet taken place. People who have read my writings know that I speak of Webern as being one of the influences on my work. He helped me to find the direction of long sustained tones, which became the beginnings of minimalism in music in the West as we know it.
So after hearing Schönberg, I was really impressed. My mind was opened up. The other thing that Mr. Sorenson did was that he took the whole class down to a matinee of the L.A. Philharmonic to hear Bartok's concerto for orchestra. This piece absolutely knocked me out. Schönberg was very interesting and awe inspiring and mysterious, but the Bartok literally carried me away. It was after high school when I went to L.A. City College, and as I had mentioned, I was in the L.A. city college jazz band and in the orchestra. There I studied with Leonard Stein. Leonard Stein was Schönberg's disciple. Leonard Stein completed the Structural Functions of Harmony after Mr. Schönberg died, and he assisted in the Harmonal Lyre. He was a major disciple of Schönberg, and it was he who introduced me to Schönberg, Berg and Webern in a very big way. He also introduced me to all of contemporary music. He introduced me to Debussy and Stravinsky, and he literally went to the record collection with me and said, "Here listen to this." He took a great interest in me and in one of his harmony classes I wrote a composition for string quartet in 1954 or 1955. It was called "Variations for String Quartet." That was played at L.A. City College. After that Leonard Stein pronounced me a composer. He said, "He's a composer". I was really impressed that he thought that, because I really wanted to be a composer. I had been listening to the Bartok String Quartets night and day and this "Variations for String Quartet" is very much like one of the Bartok Quartets. It's highly influenced by it. The thing was, that I had actually learned the style, and was writing in the style of Bartok. Leonard Stein really encouraged me, and I studied counterpoint privately with him. I wrote the "5 small pieces for String Quartet" which are in the style of Webern, and related to the Bagatelles, while I was working with Leonard Stein. Leonard Stein arranged for them to be premiered at a concert at L.A. state college around 1957.
It's interesting to consider that while I'm credited with founding the most important musical style in the last third of the twentieth century, Schönberg founded the most important style for the middle of the twentieth century. I'm a disciple of Schönberg through Leonard Stein; it all stayed in the family.
Talk about your background, who you studied with, talk about the other students that were around you.
YOUNG: After I left L.A. City College I actually had about a semester where I didn't even go to school. I was living in Hollywood in a place called Rossmoor manor on Melrose near Vine with a bunch of guys--actually with my father's half-brother Kenny. I was playing jazz all the time. I would go to sessions every night and play in places like the Big Top. While I was in L.A. City College I had met the drummer Billy Higgins, who became my drummer while I was in L.A., and he is of course, one of the greatest drummers of all time. Billy introduced me to a band called the Willy Powell Big Blues Band, and they used to have me play alto solos in the band. One day I went to a dance job with this band, and I met this other white alto player (all the rest of the band was black and Hispanic), and his name turned out to be Terry Jennings. Terry Jennings had also gone to John Marshall high school, and was the new alto sax player there. I had heard of him through a valve trombone player named Hall Hooker, who brought me a tape of Terry Jennings, so I had already heard his playing by the time I met him there in this band. Terry Jennings and I became life long friends. He very unfortunately died in the 80's. He was the first composer to be influenced by my work with long sustained tones. He was the first composer to write in that style after me.
He eventually became a neo-Romantic composer. His work is so profound and impressive; some of my students just go off and play Terry Jennings after they find his music. Richard Teitelbaum likes to tell the story of when John Tilbury came to L.A.. When Richard was teaching out at CalArts, John came over from London, and Richard asked, "Who do you want to meet?" John said, "I only want to meet Terry Jennings." Terry Jennings was this underground cult figure. He was one of the best musicians that I ever met.
The other person that I met that was important in L.A. was the composer Dennis Johnson, who I met at UCLA. I was walking down the hall one day, and I heard the sound of the Webern piano variations coming out of one of the rooms. Here I met this young guy Dennis Johnson, and he was the other composer who really understood my work early on and created music with long sustained tones. In fact, he wrote a piano piece in 1962 that theoretically is 6 hours long. (Only a couple hours of it is recorded.)
Just before I went to UCLA, I took a semester off and was playing at various sessions around town. I mentioned that I had met Billy Higgins. Well, I met Billy Higgins at a place called the Snake Pit. The Snake Pit was a club way down town. He was playing with a group that contained Don Cherry and an alto player named...hmmm...a very good alto player, what's his name...let's see. It'll come back. I heard this group play at the Snake Pit, and I was there playing with this jazz pianist who later became very famous, Don Friedman, and a trumpet player Steve Rose. We had our own trio and were playing there… GEORGE NEWMAN! There was this alto player named George Newman who was just incredible. He could play all of these Charlie Parker solos right off the record and he was a sensation. We were all very young at the time--I'm talking about 1955, so I was 20 years old. We were all about the same age. Unfortunately George Newman ended up in Camarillo and never came out. It's a mental institution in Northern California. He was better than Ornette at the time. (I was meeting Ornette at sessions.) It's really too bad that he disappeared. After meeting Billy Higgins and playing with the Willy Powell Big Blues Band and meeting Terry Jennings, I did a lot of work with Terry Jennings, and then gradually also with Dennis Johnson, I gradually stopped playing jazz completely. Fortunately I made some recordings with Billy Higgins in the summer of '56 and in the summer of '55. I have these in my archive. After that, I went into composition. I continued to improvise, and to utilize improvisation in my work, but I lost interest in the limitations of jazz. Jazz really imposed so many limitations that I became extremely disinterested in it. On the other hand, I became extremely interested in improvisation. Sometime around '55 or '56, I heard an extremely important and influential recording of Indian classical music, which is a recording by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan of ragas sin beravi and pilu.
This recording, especially the sin beravi side, had an extremely profound impression on me, and in fact I listened to it over and over again. I was living in my Grandmother's house in L.A. on Almond St. I have always tried to determine when I heard this recording. It must be around '55, '56 because it did influence my work and was probably in fact one of the influences on the Trio for Strings, because one of the features of the recording was a tanpura solo alone. They introduced the instruments, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on sarode and Chatur Lal on tabla and Dr. Shirish Gor on tanpura. Well, this was the first time in my life that I had ever heard a tanpura. I spent so much time in that room listening to it that my Grandmother became very concerned, and she wrote on the album, "Opium Music". She really thought I was going off the deep end listening to this Indian music all of the time.
It was the first full-length raga that had ever been released in the U.S. It was an enormous experience to hear, because you see, there is one aspect of Indian Classical music that exists in no other aspect of music in the world, which is the form called alap. Alap is the beginning section of the work in which the tones simply unfold one tone at a time. Very slow, majestic melodic patterns. (he begins to sing)
Like I said, this aspect of music does not exist anywhere else in any other form in any other part of the world. It only exists in Indian classical music. This aspect of form was very influential on the evolution of my music. It continues today to be one of the main forms that I consider. Because I also practice and perform Indian Classical vocal music, I'm constantly thinking about this aspect of raga form: the alap. The alap is unmetered time; it comes before the tabla enters. Before, there are rhythms that are marked, and tempos that are marked.
So, this contribution of Indian Classical music is one of the biggest influences on me, but there are other influences on me too. We have the sound of the wind, the sound of the telephone poles, the sound of resonance, outdoor canyons, and crickets playing outdoors. We have the Blues, the static aspect of Blues. We have certain static aspects of serialism, as in the Webern slow movement of the Symphony Opus 21. We have the effect of Japanese gagaku, which has sustained tones in it in the instruments such as the Sho. The Sho is like a huge mouth organ. It has long pipes and several pipes all together. The pipes have holes in them, and you pay the "fingers". It's an elaborate performance technique, which is very highly evolved and classical. Then, as I said, you have the drone in Indian Classical music: the tanpura, plus the form, the alap.
There are all of these different influences that pushed me to begin to discover how to manifest sustained tones physically in the real world. In other words, I had begun to tune into them when I was a child, but I didn't really begin to make physical manifestations of them until around 1958. In 1958 I wrote the Trio for Strings.
It was very exciting to be at UCLA because while I would walk down the hall, from one side I would hear the gagaku orchestra rehearsing, and from another side I heard Lucas Foss rehearsing Schönberg 5 pieces for Orchestra. In the basement they were beginning to make a set up for some Indian musicians and a Gamelan group that were going to come into residency. I was being exposed to all kinds of music. Here at UCLA, I also met another very important figure in my life, Dr. Stevenson. Dr. Robert Stevenson is the world authority on music south of the border and in Spain. He literally took me under his wing and he taught me keyboard harmony. I had many classes with him and he really encouraged me. I wrote Baroque counterpoint, and Palestrina style counterpoint for him. He was a very great musician and had a very strong influence on me, but also was politically very helpful to me in that he encouraged me to apply for a Woodrow Wilson fellowship. I was able to get it. He was the other main figure in L.A. along with Leonard Stein.
After completing UCLA, I got my BA in 1958. Over the summer I had permission to compose on the large organ in Royce Hall. I had the idea that I wanted to write something with long sustained tones. I wanted to actually hear the tones sounding. The idea to write a piece with long sustained tones came to me totally by intuition. It was not something that I calculatedly decided I should try. It wasn't an experiment. It was not a lark. It was something that came to me totally through inspiration and intuition. Something that was inspired from above, and I felt that I must write long sustained tones. I had to do this. It was my calling. I began to write them.
I had written some long sustained tones in the middle section of For Brass in 1957. These tones were so long that it prompted Lucas Foss to once say, "La Monte Young lived on Zen standard time; a second to him was just a heartbeat in the life of the Buddha." He was very supportive of me, whereas nobody else at UCLA was really understanding of this kind of work with serial composition. He was understanding of it, and he was encouraging me to continue even though I was not at the time directly having a class with him. I had previously had classes with him, and so we knew each other, and he was very supportive of me.
So, in the summer of '58 I wrote the Trio for Strings at the great organ in Royce Hall at UCLA. I actually finished writing out the transparencies, the "onion skins", on Sept. 5 after I had already arrived at the Berkeley campus. I was just finding my way around at Berkeley. I showed this composition to my new composition teacher Seymour Schiffrin, and he expressed concern about the piece. He was having these private music calls for the graduate students in his composition class at his home. It was a very interesting composition class, because not only did it include me, but it included Pauline Oliveros, David Del Tredici, Lauren Rush, Charles McDermott, and Terry Riley who was auditing the class. He [Terry] joined the class next semester. Doug Ledy also joined the class next semester. There were quite an interesting group of composers there. Meanwhile though, Seymour was concerned. I didn't know what I was hearing with these long sustained tones, even though I had written it at the organ mind you. He arranged to have a performance of the work at his house, which was nice. The violinist was Oleg Kovalenko, the violist was John Graham, and the cellist was Bonnie Thompson. In any case, they played it and I was very happy to hear it. Clearly I had known what I was writing and so I was able to talk about the piece. The piece became a constant topic of conversation at Berkeley forever after that, especially in that class. I venture to say that none of the people in that class would have ever gone on to do what they did had they not heard the Trio for Strings at that time.
There had never been a statement like this one before in the history of music. Nobody had ever had the idea of making long sustained tones into music. As I said before, I had not really realized what the reason was until I began to think of this concept of universal structure in relation to cosmic sound: the sound of the universe. We know that maybe there was a Big Bang. Was that the first Big Bang, or was that just a pulse after another pulse? From our point of view, this is something we might consider to call infinity.
From that point of view, we are thinking that sound should be sustained if it were to be a representation of this kind of structure that goes on over long periods of time. It is through such models in sound that we can begin to understand the nature of universal structure. For example, if we think of the universe as being composed of vibrational patterns, then we can understand something about the nature of these patterns through the study of sound. Sound is unique in all media in that it is the only medium in which we receive vibrational pulses. These pulses are translated through the neurons up into the cerebral cortex as actual pulses, and eventually becomes patterns that are representative of the actual patterns that the air molecules make when they hit the eardrum. They then are transferred through the neurons up into the cerebral cortex. We are thus actually able to sense vibration as vibration in the cerebral cortex.
One of the important ideas that I write about in the notes to the Well-Tuned Piano is the idea that our concept of time is dependent on the concept of periodicity. Without the concept of periodicity we have no concept of time, in fact without the concept of periodicity, we have no concept of structure. We have no concept of anything. Our minds are especially tuned into periodic structures. They are best capable of understanding structure of a periodic nature.
So, there is a very profound relationship between sustained tones and periodicity.
We didn't really agree about composition. I respected him as being a very good musician, but basically after he did the musical, and played the Trio for Strings for his composition class, I said, "This is what I want to write, this is the way I really want to go" He said, "If you write that way in my class I won't be able to give you a grade". I wrote Study One for piano for him, and I won the Nicola De Lorenzo composition prize with it, and he was on the board that gave me the prize. I wrote it for him to show that I could write traditional music, at least somewhat traditional. It was more in the style of Stockhausen. It was a very fast run, an extremely good piece; many of the people who hear it say it's one of the best pieces in the genre.
Then I wrote another piece, Study Two for piano, and then in the summer of 59 Leonard Stein helped me get a scholarship to go to Darmstadt for the summer vacation courses. I was in Karlheinz Stockhausen's advanced composition seminar. In this class along with Karlheinz, I had a very inspiring experience because I met David Tudor, and heard David Tudor play these very interesting scores that were very graphic. I especially liked the pieces by Sylvano Bussotti. They are very imaginative. When you look at these pages, anything is possible. They look like an underwater experience. David of course was still at the stage in his career when he was Cage's main accompanist, and he was the greatest performer of new music in the world that ever had been, and ever was, and ever would be really. There was nobody who ever did contemporary music better than David Tudor. He was really one of my heroes as a performer. I was very impressed with him before he was recognized as a composer. As he was composing, he was putting together these performances of pages of squiggles and shapes and lines and curves. So, David then I guess, introduced my work to John Cage, but in the course of the study with Karlheinz, something very interesting happened.
I composed a piece that was based on the number seven. Cornelius was Karlheinz's assistant in the class, and Cornelius and I got to know each other over the years. Cornelius later wrote about the fact that Karlheinz seemed to be very impressed with the fact that I could think abstractly and write abstractly. I described this piece based on the number seven to the whole class. Karlheinz had me describe it again and again and again, and then finally I composed the piece, and it was about a half an hour long. David was supposed to play it. It was a piano piece, and the day before the recital, David lost the piece. He didn't play my piece on the recital. I was very disappointed of course, and I always suspected foul play, because I could never believe that David would lose a score. I always thought that maybe Karlheinz had suppressed my piece because it was so radical and it was so long. He didn't want to give me thirty minutes on this program. It's paranoia.
After Darmstadt I went back to Berkeley, and composed Vision, which is made out of Hokusai noises from conventional instruments. It was inspired by what I had been hearing David Tudor do with how he interpreted Cage and other people. After that, I composed Poem for Chairs, Tables, and Benches. It's one of those pieces where, you know, every time somebody moves a chair in a public library somebody else says, "Oh, that's La Monte's piece." Other people have said, "Every time you hear sixty cycle hum, is that La Monte's piece? The way that every time you hear a silence it's John Cage's piece?" It's just a matter of concept. One way to think of it is, yes, these pieces always existed, they always went on, and always will go on. Somebody simply conceives of the structure of them, and is able to transmit it into some kind of physical manifestation. It gets a name and a number and it goes on, and then it gets recognized when it gets called this. It's really possible to think of it in all of these ways, both as my piece and as something that has been going on since the beginnings of time.
When we look at the beginnings of minimalism in music, do we look at the Trio for Strings in 1958? What do we look at when we look at this? I look at the first Taoist paintings. I look at Japanese haiku; I look at what these paintings of Hokusai...one big wave, or one mountain again, and again and again. This is minimalism; minimalism has been going on in art since the beginnings of time. It's always been there. We brought it more into a focus - for example, me in music, or Rothko and Newman in painting. On the other hand, if you look back at mandalas, it's been going on since the beginnings of time also.
Things come in waves and pulses and big patterns. They come more into focus and more out of focus, and then they are brought back again as people realize the need for them. The same way that East needs West and West needs East, their needs for each other are in a constant state of flux and change. Sometimes one needs more, and sometimes the other needs more. At times, it seems that they do not need each other at all. As time passes, the whole world gradually becomes more and more interwoven until eventually it becomes a study: how to study roots and retain roots, while at the same time learning to live together in harmony.
Harmony comes from harmonicity, which relates to periodicity, which relates to sustained tones, which relates to the idea of cosmic sound, which relates to the idea of universal structure, which relates to the idea that we have bodies that allow us to understand vibrational structure through studying sound. Through this we are beginning to understand about universal structure and the study of vibrations on a higher spiritual level.
While I was at Berkeley, they allowed me to present noon concerts, so I would be in charge of programming noon concerts. I presented the electronic music of Richard Maxfield, and I presented the work of Dennis Johnson, a piece of his called The Second Machine. It was composed of only four pitches. I programmed Cage's Imaginary Landscapes for Twelve Radios. I presented my composition, Vision. It really created a riot at Berkeley. Kids were nowhere near prepared for it, and they just kind of broke up completely. It's very funny. I have the recording. I love to play it for people. Everybody appreciates how innocent these kids were. I was so jaded; I had already been to Darmstadt. I was already being performed in Europe and so forth, and these kids were just like hillbillies who had gone to Berkeley and would get their graduate training.
So finally I was on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship my first year, but my second year I was a teaching assistant. Then, Terry Riley and I both won Alfred Hertz Memorial Scholarships. The story is, Terry is such a nice guy, and so easy to work with, and I was such a terror, they gave Terry the residency grant, and they gave me the travel grant to go to New York City, because they were afraid I was going to take over the department. Of course, I never went back.
I came to New York and was extremely happy here. I was literally the darling of the avant-garde. I was in Vogue magazine and Esquire and everything just in the early 60's, just after I hit New York. One of the first things that I did after I came to New York was...David Tudor introduced me to Yoko Ono, and she asked me to be the director and curate a series of avant-garde concerts in her loft down on Chambers St. It was at 112 Chambers St. I was really very excited about that, and I presented to musicians such as Terry Jennings, Terry Riley, Richard Maxfield, Henry Flynt the concept artist, the poet Jackson MacLow, the composer Joe Bird, and the dancer Simone Forte who was at the time married to Robert Morris the sculptor. I also presented an environment of Robert Morris, which was the last piece I curated. At an important point, Yoko wanted to bring other composers in, so I quit. I did not want to be responsible for the people that she wanted to bring in.
The last concert I did was Robert Morris. It was an environment that when you walked into it, it got smaller and smaller and smaller as you went in, until finally you realized it was a dead end. You would then turn around and come back out. This was the whole show, but it was quite a good work, I thought. This concert series had a major influence on events in New York City because it was the first concert series placed in an alternative space in New York City. This concert series then became the basis for such places as The Kitchen and other places downtown. Now we have full-blown places with three bars, and three rooms at The Knitting Factory.
I was able to give each composer two evenings of his own works. I did something very different from what was happening if you went to an Uptown concert. If you had a concert in a hall uptown, first of all, you had to be extremely good friends with one of two people, such as Oliver Daniels who was running BMI. If you weren't, you couldn't get a piece on the program, and if you did get a piece, it was just going to be a little slot: 17 minutes or 23 minutes or 12 minutes. That was the life of avant-garde music in New York City until I came and changed it, and made it in alternative spaces so that it was possible to really present. Not only could they have two concerts of their own work, they could have the whole week to rehearse there. It meant that music could develop on a very high level, as opposed to this commercial situation where you got to move in two hours before the concert; maybe you get to have a sound check, then you do the concert, and they want you to get out of there within an hour after the concerts over. They don't want the concert to go for a long time either.
O.K. This was the way music was, but it was not the way I conceived of music. I began to then introduce my ideas into this situation so that I changed music forever. I made it possible for music to take place in a different time frame and in a different environment and in a different situation, and to go on and actually change the whole history of the world.
Talk about Fluxus.
YOUNG: Well, many people like me to talk about Fluxus and I want to be very quick to say that I love George Maciunas because he was a great humanitarian. I was starving and I had no food. He would give me cans of food that he had gotten for doing big printing jobs. He was a graphic artist. He did architecture, drawings and models, and that sort of thing. George always had a little bit of money, and he always had some food. He did deals with people who would trade him cans of sardines and cans of goose, and really special kinds of cans of stuff, and I was very poor. I had come to New York on that scholarship the first year, but after I used up the first year, I was just free-lance in New York. Although I was obviously already famous, and I was paid any time I played, and I charged what was considered a lot of money for showing up and performing compared to what other people got, none the less, it wasn't that much money; there wasn't that much work doing avant-garde performances.
Sometimes George would give me cans of food to keep me from starving. He was very kind. He would come out in the middle of winter. He had asthma. He was dying of asthma. One winter our heater broke down, Marian and I were here at Church St., and George came out in the snow, fixed the heater and went back home, and he was not even supposed to go out. He was just a great guy, but as far as art was concerned I had to teach him everything he knew practically. He didn't know what to present. I remember Henry Flynt and I were telling him one day, he was saying to Henry and me, "I want to present (Otto) Luening and (Vladimir) Ussachevsky." He said, "Why I can't present something that represents the way I feel?" I would say, "I don't want to be lost back there in the past with these guys, I want to present the kind of work that I understand is going on today and is the cutting edge of the avant-garde."
George basically was a humorist. I always think of him as the fourth Marx Brother, or is it the fifth? It must have been the fifth Marx Brother, because if you really knew George from the inside, he was funny as hell. He had so many gags and jokes. For example, somebody was always after him because he would do a lot of dishonest deals, and he was never paying the rent, and he was never paying the printer. All the things he was supposed to pay, he never did. So somebody was always looking for him. At one point, he was living in the basement of the Cinematheque, and some people were trying to dispossess him. The law was looking for him, and so he had these jokes. They would come and press the doorbell, and a laugh would go "HA HA HA HA". Other times they would press the bell and a pin would puncture their finger. One time, they came in looking for him, and he dressed up like a little old lady carrying shopping bags. He walked up the steps and passed them as they ran down the stairs trying to get him in the basement. He just loved this kind of humor; he was really extremely funny.
When he would do a program, he would make it into a total variety show of continuous entertainment. (Just the opposite of what I was doing.) He would have eight or nine composers on the program. There was never a dull moment, just lots of humor; it was exactly the opposite of giving a composer two evenings of his own work. Anybody was Fluxus in George's mind, he would pull anybody in, and you could call up Fluxus.
I actually had talent, I won prizes, I won degrees, and I actually have a history of capability. Fluxus people are like tenth grade artists. They had no ability. They are hacks that rode on my coattails and then made a name for this movement doing humor. They never understood what I was doing. They ended up doing something on a much simpler level. It's a level called entertainment.
One thing that was written on the door and on all the announcements that I sent out about the series I presented at Yoko Ono's studio... "This series is not entertainment." I like entertainment. I like to be entertained. But I know the difference between entertainment and the kind of work that I am doing. George was just doing entertainment. He could never rise above that level and understand that there was another level of existence.
George was always trying to pull me into Fluxus, but as soon as I understood what Fluxus was, I didn't want to be a part of it. I did one last concert with George, the big Fluxus concert, where I conducted at Carnegie Recital Hall, and he traded me my fee. I composed a piece for this program, because my whole problem with George was getting money out of him for performance of a work. I composed a piece that was called Composition 1965 dollars 50. The way this composition went was, I would stand behind the curtain somewhere on one side of the stage, and George would stand behind the curtains at his side of the stage. When my piece came up we would walk to the center of the stage, he would hand me an envelope with 50 dollars, and I would shake his hand.
He also paid me with a refrigerator and a bunch of carpets for conducting that concert. George always had a bunch of leftover stuff because George essentially created what is now Tribeca. Or was it Soho? He created these co-ops in Soho. Yeah, it's Soho not Tribeca. George actually created Soho - these special co-ops for artists. Marian and I had signed into the first co-op for an artist that George was running; within a year it was too expensive for us. We had to pull out before we even moved in. George just kept raising the price. You would get in, sink in three thousand, and the George would come along and say we need three more; otherwise we've got other people who want to take your place.
George was really a very interesting character, but after that concert, I tried to totally disassociate myself from Fluxus because Fluxus was just a phase that happened right then that was good for George's enormous ability. He was a great concert promoter. He was an entrepreneur, he would publish a whole bunch of stuff and was great at doing everything cheap, and especially at not paying. It was very interesting to work with George, but it had nothing to do with the direction that my work and my philosophy and my ideas were going.
Where did you go?
YOUNG: One of the differences between my 1960 compositions and the work of Fluxus artists was the extreme conceptual nature of my compositions. Henry FlyntChambers considers my 1960 compositions as seminal works influencing the genre that he created called concept art. I published Henry's first essay on concept art in An Anthology, which was a collection of scores, poetry, dance constructions, and other avant-garde work that I had collected on my desk in Berkeley for performances. When I came to New York I continued to collect.
After presenting some of the works at Yoko Ono's loft, a fellow named Chester Anderson offered to let me edit an issue of The Attitude, and publish these works. Somehow, Chester left New York, and around that time I had met George Maciunas. George helped me publish An Anthology. In fact, George impressed me very much with his skill at printing. As I mentioned he was a wonderful guy. He was just really good at layout work and printing and paste-ups. Marian used to love to talk to George about it because Marian is a graphic artist and was very involved in these kinds of techniques. George was very interested in Marian's work and had many ideas about how to help her. In a way he was like a graphics teacher for Marian.
ZAZEELA: George helped me a great deal. He helped me realize several of my earlier flyers that I designed for La Monte's music and gave me a number of ideas. He was so full of energy. He was amazing. Whenever we were going to produce something that required some kind of graphic presentation to announce it to the world, we would always turn to George for help.
I had made some cutouts. They were the kind where you fold thin paper into a triangular shape, and then you use a scissors or razor blade to cut a design pattern into that, and you unfold it and have the design pattern repeating in all of the segments. George actually was able to show me a way to use that doily art and turn it into a graphic that you could use for the announcements.
YOUNG: So, I first saw Marian Zazeela at the Living Theater in July of 1961. I was performing a Terry Jennings piano piece for a dance by Eileen Paslov. Marian and I saw each other at the intermission and we both still remember it. On June 22nd, 1962, I was having a rehearsal with the hand drummer and poet Angus MacLise. Although we were usually having the rehearsals at my apartment on 119 Bank St., this time we decided to have the rehearsal at Angus's place.
While we were upstairs listening to some gamelan music, Marian came upstairs and we've been together ever since. Actually we've been together twenty-four hours a day, seven-days a week all of the time, with the exception of a period of about a year in 1965 when she had a day job at an advertising agency called Doyle Dane Bernbach.
ZAZEELA: More like two and a half years.
YOUNG: Then I won a Guggenheim and so she quit the job. After that, we've been together all of the time, and we found that we had an extraordinarily complementary relationship. It's like the concept of Shiva Shakti. That concept is the same as the positive/negative concept, the same as the periodicity concept, and the same as the creativity concept. It's also the same as the yin/yang concept. The Shiva Shakti concept is, within Shiva is both the male power and the female power, the positive and the negative. Together we make a team. We become in fact, like one entity, like Shiva. This is the Shiva and the Shakti aspect. Through this aspect of interrelationship, we can become then, this extremely powerful team and person, and a new person that is the combination of the both of us. This person that has a power that is more than two times the strength of the individual.
Through this kind of very profound and harmonic relationship, it is possible then to do things and create works that could not be created by either one of us alone, even if we did them separately and brought them together. It's a very unique relationship because many people do not think to look for this kind of relationship. Many people are looking for more independence. They don't want to be tied down to another person. They want to be free, going here and there, for whatever reasons and for whatever reasons not.
Both of us for some reason had been looking for that kind of relationship in which we could do extraordinarily powerful teamwork together and produce remarkable results. We found that we had an extraordinary power to interrelate and communicate and to create works together.
First of all, as soon as I met her I asked her to design flyers for my concerts. So immediately we were collaborating from that point on. We found that the collaboration took place on a much higher level than our intellectual, physical interrelationship. The collaboration took place on a level that was on a vibrational plane in the area where we worked, but it wasn't like I would say, "O.K. when I have this sound, you have a blue light, when I have this sound you have a green light." Instead it was like, things would happen like, she would put up some lights while she was listening to my music, or while some of my music was going she would run a slide, and I would say, "That is the color I really need for the Well-Tuned Piano."
We began presenting the Well-Tuned Piano as tape concerts. I had found that nobody would ever give me the space and time to get the piano tuned, for it to become the work I wanted it to be in a concert. In 1969 we were invited to Europe by Fabio Sargentini, and we sang in his gallery in Rome. From there we went to Gallery Heiner Friedrich in Munich. Heiner Friedrich gave us the first public Dream House presentation in 1969. This Dream House consisted of sustained tones, Marian's lights, and Marian and I singing. We were so aloof from the outside commercial world that we scheduled our singing as "with singing from time to time". People had to intuit when we would be singing and come by the gallery and find us when we were singing as opposed to when the environment was going without us.
It's the first record I ever put out. It has a totally black cover with Marian's calligraphy on it, black on black It's extraordinary, but it's very subtle, and it's not the type of thing that you'll put up in Tower Records and people are going to run across the room and see what it is.
Heiner Friedrich discovered us in the mid 60's. Both Bob Whitman and Walter DeMaria had tried to take credit for introducing us to Heiner. However, we think Bob Whitman introduced us to Heiner. Heiner had the most avant-garde gallery in Europe. He was presenting artists like Dan Flavin, Mike Heiser, Walter DeMaria, and Joseph Beuys. He really was presenting people who were far ahead of everybody else. Somehow Bob told him about us, and he came to visit us in 1965. He used to come and sit, and listen to the tones, and look at the lights for hours. We knew he was Heiner Friedrich and had this gallery. Sometimes he would even give us a little bit of money. He didn't have much, but he had a brother who had more money. He would bring his brother and say, "Give them something, they're starving!"
Then he gave us this show in his gallery in Munich, Gallery Heiner Friedrich. It was really important, and from then on he became our major patron. Some people wonder, how does La Monte Young survive in this work each day in a world of commercial businesses where everybody is cut-throat? Everyone is just trying to earn a buck, it's all about money: have a better business, earn more money. For serious art, it's very difficult to earn money. So La Monte Young has created some of the most radical work ever known. Yes La Monte Young was able to do this work, and to somehow earn money, and bring money in. So, at this point I must give thanks to Heiner Friedrich who discovered us in the mid-sixties and basically patronized everything that we did.
He started out by putting out the black record and putting out selected writings right while we were there in Munich. He instantly put up the money to do these things. From that time on he financed the second edition of An Anthology. Then he created the art foundation and presented our work at his various locations and gave us the second largest project of the Dia Art Foundation, the Dream House.
We had a ten-year commission from Dia, and the last six years, we had a six-year installation at Six Harrison St. in a six-story building with a nine-story tower and a basement. It was completely dedicated to our work. It was supposed to be a permanent project, but the foundation had financial reversals, and we lost it. Meanwhile while we were there, we created probably the most impressive light environment that we have ever had. We also created some extraordinary sound environments, because we had different sounds in different rooms on different floors.
For example, we had the sound of the opening chord from the Well-Tuned Piano in the doorway when you would walk in the hallway. As you would come up the stairs on the landing, you could hear the sound of the magic chord coming from inside the large main space. It was a double floor space with a thirty-foot ceiling. In one room was the magic chord; down the stairway entrance was the opening chord. On the landing you got the magic opening chord. This was a combination of the two, which is one of the chords in the Well-Tuned Piano. Then as you would go upstairs there was another room that had an exhibition of all of Marian's posters for the Well-Tuned Piano.
We had a Pandit Pran Nath raga cycle - live performances of our teacher Pandit Pran Nath. We would show all of Marian's posters for the Pandit Pran Nath raga cycle concerts. It was an extraordinary opportunity for us to have an entire building dedicated to our work. We wired the entire building for sound, from basement to top. You could hear any sound on one floor, on another floor. It provided an archiving facility for our work. An extremely good archivist named David Farneth ran the archives and later went on to work for the Kurt Weil Foundation. He is now a curator at the Getty Foundation in LA.
Harrison St. was this really remarkable project. It was the second largest piece of real property that the foundation owned at the time. The only larger project was Donald Judd's, which was an entire town, Martha Texas. Unfortunately the Six Harrison St. building was sold, and we came back here to Church St. At Church St., I only had one floor, and we figured we had to move into 118th for the space we had grown accustomed to at Harrison St. Plus we couldn't have the majestic installations and other facilities that had been made possible. It was a dream, this Dream House.
ZAZEELA: I think though that it was a very productive time. Music takes place in time, and La Monte and I often consider that our medium is time. This project afforded us some time to actually develop certain works. During the course of it, we presented three separate series of concerts of the Well-Tuned Piano in 1980, and then again twice in 1981, culminating in the five hour performance that was ultimately released on Gramavision in late October 1981.
I was also given the possibility to the develop work that I had begun in light, working with colored light mixtures and sculptural forms to create colored shadows. I was able to begin experimenting with glass, which was necessary, because to have colored lights on for any period of time, you can't use gel, it just burns up. So I began working with glass, which is a very expensive process. We had to have the filters custom made, and we actually had to have the frames for the filters custom made as well. It was a slow process, and it was a developmental process. As we did this work, I learned a lot about colored mixtures and I was able to move into other color areas. We developed a special glass that was necessary to produce what became called the magenta light. Magenta colored glass was actually created with strips of blue and red glass combined in a filter holder in order to achieve this color. I guess there was no commercial use for glass of that color, so it wasn't made.
Now there have been some breakthroughs and some very interesting and much more affordable colored glass filters by both the Rosko company and the Lee company. I'm just beginning to work with them, and it's providing new possibilities. But that period of time at Harrison St. really opened the way for my work with these colored lights.
YOUNG: Marian was one of the first artists to work within the field of light. She began work around the same time as Dan Flavin, and Marian's work was very unique in that she discovered a technique for creating colored shadows. She refined this technique and created a style of lighting in which, in large spaces, the difference between reality and illusion becomes imperceptible. She discovered this process right here in the Church St. building. It was after we lost Harrison St. and had been here for a few more years that we gradually got the third floor, and that became the Dream House that we're in now. It's a very small dream house compared to Harrison St., but it's a very perfect Dream House. We spent a lot of time within. Every element is exactly the way we want it.
The Dream House became one of our largest forms. The Dream House is the ultimate realization of an alternative performance space - this concept that I began when I presented the works at Yoko Ono's loft. A Dream House can be, if it's large enough and properly equipped, a place where live music and light can go on continuously on into time, and the work can evolve and develop.
While we had Harrison St. we were able to develop work that could be done under no other circumstances. For example the performance of the Well-Tuned Piano that was released on the Gramavision CD is 5 hours long. This concert however, is the last concert in three long concert series of eight concerts, and three or four rehearsal concerts each that I presented at Harrison St. It is the culmination; it's the last concert in the series in the last concert series at Harrison St.
I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest piano solo, but they only have my four-hour listing. They don't even know about the five-hour performance, and they don't know about the later six hours and 25 minutes performance that is now available on our Just Dreams label on DVD. This DVD may be a record breaking DVD. It may be the longest DVD ever made. It's six hours and 25 minutes of music plus some more minutes of video. The whole thing is getting toward seven hours. It's all on one side. It's double-density, so there are two layers, and magically, it moves through a layer break that you really can't find unless you know where it is. This work is not only available as a DVD, we have presented it in three major DVD installations.
For example, the French government invited us to have an entire room of a cathedral for the celebration of the year 2000 to present the Well-Tuned Piano and the Magenta Lights DVD installation. This went on for...
ZAZEELA: It was open for about four and a half months.
YOUNG: It was shown every day, seven days a week, and...
ZAZEELA: And, something like 200,000 people were known to have...
YOUNG: Attended, and it was considered the best installation in the entire festival. Meanwhile, Marian then had a one-year installation of her calligraphy at a new place in Southern Germany, at a special place called Regenbogenstadl. This means "Rainbow Barn". It's a special new art museum, which is created by the twin sister of our main patron, Heiner Friedrich, Heika Friedrich. Heika and her boyfriend Uli Sch?gger became very interested in Marian's work, and they gave her a big show of her calligraphy, and then they decided to present our DVD installation at Regenbogenstadl. So, the DVD installation at Regenbogenstadl is now running in its second year. We've had three years continuously at this museum. The last two of which are the DVD of the Well-Tuned Piano and the Magenta Lights.
This present year, we also added a sound environment of the magic opening chord to the installation. The opening chord is in the large room when you come in, and then there is a room, back in the back that has an extraordinary exhibition of Marian's light sculptures, and in that room is the magic chord. So you can go back and forth from the opening chord to the magic chord. They mix in the interim space, and then on other days you can see the DVD installation and hear the Well-Tuned Piano.
Then we did a much larger installation in Berlin of the DVD. The screen in Berlin was even larger and it's in this very special large building... it's called…
YOUNG: Stausbach. It's a greatly sought after building in Berlin for art projects and it's enormous. The ceiling is I think 70 feet. It's really something, and the screen is I think 40 feet high. It's the biggest screen, and the sound! I've stopped touring, so we've just had our assistant Uli Sch?gger, who has studied Marian's lights, work. He stayed here in the Dream House and studied Marian's lights and my sound. We taught him how to do it because I've been on stage since I was five years old, and I've been traveling since I was five years old. I've been touring for years and years, and now I think it's not productive. I'm very good at performance, and I love to do it, and I'm winning all the battles, but the big war is being lost. I really want to put out my music now full time on my label "Just Dreams" and to put out more works, now that we put out the Tanburas of Pandit Pran Nath and the Well-Tuned Piano and the Magenta Lights.
In 1970, we brought our teacher Pandit Pran Nath to the U.S. In 1967, the Yogic therapist, Chambat Nager introduced us to the singing of Pandit Pran Nath. This was the most incredible singing I had ever heard in my life. It was the most beautiful, the most in tune. I had never been moved by music in this particular way, especially by such in-tune singing. In 1970, Marian and I and Cham brought Pandit Pran Nath to the U.S. to present him to the West. We literally brought North Indian classical vocal music to the West. We presented Pandit Pran Nath in a very large way. We gave him annual raga cycles where he would present several concerts. He would present a concert of morning ragas, a concert of afternoon ragas, a concert of sunset ragas, a concert of night ragas, and a concert of midnight ragas. It was really extraordinary. Or he would go through a whole season where he would present this one rainy season raga and sing different compositions in this same raga. He would present many many different aspects of the raga over several concerts. It was a totally special approach to music. Really studious and serious, but moved you on the highest level.
Larry Poons, the artist, used to hang out with me, and he heard Pandit Pran Nath. He said it was like black magic. He said, "You can't believe where it's coming from." People would walk away mesmerized. Nobody had heard anybody like Pandit Pran Nath. He is one of the greatest musicians who ever lived in all of time, without a doubt. Marian and I were drawn to him like iron fillings to a magnet. We became his disciples. This was really the biggest thing that ever happened to us. First we met each other. Then after that we met Pandit Pran Nath, we were uniquely able to serve him in the tradition of guru disciple because the two of us could serve him better than any other one disciple. In the tradition of North Indian classical music, the disciple is supposed to intuit before the guru asks for everything that the guru wants, and to serve him hand and foot, night and day twenty-four seven.
During the twenty-six years that we studied with our teacher while he was alive, we lived with him perhaps around 50% of the time each year. We made seven trips to India; we worked extremely closely with him. In fact, many of our Western Patrons, not Heiner Friedrich, but many of our Western patrons felt that we had abandoned our avant-garde work, and questioned why should we be studying with anybody when I had already changed the history of music in the sixties and seventies and had influenced generations of younger composers.
I had influenced the Velvet Underground, I had influenced Andy Warhol, I had influenced Pop Art, I had influenced Fluxus, I had founded the minimalist movement, I had done a few things, and why should I be studying with anybody? It was difficult for them to understand that this man, Pandit Pran Nath, was that extraordinary. He was bringing to me something that was necessary for me to have and that I had not found in all of my studies. Even though I was the first to introduce long sustained tones into Western Classical music, he showed me that I still had something additional to learn. What he brought to us was an entire lifestyle and approach to music and to spirituality, and the understanding of vibration as a spiritual practice, and music as a spiritual practice. It leads to a state of high god-consciousness, in tune-ness with universal structure: the cosmic sound.
Though Pandit Pran Nath died in 1996 on June 13th, his spirit made numerous appearances thereafter.
ZAZEELA: Immediately after his death, we went to California, and we were afraid they would have had the funeral and cremated him before we got there. We were fortunate because one of his daughters who was still living in India had gotten permission and an emergency visa to come, and they wanted to wait until she might arrive.
The night that we arrived in Berkeley, we were able to attend to him. They were able to bring his body home, which was very difficult. His students worked miracles, and they had bathed him and laid him out in the room that he taught in. When we arrived many people were sitting around and there were many flowers in the room and all over his body.
The energy was amazing. His spirit was so strong that although it had left his body, it was still very much in the space, and we remained with his body overnight and through the next morning. He was taken away to be prepared for the cremation and then the funeral. That alone was an extraordinary experience. The funeral was very moving and very incredible...experiencing his body to be taken to be cremated was also emotionally very strong.
That night we slept downstairs below his apartment in his student's apartment in their sons' room. We were sleeping on the floor, and early in the morning, we heard a little bird, a little quail. We were asleep, but Joan, the student, had taken the bird out for a little exercise, and the room we were in was quite warm, and we had left the door ajar. This little bird came in to the room, and I awoke. The bird was O.K., Joan collected the bird and closed the door. I lay back down and pulled the sheet over my face, and tried to go back to sleep, and I heard a voice.
I had been very sad at the funeral.
YOUNG: We sang at the funeral.
ZAZEELA: I was getting his feeling of sadness again, and I heard Pandit Pran Nath's voice saying to me, "Don't be sad, I am free. Body is an encumbrance, but it's the vehicle for the music. Now you are the vehicle."
YOUNG: Now you must sing.
ZAZEELA: He also said, "Just as I told you, I am in you, you are in me. We are always together, just as I told you." So there is nothing to be sad about, we are together forever. That and, "You are the vehicle for the music, so you must go on and carry it on." Well, that was the interpretation.
So, this voice was so alive that I immediately woke up, and woke La Monte and told him what I had experienced. We realized that it was a direct communication from Guruji (Pandit Pran Nath) Since that time, we both have had many dreams where he appears and different events take place. Sometimes it's kind of humorous, sometimes it's very serious. He's definitely still with us.
YOUNG: And many other students have had miraculous communications with him as well. He had an extremely devoted group of followers, and he was very charismatic, and he was the most extraordinary musician I had ever heard. Through all of that, whenever you talked about him in the presence of other people, he always towered above them immediately, and controlled the entire situation. However, none of us could have foreseen his extraordinary power he had after he died. None of us had imagined that it would be coming quite the way it has been.
At the time I wrote the Trio for Strings, I dedicated it to the writer and novelist Caroline C. Sturak who I knew at the time in LA. Later after Marian and I got together, she had us come out and talk to one of her classes at UCLA.
ZAZEELA: I think it was actually Loyola.
YOUNG: Oh, she was teaching at Loyola. So we went and spoke to her students, and she said something that was very insightful and amusing. She said, "The reason La Monte became famous is because of Marian Zazeela." He said, "His music was so wild, nobody could possibly get with it until they saw it in Marian's extraordinarily beautiful light environments."
I had never been interested in being a cult personality, a figure onstage with a spot light on me. I wanted to do work that was really far more profound than my individual personality. Marian's lighting provided people with the visual focus that allowed them to go clearly into the world of the music without stopping at the performer. When she lights me, she lights me in such a way that you really focus on the music. I'm there, but the colored lights and the music complement each other in a way that is similar to the Shiva Shakti, the positive/negative complement. Light is probably the other most powerful medium. Although it's not translated exactly as vibrations, it creates very profound psychological states. Through our collaboration that takes place on a totally organic and vibrational level, things happen that take the interrelationship of the sound and light to a plane that is more than just the sum of the two.
ZAZEELA: That's the great thing about having the DVD now of the Well-Tuned Piano and the Magenta Lights available to the public. As great as the Gramavision recording's were, it was just the sound. Now with the DVD, people can experience the music in the setting it was created in. That's a very important dimension.
YOUNG: I've always had a group of musicians around me that are my performing group. I had begun working with Dennis Johnson and Terry Jennings in LA, and after I met Angus MacLise in New York, and Marian...this became the nucleus for the Theater of Eternal Music. Gradually I invited Tony Conrad and John Cale to join the group, and then gradually musicians such as Terry Riley replaced John Cale, and then John Hassel played in the group and David Rosenboom played in the group and Katrina Krimsky played in the group. Lee Konitz played in the group and Alex Dia sang in the group.
There were really a number of outstanding musicians. These groups become an improvisational compositional format within which I can structure realizations of certain kinds of music. Some people say...some composers don't like to be called minimalists. My position is, first of all, I utilize the definition of minimalism-that which is created with a minimum of means. This is how I take in Taoist paintings. This is how I take in the tidal wave, Hokusai. All of these things are created with a minimum of means, as are also Webern's works. My composition 1960 #7 was to sustain a B and F# for a long time. Well, this was obviously very minimal.
However, it is necessary to see minimalism as an aspect of my total body of work. Well, minimalism is really just an aspect of my work. As Dan Wolf wrote in the introduction to the Well-Tuned Piano, "The Well-Tuned Piano is maximal." It's one of the largest works ever created. I was explaining to the critic Kyle Gann that there is probably no work in the history of music that ties together themes, motivic material, and interrelationships in different harmonic areas through different modulations over six and a half hours. And what's more...I do it improvising. This is a very unique work. It has many minimalistic elements, but it is also maximal.
These kinds of titles are useful for helping us to catalog and understand aspects of work. The total body of my work goes far beyond all of these kinds of classifications that for whatever reason have been considered so far. When people ask, "where are you going," this is what I tell them: In the East, there is a concept that the student comes before the teacher as an empty bamboo tube, an empty glass of water to be filled by the teacher. When I sit down before a concert of the Well-Tuned Piano, I first pray that I will be pure enough that these vibrations can come through me, and that I will be strong enough to make this information that is coming through me into a physical manifestation. Therefore, in my total outlook on creativity and composition and performance, I go before the process as an empty bamboo tube. I don't decide what I'm doing next. Everything comes to me by intuition, totally by inspiration. The main thing is, I remain pure, like an empty bamboo tube and then all of the blessings, all of the performances, the Well-Tuned Piano, it all flows through me.
(hearing aid squeals)
YOUNG: Sometimes I go all day without putting them on. It's just heavenly, it's so quiet. I have a joke. It's very funny. Terry Riley's wife's parents used to come and visit them, and the husband, Ann's father, wore hearing aids and he had a control in his pocket. After a while they noticed that every time his wife started talking to him he would put his hand in his pocket to turn off the hearing aid. (laughter) Somedays I just can't get it together to put them on.
Talk about the influence of the study of Indian music in your work.
YOUNG: OK. Because I studied with such a great master, Pandit Pran Nath, the effect of my study with him on my work is beyond quantification. It is impossible to express what an enormous and impact it had on my life. He brought me an entire lifestyle of performance virtuosos, people who, for their whole lives, have been singing as court musicians for the Maharajas in India. There are extraordinary stories of discipline. Teachers beat their students with iron rods to make them the very best. Some teachers would have them practice with a rope around their neck all night with the other end tied to the teacher's big toe, and if the student starts to fall over, the teacher yanks on the big toe to keep him practicing. I mean, it's an extraordinary discipline, and it's a very high art form. It's on the highest level of art form.
There is this story: There was this thing on Amir Khan: he goes to the concerts. The concert producer, the master of the evening, comes out and says, "Oh, Khan Sahib, what are you going to sing tonight" and he says, "What? Do you think I'm your slave?" Then he goes home. It was considered impermissible to ask him a question, let alone what he was going to sing tonight. This is the history of Indian classical vocal music. The impact on my own music takes place in many different ways. For example, the unfolding of the alap, which a special one tone at a time that is introduced one above the other in a very subtle way. This actually went into the compositional technique of the Well-Tuned Piano. This is the kind of discipline that he taught us, how to behave on the day of a concert. On the day of a concert he would not speak to anyone, and if you came near him he would give you signs to go away. He didn't want you around him.
In the last years of my life, in order to become what I wanted to be, and create the work I wanted to become, I had to isolate myself entirely from the world. I don't answer my phone now. I have over thirty requests for interviews on hold at the very moment. It's because the world does not really want me to be what I am, and what I am becoming, and what I have potential to be. The world wants me to be what they want me to be. By isolating myself and living in my own world, and creating my own Dream Houses, I'm actually able to receive the transmissions and discover what my potential is.
People have a preconceived idea of what someone should be. I don't have a preconceived idea about what I can become. I might have an idea that I can become my highest fully evolved potential, but I must say, to tune into this highest source, you must become like an empty bamboo flute toward it, and then it will give me these blessings. I will be able to realize my highest potential.
He's (the recordist) going to record three minutes of room tone. We have to sit for three minutes and he'll record, we'll be quiet.
(Room is quiet except for the sound of distant traffic.)
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