1. Thoughts Create Universe.
I've never developed a personal relationship with the music of Elliott Carter, but since his passing the other day I've spent some time listening. This music is far more sensuous than I'd remembered, an oversight perhaps attributable to the manner in which I was introduced to it. I'm especially enamored of this old recording of his 1940s Piano Sonata. This guy hung out with Charles Ives and studied with Gustav Holst, and he was still writing music during the Obama administration. Light a candle.
Reading the remembrances, two things stood out about Carter and his approach to life and composing. Here is my favorite quotation: "I like to sound spontaneous and fresh, but my first sketches often sound mechanical," he said. "I have to write them over until they sound spontaneous."
That's really such a beautiful and surprising way to look at editing, isn't it? The typical analogy is with sculpture, chipping away at the stone to reveal the statue within; but for Carter, editing was not a process of removal, it was one of accretion. Not a means of adding refinement but of adding energy, infusing the original idea with MORE momentum than it emerged with. I like that very much.
And of course, everyone has commented on the Carter's personal ebullience as well as his truly historic longevity and prolificacy. He said the following at age 103: "I write and write and write. I'm just like a fanatic, composing all the time. I'm not writing for the future. I'm writing for right now. When I wake up in the morning, I think about what I'm going to compose that day. If I didn't have that I don't think I'd be so happy. I'm writing because it interests me. It keeps me going."
Isn't that just wonderful?
Here's the thing: great artistry has never been and will never be correlated in any meaningful way with leading a happy, productive, and/or lengthy existence on this planet.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, is highly correlated with these things.
I wonder what would happen if every composer were able to write music each day from a fundamental position of joy, discarding entirely the prospect that "greatness" may ever accrue to oneself or anyone else as a result.
I suppose that what would happen is we'd all reach enlightenment in that moment and promptly burst into flames and evolve to the next plane of existence. (And that wouldn't result in any music, would it, so maybe we'd better hold on to some scrap of ego for the moment.)
2. Also, obliquely, on the subject of dying.
Does anyone else think that "Wild Mountain Thyme," the old Scottish folk song, is about death? It hit me one day in August 2011 as I drove alone across Colorado, and suddenly I couldn't stop listening to it. The song becomes so devastating and so emotionally complex as I feel this hidden content moving against its basic structural simplicity.
I recorded this version with my banjo last week to greet the month of November:
3. Emily Dickinson said something lovely.
"The noons are more laconic and the sundowns sterner, and Gibraltar lights make the village foreign. November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."
4. What am I up to?
• the Grant Wallace Band continues to accelerate our rate of performances while also plugging away at some recording projects. We're playing tomorrow night, Friday 11/9, at the Gallery Cabaret, with our good friend Alex Temple. The first twenty guests at the show will receive an official alias for the evening, including a dossier with assigned pseudonym and essential biographical information. It's going to be a fun one!
• working on a commission for pianist Nicholas Phillips and his immense American Vernacular project. My piece's theme is guitar fingerpicking styles, so I returned to the source for some inspiration. Mississippi John Hurt is still one of my all-time favorite musicians, and as a composer I'm more than occasionally visited by the ghost of John Fahey. What I didn't realize is that Fahey wrote a solo guitar piece called "Requiem for John Hurt" in 1968. This succinct form packs a lot of content into its five minutes, and it connects the spiritual dots between two of the most influential guitarists in my musical universe.
My piece had found its spark. Fahey's rhythmic structures and sectional forms have carried over, though I'm also using the piano's registral capabilities with some expansiveness. Fahey's music represents for me a meeting place between the woodsy sound of the steel-string guitar and the complex atmospheres of classical music. Working title: Back Porch Requiem for John Fahey.
• Next up is a quartet for two pianists and two percussionists. I've been dying to work in this medium since at least '09, when I played Crumb's Music for a Summer Evening at UT Austin with Franklin Gross, Owen Weaver, and Thad Anderson. Lo and behold: the four of us are reassembling for a reprise performance of the Crumb in March on the Collide Contemporary Music Series in Florida. We'll pair it with new pieces by Franklin and me. It's going to be such a joy to play again with these old friends and consummate musicians.
• Enjoying a Patsy Cline kind of morning before diving back into editing and rehearsing some gospel music for tomorrow's show:
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts