For Nicholas Zurbrugg
I'm seated here in the gardens at Ripponlea, a 19th century estate now run by the National Trust of Australia, in Melbourne. The gardens were built by William Sangster in the 1880s for Frederick Sargood, who was a soft goods and textile merchant. The gardens front on a railway line, so every 15 minutes, you hear the sound of a commuter train - the Sandringham line- rumbling by. The gardens look really beautiful - they almost look like a Monet painting, and that makes sense because Monet was painting about this time, and he was painting European gardens, and Sangster was definitely a gardener in the European tradition. And so we have a bit of European 19th century artificial nature paradise here. And all the cynical cultural theory in the world can't diminish the fact that I find this place beautiful.
I'm here yammering away for 45 minutes into a microphone, in this lovely garden, the reason being that my friend Nicholas Zurbrugg wanted me months ago to write an article about "What does it mean to be avant-garde in the early 21st century?" And depending on how you reckon it, the 21st century is either 6 weeks away or a year and 6 weeks away, - close enough for jazz, as they say. I'm going to do this paper/article/whatever-you-want-to-call-it by talking into the microphone and then transcribing it as exactly as I can [ok, I might make a few corrections or additions, which will be in square brackets like this]. I want to do this for a number of reasons, one of which is that I want to have absolute faith in the improvisational process, and the other of which is, if I'm going to do something about what it means to be avant-garde, I want to do it in an avant-garde manner, and I don't want to resort to academicism.
So I will talk into a microphone and contemplate what it means to be avant-garde, looking upon this as a sort of improvisational performance. [After the fact, I recall that my friend Ron Robboy, artist in San Diego has done this sort of thing for years, especially in the late lamented literary journal Crawl Out Your Window, so I here acknowledge my sub-conscious debt to Ron in doing this. Also after the fact, in Nov. 2001, I will acknowledge that from January to May 2001, I was a full-time visiting member of the Music Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a wonderful place that has somewhat restored my faith in musical academia. However, I still don't feel any desire to write in an academic style.]
Now there's lots of historical stuff that we'll leave other people to do, about when the term avant-garde (you know, advance guard, from all that French military crap) first came from - I presume France in the late or mid 19th century (although I could be wrong...), and how it had peculiar relevance in the early 20th century, and even in the present day. However, avant-garde for whom? You know, the old Chairman Mao quote "The problem is, literature and art for whom?" from the Yenan forum talks, and so the problem is avant-garde for whom? For example, I have two friends, Frank and Leonie Osowski, who are brilliant collage artists and concrete poets [I consider their 1999 Almost Stalingrad to be a masterpiece], and who are also into the S&M and leather scenes, and they would regard themselves, probably, if they liked the term avant-garde, as being in two different avant-gardes: an artistic avant garde, and a sexual avant-garde. Someone else might find the term avant-garde to not be applicable to various forms of sexual behaviour, but Frank and Leonie might, and so, avant-garde for whom?
Let's limit the discussion for
the moment simply to the yartz (spelled tee ache eee why ae are tee zed),
and contemplate that. I'm thinking, there's also the idea of what the
avant-garde is supposed to do. For example, there's the notion that the
avant-garde comes up with advanced artistic ideas, which later get absorbed
into things like advertising, and commercial cinema and commercial novels,
and so on. This is an argument that is very comforting, if you're making
up some new stuff, but its not actually an argument that holds water too
well. I mean, in certain cases, it does indeed happen. Someone in some
artistic avant-garde movement does indeed come up with an idea which is
later absorbed by the commercial world. A good example is the expressionist
musical harmonies of Arnold Schoenberg, which were absorbed by commercial
movie music composers in the 1930s and 40s, to make murder-mystery movie
soundtracks. So there's a clear example of somebody in an avant-garde,
the Viennese musical avant-garde at the turn of the 20th century, who
then had his work absorbed and brought into a commercial sphere. However,
this doesn't always happen.
And then again, there's another phenomenon. In fact, when I began to write this as an essay, I came up with one and a half pages of prose, and stopped, and the one point that I'd like to import from that is that there are some people who couldn't even be considered part of an avant-garde, and yet are far and away in advance (whatever that means) of other thinking in their fields. So for example, let's take the case of Kenneth Vincent Gerard O'Hara, known for most of his life as Ivor Darreg. Ivor was a composer who was born in 1917, and who died in 1994 - a composer, music-theorist, instrument builder, all around good guy and crank. Ivor lived in San Diego for many years, and most people I knew in San Diego, who were legitimately members of the avant-garde, and were in fact doing very advanced work - well, if they didn't quite scorn Ivor, they certainly thought of him as a marginal and eccentric figure. And yet now, five years after Ivor's death, microtonality, his area of special interest, is, as he predicted, becoming a central area of contemporary musical thought, and his writing, for all of its crabbed and cranky [and thoroughly non-academic] style, has become absolutely invaluable. He was the first guy to go systematically through all of the octave-based equal temperaments [kinds of musical tunings different than how we tune the piano], and look at what their possibilities were. And if I were a teacher of composition today, as I am privately on occasion, and if a student of mine were interested in microtonality, I would have to have them read all of Ivor Darreg's stuff on octave-based equal temperaments. However, in his time, Ivor was regarded, even by the avant-garde, as an outsider, and I'm pretty sure that Ivor himself scorned the concept of avant-garde, and would have thought of avant-gardists, so called, as publicity seekers. And yet here's a case of someone whose work really was important.
And, I think, in fact, - I'm going to put a parenthesis in here - I think, I'm going to try to read Nicholas's mind for a moment. I think he asked me to write this article because he felt that certain people were saying "There is no more avant-garde, look at people like Laurie Anderson, she's now doing commercial TV, and therefore the avant-garde is dead. Because anyone who was avant-garde has now been absorbed by commercial culture." Or some sort of flimsy lightweight concept like that. Nicholas does seem to get annoyed continually by people who have sloppy thinking, and then wants people to write serious articles refuting the sloppy thinking, and I guess that's why I got suckered into sitting by this beautiful lake for 45 minutes, no more, and talking about this problem.
Anyway, to go back to Ivor. I think, there is a phenomenon of the radical militant outsider. Charles Ives [American composer, 1874-1954], for example, was a self-made radical militant outsider, and Ivor Darreg was a radically militant outsider, and they don't even fit into the avant-garde [which in one sense, seems much like any other social group or club], and yet I think they're precisely the sort of people that the term avant-garde was first coined to actually deal with.
In my work in Melbourne, I'm meeting a lot of young people who are between the ages of 22 and 30, and they're doing some pretty amazing music now with cheap electronics - very noiseband based work, a lot of use of cheap technology and distortion. And although some of that, in sound, sounds like what we [Ron Nagorcka, Chris Mann, Ernie Althoff and myself to get specific] were doing in the early 1970s, their attitude is different, and the way they're approaching it is different, than what we were doing. There is a kind of music, techno-music, and its related forms, that is supposed to be the avant-garde now - all the commercial sources will tell you that this is the leading edge, the cutting edge of what's happening, and all these young people that I know [some names - Eamon Sprod, Catherine Fanner, Edward Kelley, Andrew Barrie, Tim Neumann, just to name five], are rejects from that scene. They were too weird to survive in that scene. They are, to my mind, the radical militant outsiders who are rigorously pursuing their ideas, and can't find a scene to go along with. They've actually found each other, and are making music together sometimes, but the minuscule audiences they're attracting, etc. etc. really point to them being a small group of outsider individualists, as opposed to a mass movement, such as the whole techno-club scene. [And please note - these are my friends, and I wouldn't want to do them the disservice of promoting them as the next big thing or as a school or a movement of any kind. I simply name them as examples of the phenomenon I'm concerned with here.]
They also say they're getting really sick of the live concert, and yet they aren't rich enough to be able to afford, or aren't academicised enough to be able to easily afford to be part of the wonderful international cyber-space culture, (and please note that all those words are said dripping with sarcasm - if there was a way to show words drippping with sarcasm, those would be it) a wonderful culture for the rich, or for those who can academicise themselves, or attach themselves to an institution [in 1999 in Australia, access to this culture is still more expensive than it is in the USA, by the way, (this is, I think, essential info for American readers, for whom access to the cyber-culture is much easier, at this point in time)]. But these young people I'm talking about keep doing their own work, even if it is with second-hand synthesizers and borrowed modems.
So my idea of what it means to be avant-garde - and I don't like the term, because it's militaristic, "advance guard" - but like I say, I prefer to think about these radical militant outsiders who have to do their own thing. It's not like they want to, they have to - they're drawn by curiosity to look deeply at the roots of things and try to investigate what those roots are. And from that deep looking at things, and that not accepting things the way they are, they come up with some sort of work which on its surface, may be noisy or pretty or whatever, but which comes from a deeply considered investigation of both society and their place in it, what their art is, what they want to do with it, or maybe something they just really need to do, and they don't even know why.
[The problem with the notion of avant-garde is that it needs an outside commentator, a critic, to say who's in and who's not. And the problem is worse if it's the artists themselves determining this - just look at the debacle of surrealists being thrown out of the movement with great regularity. My central point here is that whether or not SOME critics declare the notion of the avant-garde dead or not, there will always be those who don't fit the definitions, who will be outside even a marginalised avant-garde, who will be contributing original ideas, or at least original takes ON ideas. As long as people organize themselves in groups, there will always be outsiders. And THOSE folks, who I'm calling the "radical militant outsiders" are the ones that keep the necessity for such a concept as avant-garde alive.]
These gardens are rather beautiful. There's a duck, over on a pile of greenery, craning its head, looking for something - actually looking inside flowers - and now it's tootled down into a deeper bit of the bush. And there's moorhens, or swamphens all over the place, and willy-wag-tails singing along. I haven't seen them here before. Ooh! There's a swamphen that just cried loudly - crying away. I've been to these gardens a number of times in the past couple of weeks. This is Wednesday, 17 November 1999. On Friday, we're installing a sound installation of mine here along with installations by four other people - Steve Adam, Ros Bandt, Brigid Burke and Rainer Linz - and the installations will be here for a week. It's all part of a thing called Recent Ruins, which was concocted by Julia Ryder, who's a cellist and an events organizer. Her idea was something to do with Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities. I read the book and found it incredibly beautiful. I guess she thinks that having sound installations in a place like this will establish some of these imaginary, impossible, invisible cities. In my case, though, I really tried to do something which has been part of an environmental artistic avant-garde, if you will, for the past few years, which tries to really get to the essence of the spirit of a place. And so I went to the gardens, and I sat in the place where my installation was going to be for many hours just trying to find what other sounds would go well with that place. I didn't want to just record the sounds and play them back. I didn't want to do a Sonic Mirror, as it were - my friend David Dunn does those elegantly - but that's not what I wanted to do for this thing.
Because the gardens are so impressionist, I thought I might, at first, write some music that would be like what an impressionist composer would write today, if they had access to technology and were doing an installation. But when I got here, I thought the more appropriate thing was to compose en plein air, on site, just like an impressionist painter would paint en plein air. And so I brought my laptop - technology has advanced to the point where I can bring my laptop to a place, set it up, start composing, and hear if the sounds actually work in that environment. I noticed when I was on the island in the ornamental lake, where my installation will be, that there were a lot of swamphens and ducks, and they kept walking up to you and having a look. If they liked what you were doing, or were neutral about it, they simply walked up to you, curious, or ignored you and walked past you. If they didn't like what you were doing, they split. I figured that since I was sort of like a sonic architect, that I really should be a little sensitive to the needs of the clients. This should be "client-sensitive sonic architecture." After all, the little island with the Summer House on it, reached only by a single lane wrought iron footbridge, is their territory - the ducks and the swamphens - they live here, they have their nests all around it, the little swamphenlets and ducklings are swimming all around with them, and I don't want to make sounds that scare them. At the same time, I realized that there was a pump house fairly close to the island, so I realized I had to make sounds to mostly cover that up, to establish the Summer House as its own identity as well as its identity as part of the sonic landscape of the gardens. Yet there would have to be holes - silences - in what I did, so that pump house would indeed come through occasionally, so you would be aware of where you were. [I want a sense of both isolated sonic fantasy, and a recognition of the real nature of the sonic environment in which you were placed.] You know, the old question - "Who are you, and on whose ground do you stand?" Well, I'm standing on swamphen and duck ground, and so I really had to respond to that. So I did. I made various sounds which combine in various ways.
There are two compact disks which will play on random shuffle play, so the tracks will be in random order - this is maybe an example of avant-garde thinking, although one can say that randomness has been being dealt with in the arts for at least 70 years, so maybe its not - I'll come back to that in a moment, in fact. The two CDs will play on random shuffle play, so the order of the tracks is scrambled, and a lot of the tracks are silence, so there is a lot of space for the sounds of the environment to come in. Looked at on their own, when I was listening to them in my flat, I thought the overall effect was fairly saccharine, but realised that they are to be played in a specific environment, and today, when I brought my laptop and a little portable battery powered loudspeaker, I played the sounds in the ornamental observation tower here, and walked to the base of the little hill-let that the observation tower is on, and sure enough, they're very soft and they fit well within the environment. So I made a piece that was not to be listened to on its own, but was to be listened to in a specific place, which was site-specific.
Let's go back to random, and deal with random in the 20th century. Ooh - here's mama swamphen, and a baby swamphenlet, and they're- the cutest thing - the little swamphenlet swam up to the mama, and they exchanged some stuff with their beaks, I guess bits of food, or picking lice off each other's beaks, or giving each other a little kiss, or whatever, who am I to read a swamphen's mind? - only musically, not in terms of interpersonal relationships - or, if you will, interswamphenal relationships.
So, let's go back to random.
You know, early in the century, people like Marcel Duchamp and Hans Arp
did collages made according to the laws of chance. Then, of course, the
big ones in the mid-20th century were John Cage with his use of the I-Ching
[as a number generator to determine aspects of his music], and Iannis
Xenakis with his use of probability distributions and so on. Just recently,
I've been working with John Dunn, a composer and software designer from
Texas. John was writing a program called Softstep [http://algoart.com]
for algorithmic composition, that is, composition using both deterministic
and chance-based rules for controlling various aspects of sound, whether
pitch, rhythm, tone-colour, whatever. I had used John's DOS based programs,
Kinetic Music Machine, and Kinetic Art Machine, for years, and was very
excited that he was porting his work over to a Windows environment. So
I got in touch with him, and we began corresponding back and forth. Pretty
soon I became a beta-tester on the program, and pretty soon after that,
a consultant, helping to develop parts of the program [though the vast
bulk of the program is his], and I'm very happy to say that some things
that I've been working on for
While we were designing this, the thought occurred to me, which I'd also had a few years ago, that the use of chance, randomness, and rule-based thinking has actually gone to another stage of development beyond what Cage and Xenakis were dealing with in the 1950s. To use a music history analogy, they were like the Mannheim school of classical composers from the 1740s, who were working out the first ideas of classical form, and then mid-18th century and later people like C. P. E. Bach, Carl Dittersdorf, Joseph Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, and so on, developed these ideas to a point of real complication. The ways that we're using random ideas these days are indeed at that second level of sophistication.
It's not just enough these days to use random numbers to generate something. Of course, it IS still enough to use random numbers to generate something, but at least in my thinking, where I'm at - you know, the swamphens -look at that- the swamphens really chase the ducks around like crazy, they're really on top of the pecking order here. I've just noticed that. Quite amazing. WOW! There's a fish or something that's biting the ducks! What's going on here? There's some sort of a fish that's terrorising the ducks. It comes up and the ducks leap! Maybe it's a particularly aggressive carp. That's a good name for a string quartet - "The Particularly Aggressive Carp", for string quartet, a piece in seven short sharp movements, and two duck feet. And there's a duck that has just landed in a tree. This is getting to be a pretty avant-garde garden itself. In fact, that fish keeps leaping out of the water. Or is it? Is it a duck swimming underwater that's leaping?
Anyway, let's go back to randomness and levels of sophistication. At least for myself - I mean occasionally, I'll still do it, but - it's really not enough just to apply random numbers to something and listen. That was a first level. And maybe a second level was to choose your ranges very carefully. You know, random numbers applied to, say, one of my bete noires, a diatonic scale, a C Major scale between C just below the treble clef and G on top of the treble clef. This is going to make a pretty melody no matter what you do, and that's why I think it's suspect. [The perceptual strength of the structure - the C Major scale, overshadows any kind of detailed structuring done with it.] It's too easy, and you always get beautiful results. But to continue, that's like a first-and-a-half stage. First you use random numbers, then you control the ranges of the materials the random numbers are applied to. Now the next stage, where we're at now, is that you actually get a flavour for the kinds of randomness. What are the weightings, what are the qualities of the particular process you're using? For example, using a One-Dimensional Chaos Game algorithm, you can get various things which repeat in various ways, which also leap about. So you get the same kind of contour, that is heard at various places, at various pitch levels, if you're applying it to pitch, for example. If you were applying it to visual gestures, you'd get similar visual gestures that would appear in various places. And all the interest in deterministic chaos, where there is no randomness involved, but the processes are so complicated you can't predict what the output is, and all the interests in other sorts of chaotic processes, are all about kinds of non-predictable processes that each have their own flavour, each have their own character. One can get infinitely subtle with the exploration of these kinds of flavours of randomness.
When I'm composing now with these things, I actually try to get a feeling, an intuitive feeling, for what the flavour of that particular process will produce. When I have that, I know I can use it. For example, I've been working with probability distributions for a number of years, and now when I'm composing I go, "Ah yes, but I think I'd like just a few longer durations in here, and one or two very short durations, amid all these medium length things, and the proportions should be such-and-such", and intuitively now, I can feel that that's going to produce a musical result I want. That's after many years of working with this stuff. And that's the sort of subtlety of dealing with these random processes that I think we've now reached. The delightful thing about Softstep is that there are now so many kinds of random number, chaotic, deterministic, and fractal algorithms (algorithms are simply a set of rules, or a process), in the program, and they all can be used to control any aspect of any sonic or visual process. You could use it, for example, with a lighting board that accepted MIDI signals (MIDI is just a computer communications standard), and use it to control lighting, so that patterns of light in a studio or a theatre would be happening as a result of these processes, and not as a result of your immediate moment-to-moment decisions.
There's always a downside to everything, of course, though. This sort of systems thinking is exactly the sort of codswallops that the international finance demons are using in globalization to drive people out of work and find the cheapest labour possible, and basically restructure the global economy for their advantage. I did have an irreverent thought this morning, which was if globalization means seeking the cheapest source of labour for any particular job, from a global labour marketplace - if we in country X don't like what the politicians are doing, can we get cheaper politicians from country Y to make decisions for us? Does this globalization and out-sourcing apply in a bottom-up as well as a top-down way?
Anyway, I do like this idea of
systems thinking and global thinking when it's applied to works of art.
When it's applied to my wallet, unless my wallet is being replenished
from selling those works of art, I don't like it. I do want people to
be very aware of their local environment and to be able to make a living
locally, making local things for themselves, to produce and consume, etc.
Local cultures have a lot to recommend them, while, like Ivan Illich,
I don't want to give up the ability to fly from, say, Melbourne to New
York on a jet.
There's a mother duck with one duckling. There was a family of three ducklings with their mother that came the other day to the little Summer House where my installation will be, and I'm only seeing families with two ducklings now. One of those ducklings looked like a runt that was always falling over its own feet, but in fact, one of the families now with two ducklings has a little runt duckling that's always falling over its own feet, so it looked like the runt survived, if that family of two is indeed the former family of three. Maybe an eagle got hungry and had duckling for lunch. Or a hawk, who occasionally do live in this city.
So this concept of radical militant outsider may be of more concern and interest to me than any fashion writer determined avant-garde - and I would put Clement Greenberg in the class of a fashion writer, for the purposes of this argument - in other words, if you let someone tell you what to do, then you're letting them be a fashion writer. Composer Ian MacDonald, who now lives in Wagga, New South Wales, and who used to live in Adelaide for many years, told me that in the early 1970s there was a very interesting experimental music scene in Adelaide, which disappeared when our mutual good-friend, the British composer Tristram Cary moved to Adelaide in the mid-1970s, because he did not express absolutely glowing approval of everything these experimental musicians in Adelaide were doing, and as a result, many of them just stopped what they were doing. I replied to him that this was indeed an example of colonialism, an example of self-imposed colonialism, in that the guys in Adelaide had chosen, when Tristram said he didn't like their stuff, to stop doing it. They gave him power over them. Colonialism is a two-edged sword, domination is a two-edged sword. Not only does someone act in a dominating manner, but other people choose to accept that domination. Now, if someone's coming at me with a club, and I know I can't defend myself against the club, I will probably just say, "Yes, sir! Anything you like, sir!" and just get out of his way. On the other hand, in a cultural matter, it seems to make no sense to me to kowtow. What's he going to do? "I don't like your work." "Fine, don't listen to it!" End of the story, right? "I don't like your work and you can't come to my university!" "Fine, I'll study outside of it, and go and start one of my own!" Why people give others power in those circumstances strikes me as faintly ridiculous. And the reputation of any academic institution, or any academic within it strikes me, in a blanket manner, as faintly ridiculous. You know, "Show me your work. What have you got to say? If you're just a teacher, and a mediocre one at that, who cares? You doing something brilliant? Something that really excites me? Fine. Now I'll listen." But just because someone happens to be the Gold Bottom Professor of Economic Rationalist Studies at the University of God Knows Where tells me nothing. So I'm really very bewildered about why some people give other people cultural power. If you really dig what someone else is doing, fine. Make a piece or two like that and then go off and do something of your own.
Now one of the things that the whole post-modern argument said was that the idea of originality was gone, and that henceforth, we could only recycle. I hope that this argument has been knocked on the head so many times that it's not even worth quoting anymore. Certainly what my 25 year old friends are doing is pretty original. Like Moses going up to the edge of the holy land, in some of my works in the late 1970s, such as Tasmanian "D", I approached a particular level of all noise-based work, and I didn't go any farther than that. It's now delightful to see people going farther than that - taking that idea and going farther with it [which certainly wasn't the case with most young compposers I knew in the 1980s an early 1990s]. To my mind, that's originality.
It's interesting. It, again, all has to do with peoples'
ideas of oppression. I remember when I was in Canberra in 1996, speaking
to a woman who was in the visual arts world - she was a painter - and
she said that she found the idea of modernism very restricting, that she
was glad when the idea of post-modernism came along, because it meant
that she didn't have to paint like Jackson Pollock. For her, modernism
was the dogma that you had to be absolutely original, and that you had
to be absolutely original in an abstract-expressionist style, and nothing
else would be permitted. For her, post-modernism meant that she could
do other things. I replied to her that that was really interesting, because
I was finding the restrictions of post-modernism really galling, I found
post-modernism to be a whole series of restrictive "thou shalt nots"
and wanted to get beyond that one REAL fast. So we both wanted to get
away from the "thou shalt nots", but we found the "thou
shalt nots" in various different areas.
But I don't know where there's not originality. I mean, I see it around me all the time. For example, yes, the chaos equations that John Dunn has used in Softstep have been around for a long time, and as of six months ago, at Dave Strohbeen's fractal music website, there were about 30 programs listed that dealt with chaos equations to generate music, and I'd imagine that there are about 50 by now - so a lot of people are doing this stuff - but the thing I like about Dunn's stuff is that it's so non-specific. It just cranks out numbers, and you can use the numbers to determine, pitch, rhythm, duration, tone-colour, level of distortion, etc. in any way you like. As we all know, the mapping of the random information is as important as the information itself. How you use it is as important as what it is. But Dunn's stuff does seem to me to be wonderfully non-specific and open-ended and leaves room for lots of things to happen. In a sense, it's thinking that's been going on in music and art systems since the sixties and seventies, designing equipment to be as open-ended as possible, to leave room for people to make their own discoveries as much as possible.
This also relates to that absolute genius of a teacher, Al Wunder, who teaches improvised movement theatre in Melbourne. He teaches these workshops that are just phenomenally liberating and empowering, and he does it by not teaching. Speaking with him the other day, he said that what he's trying to do is set up processes by which people become their own teachers, discovering what their own strengths are, using those in a non-judgmental, developmental way, to find what they really do want to do, and how they want to do it.
There seems to be a thread here, where things are tying together. Al is using a process to give people as much freedom as possible to discover things they want to do, and tools with which to do it. John Dunn, in this program, is trying to give people a set of tools which are as open-ended as possible, to give people freedom and latitude to make their own discoveries. A number of people seem to be doing this in different fields. What Cage's work was about was setting up processes of discovery of, as he said, "self-alteration rather than self-expression." These days I would probably say self-alteration as well as self-expression, or even go so far as to say self-alteration as one form of self-expression. But let's not split hairs, or rabbits, too finely either.
So across these various disciplines, the idea of giving people freedom and tools to explore that freedom - that seems to be one thing that being quote- avant-garde - unquote- is about today. It may not be what avant-garde-ness, or radical militant outside-ness is about in 10 or 15 years. But certainly, at the turn of the 21st century, I find that to be an extremely valid and relevant and challenging place to be. It seems to me urgent work that needs doing.
Lots of golden carp in the pond. The ducks seem to be dabbling away. An airplane's flying overhead. The swamphens seem to have split. There's a few cormorants about, but not the swamphens, maybe they've gone over to the other side of the little ornamental lake. No, down the far end of the lake, I see a swamphen or three, but certainly this end of the lake is experiencing TDD - temporary duck domination. What might have been terrorising those ducks is a cormorant. I can see a cormorant swimming under the water here, and then coming up occasionally. Maybe there was a frisky cormorant attacking the ducks. "The Frisky Cormorant" - that's not a title for a string quartet, that's more like a piano trio. "The Frisky Cormorant", for piano trio - yeah, that will do. Or maybe "The Frisky Cormorant" is an interactive multimedia CD-ROM piece. There's a rather loud complaint from a swamphen. They do seem to have very few inhibitions about expressing their inner need for conceptual space.
So, 45 minutes out of an afternoon, dealing with waterfowl and artistic concepts. Of course, since this is intended for an academic publication, and those sorts of things are notoriously slow in being published, god knows when it will see print. [And, as I stated in the introduction, the proposed academic publication never did happen...] Sometime around 2005, maybe someone will read this as an historical record of what some lunatic said next to a pond in 1999, and it might have some relevance and usefulness for them then, either as historical research, or as that snap of recognition - "Oh, yeah, that's what we're interested in, too." Good luck to you, whoever you are. Blessings be upon you.
(November 2001 Introduction: In January 1999, Nicholas
Zurbrugg asked me to write an essay on the above topic, intended for a
forthcoming anthology of his. I responded in November 1999 with the writing
that follows. Since the essay was intended to be published in the context
of literary criticism, I was careful in defining musical terms that might
not be commonly understood in such a context. Then, as these things go,
Nicholas's plans for the anthology changed, and my essay was left without
a home. When I visited Nicholas in Leicester, England in June 2001, we
discussed this, and he said that he liked the essay, but that as his anthology
plans had changed, I should probably try to publish it somewhere else.
I agreed to this. Then, in mid-October 2001 came the awful news that Nicholas
had suddenly passed away from a brain aneurysm. I was extremely depressed
by this, as Nicholas had been a very good and close friend. I would like,
therefore, to dedicate this essay to his memory.)
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Darreg, Ivor. "Xenharmonic Bulletin No. 12" (1992) in Chalmers, John, ed. Xenharmonikon 14, Spring 1993, dist. by Frog Peak Music, Hanover, NH. USA
Duchamp, Marcel, Erratum Musicale, realization, Juan Hidalgo, 1975 Cramps Records, Milan, Italy
Dunn, David. Music, Language and Environment: Environmental Sound Works by David Dunn, 1973-85, 1996, Innova Recordings no. 508, St. Paul, MN. USA
Dunn, John. Softstep (music composition software) 1999, Algorithmic Arts, Ft. Worth, TX. USA (http://algoart.com)
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One Dimensional Chaos Game - in Peak, David & Frame, Michael, Chaos Under Control, 1994, W. H. Freeman & Co, New York NY. USA, pp. 19-24
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Strohbeen, Dave. "Fractal Music Website." (http://www.fractalmusiclab.com) in Burt, Warren, "A Happy Glut of Windows Music Shareware and Software" in Chroma 24, 1999, Australasian Computer Music Association, Melbourne, Vic. Australia. ( As of November 2001, the Fractal Music Website still exists, and is a superb source of information on the use of fractals in music, and has dozens of links to software using and writings about randomness, fractals, and mathematics of all sorts in music.)
Xenakis, Iannis Formalized Music 1992 Pendragon Press,
Stuyvesant, NY. USA