Here are some addenda to my Morton Feldman essay, which appeared in The New Yorker last week. I'm thrilled to see that New Albion's Rothko Chapel is at #8 on the iTunes Store classical bestseller list (where it's only $3.99 for the album), and has reached #400 on the overall Amazon list, between What's the Story Morning Glory and The Best of Sade.
The three books from which I drew quotations are Walter Zimmermann's Morton Feldman Essays, B. H. Friedman's Give My Regards to Eighth Street, and Chris Villars's new Morton Feldman Says. The Friedman is a superb primer in Feldman's thought and wit; the Villars is comprehensive. The beautiful Zimmermann volume, in which you can read Feldman's utterances on the subject of the Holocaust (originally included in Ensemble Musica Negativa's Music Before Revolution LP set), can be obtained from German sites, and, for a cool $150, from Moe's in Berkeley. There is also excellent commentary in Steven Johnson's The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts. Kyle Gann's incisive Feldman essays can be found in his instantly indispensable Voice collection Music Downtown.
What CDs to get? Many people first fall for Piano and String Quartet, which Aki Takahashi and the Kronos Quartet recorded for Nonesuch. Rothko Chapel, one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century, is another obvious place to start; the New Albion CD is the best I've heard, though I also remain fond of the old Gregg Smith Singers Columbia LP. Takahashi's Feldman recital on Mode is also absolutely superb. Unfortunately, many pioneering hat(now)ART Feldman recordings are no longer available, but Mode has taken up the slack; you can't go wrong with any of their nine Feldmans to date. The S. E. M. Ensemble's extraordinary rendition of For Philip Guston can be heard on Dog w/a Bone; the four-CD set runs a very reasonable $44.
The entire discography stretches into hundreds of LPs and CDs. A few others that I've treasured: an edition RZ disc collecting interpretations by David Tudor, Eberhard Blum, Cornelius Cardew, and Feldman himself (what a rich tone he obtains from the piano); Le Bureau des Pianistes playing piano music for "more than two hands," up to five pianos (Sub Rosa); John Adams leading Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety (Nonesuch); Joan La Barbara's classic version of Three Voices (New Albion); Yasushi Toyoshima and Aki Takahashi playing For John Cage (ALM); the Barton Workshop meticulously delivering the Projection, Intersection, Durations, and Vertical Thoughts pieces (Etcetera); and John Tilbury's rapt four-CD set of the complete piano music (LondonHALL).
The Internet is well stocked with Feldman material. Your headquarters will be Villars's Morton Feldman Page, which has a huge selection of essays and interviews, photo pages, a couple of musical samples and audio clips, a fastidious Feldman discography, and so on. You can also see some wonderful photos at SUNY Buffalo's Feldman page, which also has scans of documents from the archive there. Most of Feldman's papers are at the Sacher collection in Basel, which has nichts on the Internet. Ubuweb has archival recordings in MP3 form, including the bewitching Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety. Ubu also has a 1967 conversation between Feldman and Cage, which is sheer music in itself. Other Minds has a one-on-one interview with Feldman from the same year.
At the end of the piece, I relate an astounding Feldman anecdote told by the composer Alvin Curran. That story inspired Curran to create the sound installation Floor Plans / Notes from Underground, in which "a continuous mix of millions of singing human voices" comes up from the ground. I'm grateful to Raphael Mostel for pointing me toward Curran's story; he mentioned it in a 1996 piece, which is very much worth reading for its musings on Feldman's Jewishness. A shout-out also to Dave Grubbs, from whom I got the "too fuckin' loud and too fuckin' fast" item. David McIntire tells me that the incident took place at Eastman in 1985 or 1986. (Notice, by the way, the 80s indie-rock / Feldman nexus: Grubbs played in Squirrel Bait and Bastro, while Damon Krukowski, whose Exact Change press published Give My Regards, was in Galaxie 500.)
The image at the top of the post is from the old Time LP of works by Feldman and Earle Brown. When Franz Kline does your cover art, you know you are bound for glory.