Part of the Rest Is Noise Audio Guide
Panamint Valley, California. Photograph by Alex Ross.
Note: The first page number is for the hardback edition, the second number is for the paperback.
In the nineteen-sixties, the avant-garde went pop. The Beatles, the biggest phenomenon in pop-music history, started out as a straight-ahead rock band, but, in their later years, they absorbed ideas from composers such as Cage, Xenakis, and Stockhausen (fifth from left in the top row on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's), not to mention Jean Sibelius (see pp. 473-74 / pp. 515-16 of The Rest is Noise):
From "A Day in the Life" (Sgt. Pepper's) and "Revolution 9" (The White Album).
Compare Xenakis's Metastasis:
Hans Rosbaud conducting the Southwest Radio Symphony at the Donaueschingen Musiktage, Oct. 16, 1955 (world premiere); col legno AU-031800.
Composers who came of age in the fifties and sixties grew up with American popular music, especially bebop, R&B, and early rock 'n' roll, and absorbed ideas in turn. The composers who later became minimalists were often attracted to music that became fixed on one or two chords or on a droning tone while voices and instruments traced patterns in the air. Here are some sounds that were ringing in the ears of the young Steve Reich:
Miles Davis, "So What"; John Coltrane, "Africa"; Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues."
WEST COAST MUSIC
American composers resident on the West Coast have long followed their own path. The story of that maverick anti-European tradition, which reaches its climax with the phenomenon of minimalism in the 1960s, properly begins with experimental pieces by Henry Cowell (pp. 478-79 / pp. 521-22) from the second and third decades of the century. You can hear excerpts from his early piano works at Smithsonian Folkways and also at Art of the States. Folkways also has various recordings of world music that Cowell produced or co-produced. Here are excerpts from The Tides of Manaunaun, with its dense "cluster" chords, and Aeolian Harp and Sinister Resonance, where the player strums and plucks the strings of the piano:
Harry Partch, the legendary "hobo composer," is richly documented online. Visit the Corporeal Meadows site, the Partch Information Center, and the American Mavericks Partch page. Kyle Gann does the math on just intonation, the tuning system that underlies Partch's music. Here is Partch singing By the Waters of Babylon and accompanying himself on Adapted Viola (p. 481 / pp. 523-24):
From Harry Partch: Enclosure 2, Historic Speech-Music Recordings, Innova 401 (via PromoNet).
Art of the States offers selections from the blissfully otherworldly music of Lou Harrison (pp. 482-83 / p. 525). Other Minds has a recording of Harrison's Chaconne. Much more about the same composer can be found at the Harrison Documentary site: clips of interviews with those who knew him, photos of the straw-bale studio that Harrison built on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. The University of California, Santa Cruz holds the Harrison Archive; American Mavericks has an interview with him. Here is Concerto in Slendro, which adapts the five-note slendro scale of Indonesian gamelan music:
Barry Jekowsky conducting the California Symphony, with Maria Bachmann, violin; Decca 455590.
In this tape from the Other Minds Archive, Lou Harrison discusses his love of the gamelan: