In 1967, Cage and Lejaren Hiller began collaborating upon a groundbreaking project which seems especially remarkable today, given the state of then-current technology. Having recognized in Cage an affinity for computer-mediated compositional processes, Hiller invited him to make use of the facilities of the University of Illinois at Urbana for the purpose of creating a new work. On the surface, theirs must have seemed an odd partnership: the mystic, radically intuitive avant-gardiste working alongside a mainframe-era technogeek. But the pairing does not seem so strange in retrospect. That very dichotomy is what characterizes the contemporary hacker ethic: a kickass disregard for social convention coupled to consuming fascination with technology. Whatever their differences in style, Cage and Hiller were pioneers together in what has become a significant component of the cultural landscape: the result of their collaboration, entitled HPSCHD, is a progenitor of the current generation of computer-assisted composition tools.
The Joy of Sex for Heavy Metal Tuba and Karaoke System, along with its companion piece The Joy of Cooking for solo contrabass, comprise Canzoni d'Amore, commissioned in 1994 by tubist Jay Rozen in honor of the birthday of his wife, bassist Michele Zwiersky. Performers are given considerable latitude in their interpretation of the work. The two movements may be performed separately or simultaneously, and with or without theatrical embellishment. But whatever the players choose to do, one rule must remain inviolate: play the work like you mean it.
The karaoke system required for The Joy of Sex can be anything form separate components (cassette deck, microphone with preamp, mixer, power amp and speakers) to a single integrated unit. The Heavy Metal Tuba setup can also be as simple or elaborate as desired, utilizing amplification, effects, pedals, and all manner of sonic manipulation. In the swiftly flowing currents of modern music, the era of the Guitar God is already ancient history. Long live the Age of the Tuba God!
The work divides into three sections: the first, an abstract depiction of the violence of the attack; the second, an elegiac hymn in memory of its victims; and the third, a life-affirming chant of defiance, and a call to justice.
The score is dedicated to the memory of all victims of hate, and is inscribed with the following passage from the Book of Psalms (9:13): "The avenger of bloodshed remembers them; he does not forget the cry of the humble."
"The Après-Garde invites all composers to submit contemporary classical holiday music to be performed in December. Pieces should include any degree of improvisation and alternative notation (including graphic and/or prose elements), and they should be inspired by the holiday/winter season (which isn't to say necessarily Christmas). Submissions should be for open instrumentation, meaning any combination of 2-6 instruments. Pieces may also include parts for competent but not professional voice (baritone)."
In an attempt to meet the requirements of this performance opportunity while exerting the least possible creative energy, I decided to appropriate the chord progression of The Christmas Song by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé (secure in the knowledge that chord progressions are not protected by copyright), superimpose a melody of my feeble invention, and steal every word of the lyrics, but rearrange their order. The result is an insult to the American Songbook, a travesty which, in spite of its elemental lack of originality, is original. How's that for your late-capitalist postmodern paradox?
--Annalisa Quinn, The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2017
About the music:
In a striking stylistic departure, Chopin abandons the lithe melodiousness that characterizes his pre-mortem work, and gives vent to a primal, even brutish, mode of expression, an astonishing transformation in a composer who has been dead for 168 years. Although the work's rhythmic energy is akin in spirit (pardon the pun) to that of his Tarantelle in A-flat major, op. 43, the harmonic language is radically more complex. The late Ms. Brown put forth an uncharitable assessment of the composer's newfound harmonic vocabulary, suggesting that, in her words, "Fred is really starting to lose it after so many years as a stiff." Nevertheless, it is heartening to observe that at this stage of his career, Chopin continues to grow as an artist, long after his bloated, pericarditis-ravaged heart was torn from his lifeless chest and consigned to bob in a fetid pool of preservative for centuries to come, and his tuberculosis-blighted corpse rotted into oozing filth. Ars longa, mors in sempiternum.
The work belongs to a peculiar sub-genre of 20th century American chamber orchestra composition (including Aaron Copland's Quiet city and Charles Ives's The unanswered question) in which solo trumpet gives voice to a quintessential solitary human Self adrift in an unknowable cosmos. There are qualities inherent in the instrument, characteristics that defy simple description (unsentimental pathos? self- conscious bravado?), that suit it to that role and its attendant evocations of loneliness, terror and awe. Like the above-mentioned works, On Clearwater Mountain is a tone poem without an explicit program, a narrative-less meditation. It charts a psychological journey towards some elevated locus in the geography of the soul where mystery is embraced, and where the limits of understanding are confronted and humbly, even ecstatically, acknowledged.
Among the first composers to attempt to revive their reputation was Milton Babbitt (1916-2011). In a "spirited" conversation with Mrs. Brown, Babbitt confessed that an after-death encounter with John Cage had been revelatory, a transformational and therapeutic experience that laid bare Babbitt's monomaniacal fixation upon compositional rationalism as a neurosis he now attributes to adolescent trauma ("I was a terrible dancer in junior high school"). Declaring that he no longer gave a rat's ass about hexachords, set permutation, or pitch classes in general, he dictated a new score to Mrs. Brown based on his 1966 piano composition Post-Partitions that deliberately obscures pitch as an organizing element by being performed on prepared piano. Babbitt declared, "The delicious irony of twentieth century modernism is that the music of composers who were committed to post-Webern serialism sounded so similar to the music of their ideological opponents in the avant garde. I never could have admitted this during my lifetime, but now, like, who gives a shit?"
When asked if he was still in touch with John Cage, Babbitt replied that communication with Cage ended after the latter's banishment to the Buddhist Realm of Hungry Ghosts for his distorted and self-serving appropriation of Zen philosophy.
If M. Quittard were alive to today, I'd show him what "laborious and puerile" really means: Sacre bleu! is a note-for-note MIDI transcription of the final section of the score, the Danse sacrale (L'Élue), with each pitch mapped to a socially inappropriate but legal public domain audio sample. While not exactly a sacrificial dance of the chosen virgin, the work manages to capture the gentle, wistful, and romantic charm of Mother Russia.