SOURCE, Issues Number One, Two, and Three. Edited by Larry Austin. (Davis, California: Composer/Performer Edition)
Source is a twice-yearly publication of music of the avant-garde. It is a 13½- by 10¾-inch, spiral-bound loose-leaf selection of new scores and articles about avant-garde (“the growing edge”) music. By its nature, it is a contradiction, since the source of New Music is agreed to be sound itself, and much of it has no score and is, in fact, unscoreable.
In the first issue composer Robert Ashley says: “We have to change our language in order to use the paper.” Source is, in a phrase, the new language of scoring. In one word, the new language seems to be the arrow: there are arrows all over the place, along with dots in strings, rings, and constellations, graphs, words (only), colored spatters (“The bass player must follow the turquoise-blue.”), thickets of little numbers, and many instructions to the effect “either-or” and “all or none.” Source’s definition of a score thus has to be wide: “To us it is transcribed information about the composer’s music-making process,” and it takes the form of photographic essays as well as tape-recorded discussions and diaries - and “scores.”
“Process” is the key here: a score is a process, not an object; thought itself, not the results of thought. Much of the music published here is, in fact, the act of gesture - ritual theater, celebration, protest - in which the actions of the performers are suggested, not the sounds they are to make, much like a playscript consisting entirely of stage directions without dialogue. Often the sounds produced are incidental, sometimes nonexistent, as in John Cage’s 4’33” (the autograph score of which is reproduced in Source number two): six pages of silence, which in score form is a philosophical statement, and in performance becomes a purely theatrical gesture (not entirely nihilistic, since the performance usually is a sound-producing event: it leads to the audience’s becoming aware of itself as a sound [cough] producing mechanism).
This kind of gesture-music, or sound theater, leads to some odd and agonized scoring. For instance, Larry Austin’s The Maze (the first score in the first issue) contains the percussion notation: “Leave axe in stump and walk stiffly to Wd 4 as if in daze. Arrive by 0.9.” There is a great deal of pedestrian activity in this piece, always carefully notated as “slowly, defiantly,” or “briskly and stealthily,” and, clearly, anyone who wants to walk briskly and stealthily has to work at it. Stanley Lunetta’s piano score directs the pianist to “restrict the dynamic to triple-forte” at a point when no sound is issuing from the piano at all. “Turn this page in anger” is another direction, and, at the end, the pianist finds he is playing one note with all ten fingers, “passionately.” Playing one note with ten fingers is the general effect of much of this music - a great deal of it devoted to nothing more than burning bridges behind and, in general, baiting the bourgeois. One of the bridges most often set afire is time - linearity, sequence, the basic condition of previous music.
The idea of music as space, and not time - as mass, not linearity - permeates many of these scores and in performance results in an avalanche of noise, or an avalanche of tedium, or both. (In spite of Marshall McLuhan’s Dictums [linearity is out, simultaneity is in] I have found that experienced audiences will produce newspapers, magazines, and books after about ten minutes of one of these spatial experiences and settle down in the din to quiet, linear reading.) The struggle, then, is to fill the space, not - as in Olde Musick - to spend the time, and this can result in quite an accumulation of stage properties, not all of which appear in the score. The score for The Maze represents but one-tenth of the work - the percussion part. This tenth involves: cymbals, chimes, celeste, toy pianos, triangles, goat bells, cowbells (seventeen tuned), vibraphone, bells, glockenspiel, saw, sleighbells, tambourine, wind chimes, washboard, brake drum, steel pipes and barrel, garbage can cover, coil, marimba, chair, tree stump with axe, temple blocks, xylophone, tam-tams, piano soundingboard, sticks, guiros, salad bowls, claves, castanets, wood blocks, large crate, bongos, tom-toms, conga drum, bass drum, timpanos, glass pane (with hammer), crystal glasses (tuned from fa to mi), electronic piano, bottles, music boxes, and player piano. Not notated are six channels of taped sound, projections (slides and films), a dancer and various pinball machines. Obviously, the medium here is inadequate to the message.
Other composers find that they can get it all into the medium of the score. Harry Partch’s Petaluma pieces are completely notated in Source number two, and you can - if you have an agile ear - follow the score while listening to the CRI recording of this work (one of the few LPs available of any Source pieces). The problem here, however, is that the score is unperformable on any but Partch’s own forty-three-tone-to-the-octave instruments; thus a completely realizable score would have to include several truckloads of Cloud-Chamber Bowls and Mazda Marimbas. This leads me to finish the quotation I began with: “We have to change our language in order to use the paper, or we have to change the medium and not use paper.” An example of changing the medium is Alvin Lucier’s score for his Music for Solo Performer 1965, a kit of parts: wires, electrodes, electrode paste, amplifier and filter - and an instruction manual. Although Source writes authoritatively about this piece, it cannot - being paper - publish it. Briefly, the Solo Music calls for tapping the alpha-wave current of the soloists’ brain and using it to power resonators around the hall. A degree of virtuosity is required in that alpha-waves are not easy to produce on cue; you must not think in order to produce them at all.
I happen to hold the curious belief that scores, like performances, are of only archeological interest, and these scores seem to me to be the last, agonized efforts to save a broken container for further use. The real value of Source is in revealing the thinking that goes into making new music - or, if you are still boggling at “music,” sound events: Earl Brown (in Source number one) tells what the computer really has to do with composing music. Morton Feldman (in the second issue) says things like: “Much of Beethoven… is acoustically out of control.” And, if you are irritated by Feldman’s truculence, you can be taken in by Pauline Oliveros’ charming sound-diary in the third issue. These people care about music in an original way - the way people cared about it enough to begin making it out of two rocks - and this ingenuousness and commitment come through, sometimes a bit self-consciously and aggressively, but mostly with honesty and charm. Source is itself a process: the process of thinking, programming and organizing sound as music. Sometimes it is hard to take seriously, and some of it is not meant to be, and sometimes it is hard to take, period. This is music climbing out of the pit and into the audience, and, if the musicians are armed with amplified axes, it can get uncomfortable. (I was almost impaled by a walkie-talkie antenna at the last Sonic Arts Group concert in New York.) Many of these scores are, in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s words, “just little pictures” and not very good little pictures, either. This is not to say, however, that they have no value. The score for 4’33” is a much more elegant solution to the puzzle of John Cage than pages of analysis could be.
There is a thick red line running through all these scores, in all three issues: a new romanticism. I am sure Source would refuse my subscription for using this term, but I can think of no other. But do not confuse this romanticism with the “excesses of Wagner” that burnt down Vienna. The new work is romantic in the old, forgotten, basic way: the event, not the system, is the thing. These composers want music as “magic” again. Although many of them are engaged in the current antihero mystique (fostered by Hero John Cage) their work is full of personality : grand gestures, often made in person, on stage, since so many of them perform (or, more correctly, participate in realizing) their own works. Rock music appeals to them strongly because rock is today’s romantic music: it is theatrical, ritual communion; unscored, improvised, popular. “It’s beautiful because it’s really aural magic… the music really happens… it happens with ecstasy” (from the first issue of Source). If you doubt this, witness Stockhausen’s description (from the same issue) of his feelings about music that he likes: “It’s just incredible. You get goose skin and everything. And you may cry. You fall in love… This is the first thing.” And this is the value of Source: showing us Stockhausen crying over a piece of music, falling in love with it. In this sense, Source is what is happening, and it is a pleasure to watch it happen in such a literate, lovely way.
The third issue of Source is the best: it contains the maximum of words and pictures and the widest variety of scores (from scores in four and six colors to a piece that is scored to go on for 382 years). This issue also makes clear the connection between popular and avant-garde music: it devotes itself to a study of groups, such as the ONCE group in Ann Arbor and the Sonic Arts group in New York, and the in-group discussions often read like the back-of-album statements of the more literate (or rather, wordy) rock groups - things like:
“SPACED IN Our music EMBRACES all within us SPACED IN”
“We no longer know who we are or what we do; we are embraced by all without us. ‘WITHIN US WITHOUT US.’ WE ARE ALL ONE.”
Being All One seems to be a strong need for many of these composers. “Groups are a necessity of life, an alternative to being in an institution.” (Some of these pages suggest that being in one of these groups is like being in an institution.) The Being-In insularity that this leads to is evident in this statement: “It’s rare to find a composer - at least one of our generation - writing really significant new music but not associated and interacting with a group of his peers.” The Hero Group would seem to be the Beatles because they are (or were) Innocent, and innocence is necessary if you want to start all over again from the beginning. The trappings of rock - light-shows and loud feedback - and its instrumentation - contact microphones, kilowatt amplifiers, Voice-of-the-Theatre loudspeakers, and hum - are much in evidence when these groups perform. But this is not producing Création du monde music - indeed it seems to be going the other way: the avant-garde is influencing rock in sound and form/lessness; rock is affecting the avant-garde only in the socializing force of its romanticism.
The third issue contains the only manifesto I could find - and it is relegated to the last page under “Editors’ Comment.” It is recommended as a starting point in reading Source. It is short and to the point: the New Music will be free sound-events, produced by groups, experienced rather than listened-to. The Olde Music belongs in museums (all the Lincoln Centers) and the old procedures that produced it are irrelevant and must be discarded. In summary, it sounds as bumptious as most manifestos (a polite manifesto is a contradiction), but it is really quite gentle and hopeful. Hopefulness, gentleness, and wonder are also the qualities of Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Observations (the avant-garde is not yet beyond poor puns) essay. It is the most accessible and beautiful composition in all three issues. There is not a note in it (there are a few footnotes) but it reveals the curiosity and hard-won innocence that is or should be at the beginning of all new music, as well as the technical and political hurdles (the resistance of circuits and administrators) in the way of realizing it, and the good humor and pioneer sense of “family” that help you get through.
The language of this piece, as well as much of the language in Source, may be difficult only because you may have forgotten it; it is the primer language of listening. (Can you remember when CAT did not spell cat, but was a new moon, the roof of a house, and a man with outstretched arms?) When you go back to the source, you have to leave suitcase form behind, and you are burdened again with the work of art; you will have to work your way through these process-pieces. At the growing edge, the frontier, there are no finished houses, only trees. If Source composers sometimes have difficulty in finding the forest, their efforts will enable you to rediscover the trees.
Tod Dockstader, 1968