David Tudor Symposium:
Concert Program 2:
Performed May 19, 2001

Featured performer/composers:

Ron Kuivila, electronics
Vicki Ray, piano
David Rosenboom, piano
Mark Trayle, electronics

Notes by David Rosenboom and Ron Kuivila

Untitled (1972), David Tudor

Mr. Kuivila and Mr. Trayle, electronics

David Tudor had little patience with commercial analog synthesizers, which he felt required a lot of work to produce decent sound. After considerable effort he discovered that by combining gain stages, phase shifting, and feedback, he could produce complex patterns of modulation and sounds that held a hint of vocal identity. He used this approach for a series of pieces he made in the early 1970s, culminating in Untitled and Toneburst. In John Fulleman's words, these works "were based on his ability to assert just enough control over the equipment to get through a concert."

Tudor's notation for Untitled reveals that "formant shifting" is central to the electronic network. Formant shifting is accomplished by passing a signal through high pass and low pass filters and multiplying those outputs together. The filters create a resonant frequency, establishing the pitch at which feedback forms. But the multiplication transposes sounds at that resonant frequency to zero hertz, canceling out the feedback.

In concept, Untitled required close to sixty components, too many for a live performance. So Tudor prepared source tapes of material to be played at random within the overall performance. The piece was composed in 1972 for a concert tour where it was performed concurrently with John Cage shouting out his Mesostics Re: Merce Cunningham. Cassette recordings of one of these concerts reveal Cage's voice just breaking the surface of Tudor's wall of sound. Later, Cage commented that while he was quite fond of the piece he would never perform it again, as it had left him hoarse for a month.

A Book of Music, Two Prepared Pianos (1944), John Cage

Part One
Part Two

Ms. Ray and Mr. Rosenboom, two prepared pianos

This relatively obscure and rarely heard work was written in 1944 for Robert Fitzdale and Arthur Gold.

The compositional method involves a kind of modular construction, in that phases are used, reused, recombined, and altered by means of shifting accents and rhythmic groupings, augmentation and diminution of patterns, and punctuating chords. In some cases patterns are repeated while the note durations are gradually shortened so that the patterns become faster and faster. Rhythmic and repeated-note groups are combined and sometimes set against each other using ratios from the number set {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7}.

A limited set of twenty-three pitches is used, spread over four octaves with the closest intervals tending to cluster together in the midrange of the pianos. The pitches are "prepared" according to Cage's detailed instructions. "Mutes of various materials are placed between the strings of the keys used, thus effecting transformations of the piano sounds with respect to all of their characteristics." The placement of these "mutes" is carefully specified in the score so as to produce timbral alterations, often by highlighting or damping various overtones in the piano strings.

The composition has two major movements, each with several subparts. There are four such subsections in Part One, which begins at a medium tempo, speeds up, then slows back down. Part Two is faster and more elaborate. It begins and ends with two sets of two duet sections in between which five shorter solo interludes are interposed. These interludes seem to play off each other like calls and responses, and begin with slower and more pensive parts for Piano II, to which Piano I responds with faster and more percussive, punctuating material.

The speeds or tempi of the piece cover a wide range; from very slow to lightning fast passages that sweep by like extended timbral wind. Finally, a slow gesture ends the piece, reminding us of earlier material in a kind of thoughtful coda.

Nature Pieces for Piano I, II, III, IV, and V (1951), Morton Feldman

Ms. Ray, piano

This piece, from 1951, is an example of Feldman's early work. It consists of five distinct captivating movements, all seemingly characterized by a strong, well-articulated image, though we are left to our own imaginations to construct this image.

Movement I includes slow, soft waves in pitch contour, starting low, building higher, and then moving back down again, sometimes overlapping, sometimes long, sometimes short. These are set in 5/4 time with regular motion. As the movement progresses, silences interposed between the waves grow longer and the patterns dissolve into just one or two notes. Movement II is set in 4/4 time and is made up almost entirely of long sustained chords or octaves, beginning softly and becoming quite loud at the end. The entrances of the chords are offset by grace notes to keep them from clearly landing on regular beats. Movement III is in 5/8 time and includes more pointillist material. Eighth-note patterns with long interval skips are played in a wide range of dynamics. Sometimes the patterns are repeated several times. In the midst of this, chords reminiscent of Movement II return and eventually end the movement. At one point, the meter changes to 5/4 and the dynamic of ppppp, pianississississimo is indicated on the score. Movement IV, in 3/8 time, is characterized by short, descending sixteenth-note gestures that cascade into sustained sounds, usually emphasizing the perfect-fifth interval of the notes D and A. Short, repeated figures follow and end this relatively brief movement. Movement V, the last in the set, makes one speculate that Feldman may have been paying homage to the second movement of Anton Webern's well-known Opus 27, Variations for Piano. A series of two-event figures with widely spaced pitches separated by short rests echoes Webern's formulation. However, unlike Webern, Feldman's formulation includes a number of repeated elements that are heard in an engaging rhythmic structure.

Helix 5 [for variable sound producing means] (1964), Jerry Hunt

Mr. Rosenboom, piano and auxiliary sound making devices

Most of Jerry Hunt's work centered on his own performance persona, an idiosyncratic combination of shaman, huckster, and musician best captured in Gordon Monahan's neologism, "Texercist." In the early 1960s, Hunt sent Helix 5 to David Tudor together with a proposal that he move to Stony Point in order to serve as a kind of apprentice to both Tudor and Cage. The apprenticeship never worked out. In later years, Tudor regarded this as a missed opportunity, as he had high regard for Hunt's work, which he described as "completely inscrutable."

David Rosenboom, who prepared the evening's realization, commented: "This performance is based on the written score and on information I gleaned from David Tudor, with whom I attended many of Hunt's performances. Through numerous interactions with Jerry, I learned how to decode his extremely complex instructions and detailed graphics. Though the score is for 'variable sound producing means' Hunt refers to the piano in the instructions. So I use the piano as a centerpiece and also incorporate numerous additional sound sources."

Action Piece 2, drawn from:
Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 (1960), La Monte Young
Piano Piece for David Tudor #2 (1960), La Monte Young
Piano Piece for David Tudor #3 (1960), La Monte Young

Ms. Ray and Mr. Rosenboom, actions

La Monte Young began making "event" scores in 1960. The last such piece, a realization of Fluxus artist Henry Flynt's "Work Such That No One Knows What Is Going On," dates from February 1962. Flynt, in an article on Young in this period, says, "Young's tireless efforts as an impresario brought about what amounted to a new artistic school—a school that included Cage and his associates as composer emeritus." As a participant, Flynt "felt challenged by the can-you-top-this competitiveness that focused on ideas," which would generate "perverse unfamiliarity and inexplicability (relative to one or another fine art) that served as the gesture's launch pad."

In Tudor's realization of John Cage's 4'33", he opened and then shut the keyboard cover to articulate the piece's three sections. In a teasing homage to it, Young asks Tudor to open and close the keyboard cover of a piano until he succeeds in doing so without making any audible sound or until he gets tired of trying.