La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela – ‘Dream House 78’17″‘ LP
This classic minimal music album is now available again on vinyl for the first time since the 70s. La Monte Young, widely acknowledged as the father of musical minimalism, is one of the most influential contemporary composers. Yet he has strictly monitored his own discography and his music is rarely heard. Born in a log cabin in rural Idaho in 1935, Young became a key figure in the New York underground art scene of the early 1960s. He made vital contributions to the Fluxus movement and initiated the use of lofts as performance venues. Most important of all, his exploration of sustained tones, unorthodox tuning, high volume and long duration changed the course of twentieth-century music and ushered in new ways of listening. This LP, initially issued on the French Shandar label in 1973, is a crucial document, preserving two manifestations of Young’s pioneering creative imagination. Each side stretches out to the standard length of an entire long-playing record. Listening to the sounds captured in each groove you are lifted out of routine temporality into a prolonged and personal here and now, an intimate kind of time that no clocks can measure. On the first side is a performance by the Theatre of Eternal Music, the group which Young formed specifically to realise his radical musical conception. The name was coined in February 1965 to indicate that this ecstatic droning music had neither beginning nor end, that it came from and returned to a state of silence, where it lingers in its full potential until some musicians play its component tones once again. The group’s line-up, which changed over the years but always featured Young and his partner Marian Zazeela, boasted such luminaries of new music as Tony Conrad, Terry Riley and John Cale. Cale carried lessons learnt from Young into his work with the Velvet Underground, and through that seminal group to new generations of indie rockers and noise experimentalists. On this recording the voices of Young and Zazeela are combined with the trombone of Garrett List and the trumpet of Jon Hassell, now more widely known through his work with Brian Eno. Although the immediate impression created by the music is that it changes little, close listening reveals intricate activity in the high harmonics where unexpected patterns and phantom melodies skitter across the surface of the music’s enveloping drone. Young and Zazeela developed their vocal technique through intensive study with North Indian singing master Pandit Pran Nath, and traces of that influence can be heard in their subtle ornamentation of the sustained tones. Sine waves provide the basic threads that hold together The Tortoise, His Dreams And Journeys. Sine waves unadorned form the Drift Study on the second side of the LP. Such pieces were conceived as continuous sound environments. Since 1962 Young has nurtured the notion of a Dream House, in which such work might be installed, playing continuously and taking on a life of its own. To a seated listener this Drift Study appears a very pure form of minimalist musical drone, but move around the space in which the piece is playing and you will hear dramatic variation in the loudness of different frequencies, while your movement will itself alter the structure of air molecules in the room, affecting the way the piece is heard. It’s a fascinating probe into the nature of sound, hearing and spatial awareness. The Shandar label, under the musical direction of French musicologist Daniel Caux, produced a small but select catalogue. It includes recordings by Albert Ayler, Terry Riley, Sun Ra, Philip Glass, Cecil Taylor, Steve Reich and Charlemagne Palestine. During the early 1970s this was the cutting edge of new music, and today these recordings are still challenging, uplifting and revelatory. This reissue preserves the original artwork, an integral part of that special Shandar magic but also a fine example of the design sense and calligraphic grace that Marian Zazeela has brought to the presentation of La Monte Young’s singular music. ‘My own feeling is that if people aren’t carried away to heaven I’m failing,’ La Monte Young in 1966
Steve Reich – ‘Four Organs/Phase Patterns’ LP
This classic minimal music album is now available again on vinyl for the first time since the 70s. In recent decades Steve Reich’s music has been presented internationally at major venues, performed by high-profile musicians including the Kronos Quartet, guitarist Pat Metheny, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. But in 1970, when the music on this LP was recorded, Reich’s audiences gathered in museums and art galleries to hear his work interpreted by the composer himself and a group of friends. ‘I am interested in perceptible processes’ Reich had written in 1968. ‘I want to be able to hear the processes happening throughout the sounding music.’ Four Organs is a radical realisation of this goal. Against the steady rattle of maracas, individual tones within a single chord are gradually lengthened. No changes of pitch or timbre occur, and the drawn out nature of the process provoked outrage at some early performances, when audiences found themselves caught up in a decelerating loop, being dragged towards stasis. Phase Patterns, composed a month later, relies on a phasing technique developed during Reich’s earlier experiments with magnetic tape recordings, which he allowed to drift out of sync. Identical figures initially in unison shift out of phase, generating unexpected patterns. When these pieces first appeared, on the adventurous French record label Shandar, they were regarded as defining works within a musical movement that had developed during the late 1960s. Reich was seen as a pioneer of minimalism, along with La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Philip Glass, whose music also featured in the Shandar catalogue. With hindsight the term is inadequate and inappropriate when applied to much of Reich’s subsequent oeuvre, which includes rich and varied works such as The Desert Music for voices and orchestra, Tehillim – a setting of Psalms, and his multimedia opera The Cave. But these two works from 1970 are purely minimalist, in a way that the visual artists and sculptors who formed Reich’s early audiences would have recognised. These pieces may have clear affinity with conceptual art as well as the minimalist aesthetic, but Reich’s allegiance is to making music rather than sound art or acoustic research. Characteristically, after creating Four Organs Reich looked for antecedents in musical history, and found them in the medieval organa of Léonin and Pérotin. His subsequent work has found acceptance and a substantial following within the established institutions of composed music. He has become a major composer. In the same year that these Four Organs and Phase Patterns were written Reich travelled to Ghana to study with a master drummer. On his return to New York he started work on Drumming, an hour-long distillation of his interest in African and Balinese music and their polyrhythmic processes. It forms an impressive culmination to his use of phasing technique and is widely acknowledged as a minimalist masterpiece. But if it is the radical edge of uncompromising hardcore minimalism that you are after, this reissue of Four Organs and Phase Patterns delivers two key examples. ‘Obviously music should put all within listening range into a state of ecstasy’ Steve Reich in 1969.