Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Audio Files, Part II of III: Adventures in Hi-Fi

900+ words of prelude to this simple, life-changing fact: last week, I decided to go bold and buy a pair of Bose headphones. This was not an easy choice. Last December, in a fitful state of finals panic, I stepped on official Ipod earbuds and my Sony earbuds on consecutive days in the same coffeeshop each time. It was an act of anger, subconsciously, at the time: I think, deep down, I was angry that Finale was being so honest about what my medieval music transcriptions sounded like, which is to say very—um, next topic.

I’ve also been doing some recording sessions with my brass quintet for our Fischoff competition audition/pre-screening video. (Jonathan Allen, our trombonist, has been blogging pictures from our sessions here.) The recording sessions were very enjoyable and informative, especially since we (or rather, the playback was) the authority figure. I like Jonathan's description better:

It has been a fun/challenging/frustrating/rewarding experience.
All told, we put in a fair amount of time and got stacks of usable takes in the UI's Pomerantz Center, which is not a typical performance venue, but had the best acoustics and availability of any building in our campus, in which the recital halls proper have been condemned. Josh Thompson, our first trumpet player, is honing his recording chops, and also cut a very fine audio feed from the sessions we can turn into a more formal demo. During playback, I used Jonathan's Bose headphones and was sold as if Herbie Hancock himself were persuading me.

And I focused my early Bose listening on two recent “American masterworks” (by more or less general acclaim)of the young century: Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls and Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, since both were recorded live by the fine folks at Nonesuch. Under this microscope, this “really listening,” I can hear coughs, programs moving, singers breathing, pages turning, a music teeming with life. Even a recent studio disc—Ensemble InterContemporain’s 2004 DG release of Boulez’s Le Marteau has a live dimension to it, not least because it’s perhaps the most “self-consciously human” rendering of the work of the few I’ve heard; rosin hits strings, calloused hand hits bongos, finger meets key, etc. etc. etc. (More on that work—and recording—in a later post.) Far from embodying the inert, technocratic stasis Boulez is known for, giving an extra dimension to the listening process (and doing so legally, unlike Ellison's listener), a shift in the ear presents an eminently verbal process: a ball of rubber bands coming apart, perhaps, with a few snapping along the way.

I even listened to two recent budget purchases of mine, interrelated purchases of compulsively forgettable guilty pleasures: Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell doing folk-rock covers—sound like plain-faced young ladies with pretty new haircuts who, well, look almost striking in the light. [Several other metaphors were stricken from the record]. The Glen Campbell rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying" in particular is epic: I detect a bunch of suspended, high bass motion that reminds me in particular of "Let's Go Away for Awhile" among other tracks from Pet Sounds, the outro to "I'm So Young" from The Beach Boys' Today album, and even the revolutionary harmoines of "Pom Pom Play Girl" from Shut Down, Vol. II. This is probably because Campbell recorded this album in 1967, right after touring as bassist with the Beach Boys after Brian Wilson's retirement from the concert stage, and performed on the Pet Sounds sessions. But enough about them.)

At the same time, I’ve been reaching an almost evangelical fervor about the process of listening when it comes to my Music Appreeshe students. And, now that the first round of 50+ concert reports are on my desk, I see the monster I have wrought: here are students, many of whom have no musical experience save for middle school chorus or band, scared that their listening won’t be close enough. Perhaps I overplayed the point a bit. The quality of the listening is stellar, for the most part, but accounts of each piece read like a musical box-score, with a few vivid metaphors mixed in. A friend of mine saw some students at a recent piano trio concert furiously taking notes with each change in texture, key, and even dynamic.

Oh, and of course one of the other first recordings I listened to with my new headphones? Andrew Kazdin's awesome Gabrieli productions, that sonically is... Yeah. Nothing more needs to be said on that, everyone knows it's awesome.

More on listening--part III! later.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two notes on music blogosphere: Sequenza 21, a Mac person trapped in an overheating Acer

A friend sent a facebook message alerting me to my mention on the Sequenza21 forum memeing my Babbitt parody. I'm (relatively) new to the music blogosphere, and so hadn't yet been to Sequenza21. It's a great contemporary music site, and it's found its way into my feed-reader now. Yay!

Speaking of feed-readers...

Okay, so personality-wise, and behaviorally, I'm such a Mac person.

So why do I use an overheating Acer and a clunky Palm? Seriously: I fall asleep to DVDs on my laptop, and I always burn myself turning it off.

Sigh. How can all you musicians afford those Macs?

Also, I've un-restricted my twitter feed, so stalk away. I am selective about who I friend, however, because I don't want to get too cluttered, but if you know me (on a facebook level, even) feel free to visit my feed. I should add that my tweets are often very tedious, as I walk and tweet at the same time, and sometimes it's how my brass quintet communicates, so you may not be able to follow much of the tedium. I also tweet about my dog quite a bit.

Audio Files (Part I of III)

I remember one of my favorite concerts I attended about three years ago, a trumpet chamber recital during my fifth and final spring in Appleton. (Although my memories are respectful, I won't share the performers' name in case they would like to not be associated with the content of this post. It's not a big secret, but I just always feel uncomfortable creating something that will be forever cached to someone else's name via the googles.)

The program was ambitious and wide-ranging, the kind of concert that lasts for awhile, but you don’t mind. For starters, there was the stratospheric Albrechtsberger concerto. I remember at the time, as I was thinking about coming to the University of Iowa, the performer relayed a story about the Albrechtsberger from his time in Iowa City. The piece, a favorite of one of his formative mentors, seemed to be anomalous in the trumpet repertoire for its odd range and the pitches used, which didn’t seem to gibe with the available notes of the trumpet at the time. (Caveat emptor: this is a remembered anecdote three years’ removed about a remembered anecdote about 25 years removed…)

As a grad student at Iowa, hetook the piece to a musicologist on the faculty, who just happens to be an international expert on the Jew’s Harp, also known as the trouba—an easy visible doppelganger for the tromba. A couple years ago, here in Iowa City, I was aimlessly perusing the trumpet concerti in the stacks of the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library, which is soon to be renamed, I hope, post-flood, the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library Memorial Music Library.

(For that matter, any followers of Iowa’s rich musical history will take heart that, per FEMA’s apprehensions re: funding multi-million arts campus renovations with taxpayer dollars in a floodplain, the legendary Himie Voxman has all but officially outlived his namesake music building.Doctor –Voxman graced the apparently-defunct Hancher stage to play clarinet in a band rendition of Festive Overture last spring and, just this past December, he “commenced” with the class ’08, walking across the stage to receive an absurdly well-deserved honorary doctorate (link via "Tubahead"). Six generations of private-lesson teachers would have had to send their students home early if it weren’t for his voluminous duet transcriptions, and the full story of his many, dogged discoveries has yet to be written. Then again, I’m a budding musicologist in search of a specialty living right down the street from his archives. Why don’t I write that full story?!) Mr—excuse me,

Back to the stacks of the Rita Benton Memorial Music Library Memorial Music Library, trumpet concerti: written in what I believably recognize as an earlier version of the hand that admonished reams of my sheet music some couple decades later, in the margin of the first Albrechstberger trumpet score, was a small parenthetical: “originally for Jew’s harp.” It’s funny how important mentors in your life crop up in unexpected places at unexpected times, like the M261s in the middle of a bleary weekend afternoon.

Back to Appleton. Onto the sensuous and graceful Saint-Saens Septet for Strings, Piano, and Trumpet (which avid Peter’s Blog-ophiles will remember from this post last fall that I prepared as I studied for my masters comps). Then there were a handful of casual Bach two-part inventions with the trombone professor, while the program ended with a bizarre but good-natured aleatoric theater-piece called Bravo! Encore! for trumpet and six hand-clappers.

Besides getting to hear a generous rendition of the the Saint-Saens Septet, my favorite memory from the concert comes from a piece that was performed between the Bach and Bravo! Encore!, if memory serves me right: a set of brief but compulsively organized duets composed by the legendary Columbia classical sound engineer Andrew Kazdin. I’ve “encountered” Kazdin quite often during the past few years, historically speaking, as I’ve fallen lockstep into the Glenn Gould cult. Kazdin was Gould’s producer, and in many ways his analytical alter-ego. Kazdin’s Gould book is worth picking up even for the casual Gould fan, and it is hardly as—excuse the pun—“dry” as books by soundmen tend to be.

(TANGENT: This is without a doubt the worst book EVER by a sound man, full of racially troubling sexual fantasy, star-worship, incessant self-promotion, with dozens of pages of “this-was-how-I- set-up-the-amps-for-the-Japan-tour” tedium. It’s so horrifically bad, and such a blatantly obvious cash-in, that I perversely beg you to read it. You can have my copy, even.)

Kazdin may have been encouraged by Gould’s affably dopey act of contrapuntal evangelism, So You Want to Write a Fugue , which I encountered on an otherwise revelatory disc of Gould’s compositions
I received as a thoughtful 2008 Christmas present.

Kazdin’s set is virtuosic in its thoroughness: canon, in inversion (“is a dangerous diversion”), retrograde, retrograde inversion, at the [insert interval here]. The performers selected a few to perform, but then, in what perhaps was my favorite onstage remark by a live performer ever, the trumpeter stopped before the exact retrograde palindrome (that’s a melody forwards and backwards, for you non-musicians—but if there are any non-musicians still reading at this point, email me, and I’ll send you a dollar) and told the audience that this movement was so academic he preferred to describe it rather than play it.

I think no less than Gould himself would be proud of the performers' insubordination. Compared to other pieces on the program, teeming as they are with “style,” the Kazdin’s composition were bracingly stripped down, unapologetically logical, and were capable of being described as well as performed, an idea unto itself, kept in a cool, dry place.

So, 900+ words of prelude to this simple, life-changing fact (that also, in a sense, relates to Kazdin): two weeks ago, I decided to go all in and buy a pair of Bose headphones.... (Stay tuned for Part II of III, already written but to be published tomorrow!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Meme From the Department of Compare and Contrast

I was just in my car. I had stopped at Prairie Lights and bought a fine Oxford CD of Pergolesi's newly reconstructed Marian Vespers for pennies on the dollar. It's not exactly the most profound music ever written, but certainly lovely and perhaps some of it is worth adapting for the small Vespers group I play with at the Episcopal church.

Now, what disc, praetell, did I pull out of the player? Amy Winehouse's Frank.

Think about it.

Somewhere, an angel smiled.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wherever Your Thoughts Are

I've been talking lately about tuning out, and the other day, I shared a lengthy example from John Adams' autobiography about boredom in avant-garde music. It's part of a larger blog mini-project on tuning out that began with my recollection of sleeping through the New York Phil's performance of Schubert's Unfinished:

I do vaguely remember about two minutes of sumptuous, Brahmsian orchestra sound. It washed over me in waves before--just as I decided to mark signposts in the sonata form in order to stay awake--my thoughts on deciding to mark signposts in the sonata form in order to stay awake coupled with the full-blown, fully manned Brahmsian orchestra sound put me fast asleep. I was an incredibly rude waste of a student rush ticket. Something tells me, however, that if Christoph von Dohnanyi had turned around and fixated on one sleeping bum, he may have been offended, but he would not have second-guessed his tempoes on my account.
I'm also doing another small projecct in my life: to actually listen to the music I say is my favorite. To that end, I downloaded Steve Reich's "You Are" album for $5.99. It's bright, chirpy, interesting, caffeinated music. Here's a primitive video knockoff of one of its movements (wait a second while it starts up):

Doing some googling, I ran across one of Reich's many interviews after You Are's release, here. Maybe it's kind of a hippie-ish notion, but I thought his description of "You Are Wherever Your Thoughts Are" fits in with the loose theme of this blog lately:

Here I wanted to go back to Proverb and I picked four short texts. I think they are very interesting to people just because they are so short. Three of them are from the Jewish tradition, one from Wittgenstein, but a lot of people said to me they were like Zen Koans: very short aphorism that invite meditation. "You are where ever your thoughts are". That's true of people, and it's also very true about listening to music. When you are really listening your consciousness is filled with the music and where ever the music goes, that's literarily where you are. Someone taps you on the shoulder and you come back to another reality. But when you are listening your mind is filled with the music. Where ever the music goes, you go too, if you are really listening. Obviously if you are watching TV or listening to the radio this is something different. It is a truth about human beings that they can be physically somewhere but their mind can be elsewhere and that's really where they are.
Simple, right? That's all for now. I have a magnum opus in the works... In progress: a three-parter!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beyond the Boredom Envelope (with an incursion on jazz time)

My last post has been full of big ideas, big ideas that I’ve kept my eyes (and, more to the point, ears) attuned to for the last few weeks. I’ve composed this blog post as I would a somewhat looser research paper, in a word-processor mostly during daylight, as opposed to my longer blog posts that I typically begin at 1 AM after I drink one too many Dr. Peppers with dinner, only to manipulate the timestamp before publishing.In my last post, I wrote:

“Being inclined to empiricism and aesthetics rather than ideals and analysis, I have a lingering suspicion that some of you "tune out" at concerts too. And yet, this is one of those ideas people are afraid to express in front of people.”

Get used to those block quotes, dear reader.

I then went on to talk about American literature in the context of “tuning out” while reading. I just realized there is a crucial connection between the two in the famous prologue to Ellison’s Invisible Man, in the section where the narrator gets high and “really listens” to time in Louis Armstrong’s recording of “What Did I Do? (To Be So Black and Blue).”Unfortunately, I can only find streaming audio for the version Louis records with the All-Stars in the fifties, after Invisible Man. (In many ways, the All-Stars version is more sincere, and definitely less ironical.) But on to Ellison.

After some seriously perceptive writing on Armstrong’s sense of time, the narrator escapes into a daydream and plays it out:

Then somehow I came out of it, ascending hastily from this underworld of sound to hear Louis Armstrong innocently asking,

What did I do

To be so black

And blue?

At first I was afraid; this familiar music had demanded action, the kind of which I was incapable, and yet had I lingered there beneath the surface I might have attempted to act. Nevertheless, I know now that few really listen to this music…It was exhausting—as though I had held my breath continuously for an hour under the terrifying serenity that comes from days of intense hunger. And yet, it was a strangely satisfying experience for an invisible man to hear the silence of sound (12-13).

It’s safe to say that, in the three-plus pages of daydream, the narrator loses himself in (or from?) the music. Immediately preceding the previous passage (or, the last sentence of the daydream):

Once I tried crossing the road, but a speeding machine struck me, scraping the skin from my leg as it roared past.

It’s really a curious line, suggesting that—given the theme of the novel—Ellison’s character is trying to stake out a territory within the inner structure of Armstrong’s work. Notice that the last line of the daydream—trying to cross a road—leads to disaster, and causes him to scrape get struck by a “speeding machine”; the kind of action of which he was incapable. There is a dialectical relationship between the listener (who is, in this case, truly a “recreational” listener in every possible sense of the word) and the performer, underscored by a famous passage of Louis analysis that immediately precedes the daydream:

Invisibility, let me explain, gives one a slightly different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat. Sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind. Instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still or from which it leaps ahead. And you slip into the breaks and look around. That’s what you hear vaguely in Louis’ music.

TANGENT, before we get back to the fight between the Invisible Man and Louis: I think this is a really interesting observation about the sense of time in Louis’s peak period—IMHO, the early 1930s, where the most negligible of materials becomes putty in his hands. It also corresponds to some research I’m beginning to collate into my new historical best friend, the composer and jazz journalist William Russell, and his pioneering jazz research—in particular, his early, acute deconstruction of jazz time.

While Stravinsky and others saw jazz time as something machine-like and monolithically unrelenting in pulse, Russell spelled out “the nodes” that Ellison referred to with remarkable cogence. As a music editing project, I’m trying to get my hands on Russell’s Trumpet Concerto (My University of Iowa readers can listen here if on a campus connection), begun in 1937 but only premiered in the 1990s, and based on a syncopated throwaway figure at the close of Armstrong’s recording of “That Rhythm Man.” Russell was in a sense Armstrong’s first biographer, producing a lengthy profile of Armstrong (equal parts folklore, documentary research, and analysis) in the 1939 collection Jazzmen. From Russell’s profile of Armstrong, compare this passage on Armstrong’s sense of time (that came right after he produced his study of Armstrong in the concerto), with Ellison’s (emphasis added):

“In addition to hot intonation, jazz depends on the swing which is generated by rhythmic accents and intervals. Most important is that small interval of delay in which a musician holds back the expected attack. Through this, the listener is not only disturbed but stimulated when the impact is finally felt 140.”

Ellison (from the daydream):

He held me in a grip like cold stone, his fingers fastening upon my windpipe until I thought I would suffocate before he finally allowed me to go. I stumbled about dazed, the music beating hysterically in my ears. It was dark. My head cleared and I wandered down a dark narrow passage, thinking I heard his footsteps burrying [sic] behind me. I was sore, and into my behind had come a profound craving for tranquility, for peace and quiet, a state I felt I could never achieve. For one thing, the trumpet was blaring and the rhythm was too hectic. A tom-tom beating like heart-thuds began drowning out the trumpet, filling my ears… I longed for water (12)

Russell continues:

This is a matter much more subtle and dynamic than the syncopation that Tin Pan Alley supposed to be the basis of jazz. Just as one swings away from the straight melody in improvisation, the rhythmic patterns must also be broken up and vitalized. Armstrong has the right rhythmic instinct and sense of timing in “swinging around and away from the regular beat,” as he expresses it. And so all this talk of rhythmic interval, of making an instant more intense, is not just theory. Nor is this phenomenon of delay produced by instinct alone. The retardation is done consciously, at least to some extent; for instance, in the early twenties Louis described to Lil [his first wife] Bunk’s (Johnson, a classic New Orleans cornetist who Russell recorded) way of hesitating, always just a just a fraction behind the melody, and then of catching up. Veterans from the Bayou country, when asked about Bunk’s style, invariably reply: “He seemed to be kind of behind all the time and then catching up at the end of the phrase”; or, “He played like he was missin’ all the time and holding back a little.” With Louis, we can feel this swing, even when he plays or sings alone, without any accompaniment to mark off the regular pulse, as well as when he carries the entire band along.

Russell writes in the same collection about the very live rhythmic world of Boogie-Woogie. Of even more interest is an article that Russell and John Cage co-wrote for a October 1938 periodical, Dance Observer. During the previous decade, Russell—in addition to his jazz journalism and ethnomusicological pursuits, such as playing percussion for a touring Chinese puppet theater on the Chautauqua circuit (see photo below, bottom right, from the University of Iowa Chautauqua Collection)had written several of the earliest compositions for percussion ensemble that were published in Henry Cowell’s New Music series.

On the West Coast during the late 1930s, Cage and Russell intersected, the one famously entering the world of percussion composition and the other quietly leaving it for jazz journalism and scholarship. Russell’s works were a fixture in the concerts of Cage’s West Coast Percussion Ensemble. At any rate, Russell went on to write quite a bit about the history of jazz drumming, particularly the style of Baby Dodds so it’s easy to imagine that this somewhat counterintuitive passage in their Dance Observer article, “Percussion Music and its Relation to the Modern Dance.” came from him. Note, especially, that the emphasis is original to the text:

The hot jazz drummer fulfills a dual role. As a member of the rhythm section he must furnish an unvarying tempo and rhythmic basis to inspire the arrhythmic improvisations of the melodic instruments. Actually far from being the monotonously regular rhythmic affair its detractors would have us believe, hot jazz is a unique and subtle form of that most rare phenomenon, arrhythmic music (266)

That statement is surely as thought-provoking as it is counterintuitive, and sets up the dialectical relationship between rhythm and arrhythm, drumming and melody, that Ellison recognized:

For one thing, the trumpet was blaring and the rhythm was too hectic. A tom-tom beating like heart-thuds began drowning out the trumpet, filling my ears… I longed for water.

The idea of Cage and “arrhythmia”—and “a—“ everything else, one supposes—certainly crops up later in musical history, and we’ll look at it in a bit (if anyone is still reading!) , but first to go back to another pre-daydream passage of Ellison’s, that comes right after “That’s what you hear vaguely in Louis’s music.”:

Once I saw a prizefighter boxing a yokel. The fighter was swift and amazingly scientific. His body was one violent flow of rapid rhythmic action. He hit the yotel a hundred times while the yokel held up his arms in stunned surprise. But suddenly the yokel, rolling about in the gale of boxing gloves, struck one blow and knocked science, speed, and footwork as cold as a well-digger’s posterior. The smart money hit the canvas. The long shot got the nod. The yokel had simply stepped inside of his opponent’s sense of time. So under the spell of the reefer I discovered a new analytical way of listening to music. The unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood out clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak. That night I found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well. I not only entered the music, but descended, like Dante, into its depths. And beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and I entered it and looked around and heard an old woman singing a spiritual as full of Weltschmerz as flamenco, and beneath that lay a still lower level on which I saw a beautiful girl the color of ivory pleading in a voice like my mother’s as she stood before a group of slaveowners who bid for her naked body, and below that I found a lower level and a more rapid tempo and I heard someone shout…

And the daydream is underway.

It’s easy to draw a connection between the prizefighting yokel and the Invisible Man in the passage that ends the daydream: “Once I tried crossing the road, but a speeding machine struck me, scraping the skin from my leg as it roared past.” But was the narrator, as a listener, trying to get through Louis to get past Louis? There’s not a little touch of—well, if not hubris or outright jealousy, perhaps Oedipal admiration. I just picked up “One O’Clock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils” by Douglas Henry Daniels at Prairie Lights last week, reminding me of Ellison’s early days as a swing trumpet player. Indeed, in his essays—including my personal favorite, “Living With Music”—he talks about that fateful moment, after the publication of Invisible Man, when he realized that while he had fashioned himself a trumpet player, he was now more of a writer. It’s a scary moment we all have to face someday—right?

But who is the Yokel and who is the Prizefighter? Rather than being an inactive listener, through his daydream, the Invisible Man challenges the inert recording, vies with it, fights with it, battles it, tries to knock it out—and wakes up from it, scary, abused, and eventually humbled. At some point, he is no longer hearing Louis but a new work suggested by the contours above and below it. Is it a fine act of listening, or an instance of disrespect?

I mentioned Cage a few paragraphs up, and that brings to mind another passage from a book I bought at Prairie Lights along with One O’Clock Jump: John Adams’ new autobiography Hallelujah Junction. The book is a breezy read, if a little mannered at times (its tone is very self-consciously “New England idyll”), but Adams was in many right places at many right times during the last half-century of American music, and his point-of-view is illuminating. Adams was at the center of many a San Francisco “happening” during the 1970s, and while he respects the deconstructive music(?) from this time, he writes that the audience would consist largely of fellow composers (and some things never change). After sketching the “scene” he had participated in, he narrates two experiences at Cage events (emphasis added):

Boredom was a major element in many of these events, part of the rigors of the aesthetic, and Cage was the eloquent apologist for the aesthetics of patience. In 1971 while still in Cambridge I’d gone to Brandeis University one evening to attend a Cage event that he was presenting in a large hall in the student union. The tables and chairs had been cleared and the audience was clustered around on the floor, listening to Cage, who was seated at a table with nothing more than a typed manuscript, a microphone, and a reading lamp. His reading was from a long piece called Mureau, made by submitting passages from Thoreau’s journals to chance procedures via the I Ching…Thoreau’s phrases drifted in and out of comprehensibility, now and then becoming so remotely isolated from their original syntax as to be rendered into sonic objects with a possibility but not a probability of interconnectedness. At other times, the chance couplings of words would reveal unexpected new meanings. I was charmed for the first half hour, and then I became gradually bored and finally irritated, a frequent behavioral vector for audiences of avant-garde music in those days. The restlessness I was experiencing may have been in part due to the setting and in part due to my unwillingness to accept boredom as an element of the experience. At the Brandeis event Cage read into the microphone patiently and methodically for hours without taking a single pause. People twitched on the hardwood floor or wistfully eyed the exit door (84).

Adams then goes on to characterize the experience as ultimately positive, before also narrating a San Francisco Cage event wherein seven harpsichordists faithfully performed algorithmically scrambled segments from Mozart’s keyboard repertoire while Town and Gown folks clinked glasses over the plucking ruckus.

Two more delightful turns of phrase from Adams: “I too produced several pieces that seriously pushed the boredom envelope,” before describing his composition Ktaadn for a local chorus. A chance piece, Adams drew a compass around the vista of a Maine mountaintop and let each performer choose an order of place names (each name having with it a corresponding modal melody). “The result was a congenial but more or less uneventful chaos of communal mumbling. There was no formal shape to the piece. I was hard put not to acknowledge the tedium that set in at about the fifth minute, once the audience realized that things were unlikely to change (85-86).”

Now, there is one crucial difference here: Louis Armstrong was not (and was not trying) to be boring, but what Ellison did was, in fact, a proto-Cageian mode of listening—or, rather, something along the lines of classic German romantic metaphor—that can unlock music at various levels of engagement. (And has an interesting lesson plan based on Invisible Man and jazz that looks like it would fit well into a high school curriculum and foster some sound imagination, not unlike a Smithsonian lesson plan surrounding Louis Armstrong.)

Integrating the sounds around him into his setting—emotional, physical, spiritual, and sensory—the Invisible Man sought through imagination to put the sounds in correspondence with his setting, not through discarding setting or even disregarding it, but rather by embracing distraction and recognizing it for what it was: a daydream, albeit one with an analytical bent. But is it good listening to lose yourself?

Granted, none of this excuses me for experiencing a REM cycle in Avery Fischer Hall; even Schubert is not as boring as Moreau seemed to be, and to eye the exits warily, aye, your eyes must remain open, even if your mind does wander into some wholly unrelated territory--the history of jazz rhythm, for instance.