Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dane Rudhyar Archival Project

So, it's 9:30 PM on a Sunday night, and I'm writing a paper for my History of Music Theory class. After batting around many Charles Seeger-related topics (since I bought "Tradition and Experiment in the New Music" earlier this semester), I found I didn't really have a focus.

So, I decided to broaden my scope and focus my point all at once. So, I'm writing on the compositional treatises of Seeger, Henry Cowell (this blog's namesake), and Dane Rudhyar to show how "oriental" ideas were used to undercut Germanic ideals. It's not a very striking, original idea, but it is interesting to see how American composers felt a colonial burden (even as America was becoming "colonialist" in its own right).

I could go to the library, but I already did tonight, and it's too crowded. Luckily I found, of all things, a fully digitized book from 1921, The Relation of Ultramodern to Archaic Music by a Skryiabinite, Katharine Ruth Heyman (courtesy of Stanford), and this compelling, brand-new study of Chinese music in ultramodern New York by Nancy Rao that appears in the current issue of The Journal of Asian American Studies.

But what of Rudhyar? He's a curious fellow who, to quote Tony Asher, just wasn't made for these times. Like many fans and students of "ultra-modern" American music (roughly put, the kind of experimental music that was popular and cutting-edge in New York and San Francisco during the late-1910s to the early-1930s), I first encountered Rudhyar from his cogent and thoughtful treatment in Carol Oja's prize-winning Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s, some of the finest cultural history written during the last decade. In Oja's footnotes, I learn of a spat Rudhyar and Seeger had in the pages of Eolian Review in 1923, a publication my university's library doesn't have.

Never fear--the Dane Rudhyar Archival Project is here! As an early American exponent of astrology, Rudhyar has amassed an, er, "cult following." Need an article from the Eolian Review? Here we go: "What is an octave?"

There's something for you astrological folks as well. If you're the type of person who can ask the question "Does Uranus Rule Astrology?" with a straight face, eat up!

But seriously: Rudhyar is a fascinating figure, and presents an alternate path for American music, a spiritualized path that proceeds not from form but from intuition. The idea that "intuition" provides a governing logic (but wait--here I am talking about logic) grates against our musical containers and academic jargon. Rudhyar's idea about music is that every second has you in its grips in ways that you can't quite understand, in ways that overcome attempts to intellectualize, in dissonant waves that shape and alter consciousness. In short, it's pretty heavy.

Anyway, my point is, because I own too many books (including Oja's, Seeger's, Cowell's, and--I don't even remember where I found it--a 1923 Paul Rosenfeld collection), I can continue to research in my PJs without going to a crowded library--through the magic of obscure digitization.

And what does this blog post prove? It proves that even though I don't have to leave the house, I can still distract myself from research.

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