Posted inEssay

Honey in the Throat

“Life here is a John Cage score, dissonance made eloquent.” Bill Hayes, Insomniac City “This text is a mosaic of remarks,” begins the Florent Ghys composition “An Open Cage.” When I first hear it, I mistake John Cage’s voice for essayist David Rakoff’s. They share a raspy, disaffected tone, a soft sibilance that exudes ironic […]

Posted inInterview

The Smallest Island of Strangeness

In the first week of February, I talked to composer Chaya Czernowin, my professor in composition at Harvard University, about her upcoming opera “Infinite Now,” which is due to be premiered in Ghent in April 2017, followed by performances in Antwerp, Mannheim, and Paris. Drawing texts from Can Xue’s story “Homecoming” and Luk Perceval’s play […]

Posted inProfile

Unified Music

The American composer George Crumb lives in an unassuming two-story house, tucked away on an acre plot of land in Media, Pennsylvania, a sleepy suburb of Philadelphia. Recently, he met me at the local train station in his old maroon Toyota, and after a short drive along winding back roads, we arrived at his longtime […]

Posted inReport

Temperature and Energy

The Fondamenta Sant’Eufemia, on the Venetian island of Giudecca, is a street that parallels the water. Its presence, rising out of the waves, feels almost arbitrary. Between storefronts numbered 610A and a chipping 655 is a lane where houses in red and gray give way to the same color scheme in smaller scales: the brick […]

Posted inHistory

Bells

When you think of small towns in rural England, you envision medieval stone buildings, carefully manicured gardens, and tearooms with Thomas Hardy-esque quietude, serenity, even sleepiness. That is, until you hear the bells. In every church. Ringing every hour, on the hour. Every Sunday morning, I remember incessant calls to worship at the cathedral next […]

Posted inHistory

Scores on the Sidewalk

In late 1981 or early 1982, the composer and vocalist Julius Eastman was evicted from his apartment in New York City. City marshals placed his belongings on the sidewalk, including all of his scores, and Eastman walked away, leaving everything behind. After years of drifting in and out of homeless shelters and bumming money from […]

Posted inEssay

Mezzo-sopranos from Outer Space

In 2015, the writer Lisa Bolekaja published a short story in Uncanny, a magazine for science fiction and fantasy, called “Three Voices,” inspired by the Morton Feldman piece of the same name. At the climax, a vocalist’s skin pigmentation drains from her body and her eyes pop out. “How could she sing with no head?” […]

Posted inProfile

Mythology Of Our Time

This Tuesday, I spoke with John Adams by phone from his studio, in Northern California. He will be the Artist in Residence at the Berlin Philharmonic next season, and I thought I’d give him some unsolicited advice about techno music here. Does he listen to it? “Sometimes.” Berlin also has a reputation as a paradise […]

Posted inHistory

An Exorcism

Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion,” Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”: These are considered some of the premier artistic anti-war statements of our time. Just as worthy to be a part of this company is French composer Arthur Honegger’s Third Symphony—a work that you may not have heard in quite a while. […]

Posted inInterview

Changing The System

I met the composer Christian Wolff for this interview some time ago in Hamburg, Germany. There were a few other people in the room—from the festival klub katarakt, which had a commissioned a new work from him—and I asked Wolff if he felt like performing an impromptu version of his prose piece “Crazy Mad Love.” […]