Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, March 15, 2004


The terrific critic of new classical music Kyle Gann writes in his blog, PostClassic (linked on this page), of a wonderful dream he had in which he met the great American composer Charles Ives, who died in in 1954, and Ives gave him his blessing.

Ives is one of those people, like Whitman and very few others in my experience, who just makes me shake my head in something like awe. I came to him through extra-curricular college-era reading of John Cage's "A Year From Monday," and dug him immediately. The use of collage in Ives -- and reading about and hearing and seeing Cage and Rauschenberg's collages too -- inspired me to make multiple-source collage music starting in '82 or '83, at the age of 19 or 20. I haven't made music in that way in many years, but the experience was wonderful, and I'm proud of the music I was part of. (Some of the works were collaborative -- all of them were in one respect or another, even when I was the "composer.")

The impulse to quotation and collage runs deep through American music, from Carl Stallings (as John Zorn and others have pointed out), through pop-song quotation in improvised jazz solos, through the use of collaged pre-recorded music in some of the free jazz of Charlie Haden (starting in the late '60s), until its apotheosis in hip hop. The first time I heard De La Soul, I nearly fell out of the car -- so "arty," and so fresh and accessible -- danceable! Ives is the founder of this American tradition.

More deep, for me, than Ives's exploration of collage and alternative placements of instruments, as genius and prescient as they were, is the Multiplicity such explorations point to and enact. The awareness that More Than One Thing Is Going On at Any One Time. It's Ives's awesome, awed sense of Multiplicity that blows me away more than anything. And it's a feeling that's rare for me to find in any music at all. Occasionally in some free jazz; extremely occasionally when a rare jazz soloist in a more conventional setting is able to suggest, through extremely-difficult-to-notate rhythmic obliquity and displacement, a multiplicity of rhythms less predictable and regular than the wonderful polyrhythms of African and Latin American music. The only soloists who've struck me this way -- and only very rarely -- are Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk, and Thelonious Monk. Ornette Coleman and Jon Hassell too, but their settings are intentionally multiple. (I posted about this on January 30 and 31, if you're interested in the archives.)

I have no doubt that Charles Ives blessed Kyle Gann, because Ives, like Whitman, blesses us all.


Last Wednesday, March 10, I wrote about Kronos Quartet's recent CD, "Nuevo," and mentioned that one song featured a Mexican musician playing an unexplained instrument, the "musical leaf." My friend Steve Austin wrote to tell the story.

Steve writes:

"NPR has a stringer in Mexico City, his stories are always good, often great, but he doesn't get on except once every couple months. Late last year? he did an incredible story about the grass leaf player, who is to my recollection an elderly guy who has been picking a leaf from the same vine everyday(this story could be growing in my imagination!) to busk on the street at the same spot in the midst of urban meltdown Mexico for the past what? 30 years and the take is the sole support for he and his elderly wife. Utterly unique, something like a kid playing a blade of grass, invented his own instrument, a natural ancient resonance in the heart of the world's largest city.

"I guess the reporter had encountered him before, and in this story he brought him the Kronos CD and played the track for him right there on the street. The leaf player had been brought into a studio to record his part, didn't know it had made it to CD, and had never been given a dime. He hears the CD, with his track mixed in, can't believe it, and breaks down and starts crying. On the way home he has the reporter play the track for some humble acquaintance, a shoe repair guy? and is past crying, now a little bit proud. The story ends with a recorded call to Kronos's publicist who says that the arrangement was made through some studio or arranger, to whom payment was made in full. The basic corporate blow-off. And then the reporter contacts some one in the group directly, who takes a much more humane line about getting this guy some money.

"Just an awesome radio news story. So many different elements in it. Must be indexed at NPR. Your mention of the grass leaf brought it back like a bolt."

John replies:

The story is indexed at NPR, and includes photos of the leaf player, Carlos Garcia, and a link to a recording of him. Thanks Steve!


Hello ! I was searching for people that could have an interest for my music with the help of the name Charles Ives (one of my gods) and found your blog.

My new album is now available for sell, but it's still without its first reviews. In the past, I have received incredible press from a variety of sources (All Music Guide, great composers...).

See and mostly listen by yourself some Philosophie Fantasmagorique.

Thank you !

Vincent Bergeron

"In the course of a lifetime, one encounters very few major musical talents. Vincent Bergeron is one of those few, a unique composer who is at the forefront of musical thinking."

Noah Creshevsky
Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
Director Emeritus, Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College
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