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

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Listened to "Integrales" and part of "Deserts" by Edgard Varese today. "Integrales," from 1925, does the job of writing music without European influence better than anything else I've heard up to that time. Slabs of dissonant horns and percolating, un-groovy, start-and-stop percussion rhythms, for 10 and a half minutes. I have to be in the mood for it, but when I am, it's great.

Not dramatic or angsty like Schoenberg, not showy and splendid like Stravinsky, no echoes of pop or folk music as in much of Ives -- "Integrales" slabs the sound up straight.

Noise-as-music-meister John Cage had to give props to Varese, but Cage dissed Varese for being "music of the past" because Varese allegedly uses the noises as expressions of himself. Cage's dogmatic exclusion of Varese would exclude just about every composer ever, including, I'm sure a case can be made, Cage himself.

Cage's diss points up another uniqueness of Varese: Unlike Cage and most of the percussion-minded white American 20th century experimentalists, Varese took neither aesthetic nor philosophical cues from Asian music. He got it from himself, with sound-for-sound's-sake inspiration from Debussy and slight rhythmic influence from Stravinsky.

Because of Varese's distance from a typical European dramatic vibe, his style -- unlike Schoenberg's and Stravinsky's (especially via Carl Orff) -- did not get absorbed by Hollywood. The one exceptional case I can think of: Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack to "Planet of the Apes" of 1968 (which my friend Jay turned me onto). Varese's music of 1925 still plays as "futuristic" and "alien" and "disturbing" and "other."

"Deserts," from 1954 (when Varese was 71), is much the same, except the orchestral passages alternate with garish noise from a manipulated tape montage of street and industrial noises.

Magnificent stuff.

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Heard on Seattle’s classical choice, KING FM the other day, the evening drive-home DJ telling a tale of Mozart. It seems he got a commission to write a flute concerto. In letters he complained to his father how much he hated the sound of the flute. He transcribed an oboe concerto that he'd already written and passed it off as his new flute concerto. The patron found out about the self-plagiarism and paid Mozart only half his fee. Early sampling controversy.

Followed you over here from Michael Berube's free-wheeling comments about Elton John vs. David Bowie. Thought I recognized a kindred musical spirit, although the diversity of your musical tastes humbles my own attempts to be eclectic. Cool place you got here.
Not Hollywood, maybe, but has anyone else out there ever heard Varese played at rock venues in between bands? (My local SF examples: Great American Music Hall, The Fillmore, etc. at Melvins, Fantomas, and other like concerts.) I don't know whether to think it's "cool" or roll my eyes in semi-amusement or what...
Varese CDs between bands at a rock show strikes me as a good sonic palette-cleanser. But I've never heard his stuff there.
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