La Monte Young       Marian Zazeela

Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord


in a setting of Abstract #1 (2003)

from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals

with Dream Light

Charles Curtis, cello

realisation lumiere: Uli Schagger
realisation informatique et technique son: Centre de Creation Musicale Iannis Xenakis

These November 26 and 29, 2003 concerts at Theatre Moliere-Maison de la Poesie are the first of five world premiere performances of Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord in a setting of Abstract #1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals with Dream Light, composed for Charles Curtis, cello, pre-recorded cello drones and light design. A full concert-length work, it was commissioned through a consortium initiated by the Centre for Creation Musicale Iannis Xenakis (CCMIX), and its director, Gerard Pape. The consortium also includes the Festival Nouvelles Scènes/the Consortium, Dijon; the Festival “Musiques en scène”/GRAME, Lyon; and “Maerzmusik”/Berliner Festspiele, Berlin.

Utilizing pre-recorded cello samples played by Charles Curtis, the CCMIX has realized a "live" computer part to facilitate real time manipulation of the cello drones. This program was written by Stefan Tiedje, musical assistant of the CCMIX, under the direction of La Monte Young and Charles Curtis, who was in residency at the CCMIX for the realization of the program. The CCMIX is responsible for the sound production of the work for all of the world premiere performances in Europe, including the Paris concerts, the performance in Dijon at Theatre du Parvis Saint Jean on December 5, in Lyon at Les Subsistances on March 17, and in Berlin on March 21, 2004.

La Monte Young

Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord (2002-2003)

Along with new works for my Just Alap Raga Ensemble, Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord represents my most recent composition. Composed in Just Intonation, which I have defined as “that system of tuning in which every frequency is related to every other frequency as the numerator or denominator of some whole number fraction,” Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord is set in the Dorian mode. From the early ‘60s, the Dorian mode has been one of my tonal resources, providing the basis for Young’s Dorian Blues in G (c. 1960-61-present), which eventually became the singular work performed by The Forever Bad Blues Band, and for “The Romantic Chord” (1964-73-present), one of the major sections of The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-73-81-present).

While the traditional tunings of the Dorian scale in just intonation are factorable by the primes 5, 3 and 2, my tunings are unique in that the tuning for Young’s Dorian Blues in G is factorable by the primes 7, 5, 3 and 2, and the tuning for The Romantic Chord is factorable by 7, 3 and 2. As the title suggests, Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord is based on the tuning of “The Romantic Chord” from The Well-Tuned Piano. Also in G, the Dorian mode of The Romantic Chord is based on the ascending Pythagorean series, C, G, D, A, E, with B-flat (the 3rd degree) and F (the 7th degree) derived septimally. The C, G, D and A are all open strings on the cello, the Pythagorean E exists as a natural harmonic on both the D and A strings, and the B-flat and F exist as natural harmonics on the C and G strings respectively. This congruence of pitches and strings delineates an inextricably inherent relationship between the tuning of the mode and the instrument.

Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord was composed specifically for Charles Curtis, who has studied the performance technique with me in the guru-disciple method of oral transmission over a period of years. The work is not intended to be played by other cellists unless they study it with me in the same way. Charles has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to the performance of my music. He is perhaps the foremost performer of my music in the world today. He began to work with me in 1987 when he performed in my Trio for Strings (1958) at the MELA 30-Year Retrospective Festival in New York. I appointed Charles director of the Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble, which I formed in 1989 to focus on realizations of my works and related works for string instruments. He has participated in more performances and premieres of my works than any other interpreter, including major performances at the Barbican Centre in London, the Darmstadt Festival, the Dia Art Foundation, New York, the Inventionen Festival, Berlin, the Cathedral of Dreams Festival, Krems, Austria, the Beyond the Pink Festival, Los Angeles, the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival, leading the Ensemble Modern strings for the Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt, and with the Belgian ensemble Ictus in the Brugge 2002 Festival.

Charles is one of the few instrumentalists to have perfected my highly complex just intonation tunings, and is one of only a handful of musicians to have appeared in duo formations with me, performing works by early minimalists Richard Maxfield and Terry Jennings. In 1989, Charles began learning the Kirana style of Indian classical music from me through our performances together of the Terry Jennings Piece for Cello and Saxophone (1960), in which I sang the saxophone part. Charles became a member of my Just Alap Raga Ensemble in summer 2003 and performed with our group at the Ustad Hafizullah Khan Memorial concert on August 9, 2003 and the Pandit Pran Nath 85th Birthday Tribute concert on November 1, 2003 in the Church Street Dream House. Charles’ experience of working with the Trio for Strings and the Dreams of China over many years and many performances combined with his studies and performances of Raga with me, have given him the unique perspective to be able to perform Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord with such authority.

Charles first asked me to compose a work for him in 1987. When we discussed it in more detail in perhaps 1989, he specified that the work must be for solo cello. I told him this was the most impossible thing for me to do because I was only interested in writing for multiple harmonically related tones set in like timbres, and that I could conceive of writing something for him leading a group of cellists. He said no, that he wanted a work that he could play alone. I thought about it for some time and finally I came up with two parts to the solution. The first part of the solution was that I proposed that he could pre-record certain parts and perform live with them. The second part of the solution was that I had only one work in which I had already established a precedent for melody: The Well-Tuned Piano. And just as ‘The Magic Chord x 4’ lay perfectly in the range of the appropriate natural harmonics of the string quartet and became the basis for Chronos Kristalla (1990), commissioned for the Kronos Quartet, “The Romantic Chord” lay perfectly in the range of the cello. Additionally, since I had always loved the Bach Partitas and Sonatas for violin and the Suites for cello, the melodies of “The Romantic Chord” and the double stops of ‘The Penultimate Theme’ seemed especially appropriate. I proposed to Charles that I would compose the new work in “The Romantic Chord.”

Gerard Pape, the director of CCMIX, came to the opening of our Dream House installation at MAC Lyon during the Musiques en Scène exhibition in 1999 and said that he wanted to organize a commission for us to create a new work. Over time we discussed various possibilities and I informed him of the Charles Curtis request. We eventually agreed that this would be the work we would undertake.

By the time of my last performance of The Well-Tuned Piano (87 V 10 6:43:00 PM – 87 V 11 1:07:45 AM NYC), I had created so much new material for the work that I literally could not play it all in one sitting. In fact, in this 6-hour 24-minute performance some of the new material had become so inspiring to me that “The Romantic Chord,” which had originally been one of the longest sections of the work, became reduced to only 33 minutes from the point of the introductory ‘Moonlight Sonata Passage’ to the point where I left “The Romantic Chord” and introduced “The Elysian Fields” section.

It is possible to conceive of my music as one vast composition. Because the cello and the piano have such radically different capabilities, I have been able to introduce many new elements in Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord. In fact, a wide range of elements from my other works are now included in this composition. There are sustained tones in the style of the Trio for Strings, The Four Dreams of China, Drift Studies and the sound environments. For example, ‘The Penultimate Chord as Sustained Tones’ allows us to hear ‘The Penultimate Chord’ like a sound environment, actually creating standing waves in the room. The effect of the slight irregularities of bowing on the sustained chord resembles the phenomenon of drift which characterized my Drift Studies of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. In The Well-Tuned Piano, on the other hand, ‘The Penultimate Chord’ could only be heard as melodic and chordal movement of dyads, triads, chords and pentads supported by pedal sustains. Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord also includes structural elements from The Four Dreams of China and elements of Raga, in addition to stylistic elements carried over from The Well-Tuned Piano. I taught Charles the melodies by singing them to him with the emphasis on precise intonation and feeling, as we do in the Kirana style. He learned this approach by rote and applied it to the cello.

In the new work, Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord, I have been able to develop totally new material in “The Romantic Chord,” as well as to expand and elaborate on the original material. New sections include: ‘The Alap Introduction to The Moonlight Sonata Passage,’ ‘The Magic Chord x 2,’ ‘The Magic Chord x 4,’ ‘The Theme of The Dawn of Eternal Time in The Deep Sub-Dominant Lost Ancestral Lake Region’ and ‘The Penultimate Chord as Sustained Tones.’ There are now enough themes, motifs, textures and elements for several hours of music, literally more than Charles can play in one sitting. Thus, each concert will be different and Charles will select and perform the material according to his inspiration and the organic unfolding of the elements.

Marian Zazeela

Abstract #1 (2003)
from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals with Dream Light

Much of my work in light and calligraphy has been grounded in concepts of structural symmetry. Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals is based on the Word Portraits series of drawings and neon sculptures in which I have presented names, words or ideas drawn with their bilaterally symmetrical, retrograde and mirror-inverted images, so that the abstract form of the written word may be viewed independently from its meaning. This allows the visual content of the work to be considered both apart from, and along with, the significance of the word. In Abstract #1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals, I turned this concept inside-out and created a pattern that is derived from and evocative of letter forms, but which does not generate known words. The projection becomes a mandala-like visual focus interweaving through time with the performance of the musical work. The magenta and blue lighting is designed around the projection of a calligraphic drawing programmed to gradually metamorphose in quadrilateral symmetry over the duration of the musical work. Uli Schaegger programmed the animation of the video projection and will oversee my lighting installations in Paris, Dijon, Lyon and Berlin.

The development of my work into the medium of video projection grew out of an invitation in early 2003 from Uli Schaegger and Heike Friedrich, the directors of Kunst im Regenbogenstadl in Polling, Bavaria, for me to create a new work for our ongoing installation of the DVD of The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights in my environmental light setting. The installation had opened in 2001 and each season we had added another work. Heike proposed placing a work of mine in the large main gallery as a counter-balance to my neon sculpture, Dream House Variation III, which is mounted facing the entrance to the gallery but at the far end of the long, inner gallery. Although we considered a new neon work, we agreed that a neon would have too much luminance to be in the same space as the DVD projection. I had been thinking about some kind of illuminated, calligraphic drawing. La Monte and I had also begun to consider the possibility of somehow animating the symmetrical movement of the sequential drawings from the Portraits series, and I mentioned this idea to Uli. He was immediately inspired by the idea and started to research a way to realize it. Within only a few days, he sent me a sample animation of my drawing of the name Polling crossing itself in bilateral symmetry and the project took off like lightening from then on.

For the Regenbogenstadl commission, I used my drawing of the word Symmetry, which seemed the quintessential subject matter for the first realization in this new medium. What’s more, Uli was able to program the calligraphy so that it moved simultaneously both horizontally and vertically. I specified the importance of programming the movement over a very long period of time, so that the changes take place almost subliminally. I had described this idea years ago in program notes for my multiple slide projection work Ornamental Lightyears Tracery over performances of The Theatre of Eternal Music: “Movement is deliberate and takes place slowly in time…The awareness of change surfaces within the observer according to individual perceptiveness and attention, rather than on the screen. That is, the observer may notice after some time that the image is not the same as it was one minute or ten minutes before, but is usually not conscious of when and how it changed. By extending the focus of attention in this manner, after some time, one becomes aware that one is observing time itself.”

I was extremely enthusiastic about this new direction of my work and I very much wanted to incorporate it in the light design for La Monte’s new composition. However, we both agreed that it would not be appropriate to project and manipulate an actual word or set of words in the context of this particular musical work. While listening to La Monte teaching Charles the new work in the Dream House, I made some sketches of the mobiles in motion. Later, I developed some of these ideas into the final drawing. Inspired by the variations of the calligraphic shapes suggested by the mobiles and their shadows, I created in Abstract #1 a drawing that preserves the character and integrity of letter forms without using actual letters.

Dream Light has been created specifically for concert performances of La Monte Young's music such as the Trio for Strings, The Four Dreams of China, The Subsequent Dreams of China and Chronos Kristalla and continues the exploration of ideas set forth in my work Light. Where possible, each installation of Dream Light is realized in response to the specific characteristics of the environmental or theatrical space and the placement of the musicians within it.

In installations of Light, precisely positioned pairs of colored lights are focused on symmetrically arrayed pairs of white aluminum mobile sculptures to cause the projection of colored shadows on the ceiling or walls of a room. In some installations of Dream Light, however, the musicians and the ornamental architectural features of the performance space function in the role of the sculptural forms as the elements upon which colored light sources are focused to create colored shadows. In other installations, colored shadows may not be prominent. In the Theatre Moliere-Maison de la Poesie, soft washes are cast on the dome and the stage, bathing the audience and the performer in their reflected hues while radiating a mirage-like dusky atmosphere reminiscent of the mood of The Magenta Lights.