sound: open form: earle brown: on musical chronotopology

The music of Earle’s that Pierre [Boulez] liked was in the tradition of the Schoenberg/Webern aesthetic and thus near his own. “He had no patience with my Folio stuff,” Earle recalled, any more than he’d had with Cage’s chance methods of composition, but Earle’s germinal concepts set forth in Folio – graphic notation, collective improvisation, and open form – would eventually influence not only composers – including Boulez – on both sides of the Atlantic, but also dancers, especially the Judson generation of choreographers, and Earle’s “open form” concept would be taken up by Cunningham long before Cage ventured there himself.

Caroline Brown, Chance and Circumstance: 25 years with Cage and Cunningham, 43.

Although Cage and Cunningham had begun using chance means for composing their works, the final results were still as fixed in their final form as a Beethoven symphony. Earle’s ideas about open form changed all that. His Twenty-Five Pages,which he began writing in the spring of 1953 and completed while I was at Black Mountain, provides one or more (up to twenty-five) pianists with twenty-five loose pages of music, and then allows the performer to lay any number of the pages in any order, spontaneously, in performance. The mathematical possibilities are nearly endless, guaranteeing that no performance is ever likely to repeat another. In Twenty-Five Pages, all the sound material is composed, but the final form – the organization of the given material – is left open. Open form. Cage declared upon seeing the score of Twenty-Five Pages, “It’s an epoch-making piece!” and the concept of “open form” was to have an enormous impact on Cunningham’s work in the years to follow.

Caroline Brown, Chance and Circumstance: 25 years with Cage and Cunningham, 72.

[someone should curate a performance of 25 performances of Twenty-Five Pages…]

The Changing Role of the Performer Since the 20th Century - Jeff R. Miller

Above: December 1952 is perhaps Brown’s most famous score. It is part of a larger set of unusually notated music called FOLIO.

above: the cover obviously features a Motherwell painting, from his Elegies? art historian mostly have forgotten how important Motherwell was to the formation of art in NYC in the 40s and 50s, not only through his paintings, but through his writings and the salon he held at the arts student league. his writings are still important.

below: another similarly important E. Brown work, Available Forms I and II, used the same ‘open form’ compositional philosophy:

sfSoundSummerFestival 2016 Sunday ProgramWorks | Earle Brown Music Foundation

part of the open form and percussion and marimba thread… unfortunately the sound quality is not good enough to pick up the ‘brushes’ playing the mobile, and other means of playing it. they are too timid in my opinion… that might be due to the calder foundation’s limits.

according to C. Brown:

On a perfect day in late May 1963, I had accompanied Earle on an expedition to meet with Alexander Calder at his New England farmhouse on Painters Hill road in Roxbury, Connecticut. With no little trepidation, Earle was about to propose an audacious idea to this man whose work he so revered and had been so profoundly influential on his own. We were greeted by Calder’s handsome wife, Louisa, who was the grandniece of William and Henry James, and “Sandy”, as everyone was instructed to call him, a delightfully gruff, sturdyteddy bear of a man with a unruly shock of white hair. Across the pasture in the valley below was Arthur Miller’s property, where the playwright lived with his third wife, Marilyn Monroe. After lunch and a tour of the vast, sunny studio, mind-boggling in its monumental chaotic clutter – mobiles hanging from above, stabiles stalking the corners, canvases stacked against the walls, metal, coils of wired, mysterious tools everywhere – i joined Louisa in their kitchen, where every utensil, gadget, pot, and pan seemed to be a handmade Calder artifact.

The time for Earle to make his proposition had arrived: would Calder consider collaborating on a mobile/stabile that could serve as conductor for a musical composition? The answer was affirmative. Would Calder object to having the mobile elements struck with drumsticks or other percussion implements? Sandy roared with laughter: “They can kick the thing if they want to!” Four years later, Earle reported that at its premiere in Paris, “Calder Piece went very well… musicians love to play it and I like it and it is funny (four guys chasing and banging on the the mobile) and beautiful. It was a success… Calder was unexpectedly there and seemed to like it but thought we should have hit it with hammers… though we didn’t because we didn’t like the sound of it and said he’d have to make us one in brass, which would sound better.”

Caroline Brown, Chance and Circumstance: 25 years with Cage and Cunningham, 489.

I agree with Calder! It is beautiful in any case.

sound: open form: earle brown: on musical chronotopology

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