musica elettronica viva: late 60s, early 70s: hinge

by the time of Musica Elettronica Viva’s first performance in 1967, cage and tudor, boulez and stockhousen, and a bit later, mumma and oliveras and lemont young among others, had been been raising havoc with music/sound since the early 50s. it should be noted, however, that their music reached the widest audiences through their musical accompaniment through the dance performances of merce cunningham’s dance company; which drew audiences from a remarkable array of constituencies: those expecting ballet, those expecting modern dance, members of the avant-garde 20th century music crowd, a remarkable wide panoply of artists from what has come to be called the neo-avant-garde [post WWII]. so audiences tended to regularly clash attempting to outdo each other with boos [and often much worse expressions] and bravos, often creating scandals equally as riotous as Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring in 1913.

the Musica Elettronica Viva [MEV] consortium, consisting of several musican and shifting over the decades, included Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski, Allan Bryant, Carol Plantamura, Ivan Vandor, Steve Lacy, and Jon Phetteplace.  They performed to riotous acclaim in 1967, 1969, and early 1970s, and intermittently ever since.

I include three of their early performance here; which, to our ears in 2018 will not be shocked. But it should be noted that an even earlier forebear was Edgar Varese, and his significant influence on Frank Zappa, also composing and performing in temporal parallel. All to say, the standard divisions and seemingly well delineated genres of rock&roll, avant-garde classical, jazz, experimental and electronic music, in retrospect, are far from being so clearly bounded. today’s well know categories such as noise, industrial, electronica and the like seem commercially tame, and tainted, in comparison to those forging uncompromising paths beyond and outside of traditional ‘musical’ expectations after Schoenberg.

and while there is no doubt that MEV was given ‘license’ to compose and perform as they did by Cage, they cannot be reduced to the ‘Cagean’ school of chance operations. they were equally influenced by, and this is not well known, Earle Brown’s invention of ‘indeterminancy’, otherwise known as ‘open form’, which Brown was the first to invent and develop over the course of his remarkable career; beginning with his Folio in 1952, as commented on in a post below. chance operations and indeterminancy should not, at all, be confused.


musica elettronica viva: late 60s, early 70s: hinge

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