Kyle Gann - Humor - Classical Music is Dead

Philly the Kid (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 16:51:14 -0500

>|Subject: Kyle Gann - Humor - Classical Music is Dead
>|Date: Mon, 03 Mar 1997 14:52:03 -0800
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>|"Classical Music? Forget It, Jake: It's Uptown."
>|by Kyle Gann
>|By the time I got there a crowd had already gathered.
>|There, in the middle, was the body, stretched out with a
>|reel's worth of high-grade tape wrapped around its neck,
>|and still soiled with the muck of the East River. It was a
>|ghastly scene, but nobody seemed particularly upset; in
>|fact, several people were smirking. "If it had been united, it
>|could never have been defeated," somebody chuckled near
>|me. I looked up; it was Fred Rzewski. Alvin Lucier said
>|nothing, but cordoned off the body with a long thin wire
>|that hummed ominously. John Adams pushed his way
>|through the crowd and grabbed my arm. "This is the work
>|of Arab terrorists!" he snarled. That was a knee-jerk
>|reaction; he was still bitter about the Klinghoffer episode.
>|Classical music was dead. And I didn't need to call the
>|American Symphony Orchestra League to know that they
>|were going to want somebody to pin charges on. I needed
>|When I got to my office, there was a livid message on my
>|machine from Charles Wuorinen. "You know who did it!"
>|he screamed. "Those damn minimalists! They've been out
>|to kill classical music for 30 years!" Charlie's kind of a
>|nutcase, but hell, it was a lead. I popped around
>|to Steve Reich's apartment. "Sure, I had a fling with
>|classical music in the '80s," he admitted nervously. "But
>|ever since The Cave, I've been strictly into electronics." "I
>|buy your story, Steve," I crooned to calm him,"but the
>|league's going to want to see proof. You gonna come out to
>|show them?" "Come out to show them?" he repeated. I saw
>|he had gone into one of his phases, so I left him there.
>|I know Terry Riley was out of the loop, and Phil Glass had
>|been pretty cozy with classical for the last few years; I
>|made a mental walk-through of his entire output and
>|couldn't find a motive. So I paid a visit to the Big Kahuna,
>|La Monte "Hillbilly" Young. He had an alibi, too. Problem
>|was, it was six hours long. Classical music died a quick
>|death; Young couldn't have pulled off a job like that in
>|under a month.
>|I waltzed around to Bob "Wolfman" Ashley's digs. I knew
>|he hadn't done it-- the guy never touched an orchestra in his
>|life -- but he was a big man in the underground, and he
>|seemed to know things other people didn't. When I asked if
>|he'd heard anything, he didn't even look up from his vodka,
>|just moaned, "If I were from the big town, I would be calm
>|and debonair. The big town doesn't let its riffraff out."
>|That didn't mean anything to me, so I kept mum. When he
>|saw I wasn't going to leave, he drawled over his shoulder,
>|"You ever know classical music to give a woman a fair
>|deal?" I shook my head. "Cherchez la femme," he muttered
>|bitterly. Then, more slowly, "She was a visitor."
>|Ellen Zwilich's landlady suggested I try her at the Pulitzer
>|Club. After I stiff-armed my way past the bouncer, a blur in
>|white gloves ran out in a hurry, clucking, "Oh dear, oh
>|dear! I shall be too late!" I saw enough to recognize David
>|Del Tredici. Once in the street, he disappeared into a
>|manhole. I resisted an impulse to follow, but that was
>|suspicious. When I cornered Zwilich, though, sipping
>|martinis with Joe "Fluttertongue" Schwantner and Jack
>|"Jack" Harbison, the trio looked as morose as piano tuners
>|at a synthesizer trade show. "You think we were
>|involved?" she laughed sardonically, "That's right, we
>|bumped off the goose that laid the golden eggs." Elliott
>|Carter must have gotten wind that I was there, for suddenly
>|two Columbia gradstudents appeared from behind and gave
>|me an expenses-paid whirlwind trip into the back alley.
>|I dusted my pants off and decided I had barked up the
>|wrong tree anyway. The Pulitzer gang was high on classical
>|music's payola list; as long as they kept their yaps shut, it'd
>|come across with the occasional concerto commission..
>|The only broad big and outside enough to pull a stunt like
>|this was Pauline "Ma" Oliveros. Oh sure, she talked peace
>|and good vibes, but there was something about the way she
>|squeezed that accordion -- as if she meant it. But this time I
>|wasn't going direct. I looked up an old connection named
>|Annea "The Torch" Lockwood. I figured any dame who
>|started out her career burning pianos wouldn't scruple to
>|help deep-six an entire genre.
>|"It was just another random killing," she insisted when I
>|tracked her down at a sleazy East Village gallery. "John
>|Cage is dead, hon," I countered. "Try again." "Look," she
>|stammered, '"you're going after small game. Classical
>|music was drowned out, right? You need a louder suspect.
>|Know a schmo named John Zorn?"
>|Zorn had crossed my mind, but I had seen his victims
>|before: so cut up that you couldn't tell what piece came
>|from which body. This wasn't his style. I thanked her for
>|the tip, though, and headed for the Knitting Factory in
>|search of a joker named Branca. I could hear his electric
>|guitars as far away as Washington Square. Word on the
>|street was that he was calling his pieces "symphonies" even
>|though he didn't use an orchestra. Sounded like a takeover.
>|He had good reasons for wanting classical music out of the
>|way. When I got there, an old guy named Nancarrow was
>|guarding the box office. "Branca may be backstage and he
>|may not," he stated mechanically, in two tempos at once
>|As I stepped into the back, the blast of a high-decibel shriek
>|knocked me against the wall, where I got a blow on the
>|back of my head that made me hear Stockhausen's Zyklus
>|and Varese's Ionisation at the same time, with encores.
>|When I came to, a harpy from hell with cavernous eyes and
>|sharp claws was leaning over me. I made a quick grab for
>|my .45 (I never carry a gun but, just for the heck of it I
>|often make a grab for one), when the demon spoke: "Sorry,
>|didn't mean to rattle you, sport."
>|"Oh, it's you, Diamanda." Nice Greek girl from San Diego.
>|Had a funny thing about makeup, though, and a voice that
>|could bounce your eardrums off each other. "Geez, try not
>|to sneak up on a guy."
>|"I'm going to save you a lot of trouble," she said, lighting a
>|cig by breathing on it. "Nobody here had anything to do
>|with classical music getting waxed. It was a suicide."
>|"Suicide?" I coughed, still caressing my noggin.
>|"Think about it," she urged. "Tried to starve itself to death.
>|A tiny, self-imposed diet of the same German and Russian
>|food over and over. Cholesterol in the high 600s. Didn't
>|want to grow. Refused to eat anything new. Kept trying to
>|pretend the 20th century never happened . Severe
>|personality disorder. It never established any roots here
>|anyway, still obsessed with the old country, and acted so
>|hoity-toity to cover up its insecurity. Suicide was the only
>|way it could save face."
>|"You're sure of that, huh?"
>|"Sure I'm sure. I could see it coming. That's why I quit
>|playing Mozart concerts and started singing Xenakis 15
>|years ago."
>|Something about the way she said it -- in a piercing wail
>|three octaves above middle C -- made me think that was the
>|best explanation I was going to get.
>|I went back to my office and was greeted by another
>|blinking light on the machine. It was Susan McClary;
>|there was no such thing as classical music in the first place,
>|she claimed, it was just a construct invented by white males
>|to subjugate women and minorities. "Let her believe that if
>|it makes her feel better," I thought, clicking her off in
>|I poured myself an inch or two of cheap whiskey, parked my loafers on
>|the desk, and snapped my fingers to a kickass rendition of 4'33" that
>|the city was playing in the street below.