Historical Note

A Historical Note on P[l]aces

Following is historical note on the composing of P[L]ACES, excerpts of which were printed in program at New York Performance.

Randy Hostetler composed P[L]ACES in the winter of l988-89. He was 25 and in his final year at California Institute of the Arts. It was an ambitious undertaking and the composer underestimated how much time would be involved in realizing his complex concept. Inspired by his studies of the I Ching certain portions of the score were determined by tossing hundreds of coins. This led to vigorous exchanges about the worthiness of such an approach with Morton Subotnik, the composer’s principal advisor that year (exchanges that, according to a fellow student, were so loud and heated they could be heard through the walls of the adjoining room.)

A CalArts student performance was scheduled for February 9, 1989. The young composer was very popular and widely regarded as a leader in the world of experimental music at CalArts and so he had little trouble recruiting players to perform the piece. But he had great difficulty completing the tedious work of preparing individual parts that met his exacting goals in time for the performance. One player recalls that as the musicians were walking into Roy O. Disney Hall at CalArts the night of the scheduled student performance, Randy came running down the hall after them crying “Wait, wait, I have an amended part for you!” The composer was drawn and red-eyed, having worked to complete amended parts for three days and nights without sleep. As luck would have it, there was a freak blizzard that evening that closed the interstate north of CalArts and several people expected for the concert could not make it. Taking advantage of this event, several players insisted that the performance of the piece be postponed to a later date (when, in their view, it might be more “ready”.) Randy reluctantly agreed and with great chagrin broke the news to his family who had flown in from the east coast to hear what this P[L]ACES was all about.

Two months later, with several different performers having replaced earlier ones, a student reading of P[L]ACES finally was shoehorned into the busy pre- graduation schedule for an audience of some twenty people (that this time did not include his family.) The composer by then had completed something resembling parts for the players although he confided to some that he still needed to do further work on them (including, as was his wont, the addition of extremely detailed instructions for each player.) He still had not prepared a complete publishable score and conducted the reading from memory using as a guide only the sheets of large graph paper that contained colored blocks representing his compositional plan. (The young composer had originally thought a conductor was neither necessary nor advisable and had pencilled himself in to play the piano. At the insistence of his fellow student players, he agreed to add a conductor and to conduct the student performance.)

In the months immediately following graduation from CalArts, Hostetler continued to work on the score sporadically but then found it increasingly difficult to return to it. He had been encouraged by other composers to complete a score so that it could be professionally performed and recorded and he wanted to do so. But technological advances meant that the old computer software he had used at CalArts would not work with the newer computers to which he had access after graduation. The struggling young artist, who was working long hours to pay his bills, compose new works, and run the highly regarded Living Room Series of concerts in Los Angeles, was faced with the daunting task of starting the laborious process of preparing a score and all the parts on updated software.

Completion of a publishable score for P[L]ACES was always hanging over the composer’s head. One friend described it as “Randy’s Albatross”. In conversations with his mother about what he would be working on in the coming months, he would list his creative ideas and almost always end, with a sigh, “and, of course, there’s always P[L]ACES.”