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Between Rock & Hard Places (A Musical Autobiodyssey) Tom Constanten Copyright 1992 by Tom Constanten Published by Hulogosi, P.O. Box 1188, Eugene, Oregon 97440 ISBN 0-938493-16-7 excerpts 1627w

-page 45- Robert Moran stayed at the pensione when he came down from his studies in Vienna for a few weeks. At the time he was composing these remarkable graphic scores -- pieces that looked as amazing as they sounded -- and one evening a stray droplet of ink flew onto an open area in a page he'd only just begun. Time to call it a night! But when he'd finished the page, you couldn't tell where it was, and he hadn't erased it. The score evidently had grown around it. -page 45-

-page 46- There was a concert at the United States Information Service in Milan that showcased three of Berio's students. Bob Moran and I were joined by Paul Epstein, whom we'd met in Berio's class at Mills. At the same time Epstein had been an acolyte at that Temple of Philistia, the U.C. Berkeley music department, studying with Roger Sessions. ...

Another of my pieces on the program was Dimensioni. It was my first exploration in the use of a four dimensional hypercube -- a tesseract -- as a compositional base. That is, the music was all on one large page, with musical segments at each of the sixteen vertices of a projected four dimensional supercube. Having four dimensions to work with, one could array musical events according to varying parameters at will. For instance, as one moves from left to right across the page, the music would get faster. Front to back, louder. Earlier that week, on the upright piano in Louis Andriessen's apartment on Via Mario Pagano, Bob Moran had made a recording of it, which was played at the concert. -page 46-

-page 53-56- Soon after my return to the States, in late summer, 1963, I reconnected with Phil Lesh. We'd been corresponding all along during my European sojourn, and I rejoined him in Palo Alto, where we shared the hospitality of then Stanford graduate student Howard Hersh. Phil and I had encountered Howard at the Ojai Festival the year before. Later known for his erudition as program annotator for the San Francisco Symphony, he first impressed me with his uncanny simulation of the sound of a siren. This was displayed to greatest effect when he was riding in the back seat of a car. ...

Meanwhile, our Berio classmate Steve Reich had become involved with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, contributing an appropriately impudent score (performed on kazoos) for their production of Ubu Roi.(*1* Premiering December 10, 1963) He invited Phil and me to participate in four 'Music Now Koncerts,'(*2* May 21, 23, 29, and 30, 1964) to be given at the Mime Troupe's theatre located in the since demolished church at Twentieth and Capp streets (nowadays it's a playground).

There were four performances of a wide ranging program, featuring ensemble improvisations with Steve at the keyboard, Jon Gibson on clarinet, Georges Rey on violin, Gwen Watson on 'cello, Paul Breslin on bass, and myself occasionally inside the piano. Phil contributed a piece for the group, including a jubilantly eruptive prepared piano solo for me, called 6 7/8 for Bernardo Moreno. In the true, adventurous aleatoric spirit of the times Phil shuffled the segments anew before each performance. One of many things I've admired him for. The first half of the program closed with Gwen Watson playing a Bach suite, and I opened the second half with a prepared piano plus tape solo called Piano Piece Number Three.

Like Dimensioni, Piano Piece Number Three was a 'tesseract' score, giving me enormous latitude when it came to designing each individual performance. Steve Reich had just acquired a new 'toy,' a Sony 777 two-track tape recorder. He helped me prepare a tape with a separate version of Piano Piece Number Three on each track, distinguishable from each other and from the live performance by subtle variations among the piano preparations. The plan for the premiere was for me to start playing, to be joined by the tape after thirty seconds or so.

The opening night of the series was punctuated by the sounds of the judo class that met upstairs. Coming on right after intermission, I found them hard to ignore. Rather than consider it an interruption, though (like, what am I going to do -- go tell a roomful of black belts to knock it off?), I simply found a place in the multi-dimensional road map of a score that could be interpreted to fit the sounds of bodies being thrown to the floor(ceiling, to us), and took it from there. The way things meshed together in the ensuing performance worked beyond my wildest imaginings. Sounds on the tape would seemingly imitate what I'd just done live. Crashes on the low strings would turn into the sound of passing cars outside. Splashes in the high register would turn into a spatter of coughs among the audience. I'm not clear as to how or why it works, but I've seen that it works.

The most satisfying version was at the third concert, where the tape was started immediately and I dived right in 'balls to the wall.' If only Tamara Rey had let us borrow the tape recorder one more night. Steve Reich picked up on it right away, quoting the soft drink slogan: 'You like it, and it likes you!' Even in the dark green woodsiness of Northern California he marched to a Manhattan tempo. The sign on the mirror at his Bernal Heights home said "Are you a bore?" He drove a taxicab in San Francisco at the time, and was putting together a musique concrete tape piece out of recordings he'd secretly made in the cab.

His rap has changed but little since those days. 'Bach, Bebop, and Stravinsky' are as pertinent to his approach today as ever. Although interested in improvisation, he wasn't as willing as I to go along with some of the post-Cage developments, but we did agree on the preeminence of Earle Brown in that circle. ...

The new music was starting to make inroads, such as they were, into the more standard concert venues. Josef Krips held his breath and took the plunge, conducting the San Francisco Symphony in the Passacaglia, Op. 1, by Anton Webern. (*3* January 15, 16, 17, 1964.) It was a big step for him. Across the Bay, Gerhard Samuel not only led the Oakland Symphony in a creditable performance of the concert suite from Alban Berg's Lulu, (*4* February 14, 15, 1964) but also programmed Terry Riley's IN C in the main concert series. Now, that was a major step.

The Tape Music Center had moved out of its attic at the Conservatory and into a new home, sharing 321 Divisadero with Ann Halprin's dance company. Continuing its remarkable series of presentations, the Tape Music Center featured new electronic works and performance pieces from the cutting edge of the American avant-garde. There was a fabulous set of five concerts with John Cage and David Tudor at 321 Divisadero in late March/early April 1964. Programs I and IV were the same, as were II and V, but with this kind of music it's always new anyway. David Tudor gave an electrifying performance of Cage's Variations II, as well as a hypnotically ethereal Toshi Ichiyanagi piece. Cage's Music Walk parted the Curtains of Chaos in a whimsical way. 'Backstage,' Bob Moran did me the honor of introducing me to the Great Man. John Cage's humor put me at ease right away -- he mentioned having heard of our Winter Music blizzard at Mills -- and made it seem quite unlike your typical first meeting.

At another 321 Divisadero event, Pauline Oliveros' accordion was heard in Ramon Sender's Desert Ambulance ("This is a cultural desert," she said, "and we're coming to rescue you!"). The music was accompanied by a light score (as billed in the program) by Tony Martin, who was later to bring his art to places like the Avalon Ballroom.

A few doors up Divisadero, on the same side of the street, was the Magic Theatre for Madmen Only. The Wolf of the Steppes was already at large and stalking minds in San Francisco. One of the shop's proprietors was a friend and neighbor of mine (at whose house I saw the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show) named Mike Ferguson. He'd turn up again later as the keyboard player for the Charlatans. -page 53-56-

-page 110- Margaret Fabrizio (*7* Described by composer/critic Charles Shere, with a decorous pause, as...'special.') heard Dejavalse at the Art Institute of Chicago and contacted me about writing a piece for harpsichord. She took the resulting work, Sonata Desaxificata, with her on a European concert tour, premiering it in Paris. (*8* September 6, 1981) Following up a lead from Hiller, I made contact with David Harrington of the Kronos String Quartet. They've been kind enough since to program several of my pieces, even inviting me to join them as composer-in-residence at the 1982 San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival.

They played my Lignified Rock Episodes at four different venues during the festival. At the end of the suite, a rhythmically driving number called Kentucky Chaconne, violist Hank Dutt put his instrument on his lap and led the audience in a clap-along. The music then goes on to dissolve beneath the beat, leaving the audience to carry it. The way it further dissolved into enthusiastic applause was especially effective. Several people told me that they heard the ensuing Mozart quartet differently as a result of having heard mine. -page 110-

Typed by Cheryl Vega 3-18-95


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