Talking Music by William Duckworth (c) 1995 by Schirmer Books ISBN 0-02-870823-7 excerpts 847w

- pg 392 -

DUCKWORTH: Who do you think of as your contemporaries?

TYRANNY: My contemporaries, although they're slightly younger, are the generation of composers, who were at Mills College when I was working there. Peter Gordon, for instance, who does exclusively tonal music now and had produced many pop albums, was then doing a lot of electronic work in more expanded forms. And Frankie Mann, Paul DeMarinis, and Laetitia (de Compiegne) Sonami.

- pg 404, 405 -

DUCKWORTH: Let's back up a moment. What made you decide to move to California originally?

TYRANNY: Well, a combination of boredom with Ann Arbor, and also the idea of doing, full time, something that I was really interested in. Bob Ashley had offered me a job as a technician at the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College.

DUCKWORTH: What were your actual duties at Mills?

TYRANNY: First, I had the technician job at the center. Then, two years later, Darius Milhaud left, and his protege, who taught a lot of the harmony and counterpoint classes, left also, and they needed someone to do that. There was only one Ph.D, Margaret Lyon, and her attitude was you don't have to have the degree, it's the experience that counts. There were several teachers there older than me who also didn't have degrees or only had a bachelor's degree. And Mills had a new-music tradition going back for many years, largely due to Margaret Lyon, who didn't like the music, necessarily, but believed that that's what a college should support. She had the very classic idea of a college: you are supposed to develop knowledge; you're not suppose to spoon-feed them training for jobs, which is partly the idea now, I'm afraid. So she supported that whole idea, although she only taught Renaissance and Baroque music; that was what she really loved. And we all admired her greatly for that.

DUCKWORTH: Did you actually become a member of the faculty?

TYRANNY: Yes. First I was a Lecturer in Music, and then an Instructor. I taught classic harmony and counterpoint -- three different levels of it, lots of students -- for three years. And I taught an analysis class for two years, and jazz improvisation and literature for about the same amount of time. I taught in the so-called regular music department, and I sometimes had the technician and recording job, so a lot of times I was working well over forty hours a week. Often fifty hours. It was quite a lot.

DUCKWORTH: Did you find the basic environment at Mills conducive to writing music?

TYRANNY: The whole atmosphere of the center was extremely conducive to imagination. The social thing was incredible. People could constantly give information and support. Just the way the center itself was organized, if you can say it was organized, was conducive to a great deal of creativity.

- pg 406 -

DUCKWORTH: In terms of aesthetics, though, did you take ideas from popular music into experimental music?

TYRANNY: Not the way Gershwin did. What I was always trying to bring together were the emotions of popular music and the ideas or the information of avant-garde music. I was interested in how to make that not be separate, because experientially it wasn't. While I would be playing in a band, I would have images and ideas that would occur just as much as when I was listening or playing some so-called avant-garde piece. But the cliche was that pop music was emotional and avant-garde music was somehow intellectual or conceptual. But conceptual, to me, has a certain feeling you know. Just like they say good Zen smells like roasted chestnuts. I don't believe in abstraction per se. I think that every structuralization or imagining has an emotional component as well as intellectual and social components. And I don't care to emphasize that one is more important than the other. But I do think they should be presented in a way that the experience is communicative and powerful. That's what brings the thing together for me.


DUCKWORTH: When did you move to New York City?

TYRANNY: September of '83

DUCKWORTH: What made you decide to move?

TYRANNY: Well, I was no longer working at Mills. Also, I was in New York or Europe, I think, about three or four months a year. Plus, there's very little support for new music in California, despite all the surface things. The California scene is very college-educated tastes, so that you have your midstream jazz festival, your symphony, and your opera season -- all the things you're taught are the culture, you know. The PBS idea of culture. I'm not trying to be ironic, I'm just saying that's literally what's there. So the wonderful musicians and composers who are still out there, pretty much when they do a concert, have to start from ground zero every single time. Everybody there is working second jobs and doing everything they can. They put out some CDs and they do some concert tours, which is great, but it's very hard.