This fall the entire West Coast is making a concerted celebration of its own music. Performing ensembles from Seattle to San Diego, including Portland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Bay Area will coordinate their concerts, reducing conflicts of dates where possible, in order to demonstrate the richness of new music performance here on the Coast.
The emphasis is not necessarily on music by West Coast composers. Each ensemble will demonstrate what its normal operation is. The attempt is not just another bicentennial effort. But the origin of this coastal festival makes clear the effect it intends to make.
The idea took shape in Los Angeles, where Roger Reynolds, Leonard Stein and Dorrance Stalvey agreed that a forthcoming ISCM (Int'l Soc. of Contemporary Music) concert in Boston, which had programmed only music by Northeast composers, was the last straw. A loose consortium of centers and ensembles regularly performing contemporary music seemed the answer, with concerts focused in October, documentation of groups by way of a booklet, broadcast of tapes, and the like. The resulting impact, it was reasoned, might alert the East (and the rest of the world) to the existence of music on the West Coast, and an annual affair might result, perhaps with broad-based funding support.
The Los Angeles committee wrote Richard Felciano of their plans, and he sent out letters to all the Bay Area ensembles he could think of to attend a preliminary meeting, at which the idea was received with enthusiasm. Response from the Bay Area helped Los Angeles to firm up three stages of activity as the essential thrust of Music West:
1. All Centers and performing groups (single performers too) are asked to produce information on the nature, history, formation, philosophy, special interest, etc. of their activity.
2. The month of October__plus a week or two__was set aside as New Music Month; each group was asked to plan a concert or two, developing its own programming so that the flavor of individual groups would be preserved.
3. A Festival will take place at a single location as soon as possible, probably next year. Programming and selection of participating groups will be developed by representatives of each region.
Documentation: a booklet will be prepared for international distribution containing the information from stage 1 and reports on stage 2. The present EAR/Music West represents a draft of that booklet.
On June 6, 23 composers met with Felciano__all of them representing a performing group__to decide on immediate activity, since time is growing short, and Felciano himself will leave for a year in July. After much discussion__the tone of the meeting was quite democratic, a sort of "town meeting" of composers and performing groups__a committee of three was named to administer the activities leading up to stage 2: Janice Giteck, Elinor Armer and Joan Gallegos.
That steering committee coordinated all the Bay Area activity through the following three months, including the calendar and the gathering of all the information in this publication.
All major decisions on the nature and direction of new Music Month, however, were taken at open meetings attended by members of performing ensembles and by independent performing composers. This has resulted in the rich diversity of the musical events taking place this fall.
More than other parts of the West, the Bay Area seems to produce musical activity of every description. There is an Establishment here, even of the avant garde; but there is also a great deal of independent activity. The Establishment has grown logically out of institutions like the Conservatory, Mills College, and more recently U.C. and the state college campuses. The independents have always co-existed, but only recently has their activity taken on so visible an importance.
Before World War II new musical activity here was fostered by various Federal relief projects and by the Composers' Forum, as well as by the faculties of the various colleges. The music seems to have been largely conservative, with the important exception of an experimental tradition dating back to Henry Cowell, born in Menlo Park, Charles Seeger, who taught musicology and especially ethnomusicology at U. C., and their two most notable students, Lou Harrison and John Cage. (Harrison was born in Portland, Cage in Los Angeles; they both studied with Schoenberg in Los Angeles and combined that experience with the experimental and ethnomusicological attitudes to produce highly personal but uniquely West coast-flavored musics.)
Since the war new music here has gone through three fairly distinct phases. Returning soldiers and young students concentrated on tighter, more academic approaches at first, their activity reflected by the Composers' Forum and encouraged by such teachers as Darius Milhaud, Roger Sessions and Andrew Imbrie. In the early '60s the undercurrent of experimentalism suddenly surfaced: La Monte Young and Terry Riley gave concerts at U.C. Berkeley__outside the music department much of the time__; Robert Erickson led Ramon Sender, Mort Subotnick and Pauline Oliveros to establish the Tape Music Center, first at the S.F. Conservatory, then at 321 Divisadero, finally at Mills College; Robert Moran gave a series of events frequently bringing the media; the Dancers Workshop led by Ann Halprin became increasingly active; and KPFA gave a number of concerts at 321 Divisadero. Among the highlights of these years were the Cage-Wolff concert at the S.F. Museum, the Tudorfest at 321 Divisadero, the Third Annual Festival of the Avant Garde at the same location.
Toward the end of the '60s the energies of Bay Area new music began to move away from the establishment. Robert Erickson, whose importance to the scene is barely hinted in his recollections printed in EAR 3.3/7, moved to San Diego, taking Pauline Oliveros with him. First Loren Rush, then Howard Hersh and Bob Moran left uneasy at the Conservatory. KPFA gave up the production of concerts. The Tape Center had moved to Mills, and its leadership moved it in a looser, more open direction. While campuses like San Francisco and Hayward State, the conservatory and (finally!) U.C. Berkeley did intensify their performing ensembles of new music, everywhere but at the Conservatory these ensembles began to solidify, restricting themselves to a more academic attitude. Newspaper critics had rejoiced in labeling the preceding new music as "neo-Dada"; the same could hardly be said of much being performed in the late '60s and early '70s.
But Bay Area New Music was not retrogressing. Instead a new kind of energy was developing among independent performer-composers, partly influenced by pioneers like La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Steve Reich (all from the Bay Area) and partly liberated by the live electronic technology developed by such researchers as Don Buchla and explored by the Tape Music Center while still at 321 Divisadero and by composers like Larry Austin, then at U.C. Davis, and his students Stan Lunetta and John Dinwiddie, among others. (The First Festival of Live Electronic Music was given at Davis in 1967(?jh) and Mills College in 1967; it included performances by such members of the ONCE group, formerly at Ann Arbor, Michigan, as Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley, both of whom are now prominent in the Bay Area scene at Santa Cruz and Mills.)
This new direction in new music is hardly restricted to Northern California. Indeed much of it was influenced, either directly or by reaction, by international tendencies: Bay Area composers had studied at Darmstadt; the Cage influence was strong on composers like Moran (who performed Cage's "Concert" at 321; Stockhausen taught at Davis in 19647(?). Recent years have seen the phenomenon broadening, however, and what has been a no-man's land between Cage and his purposelessness, Stockhausen and his mystical romanticism, and the more traditional, outer-directed approach of Lou Harrison seems to be in the process of development as composers like Bob Davis and Neil Rolnick explore it, bringing the fragments of world music with them, planting and building in a territory until now largely overlooked.
In a sense, new music moved out of the library and the studio into the tape studio and the concert hall in the early '60s; now it's moving further into the performing area. Jazz, rock, live electronics, avant garde theater and dance are infiltrating a music whose boundaries have been successively loosened by new music attitudes. Northern California's expression of the arts has always been "organic," more humanistic, oriented toward the expression of life on earth, characterized less by intellectual expression or virtuoso display than by an eclectic, accepting spirit. The scene here is loose and forgiving, and it encourages the development of a large number of loose, sometimes short-lived, but enthusiastic groups. They don't often work together; they are more interested in getting their own work done. Their independence is vital; for the most part they are not the sort of group which can successfully join an established institution. But they contribute excitingly and fully to the expanding continuity of new music, and when they do achieve a simultaneous effort, as they do this fall, the result is extremely impressive. -Charles Shere p.1