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O sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His Name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96, 1-2

The tones of air, I know not how they flow; where'er they move, all things melodious grow.
Faust PT II, Goethe

Recent
Recordings

Lost World Tango

Two Lonely People

Galaxy

Elysium

Blues for Zarathustra

Wings of the Morning

Cycles

Doloroso

17 Solo Piano Improvisations

Music in Three Parts

House of Counted Days

Voyage to Arcturus

Ron Thomas performances, recordings, teaching, composition and essays.

Preoccupied by the Dramatics of Experience: Work Notes

“….willing to sacrifice all satisfaction and vanity for its sake……what is it? Difficult to say simply ….a book, architecturally sound and premeditated, and not a collection of casual inspirations however wonderful that might be…So there, dear friend, is the bare confession of this vice which I’ve rejected a thousand times….but it holds me in its sway and I may yet be able to succeed, not in the completion of this work as a whole (one would have to be God-knows-what for that!) but in showing a successful fragment….proving through finished portions that this book does exist, and that I was aware of what I wasn’t able to accomplish.”
Stephane Mallarme, letter to Paul Verlaine, November 16, 1869

Music creates….equivalencies….enhanced equivalencies of experience….(RT and Barzun)

On Japanese Haiku.
(I have been sadly unable to locate the source of the following pertinences.)

“….Moved and preoccupied by the dramatics of experience….” (Ronnyt)

Axiomatic systems presuppose a deductive method; they depend on that method but it is not found within it.

(The following: source unknown: Images from p. 24 from the introduction of a book on Impressionism, possibly the one on Impressionism in the music of various countries.)

Nature
Mists
Sunlight
Snow
Autumn leaves
Winter solitudes
Spring awakening
The fullness of summer
Raindrops
Rivers
Streams
The sea
Sunrise
Sunset
Night
Distance
The confused hubbub of far-away revelry
The murmurs of distant voices
Tolling bells
Clarion calls from ‘leagues beyond the sunset-bars, their echoes and reverberation’
Dreams
Long forgotten memories rising to the surface
Visions
Fantasies
Mythological stirrings
Semi-somnolence

Postulates from which (consequentially) things flow. Magister Ludi of Herman Hesse. The Shaman world of Carlos Castenada. The Brave New World of Controller Mustafa Mond. Perhaps we should say, “one set of postulates at a time” or perhaps “parallel postulates? Multi dimensional layers of postulates? Parallel and juxtaposed postulates? ( Magic Realism as a model of reality?)

Leos Janacek’s advice to a composer. “Cultivate the field that has been given to you”.

THREE CONTEXTS OF MAKING A PIECE
1) the context of the work at hand
2) the context of the composer
3) the context of the composer’s moment in history
I am not looking for a ”unified theory of all things” whether musical, artistic, philosophical, theological, or otherwise….

A STRATEGY

  1. find something (“something that can be written down” can be used as a determining feature for “what is found”….)
  2. ….write it down
  3. find something to follow it (something that does not spoil what’s already there)
  4. write that down
    At this point the piece has a form. It is something. From now on, the choices may be determined (if need be) by the options offered by the observable features of this form that has come to pass in the 1-4 process.

“A fascination with things distant is a marked characteristic of the impressionist period. The distant is always more beautiful: in the urban landscapes of Monet or Whistler, the industrial suburbs seem transformed into unreal palaces, set against the setting sun or the night sky. Associating the dream with a certain preference for the blurred and indefinite, impressionist sensibility has a predisposition to give way to this attraction of the distant.

Diffused silhouettes blurred on the horizon ... faint and distant sounds
carried by the wind ... the fetes of Debussy are distant ... the sound of bells reaches us muted by the thickness and murmur of leaves ... nuance and subtle shading ... appetite for half-colors, Voices, reflections weakened by distance, refracted in the surrounding air.”

A rearrangement of remarks by Michael Fleury (Translated by Keith Anderson) found in Liner notes to Charles Koechlin’s Jean-Christophe

The Busoni Legacy: The best lasting antidote for the whole of the reactionary old modern musicians, e.g. Bartok-Schoenberg-early Stravinsky. Hence, WOLPE as the only alternative to these old reactionaries (not to be meant in any political sense but in the sense of their position as reacting to romanticism and post romanticism in music)

Lourie, Stravinsky (in his repentant conversation with Busoni), Wolpe, Sibelius, Britten, Varese…

The art work as a window to the meta-physical (spiritual), not the only such window, but the one suited to me. I stared captivated through it…..The window of art, What I saw there trained my sensibilities to read life as if it were literature, to look for the literary renderings in and of the events…Fragments contains references to Looking Into the Mirror of Literature, this should be changed to Window….

From Peter Eben “Fifty Years of Plus and minus” 1996 “I start with one tone and ask myself, what can I do with this?”

The Multiple or Juxtaposed Moods of Rachmaninov’s Third; the allegro and adagio found in the same passage, another quality I would like to introduce into my music before I am finished with composition. This Elliot Carter-like effect (supposedly modernistic) is mentioned nowhere to my knowledge in the Rachmaninov literature.

An essential quality of my '70s music is missing from characteristic works of the '90s, the contrapuntal tensions properly associated with good harmony. This effect is worked to good effect in the Tryptch Ballade-Violin, Cello, Piano Trio-Impromptu of 1974-1976 but missing from the Elegy the Epitathalamion, Music for Bar Sax, Vn Piano, etc. I should like to explore this aspect again, if I write again…

The library like a used bookstore is a place to wander and learn. The used bookstore is also a mind, a person, a set of propositions, as the books leave and come in they are like the propositions in a person also leaving and coming in…. Similarly, the design of a Japanese garden. Surprises in events, space, turning a corner, Takemitsu using this model as a design for his through-composed pieces…. The used bookstore is also a metaphor for the Bible. The Bible is a collection of books, so is the bookstore. (Although the bible is fixed). If the bookstore is also a model of the mind as well as it is of the Bible, then could a Bible be a model of mind, and mind a model of God (?). From Frye comes the word “Bricolage” as used by Levi-Strauss: the putting together of bits and pieces…isn’t the Bible, the Mind, the person, the used bookstore ----the putting together/ coexistence/adjacency of bits and pieces, more or less fixed?

2/20/02 from____________
WOW. That is all I can say from that musical adventure! I am left speechless after witnessing that unbelievable concert....You certainly have found it. I mean it was like listening to Shoenberg, Stravinsky, Debussy, Miles and Herbie (and maybe some keith...haha) all wrapped into a delightful package...you could almost taste the intensity! Well, I had one of those experiences that WILL change me forever tonight and I just wanted to thank you for that and I am again so lucky to have a such a great mentor and friend like yourself! Talk to ya soon,
Jason
PS I might have to steal some of those charts....haha
2/21/02 response from me
I seem to be getting close to what I immediately wanted to achieve as a jazz musician when I first encountered it in1965. The nature of what I wanted (that synthesis you mentioned, Stravinsky, Herbie, etc.) couldn't possible happen in just a few years apparently. It's taken me 37 years to get this close. One of the reasons I am getting closer to this "dream" from so long ago may very well be that I have had the blessing of obscurity. Fame and recognition can be a terrible distraction for goals like mine. Worse yet it can destroy some, like Jackson Pollock for example who was constitutionally incapable of handling it.
Oh well, that's just my story. All the achievers in this high art thing have their own stories to tell! My story (the details of my particular history) is not meant to be a pattern to follow. Perhaps some of the principles of artistic growth can be applied by younger artists like yourself. That's what I try to present in my teaching. The principles of growth supported by examples from my own progress. The difference is important to note as a student. You want to follow up on the principles, not imitate the surface stuff. Here I go lecturing and pontificating again! Forgive me.
I'm glad you were there, plus you got to meet my lovely Mary Ann. Ain't she a winner?
Looking forward to some more good food times!!!
Ron

Morton Feldman on Jackson Pollock “…..and oh how we watched you, El Matador, waiting for the slaughter or the glory….”

Now for an obscurity of a different order.
From____, a current student having just read Fragments:
Glad you enjoyed it. I'm already starting to build on those ideas in some new directions. Hopefully the essay will be provocative since my aim is really to encourage original thinking in others. We can certainly pick apart some of the items in there if you are interested.
More later,
Ron

Excellent time for you to get away. We'll be away ourselves in Virginia next week from Sunday to Wednesday (the glorious Chincoteague Comfort Suites).
A-politicizing the experimental-music tradition is one of my modest accomplishments. I think it is a useful concept. We did a good job of covering it today, and the Miles Davis and Hector Berlioz quotes from Fragments puts it very precisely.
The Impromptu (1976) which I played on the concert last week belongs to a whole series of works written between 1972 and 1979, clearly a hearty response to my happiness at being FREE from the Political-Historical-Avant-Garde into whose camp I had by default landed due to my longstanding interest in what I now see as simply the experimental tradition. From this point of view the Impromptu is an extremely radical piece!
Always a pleasure to see you and work with you!
RT

That which makes drama “drama”, I have made my music by musical elements be. Through what ? Maybe, the convergence of harmonic melodic and rhythmic elements creating a rich plurality of associative inference? The large rhetorical gestures of e.g. _____’s Concerto leaves me at every moment questioning “Why? Why this now? Why this next?”. There is no reason for anything to happen in his language because the music itself imitates the surface of the “language” of the early moderns of the 20th century…..The key to my modest accomplishment is that this drama-intention in my music necessitated the adoption of the time-scale of Webern, Varese, and late Stravinsky (and the early '60s Carter). What Time Scale? The rhetoric of the miniature is what I have built upon. I am not merely writing minatures. I am interested in the shift of compositional rhetoric that occurred in this new time scale of Webern etc.….not just its “smallness” or brevity. (Schoenberg implied what I am struggling to suggest with his oft quoted comment on Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, ”A Novel in a single sigh”).

The hyper beautiful musical event. Mallarme’s ideals. A magical theatre of the mind in music. All sensibility, no events, the effects of drama without the events….The Debussy trail goes back to him again and again….magic-dream-theatre of mind-effects-sensibility-mood-tone….Dream Music. And of course Borges…. the perfect expression of this…..

My musical contribution is a modest one; to expand on some possibilities deriving from Stravinsky’s musical inventions. Just as Debussy (with whom I am not comparing myself) on a larger and more influential scale did with Wagner. As Robin Holloway argued, Debussy developed what could be done after Wagner’s TIME not after Wagner’s MANNER. So I have tried to do from Stravinsky. He is the key to the way I do things.

The music of hard-working fellow composer David Thomas has been casting a shadow over my own since 1997. It has been a benevolent shadow first of all because Dave and I eat doughnuts and drink strong coffee together to discuss musical and other matters , and secondly, I always welcome the influence of excellence, or, to borrow a biographers phrase about Rembrandt, I have always been moved by the greatness of others. (We influence each other).
David is hungry for…let’s see, what did I call it yesterday?…oh yes….a differentiated aesthetic. And, to make it harder, he demands for his work both novelty and perfection. A handful of such musicians have been drawn to me in the past because I happily endure the same obsession and so I understand. This path can be a nasty business because, as like-minded artist Balanchine has noted: “.....music also brings suffering and a sense of your own insignificance. It’s not always comfortable to be one on one with it....” Originality is illusory. If we have it, it is doubtful that we would know it. And if others trumpeted it up for us on our behalf, it is doubtful that we would believe it.
Few artisans take up such a particularly acute form of self-torment for their daily work; Dave is one, and a solid majority of his works show outstanding progress towards the kind of art we want to make. It is understood that he won’t believe it…. as it should be, of course….

Flaubert’s art, from a letter
The most beautiful works are serene in aspect, unfathomable.
The means by which they act on us are various: they are
Motionless as cliffs,
Stormy as the ocean,
Leafy,
Green and murmurous as forests,
Forlorn as the desert,
Blue as the sky.
Rabelais, Michaelangelo, Shakespeare and Goethe seem to me pitiless.
They are bottomless, infinite, manifold.
Through small apertures we glimpse
Abysses whose somber depths turn us faint.
And yet over the whole there hovers an extraordinary tenderness.
It is like the brilliance of light,
The smile of the sun;
And it is calm, calm and strong.

Flaubert

I wanted to proceed with my studies unwatched by any but chosen tutors and peers therefore I created a work-study music master apprenticeship program that lasted forty years….There are only five primary influences on my work 1) Buddy, my father, Helen my mother, and Glenn, my brother 2) Marthe Motchane 3) the Manhattan School of Music 4) Bill Karlins and 5) Jazz. Naturally these five items can be expanded to a chapter each in a small volume….

Wolpe talked once about an art that was all content and no style. This derives, I think, from the Bauhaus and DeStijl movements which were anti-ornamental, anti symbolic, anti-romantic, 'functional'. Perhaps its best from our vantage point (and for our purposes) to see the two (style no content and content no style) as essentially the same. Wolpe was strongly influenced by his time at the Bauhaus where he was actually a student. He drew much of his descriptive language about music from this visual/architectural movement.

I think what Flaubert meant might also be understood by looking again at the relationship between Poe and Baudelaire. Baudelaire noted and passed on the following: Poe established that the goal of poetry is identical to its own principle. That it has within it nothing but itself. The artist (according to Mallarme who learned to read and teach English in order to read Poe!) knows that there is something superior to sentiment. It is the expression of it. Also, according to symbolist theory, the artist needs to give unity to multiplicity. The barrage of sentiment and experience from which the artist searches for and perceives beauty represents 'multiplicity'. The agent of the artist’s craft distills this barrage into a 'unity' (the art work). What gives unity to multiplicity? The expression (craft) of the impression (the sentiments, etc.) This expression consists in the Symbols appropriate to the artist’s vision. Maybe I'm wrong but our art is still propelled by this essential feature of Modernism. However. We are able to distance ourselves from the Religion of Art that this elevation of expression leads to. In that case (once again) it can be shown that our whole aesthetic is in fact purely technical.

SYMBOLISM

The everyday impression, sentiment, experience ---- Beauty ---- craftsmanship of symbols ---- the transcendant version of The everyday impression ---- (M. Abrams is the best at showing this) etc.

Analyzing Chopin e.g. will show something of what I have discovered that I use in my composing and my improvising and my teaching…..

Mediating among steps between extremes (KS) can be applied to the range of tonal harmonic complexities (as in the first movement of Hindemiths 3rd String 4tet).

Art should be terrible, disruptive, alarming, like a lightning flash….what does it illuminate? The ordinary, the real, the true….and yet somehow, the hoped-for….

“Art is what helps us live, with it existence would be undendurable…..it has remained the comfort of sensitive persons unwilling or ill equipped to wage the battle of life.” Ibid.P 620 Art for Life’s sake.

What drew me to music was always and immediately the literary properties I discerned in it….the musical works I loved were enhanced -equivalent –experience (see Barzun), the expression of the impression achieved through art which I valued as highly as I did the reality that was its base….Once upon a time a young boy took up the task of attaining an art that achieved an intense enhancement of life’s experiences….for this purpose he established a private “Institiution”, a think-tank, a work study program of his own to achieve his goal….I wanted to be a musician the way Debussy and Stravinsky were and a jazz musician the way Miles Davis and Bill Evans were….that type….I achieved a partial success at both, more of the former than the ….The misfit between my musical art and the music world/business (high art and low)derives from my inability to understand music as other than a form of drama. Even discerning and sophisticated listeners among my supporters and colleagues often stumble at certain points in my work where the dramatic emphasis predominates over more strictly musical logic….

Once upon a time, the Dean of a prestigious college of music at a large urban university called for advice from the general community of jazz musicians in preparation for the introduction of a jazz-curriculum into the music-offerings of the institution. To be continued…….

Music structures, arranges and orchestrates EVENTS that represent ways of being and ways of happening….

The Ghosts in the Weed Garden are the forgotten, once discarded and now recusitated influences of the past…..The Weed Garden: my own (no longer) overlooked, hidden away, musical culture…..

Species Counterpoint and Traditional Harmony = Right note Wrong Note, Good note Better note (MSM and Bill Karlins)…….

Tone Rows (Bill Karlins = the Wolpe, Shapey gestural version not the Babbitt combinatorial-mathematical one) = A good Tonal use of chromaticism!

Jazz = All tonal materials return, and the composing mind becomes very quick.

Compositions during the post-Jazz '70s = idiomatic revivals and restorations, settling scores….with myself….

The '90s = Synthesis and Teaching System

Condensed version: THE FIVE SCHOOLS [Bud-Helen-Glenn, Marthe Motchane-Manhattan School of Music-Bill Karlins-Jazz]

a poetic architecture of concentrated meaning (in art feeling is meaning [Henry James], beauty is a physical sensation [Jorges Borges])

I am astonished to note how long I failed to notice that my actual musical work was anecdotal, a subterfuge clearly designed as a cover for my true purpose: capricious quasi-aimless ecstatic reading and listening (music)….a cerebral insomniac….a miscellaniac-encyclopedic….

….fashioning music deliberately from out of continuous immersion in musical experience and literary materials…. to so possess the effect working in the music that personality disappears completely from the scene….(never far from Mallarme….) a music that thinks, music that is itself a mind-thinking-music, the composite entirety of music history and its contents as its grounding, the result of long struggles with self imposed obstacles….roaming freely from room to room in the mansion of music….

Good musical (or any art moving in time like, e.g. cinema) Form, then, is always the result of the interplay of Continuity and Digression.

8/26/03

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