La Monte Young: The sonic signature of the practitioner in their genre of electronic music

The Dream House sound and configuration

Even though the Dream House is based on minimalistic principles, there are reported to be thirty- five speakers  (McCroskey, n.d.) , which produce …

“  … precise and various effects of the configuration of the room on the standing waves are unplanned, as aleatory as the quite pronounced whirs and eddies formed by any motion, any disturbance of  the air. But the multifaceted form of the (currently) thirty-five speaker construction is the principal reason it changes hallucinogenically with every minute shift in  perspective and why the tones freeze in place as long as one is perfectly still while the slightest gesture will startle forth unnameable, wildly plumed melodies from the luxuriant harmonic foliage.”

La Monte Youngs first composition,    Dream  Chord  was developed out of individual pitches. Trio for strings in 1958, becomes the first composed minimalist piece. The composition is made entirely of sustained notes, but doesn’t seem to impress or gain recognition then from his fellow students or teachers. The visual representation of the musical score (see image below)  shows La Monte Youngs composition style at this time. 

La Monte Young Trio for Strings Visual Score

These long tones of D#, C# and D natural were held for a very long time. This work later inspired the  developed four pitches : G# + A and F# + D   and their frequencies, which in later works become his dream chord:

G# 1… 50H               A 1… 55Hz               F# 2… 92Hz             D 3…146Hz

However, The Second Dream (from the recording Dream House 78′ 17″ ),  is made with four pitches  F, Bb, B,C according to McCroskey (n.d.). The sustained tones of the oscillators, came about with La Monte Youngs interest in intonation, vibration, time, cycles and rhythm  sensation  in a single pitch.  Commentating on this phenonium, McCroskey (ibid)  puts forward the notion that , “…Young has been able to create a sense of profound continuity, of an enduring, eternal and expanding Moment”, where   “… the otonal form of just intonation, in which all the tones are derived as overtones of a single fundamental”, “… strive for a condition of “timelessness” in co existence with  “each tone participates in an enveloping drone that is the result of repetition on an “atomic” level.” 

Drones feature in many of  the musical compositions of La Monte Young, even in his minimalist period (see image below). However, he found that these notes could only be held as long as the performer could physically play them.  

La Monte Young Composition 1960 #7

Alternately,  using electronic components as instrumentation, Young’s long-in-process electronic drone music  was possible. 

 

Grimshaw (2011), in his book The Ideology of the Drone, explains how   …“the development of Young’s mystical persona coincided with several important musical developments, including: his creation of The Four Dreams of China, his adoption of just intonation or ratio-based tuning, his involvement in the psychedelic scene, and his study with North Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath. Particular attention is paid to The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys and the activities of The Theatre of Eternal Music”.

Young, “the godfather of minimal music is still performing at 79, and since few recordings exist of his work, his live performances are more essential than ever” Colter Walls (2015). As it seems, Young is only interested in  “putting out masterpieces”, and has been developing The Well Tuned Piano for “more than a quarter-century, refining his performance to its final state: a six-hour DVD that includes Zazeela’s light-installation work, and which is also currently out of print’ (ibid).

Bibliography

Colter Walls, S. (2015) La Monte Young: I’m only interested in putting out masterpieces  [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jul/30/la-monte-young-dia-chelsea-exhibit  [Accessed: 10 December 2019].

Grimshaw, J. (2011) The Ideology of the Drone:La Monte Young the Mystic [Online]. Available at: https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740208.001.0001/acprof-9780199740208-chapter-0003  [Accessed: 06 December 21019].

McCroskey, S.  (n.d)  DREAM ANALYSIS  [Online]. Available at:  http://www.melafoundation.org/mccroske.htm [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

 Negrão, M. (2009) Oscillations_X Drone Presentation and Research:  Oscillations X : DRONE, Slide 31 of 89  [Online]. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/20020/soundspace-oscilations-x-drone [Accessed: 10 December 2019].

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