La Monte Thornton Young
(born October 14 1935
) is an American composer
Young is generally recognized as the first minimalist composer, and one of the four most celebrated leaders of the minimalist school, along with Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, despite having little in common formally with Glass or Reich. Young is also probably the least heard and least well-known of the major minimalist composers.
His works have been included among the most important and radical post-World War II avant-garde, experimental, or drone music. Both his proto-Fluxus and "minimal" compositions question the nature and definition of music and often stress elements of performance art.
Born to a Mormon
family in Bern, Idaho
, his family moved several times in his childhood while his father searched for work before settling in Los Angeles, California
. He studied at Los Angeles City College
, and came out ahead of Eric Dolphy
in a saxophone
audition for the school's jazz
band. In LA's jazz milieu, he played alongside notable musicians like Ornette Coleman
, Don Cherry
and Billy Higgins
He undertook further studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he received a BA in 1958, then at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1958–60. In 1959 he attended the summer courses at Darmstadt under Karlheinz Stockhausen, and in 1960 relocated to New York in order to study electronic music with Richard Maxfield. His compositions during this period were influenced by Anton Webern, Gregorian chant, Indian classical music, and Indonesian gamelan music.
A number of Young's early works use the twelve tone technique, which he studied under Leonard Stein at UCLA. (Stein had served as an assistant to Arnold Schoenberg when Schoenberg, the inventor of the twelve-tone method, had taught at UCLA.) When Young visited Darmstadt in 1959, he encountered the music and writings of John Cage. There he also met Cage's collaborator, pianist David Tudor, who subsequently gave premières of some of Young's works. At Tudor's suggestion, Young engaged in a correspondence with Cage. Within a few months Young was presenting some of Cage's music on the West Coast. In turn, Cage and Tudor included some of Young's works in performances throughout the U.S. and Europe. By this time Young had taken a turn toward the conceptual, using principles of indeterminacy in his compositions and incorporating non-traditional sounds, noises, and actions.
When Young moved to New York in 1960, he had already established a reputation as an enfant terrible of the avant garde. He initially developed an artistic relationship with Fluxus founder George Maciunas (with whom he published a text titled An Anthology) and other members of the nascent movement. Yoko Ono, for example, hosted a series of concerts curated by Young at her loft, and absorbed, it seems, his often parodistic and politically charged aesthetic. Young's works of the time, scored as short haiku-like texts, though conceptual and extreme, were not meant to be merely provocative but, rather, dream-like.
His Compositions 1960 includes a number of unusual actions. Some of them are unperformable, but each deliberatively examines a certain presupposition about the nature of music and art and carries ideas to an extreme. One instructs: "draw a straight line and follow it" (a directive which he has said has guided his life and work since). Another instructs the performer to build a fire. Another states that "this piece is a little whirlpool out in the middle of the ocean." Another says the performer should release a butterfly into the room. Yet another challenges the performer to push a piano through a wall. Composition 1960 #7 proved especially pertinent to his future endeavors: it consisted of a B, an F#, a perfect fifth, and the instruction: "To be held for a long time."
In 1962 Young wrote The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer. One of The Four Dreams of China, the piece is based on four pitches, which he later gave as the frequency ratios: 36-35-32-24 (G, C, +C#, D), and limits as to which may be combined with any other. Most of his pieces after this point are based on select pitches, played continuously, and a group of long held pitches to be improvised upon. For The Four Dreams of China Young began to plan the "Dream House", a light and sound installation where musicians would live and create music twenty-four hours a day. He formed The Theater of Eternal Music to realize "Dream House" and other pieces. The group initially included Marian Zazeela (who has provided the light work The Ornamental Lightyears Tracery for all performances since 1965), Angus MacLise, and Billy Name. In 1964 the ensemble contained Young and Zazeela, voices — Tony Conrad (a former mathematics major at Harvard) — John Cale strings — and sometimes Terry Riley, voice. Since 1966 the group has seen many permutations and has included, at various times, Garrett List, Jon Hassell, Alex Dea, and many others, including members of the 60s groups. Young has realized the "Theater of Eternal Music" only intermittently, due to a lack of funding for such an expensive project, requiring extensive and exceptional demands of time in rehearsal and mounting.
Most realizations of the piece have long titles, such as The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as they were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gong, Illuminated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot and the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer. His works too are often of extreme length, conceived by Young as having no beginning and no end, existing before and after any particular performance. In practical terms, too, Young and Zazeela are also on an extended sleeping-waking schedule – with "days" longer than twenty-four hours.
Beginning in 1970 interests in Asian classical music and a wish to be able to find the intervals he used by ear led to studies with Pandit Pran Nath. Fellow students included calligrapher and light artist Marian Zazeela, composers Terry Riley and Yoshi Wada, philosophers Henry Flynt and Catherine Christer Hennix and many others.
Young considers The Well Tuned Piano — a permutating composition of themes and improvisations for just-intuned solo piano — to be his masterpiece. Performances have exceeded six hours in length, and so far have been documented twice: first on a five-CD set issued by Gramavision, then a later performance on a DVD on Young's own Just Dreams label. One of the defining works of American musical minimalism, it is strongly influenced by mathematical composition as well as Hindustani classical music practice.
Together Young and Zazeela have realized a long series of semi-permanent "Dream Houses" — combining Young's just-intuned sine waves in elaborate, symmetrical configurations and Zazeela's quasi-calligraphic light sculptures — in long-term installations. The effect is rigorous yet sensual, utilizing aspects of the viewer/auditor's perception to create sensory overload within a barely defined physical space.
La Monte Young's use of long tones and exceptionally high volume has been extremely influential — notably on John Cale
's contribution to The Velvet Underground
's sound — and with Young's associates: Tony Conrad
, Jon Hassell
, Rhys Chatham
, Michael Harrison
, Henry Flynt
, Charles Curtis (musician)
, and Catherine Christer Hennix
. Young's students also include Arnold Dreyblatt
and Daniel James Wolf
The album Dreamweapon: An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music by the band Spacemen 3 is influenced by La Monte Young's concept of "Dream Music," evidenced by their inclusion of his notes on the jacket.
Lou Reed mentions (and misspells) La Monte Young's name on the cover of his album Metal Machine Music: "Drone cognizance and harmonic possibilities vis a vis Lamont Young's Dream Music"
Drone rock pioneer Dylan Carlson has stated Young's work as being a major influence to him.
Since 1962 La Monte Young has worked very closely with Marian Zazeela. Most of his mature works are performed with light designs created by Zazeela.
Quotes about Young
- "If you were going across the prairie in a Conestoga wagon, La Monte was the father and he always had a wife and everything was like his scene. Everybody was there playing with him, but he was the hierarchical chief." Billy Name
List of Works
- Scherzo in a minor (c. 1953), piano;
- Rondo in d minor (c. 1953), piano;
- Annod (1953-55), dance band or jazz ensemble;
- Wind Quintet (1954);
- Variations (1955), string quartet;
- Young's Blues (c. 1955-59);
- Fugue in d minor (c. 1956), violin, viola, cello;
- Op. 4 (1956), brass, percussion;
- Five Small Pieces for String Quartet, On Remembering A Naiad, 1. A Wisp, 2. A Gnarl, 3. A Leaf, 4. A Twig, 5. A Tooth (1956);
- Canon (1957), any two instruments;
- Fugue in a minor (1957), any four instruments;
- Fugue in c minor (1957), organ or harpsichord;
- Fugue in eb minor (1957), brass or other instruments;
- Fugue in f minor (1957), two pianos;
- Prelude in f minor (1957), piano;
- Variations for Alto Flute, Bassoon, Harp and String Trio (1957);
- for Brass (1957), brass octet;
- for Guitar (1958), guitar;
- Trio for Strings (1958), violin, viola, cello;
- Study (c.1958-59), violin, viola (unfinished);
- Sarabande (1959), keyboard, brass octet, string quartet, orchestra, others;
- Studies I, II, and III (1959), piano;
- Vision (1959), piano, 2 brass, recorder, 4 bassoons, violin, viola, cello, contrabass;
- [Untitled] (1959-60), live friction sounds;
- [Untitled] (1959-62), jazz-drone improvisations;
- Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches, etc. (1960), chairs, tables, benches and unspecified sound sources;
- 2 Sounds (1960), recorded friction sounds;
- Compositions 1960 #s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 15 (1960), performance pieces;
- Piano Pieces for David Tudor #s 1, 2, 3 (1960), performance pieces;
- Invisible Poem Sent to Terry Jennings (1960), performance pieces;
- Piano Pieces for Terry Riley #s 1, 2 (1960), performance pieces;
- Target for Jasper Johns (1960), piano;
- Arabic Numeral (Any Integer) to H.F. (1960), piano(s) or gong(s) or ensembles of at least 45 instruments of the same timbre, or combinations of the above, or orchestra;
- Compositions 1961 #s 1 - 29 (1961), performance pieces;
- Young's Dorian Blues in Bb (c. 1960 or 1961);
- Young's Dorian Blues in G (c. 1960-1961-present);
- Young's Aeolian Blues in Bb (Summer 1961);
- Death Chant (1961), male voices, carillon or large bells;
- Response to Henry Flynt Work Such That No One Knows What's Going On (c. 1962);
- [Improvisations] (1962-64), sopranino saxophone, vocal drones, various instruments. Realizations include: Bb Dorian Blues, The Fifth/Fourth Piece, ABABA, EbDEAD, The Overday, Early Tuesday Morning Blues, and Sunday Morning Blues;
- Poem on Dennis' Birthday (1962), unspecified instruments;
- The Four Dreams of China (The Harmonic Versions) (1962), including The First Dream of China, The First Blossom of Spring, The First Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, tunable, sustaining instruments of like timbre, in multiples of 4;
- Studies in The Bowed Disc (1963), gong;
- Pre-Tortoise Dream Music (1964), sopranino saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocal drone, violin, viola, sine waves;
- The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys (1964-present), voices, various instruments, sine waves. Realizations include: Prelude to The Tortoise, The Tortoise Droning Selected Pitches from The Holy Numbers for The Two Black Tigers, The Green Tiger and The Hermit, The Tortoise Recalling The Drone of The Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in The Dreams of The Whirlwind and The Obsidian Gong and Illuminated by The Sawmill, The Green Sawtooth Ocelot and The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer;
- The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-73-81-present). Each realization is a separately titled and independent composition. Over 60 realizations to date. World premiere: Rome 1974. American Premiere: New York 1975;
- Sunday Morning Dreams (1965), tunable sustaining instruments and/or sine waves;
- Composition 1965 $50 (1965), performance piece;
- Map of 49's Dream The Two Systems of Eleven Sets of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Lightyears Tracery (1966-present), voices, various instruments, sine waves;
- Bowed Mortar Relays (1964) (realization of Composition 1960 # 9), Soundtracks for Andy Warhol Films "Eat," "Sleep," "Kiss," "Haircut," tape;
- The Two Systems of Eleven Categories (1966-present), theory work;
- Chords from The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys (1967-present), sine waves. Realizations include: Intervals and Triads from Map of 49's Dream The Two Systems of Eleven Sets of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Lightyears Tracery (1967), sound environment;
- Robert C. Scull Commission (1967), sine waves;
- Claes and Patty Oldenburg Commission (1967), sine waves;
- Betty Freeman Commission (1967), sound and light box & sound environment;
- Drift Studies (1967-present), sine waves;
- for Guitar (Just Intonation Version) (1978), guitar;
- for Guitar Prelude and Postlude (1980), one or more guitars;
- The Subsequent Dreams of China (1980), tunable, sustaining instruments of like timbre, in multiples of 8;
- The Gilbert B. Silverman Commission to Write, in Ten Words or Less, a Complete History of Fluxus Including Philosophy, Attitudes, Influences, Purposes (1981);
- Chords from The Well-Tuned Piano (1981-present), sound environments. Includes: The Opening Chord (1981), The Magic Chord (1984), The Magic Opening Chord (1984);
- Trio for Strings (1983) Versions for string quartet, string orchestra, and violin, viola, cello, bass;
- Trio for Strings, trio basso version (1984), viola, cello, bass;
- Trio for Strings, sextet version (1984);
- Trio for Strings, String Octet Version (1984), 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 basses;
- Trio for Strings Postlude from The Subsequent Dreams of China (c. 1984), bowed strings;
- The Melodic Versions (1984) of The Four Dreams of China (1962), including The First Dream of China, The First Blossom of Spring, The First Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, tunable, sustaining instruments of like timbre, in multiples of 4;
- The Melodic Versions (1984) of The Subsequent Dreams of China, (1980) including The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer's Second Dream of The First Blossom of Spring, tunable, sustaining instruments of like timbre, in multiples of 8;
- The Big Dream (1984), sound environment;
- Orchestral Dreams (1985), orchestra;
- The Big Dream Symmetries #s 1 - 6 (1988), sound environments;
- The Symmetries in Prime Time from 144 to 112 with 119 (1989), including The Close Position Symmetry, The Symmetry Modeled on BDS # 1, The Symmetry Modeled on BDS # 4, The Symmetry Modeled on BDS # 7, The Romantic Symmetry, The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base), The Great Romantic Symmetry, sound environments;
- The Lower Map of The Eleven's Division in The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base) in Prime Time from 144 to 112 with 119 (1989-1990), unspecified instruments and sound environment;
- The Prime Time Twins (1989-90) including The Prime Time Twins in The Ranges 144 to 112; 72 to 56 and 38 to 28; Including The Special Primes 1 and 2 (1989);
- The Prime Time Twins in The Ranges 576 to 448; 288 to 224; 144 to 112; 72 to 56; 36 to 28; with The Range Limits 576, 448, 288, 224, 144, 56 and 28 (1990), sound environments;
- Chronos Kristalla (1990), string quartet;
- The Young Prime Time Twins (1991), including The Young Prime Time Twins in The Ranges 2304 to 1792; 1152 to 896; 576 to 448; 288 to 224; 144 to 112; 72 to 56; 36 to 28; Including or Excluding The Range Limits 2304, 1792, 1152, 576, 448, 288, 224, 56 and 28 (1991),
- The Young Prime Time Twins in The Ranges 2304 to 1792; 1152 to 896; 576 to 448; 288 to 224; 144 to 112; 72 to 56; 36 to 28; 18 to 14; Including or Excluding The Range Limits 2304, 1792, 1152, 576, 448, 288, 224, 56, 28 and 18; and Including The Special Young Prime Twins Straddling The Range Limits 1152, 72 and 18 (1991),
- The Young Prime Time Twins in The Ranges 1152 to 896; 576 to 448; 288 to 224; 144 to 112; 72 to 56; 36 to 28; Including or Excluding The Range Limits 1152, 576, 448, 288, 224, 56 and 28; with One of The Inclusory Optional Bases: 7; 8; 14:8; 18:14:8; 18:16:14; 18:16:14:8; 9:7:4; or The Empty Base (1991), sound environments;
- The Symmetries in Prime Time from 288 to 224 with 279, 261 and 2 X 119 with One of The Inclusory Optional Bases: 7; 8; 14:8; 18:14:8; 18:16:14; 18:16:14:8; 9:7:4; or The Empty Base (1991-present), including The Symmetries in Prime Time When Centered above and below The Lowest Term Primes in The Range 288 to 224 with The Addition of 279 and 261 in Which The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped above and Including 288 Consists of The Powers of 2 Multiplied by The Primes within The Ranges of 144 to 128, 72 to 64 and 36 to 32 Which Are Symmetrical to Those Primes in Lowest Terms in The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped below and Including 224 within The Ranges 126 to 112, 63 to 56 and 31.5 to 28 with The Addition of 119 and with One of The Inclusory Optional Bases: 7; 8; 14:8; 18:14:8; 18:16:14; 18:16:14:8; 9:7:4; or The Empty Base (1991), sound environments;
- Annod (1953-55) 92 X 19 Version for Zeitgeist (1992), alto saxophone, vibraphone, piano, bass, drums, including 92 XII 22 Two-Part Harmony and The 1992 XII Annod Backup Riffs;
- Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord (2002-2003), cello, pre-recorded cello drones and light design;
- Raga Sundara, vilampit khayal set in Raga Yaman Kalyan (2002-present), voices, various instruments, tambura drone;
- Trio for Strings (1958) Just Intonation Version (1984-2001-2005), 2 cellos, 2 violins, 2 violas;
- Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume One: Day of Niagara with John Cale, Tony Conrad, Marian Zazeela, and Angus Maclise [Recorded 1965] (Table of the Elements, 2000. Bootleg recording of dubious title, credits, and quality Not authorized by La Monte Young)
- 31 VII 69 10:26 - 10:49 PM Munich from Map of 49's Dream The Two Systems of Eleven Sets of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Lightyears Tracery; 23 VIII 64 2:50:45-3:11 AM the volga delta from Studies in The Bowed Disc [a.k.a. The Black Record] (Edition X, West Germany, 1969)
- La Monte Young Marian Zazeela The Theatre of Eternal Music - Dream House 78' 17" (Shandar, 1974)
- The Well Tuned Piano 81 X 25 (6:17.50 - 11:18:59 PM NYC) (Gramavision, 1988)
- 90 XII C. 9:35-10:52 PM NYC, The Melodic Version (1984) of The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer From the Four Dreams of China (Gramavision, 1991)
- Just Stompin': Live at The Kitchen (Gramavision, 1993)
- The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights (87 V 10 6:43:00 PM 87 V 11 01:07:45 AM NYC) (Just Dreams, DVD-9, 2000)
- Small Pieces (5) for String Quartet ("On Remembering a Naiad") (1956) [included on Arditti String Quartet Edition, No. 15: U.S.A. (Disques Montaigne, 1993)]
- Sarabande for any instruments (1959) [included on Just West Coast (Bridge, 1993)]
- "89 VI 8 c. 1:45-1:52 AM Paris Encore" from Poem for Tables, Chairs and Benches, etc. (1960) [included on Flux: Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine #24]
- Excerpt "31 | 69 c. 12:17:33-12:24:33 PM NYC" from Drift Study; "31 | 69 c. 12:17:33-12:49:58 PM NYC" from Map of 49's Dream The Two Systems of Eleven Sets of Galactic Intervals (1969) [included on Ohm and Ohm+ (Ellipsis Arts, 2000 & 2005)]
- 566 for Henry Flynt [included on Music in Germany 1950–2000: Experimental Music Theatre (Eurodisc 173675, 7-CD set, 2004)]
- Duckworth, William. 1995. Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Five Generations of American Experimental Composers. New York: Schirmer Books; London: Prentice-Hall International. ISBN 0028708237 Reprinted 1999, New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80893-5
- Grimshaw, Jeremy. 2005. "Music of a 'More Exalted Sphere': Compositional Practice, Biography, and Cosmology in the Music of La Monte Young." Doctoral dissertation, Eastman School of Music. Ann Arbor: UMI/ProQuest.
- Howard, Ed. 2003. "The Dream House". Stylus (online magazine, 17 November)
- Potter, Keith. 2000. Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Music in the Twentieth Century series. Cambridge, UK; New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Smith, Dave. 2004. "Following a Straight Line: La Monte Young." Journal of Experimental Music Studies (21 June) Updated reprint of Contact 18 (1977-78), 4-9.
- Strickland, Edward. 2001. "Young, La Monte". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
- Watson, Steven. 2003. Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0679423729