La Monte Young

La Monte Young is one of the most influential underground composers of the 20th century. His early experiments with long tones in 1957-58, fusing as they did interests in both twelve-tone music and Cagean conceptualism, led directly to the style known today as minimalism. Inspired by Young's long tones, Terry Riley began experimenting with loops, which led to his groundbreaking work In C, the premiere performance of which included Steve Reich. Young's relentless saxophone solos of the early '60s (he once beat Eric Dolphy for a sax chair) roared with the energy of rock and the pristine tuning of Indian ragas. His rule-based improvisations under the auspices of the Theatre of Eternal Music, though not heard publicly in decades, remain an icon of the psychedelic age, and were a direct influence on the Velvet Underground and artrock.

In 1964 Young began what may always prove his greatest work: The Well-Tuned Piano, an improvisatory yet highly structured piano work that started at 45 minutes and has, in most recent performances, extended over six hours, containing more than 50 themes and chordal areas. Young is also legendary for his sine-tone installations, assemblages of droning overtones in complex arrays of prime numbers that now explore pitch space up to the 2304th harmonic.

Kyle Gann's scholarly writings on La Monte Young include two articles:

"La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano" in Perspectives of New Music, Volume 31 Number 1 (Winter 1993).

A large-scale formal analysis of the Gramavision recording of the work, with many musical examples.

"The Outer Edge of Consonance: Snapshots from the Evolution of La Monte Young's Tuning Installations" in Sound and Light: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Bucknell Review Volume XL Number 1 (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1996).

A detailed history of Young's tuning conceptions, starting from his 1958 Trio for Strings and Composition 1960 #7 (B and F# with the instruction "to be held for a long time") and ending with his major sine-tone installation of the 1990s, The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry in Prime Time...., with tuning charts and score examples.

See the tuning of Young's The Well-Tuned Piano explained.

Read a description of Young's most recent sound installation, The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry in Prime Time..... (In preparation)

Get a quick course in Just Intonation.

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