After work, I drove--endless neon, man-made lakes, the flickering allure of chain BBQ, billboards for tract homes,
and freeway signs of end times. I found my way to Denton, a university town an hour away, where they pour jazz from college like mocha from French pots, straining tea from prairie grasses, billowing out sounds, which race into the open sky, and burn wild with random grassfire, burning bluestem, otherwise unseen.
I went into the eye of the fire, where cool kids wear skirts lined with seashells, and big railroad engeineer's hats, where people obsess about pitch and timbre. They have the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia there, where I was bound to see a concert by John Chowning.
John Chowning is one year my father's junior. In the 1960s, he figured out FM algorithms, and how to create an FM synthesizer, which in some ways opened the door for modern synthesizer music. In the 100 seat multi-media auditorium, he gave a free concert tonight.
I arrived quite early, and took a seat in the back. Soon, a few professors and a hundred college kids filed in.
The auditorium was filled to just capacity. It was what I would term a "band kid" audience, and I improbably thought to myself that perhaps the only way in which I broke my late mother's heart was by declining to join the band when I was in junior high school (I had to play football, quite poorly, instead). I looked at the assortment of kids, all slightly bohemian but not quite outre, in that "band kid" way, and I remembered my 7th grade piano teacher, an urbane man who played hot jazz as I walked into his driveway, but always switched to somber classical when I knocked on his door, as if he feared being caught in a decadence.
The performance was omprised of four pieces. The composer sat at the back, uninvolved in the mechanics of the computers. The first piece was "Phone'", a pleasant ambience which experimented with different sounds available to the FM synth. The piece sounded like the popular form known as "dark ambient", and I found it very enjoyable--sounds came from the ethter and vanished into it, without undue reliance upon nor rebellion against traditional song structure. I am reminded of the now-defunct Anomalous Records submission guidelines, in which the hopeful
musician was advised that any material that rocks or sounds like a song might not ought be submitted.
The second piece was composed by a UNT professor, Damian Keller. I believe that Mr. Keller's parents, from Argentina, were the nice couple who said "hi" outside the concert hall to all and sundry. Mr. Keller's work was a collaboration with a video artist named Ariadna Capasso, also an Argentine. The piece was called "La Conquista", and featured a lot of colorful maize, someone curled up in a huge bucket, some blood red liquids flowing, and various montages. I enjoyed the film and the simple ambience which accompanied it. I later read the blurb about what the film was "about", and I determined I liked it better as I experienced it than as the artist intended story.
We had a brief intermission, and then two more Chowning pieces, "Turenas" and "Stria" were played. I liked them both very much, but "Stria" was my favorite. It had a marimba-like resonnant percussion echo-ing from different speakers in succession.
I found myself vigorously applauding each piece, as the sound dissipated into the auditorium. When it was over, I filed out, rather than going to shake the composer's hand, as I figured he had enough hands to shake. I enjoyed his performance style--seated in a chair at the back during the performance, and then bowing graciously
up front between shows. He might have, I suppose, dressed like a flower instead, but even Peter Gabriel wearied of that approach over time.
As can be the way, this "serious and experimental" music proved to be quite accessible in its understated way.
I was pleased to get to hear a concert by a living bit of synthesizer history. Curiously, the concert was free and attracted almost no notice outside the school. I learned about it by chance when I wrote one of the deans about one of my silly plans and schemes.
I drove home, at Cheerio's, and counted my evening well spent.