New York-based composer La Monte Young has come to be known as the father of minimalism. However, unlike the rhthymic serialism of the likes of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich his works mainly consist of drones that seem to have no or little change, whereas in fact big differences are continually taking place with great complexity.
His music is for meditation and does have a calming, but not quite relaxing effect. It is a ‘reductionist’ approach and La Monte Young is very particular about who performs his music, insisting on a direct relationship with the composer. Because of the demands his work is very seldom performed so his appearance in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is a rare treat to experience this first hand.
It seems that his work is resonating very strongly with people at a time when we are bombarded with so much musical information, and his pared down aesthetic is finding a new interest worldwide. One key influence from his childhood is the sound of the power cables overhead and this long, low drone is typical of his work.
It is argued that his work is not really a composition as such but more an environment in a particular time and space. This is in a way a protest against the traditional concert experience that can be seen in La Monte Young’s conteporaries of Fluxus and Yoko Ono in the 60s. La Monte Young uses ‘just intonation’ – a tuning by natural fifths which leads to novel and intriguing harmonies, almost aural hallucinations of voices or other instruments.
So the idea is to tune in and listen in a meditative rather than over-rationalising state with the simple tone magnified and intensified over long durations of time. Ben Neill and Marco Blaauw return to Huddersfield to lead The Theatre of Eternal Music Brass Ensemble, an especially formed ensemble, for a rare and exciting performance of La Monte Young’s work for eight trumpets – one of the few performances of the composer’s music in Europe in recent history.
La Monte Young will be performing as part of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on 22 November at St Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield.