The fans of LaMonte Young aren’t going to like what I say, but there is something, I find, very sectarian in the LaMonte fandom, the guru and his blind and enraptured followers. That Young, like his friend and disciple Terry Riley, was himself a disciple of guru Pandit Pran Nath, completes the picture.
I mean, I’m a great fan of a lot of composers, Bach Vivaldi Handel Telemann to Beethoven Schubert to Brahms and Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Stravinsky, Varèse, etc. all the way down to Gyorgy Ligeti, George Crumb and many more, and I’d probably come close to calling Bach the God and (or) Saint Patron of all classical music. But I don’t think I’d ever be so effusive as to characterize, say, the Well-Tempered Clavier, as “a realm of ecstasy flowing from the Divine through the visionary perception of the West’s formeost musical prophet….”, as Riley did of LaMonte Young’s magnum opus The Well-Tuned Piano. Maybe it’ s because I don’t ingest the adequate substances before listening.
All that is only quaint – until, of course, the day it ends in a mass suicide, kids included. Well, maybe Young’s music has a pacifying effect, and fortunately we’re not there yet.
The 5-hour long The Well-Tuned Piano was published by Gramavision in 1987 in a lavish, LP-sized 5-CD set, Gramavision 18-8701-2. Judging from the prices now demanded for it on the marketplace, it’s become an ultra-rare and ultra-sought-after item (by the believers, I assume). Well, I’m one of the proud possessors of that set. I was alterted to it, when it came out, by a long interview of Young published in Fanfare (September 1987) and ordered it immediately. I still have the invoice: I paid 60 dollars at the time. Great investment (although, as they say, I ain’t rich until I’ve sold it).
That said, I don’t think it’s deserves all the splash made around it. First, that think with “just tuning”, which Young (and Riley) present as something like the Holy Grail of sound production. Well, to my ears, it only makes the piano sound slightly out-of-tune, as in those quarter-tone pieces written in the early 20th century by like Alois Haba, Ivan Wyshnegradsky and the likes. And the music is, well, meditative, dreamy, wistful, constantly ebbing and flowing to and from waves of agitation – and very repetitive. It sounds based on rather formulaic improvisational processes, like accelerating and decelerating arpeggios, which Young tirelessly repeats in the course of the improvisation’s five hours.
So what’s all the splash about it? Well, if you ask me, sectarian guruism and listening after having ingested adequate, if not entirely legal, substances.
Still, there’s a collector’s cachat to having the set, so, fans of Young, sorry, I’m not selling.