A La Monte Young Diary: July 1973-April 1974 July 25, 1974

July 4, 1973: David Behrman tells me some interesting anecdotes about one summer in the late ’50s when he and La Monte Young were both studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Darmstadt, Germany. The concerts and classes held at Darmstadt for a few weeks each summer were Mecca for the avant-garde at that time, and the young composers came from all over the world to study composition with Stockhausen, to hear lectures by Boulez and Pousseur, to check out the latest pieces by Cage, and to attend performances by David Tudor, who was reigning piano virtuoso of the new music. According to Behrman, Stockhausen’s composition classes, which met every morning, were the center of attention for most of the students, and they were strictly no-nonsense affairs. Stockhausen may have been a rebel in his music, but as a teacher he was as stern and disciplined as any German pedagogue of the ’50s. Most of the students responded well to this approach, but Young was apparently unimpressed. Behrman recalls that he once wandered into the class about two hours after it had begun.

Stockhausen had trouble understanding this, as it was clear to him, and just about everyone else in Darmstadt at the time, that his word was practically gospel. Total serialization, it was thought, was the most important new development in music since the discovery of the 12-tone row, and Stockhausen’s philosophical-mathematical theories were supposedly laying the groundwork for music of the 1974/a-la-monte-young-diary-april-1974 generation or two. How could Young be so blase?

Stockhausen managed to tolerate the insolent young American student who was always late for class, clear up until the end of the session, when each student was to present the composition he had done during his stay in Darmstadt. It seems that the piece Young brought in was intricately derived from the number seven, and involved quite a bit of numerology of one sort or another. According to Behrman, Stockhausen reacted quite strongly to this brash work, which was almost heretical in the context of Darmstadt.

Apparently Young and Stockhausen are now on friendly terms, and see each other from time to time. In fact, Stockhausen’s ‘Stimmung’ and his ‘Aus den Sieben Tagen’ provide some evidence that the famous German composer has even begun to borrow a few ideas from his former student. In any case, their work has come close together in many respects. Neither of them has much interest in total serialization anymore—or numerology either. Both have become involved with the music of other cultures. Both have stopped trying to be music theorists. Both have moved away from electronics, placing more and more emphasis on human performers.

September 11, 1973: I go to an avant-garde concert at Hunter College, and one of the highlights turns out to be Young’s Piano Pieces for David Tudor No. 1. It is one of his early pieces, written in 1960, and the score consists simply of prose instructions explaining that the performer should attempt to make a grand piano drink from a bucket of water and eat a bale of hay. I have always thought of the piece as conceptual art and never expected it to come off in an actual performance, but I discover that I was wrong. The way Jim Burton interprets the score, the piano really starts to look like a horse, and the audience is delighted with the absurdity of the situation. So much for any theories about La Monte Young as a conceptual artist.

April 2, 1974: I run into La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela on Canal Street. He is wearing his customary long white robe, and she has on a long skirt and some attractive jewelry. Their guru, the masterful Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath is also with them, and Young starts to introduce me, but ‘Guruji’ has already walked on. The couple are friendly and tell me they think I was perceptive in some of the things I said in earlier published entries from my La Monte Young Diary. I tell them I am looking forward to their forthcoming presentation at the Kitchen, and we go on about our afternoon shopping.

April 10, 1974: I get a call from the New York Times. They want to run a piece about Young’s and Zazeela’s Theater of Eternal Music on the 28th, the date that the week-long Kitchen series begins, and they ask me if I would like to write something. I tell them I will.

A few hours later I reach Young and Zazeela on the telephone to arrange a meeting. They are pleased to learn about the forthcoming article, but not completely. Young is particularly concerned about what kinds of photographs might run with the article. He says papers and magazines often try to capitalize on his eccentricities and find oddball personality shots instead of just showing something that will help people understand what his work is like. I tell him that as a free-lance writer I won’t have any control over layout questions, but that I can at least report his feelings.

Under the circumstances Young’s mistrust of the press seems a bit paranoid to me, but then so do a lot of other things about Young. Perhaps most extraordinary are the release forms which performers and technicians sometimes have to sign, stating that they will not give away any of his ideas. Of course, he has a perfect right to protect his work and his image in any way he can. And with such innovative work, and such an unusual life style, I suspect he might have had a few bad experiences with people stealing his ideas and making fun of his personality.

April 12, 1974: About one in the afternoon I ring a doorbell on Church Street. Zazeela answers and leads me up a flight of stairs to the loft where she and Young live and work. Young is singing a raga and accompanying himself on the tambura. It is the soulful Kirana style he has been learning from ‘Guruji,’ and which he practices several hours every day. There is an occasional unsteadiness in his voice, so I guess he has a way to go before he will ever master this style, but he already has pretty good control over many of the difficult sliding gestures that Kirana style singers use, and it is easy to see that his training has been feeding back into the simpler non-verbal style of his own performances.

Soon Young brings the raga to a close, and we all sit down for a light lunch. Much of the conversation involves the Orient, the two trips Young and Zazeela took to India, Young’s tremendous admiration for Indian music, and particularly for the Kirana style, his conviction that it is in many ways more highly developed than Western music, and his lack of respect for more commercial and less traditional artists like Ravi Shankar.

After a while he pulls out the score for his Trio for Strings, written in 1958, just after completing his B.A. at UCLA and before beginning graduate work at Berkeley. It is a serial work, but it creeps along at the rate of about one note per minute. Young says it is his first Oriental-inspired work.

After lunch we listen to a tape of some of the impressive jazz improvising Young used to do on soprano saxophone in the early ’60s. He also puts on a few sections from ‘The Well-Tuned Piano,’ some experiments he did around 1964 involving ways of tuning a piano.

As I leave, I try to put together Young’s progression from slow motion serial music to the prose instructions that I used to think were conceptual art, to the saxophone playing, and the tuning experiments, and finally to his current career as a singer working with drones. It seems like an awfully wide range for someone to have covered by the age of 38, and it’s a little hard to relate everything, but I can see a gradual progression toward a more spiritual orientation. I can also see an admirable idealism. Had he continued playing saxophone, for example, he would probably be quite successful in the jazz world by now, since that free modal style is now rather fashionable. But he followed the dictates of his conscience and his intellectual curiosity, and went on to other things.