Two Musics Going “Bang”!
Kalvos & Damian’s New Music Bazaar, Show #392, 07 December 2002. Damian on the road in Hanover NH at Dartmouth College. Interview took place about a month before the broadcast. Listen to the interview (RealAudio) from the original broadcast [0:18:12–2:00:50].
Daniel Goode is an American composer and clarinetist. He studied philosophy, and then music with Henry Cowell, Otto Luening, Pauline Oliveros and Kenneth Gaburo. Goode's works show influence from several sources, including bird song, Cape Breton fiddling, drone, Indonesian gamelan music, and minimal music (specifically music as a gradual process). Goode served as Director of the Electronic Music Studio of Rutgers University from 1971 to 1998 and is co-director of the DownTown Ensemble which he co-founded in New York in 1983. Since 1976, Goode has been a member of Gamelan Son of Lion, a Javanese-style iron gamelan ensemble dedicated to new music, for which he has composed many works. He has developed a keyless clarinet made from a length of plastic pipe that allows him to play in the Indonesian slendro tuning system. His most recent project is the Flexible Orchestra, a reform of the Western orchestra inspired to some degree by his experience with the gamelan as a musical, social, and cultural phenomenon.
We listen to Slendro by Daniel Goode, performed by Daniel Goode [0:18:12–0:27:52]. Published on Clarinet Songs, Experimental Intermedia [CD XI113]. After Damian gives a summary of the interview (missing from the recording for technical reasons), the interview picks up at 30:43.
[Damian] We had some introductory comments, I asked him if he was related to Benny Goodman and he said in fact that that his real name was Daniel B. Goodman but his father had shortened it when he came from wherever he had came from. He is a composer and clarinetist born in New York in 1936. He studied philosophy at Oberlin and then music with Henry Cowell, Otto Luening, Pauline Oliveros [see interview in eContact! 10.2] and Ken Gaburo at the University of California at San Diego. I commented about how this University of San Diego seems to be a nexus that we run into, we have a lot of interviews with people that have gone there, for some reason. I think this is about where we pick up, where he’s gone back to the Midwest…
[Daniel Goode] … you know, I put on concerts in Minneapolis, I was very active. I didn’t stay at the university, they didn’t like me that much. I started curating at the Walker Arts Center before they ever had a really hot music programme there, but I wasn’t really happy and I was delighted to go out to California and be part of a very hip scene. We were all called “overage graduate students” then. Many of us were in our 30s then and you’re not supposed to be that old. But there was performing, New Music, improvisation, really good teachers… I met Pauline Oliveros, I took my first electronic music class from her. She was then — like everybody — using the Buchla system, they also had the Moog system. I actually was interested in studying with Kenneth Gaburo, who was a very high-powered ex-University of Illinois composer faculty member. He had a wonderful ensemble called New Music Choral Ensemble, which was strictly experimental, had the best, most interesting people in it, half of them at least were composers. I started to hit my stride, I started to compose differently, I started to think differently, I really turned a corner there I think and I was “hot to trot”. But I needed a job! You don’t get a job just because you’re have a master’s degree and you’re in a Ph.D. programme (I never got my Ph.D., by the way). But I got hired off the UCSD campus by Rutgers University, which was starting a brand new college. These was in the heady days of the late 1960s, this was the early 1970s now. They were putting together a new campus that had all the things that the old campus didn’t have, like electronic music. I actually was actually hired to start the electronic music studio, which I did, but it was in the closet. We would pull our equipment out of the closet and put it on tables and then we would put it back in the closet after the class!
[D] What kind of equipment did you have?
[DG] We had, of course, all analogue equipment back then, various tape recorders, portable and standing desk models, four-track-two-track, half-track… I went about thinking, “What’s the best kind of electronic music system?” For some reason I got attracted to another incredible dinosaur of a beast called the ARP Synthesizer, which had these neat little sliders that would go up and down. I still remember that the plastic on the sliders would come off, so these nice little bright lights would soon disappear as they fell off. There was also a lot of bleed between the various internal wires, so it was far from perfect. But it was fun, you could automate things, in those days you could set up little patches that would re-cycle and change and so on. They were fun things. I taught that course really for years and years but I didn’t really have much to do with the academic life at Rutgers, it was very conservative (still is), it had been co-opted by the twelve-tone mafia. Don’t forget there was an older layer there before I and my colleagues got there, there was an older layer of very academic and conservative people and they had all the power, so we were lucky if we survived. Several of us got knocked off when it came to tenure but I got through. I had a huge legal grievance and I actually won it and got tenure. I’m famous with the AAUP as one of the few people who ever beat the system. I didn’t actually beat the system because what happened is that I was kept out of teaching in the graduate programme so I never actually had the pleasure of having young apprentices or young colleagues, like here at Dartmouth. I sort of admire Larry Polansky’s life [see interview in eContact! 10.2] because he gets these fabulous brilliant students here to study, and it’s a real camaraderie situation. So I never had that at Rutgers and I retired four years ago and I’m back to being a freelance composer, banging the streets, coming up here, doing things. I haven’t included all the concerts I’ve done and all the kinds of things I did and the interests, but that’s the bare bones.
[D] You formed The DownTown Ensemble while you were still at Rutger’s?
[DG] Yeah, we started that in 1983 as a real New York extension. I gave up really having a lot to do with musical life in Jersey and I did eventually move to New York (where I was born). The DownTown Ensemble was an idea of actually having a large ensemble. It didn’t turn out that way because we couldn’t afford it, basically. And we couldn’t actually round up enough repertory, but in our first year, 1983–84, we had 11 members. I remembers our concerts well, we performed in the Gallery of the First Class, which was a little space that was controlled by La MaMa theatre company. It was actually on First Street. Now, First Street is a very short street, it doesn’t go all the way across, so if you ever find anything on First Street in New York you’ve really arrived. We continue, we’re still going, we’ve taken on some new members. We don’t have a fixed number or personnel but we tend to work around the same people and we invite guest composers and feature their work, and do revivals of things like Fluxus and occasionally bring in a particular composer who is doing things that are much older like Pauline Oliveros… what did we do of hers? Not Sonic Meditations but Deep Listening pieces. She has a little continuation of the Sonic Meditations. So we wanted to do, and we still do things that are not done, certainly [not] by the so-called “uptown” groups that would do… whatever you want to call it, international style, post-serial, and we wanted to do things that represented the break-through music that got us all into this world.
[D] What sort of music is that?
[DG] Well, let’s take an extreme case, let’s say Treatise by Cornelius Cardew, which is entirely graphic. It’s a book about several inches thick; he was an illustrator and a draftsman as well as an experimental composer, they used to call him the “English Cage”. Unfortunately deceased, hit as a pedestrian in London in 1983, I think, a long time ago. But let’s say, a whole volume of graphic music, we didn’t do the whole thing, we picked pages, there are nor rules, this is music without rules. So you have to have a responsible attitude towards improvising, you have to take it seriously… you can’t goof off, you have to really have an idea about what you’re going to do with these lines and spaces. The scores are very beautiful, they remind me a little bit of the work of Paul Clay, they have some of that graphic finesse and beauty and witticism of Paul Clay’s work. No group in their right mind would ever decide, with all their chops and ability to read music, to take on something like that. That’s an extreme case of something we do that nobody else would do. Of course we’ve done Pauline Oliveros and Alvin Curran and we’re doing Alvin Lucier next year, we do things like that. Some of these people have gotten performances with more uptown-type or European organizations, really there is an endless amount of stuff. I mean we can read music well and we can play with the best of them, but we wanted to do things that would definitely not be programmed.
Margaret Lancaster is now our flutist, our trombonist when we need one is Peter Zummo, a very interesting composer and trombonist. We’ve gone through many percussionists, pianists, Joe Kubera is very well-known in the New York world of piano. We pick up the best freelancers and when we need a violinist we call somebody else. It’s small, it’s budget-driven, in a sense, but we do have a small yearly grant from the New York State Arts Council, which begins to pay for things. So does that sort of get us on the map?
[D] Yes, indeed!
[DG] We did a piece of Dennis’ also, Low Birds.
We listen to the conclusion of eight thrushes, accordion, and bagpipe by Daniel Goode, performed by Stoyan Boshnakov (bagpipe), Guy Klucevsek (accordion) and The DownTown Ensemble [0:41:48–0:49:02].
[D] Speaking of birds, you’ve written some music that incorporates the Vermont state bird, not the Lammergeier, but the Hermit Thrush… can you tell us about that?
[DG] [Laughter] Yeah, this is a very strange story. I was dragged up to the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, many years ago and spent some wonderful summers there. I was introduced to the local fiddling tradition by the person who took me up there. I had never really paid much attention to fiddle music, I have to say, I was a long-hair and fiddle music was not part of my world But when I heard this in context, it’s one of the things that actually did change my life, hearing the passion of the playing, and the fantastic way… and there was some funny way it linked up with my sense of minimalism. I felt that they were also composers — not in the sense that they wrote tunes, which they did, but that wasn’t what turned me on — they would make medleys of long series of tunes that was run continuously, because very often this was music for dance so they had to have the amount of time left to do a big square dance. Square dancing is the dance form there, it goes with the music. I met a lot of these players, especially some of the young ones, and I decided I wanted to learn fiddle tunes, which I did. I got good enough so that they would let me play with them, which was a fabulous experience. To be accompanied by a real local player who could do this wonderful, bouncy accompaniment to these tunes that were so hypnotic, that I was totally, completely entranced with this.
Now, what has that got to do with the Vermont state bird? Well, Nova Scotia is part of the whole big east coast range of the Hermit Thrush and there was very little air traffic, traffic traffic, any kind of traffic. You could go out into the woods and hear choruses of these birds, three or four of these birds spaced in different parts of the woods, each doing their song. Those were the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders and I had a fairly expensive one summer. I carted it into the wood sand I recorded as close as I could get to one of these birds. I got home with my recording — those were the days when tape recorders had multi-speeds — and when I played it back I put it on half-speed by mistake, that’s just where it was, it was recorded at the right speed but I played it back at half-speed. And I was amazed at what I had heard, I couldn’t believe it. Because once it was down an octave and twice as slow, what you heard were these incredible chords and a kind of echoey thing that was part of the birds’ physiology. And to this day, although I have read some ornithology, I have never figured out why it has that silvery, echoey sound when you hear it in the woods. It may be that the bird knows how to get resonance from wherever it is. Because it’s important, these things are survival things for a bird, they’re not just, whatever they are, they are territorial, they have some biological purpose. They’re loud, they are amazingly resonant. They use the resonance of the woods, that’s all I can say, to make this sound. When I heard it at half-speed, I said this is in the realm of which I could even imagine playing it.
That set me into a whole lifelong task of notating from field recordings various individuals. And I learned an awful lot about them just by doing that. For example, the Hermit Thrush might have five different distinct phrases, or might have up to eleven (I counted one that had eleven when I studied it). Each one is that same when it comes back, it’s not just doodling or droodling or improvising; every one of these things is a distinct, repeatable “module”. I first of all thought that was fascinating, that there would be such a precise biological mechanism that the same phrase would come back exactly the same. Of course sometimes there was a little something or other that I hadn’t heard that was in one and not the other, but essentially it was the same. I was able to number them: this is phrase number one (arbitrarily) and this is phrase number two and now this is three and then it goes back to two… I made a formal chart of these things and I discovered two things. One is, it never repeats the same phrase adjacently, there’s always another phrase (or more) that will come in before it ever repeats a given one. And the other thing is that every bird seemed to gravitate towards certain combinations more than others. So when I went back and looked at my charts (I made endless charts of these things) I would say “Look, phrase number four is always followed by phrase number two,” or something like that, or 90% of the time. So it had some kind of formal thing going on there, and every bird had its own formal thing.
So then I thought, “This is a gold mine, I’m never going to end.” And I never have ended. I started recording and transcribing and I’ve ended up now with eight full scores, what I mean is transcriptions. What I did with these is to try to figure out which instruments would sound best with these things. And of course I chose clarinet, because I’m a clarinetist, that’s where I began. I tried piccolo for some, flute, bass rec… and then I said, I’m not going to be absolute… first of all, I’ve changed the octave at least once, I’m not going to be a stickler for “it has to be in the same octave as my half-speed recording,” I’ll let it wander. So, I ended up with a solo thrush for tuba, which, by the way, has been played for the trombone a lot, Peter Zummo. I ended up with a whole set of these things and I said, “What shall I do? I’d love to use these in a concert.” I figured out a way in which I put each player in their own space in the concert hall, they’d play from their own score, it had its own timing to it, including the pauses exactly as I had found on the tape. I was being literal about that (I’m talking about the slowed down [version]). I couldn’t really transcribe the original, it was just too fast and high. So half-speed became my standard for performance and for scores. If the two things on my tape were four seconds apart, that’s how long the player would wait. And they would count it not with a stopwatch, but with a sense of what a second was.
So that’s how the thrush stuff got started, but the final story here is that I really was interested in the folk music equally to the thrush. They both hit me at the same time in my life and I made this overall structure: I present the thrush music as one element, I just set these players off in their respective corners or portions of the stage and they do their thing. By the way, birds move. On my tape, for example, I noticed that thrush number something-or-other started here and then he got soft and you could hear that he had moved to a different tree. I decided to write that into the score, so I would have the player move further away, for example, at a certain time. And it ended up that the players were all shifting around during the whole thrush thing. Then, this — I have to say is not thrush-related but this had to do with the fact that I became really enamoured with certain kinds of folk music and the first was this Nova Scotian fiddle music. And I actually got an ensemble, a duet, of local people to come down to New York and play in such a way that I introduced their repertory into the thrush (let’s call it) symphony, then I let the thrushes fade out and let the folk musicians have the last word. That became a structure that I elaborated on and have actually taken around the world.
The whole idea now is that I bring the thrush music as a given, fixed set of parts; of course it always sounds different, but it’s a given. I find the best players I can — they have to be really good because this is hard stuff to play, very hard licks, and usually they’re professionals or conservatory-trained people — and then I make a local connection to folk music. Eastern Europe is still the place where folk music really never died. Really very important stuff, in Romania is one kind, Poland another, Hungary another… very, very strong traditions, Gypsy here, not Gypsy there… agrarian usually, not city. It’s important that I love some particular kind of music from that region and I make a careful arrangement that I personally meet the group and that they’re interested in playing in this context which I am providing. If they weren’t, if they thought “This is too far out for us,” I would never do it. They have to agree, understand, listen to a tape of what I’ve done in previous situations and say “Good.” And that’s worked out. I’ve done that piece not only in New York (but that doesn’t count exactly, it’s my home town), I did it in Berlin with a Bulgarian-style bagpipe player as the folk element, I did it in Belgrade again with a local bagpipe, really the bagpipe is a strong instrument there.
There is one thing I didn’t mention: the “glue”. I found that I needed something to hold things together and I wasn’t interested in electronic stuff, I wanted it to be acoustic. So I needed an instrument that had sustained tones and I needed a player with a really good ear who could pick up tones from the surrounding thrush music and play them as long tones — drones of one kind or another, or chords or intervals — on a sustaining instrument. I settled in some places with accordion. And in New York — on the recording that will come out soon on Frog Peak Records — I settled on Guy Klucevsek, who’s a wonderful accordion player. Here he was in an assisting role, just listening with his excellent ear, picking out tones, making long tones, drones, chords — sometimes consonant, sometimes dissonant. A person with a good ear does wonderful things and I allow that as a creativity thing, somebody who really can produce the kind of beautiful glue that makes all the thrushes feel that they’re swimming together in the same forest. Once that’s established, then when the folk music comes in, you’re already working on a sound. That’s the most fascinating moment, because there’s a clash. At that moment, there’s an unavoidable clash, and it’s like “Let’s meet Charles Ives again,” because here are two musics going “bang”! And then they have to adjust for each other in some way, and I help out by saying to the thrush players, “You can be influenced by what’s going on.” I’ve given the thrush players a kind of procedure in which they can begin to improvise on their material (not free improv), they can begin to extend phrases, extend notes. I give them a menu of possibilities for improvising on their own score. I’ve said to them, “If you feel when the folk music comes in that you’re influenced and you’re responding to either the tonality or to a musical phrase, go with it.” So there’s a way in which I make that happen.
I also felt (I don’t know whether I can say this exactly) in some ways I’d asked the folk musicians to come out of their milieu, there has to be a reward for that. The reward was that they would essentially end the show. They’d end the piece, and the thrush players would either become a background or just an occasional punctuation, and whatever was going on in the folk medley would be the last music you hear. That’s worked very interestingly because you’re working with a local audience. Strangely enough, this local audience may not be the audience that loves their own folk music. I remember I was doing this in a small but very intense Czech town called Brno, which happens to be the hometown of Janáček, one of my favourite composers. The audience happened to be a New Music audience and absolutely Czech, young, middle-class and they weren’t particularly interested in this strange Moravian folk band that I found in the countryside. They thought it was quaint and they liked it but I didn’t feel… But that’s all part of the project, I discover things myself. I brought them in contact with their local music, or something from the homeland, and there it was, right in front of them. Whatever happens, happens.
[D] Have any of your thrush players been vocalists?
[DG] No, but I had whistlers. This was the Berlin concert. I was put on a festival, a very, very clever festival called the Festival of Whistling. It was Nicolas Collins, who was a composer, the only person in the world who might think of doing a whistling festival, and he had assembled the most oddball set of composers, ornithologists, acousticians who just made field recordings and whistlers. He actually had a whistling contest as part of this festival. And of course whistlers tend to want to whistle the most difficult violin concerto you could possibly imagine, or Flight of the Bumblebee, or anything really hard, the whistlers love to do that.
[D] I would think the Hermit Thrush would be immensely difficult.
[DG] Well, I’ll tell you… not for them! And I’ll tell you why. First of all, at half-speed they could handle it. What I did with them, I got two whistlers (they didn’t read music) and I gave them headphones and I gave them the tape of the bird that they were going to be playing. They just reproduced what was on their headphones, note for note, slide for slide, gliss for gliss, quarter tone for quarter tone. It was fabulous! But it’s true, I haven’t used a vocalist. I’d need a particular kind of person, I think. If you know somebody let me know!
We listen to Songs of the Hermit Thrush by Daniel Goode [1:08:15–1:15:05]. Recorded at The Ought-One Festival of NonPop.
[D] The listening audience doesn’t know that you had a concert here at Dartmouth which was spectacular. The first piece you played started out as a quote from a Brahms piece and then you morphed into your own music. But what I noticed, and maybe you just do this so naturally that it doesn’t seem strange at all, but you were doing circular breathing. It’s not something that you think about when you think about Brahms clarinet playing! And it works so well, because all of a sudden these long lines become so fluid and they keep continuous. Can you just explain very quickly to our listeners what circular breathing is?
[DG] Circular breathing is actually a really old technique. It’s done in India, it’s done in the Middle East, it’s done particularly where you have these pairs of instruments: one play a drone and another plays a melody. And the drone [part] — if it’s being done by some of these double reed type Indian players — you would have to circular breathe in order to sustain. Circular breathing is simple to explain but it’s a little bit hard to do. You have to get a new breath, so while you’re getting the new breath of air going into your lungs, you are using your cheeks as a kind of reserve tank. What you have to do is be able to smoothly get from one to the other because then you go back to your lungs. So the reserve tank is just long enough for you to get a new breath in. A lot of players let their cheeks get big so that they get more air in there, but it’s not really a matter of force. People have always (and still) asked me “Can you teach me circular breathing?” It’s like riding a bicycle, it’s a matter of coordinating these muscles that have never done something before but are waiting to do it. And it’s true, it’s notnecessary. I first heard a player do it in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Again a piece that doesn’t need it, you’ve got plenty of breathing space. But in my Brahms piece, I was actually incorporating the music of the string quartet into the clarinet solo (it’s a clarinet quintet). In order to get all that going I had to use circular breathing some of the time. In the original, of course you don’t really need it because the string quartet is constantly taking over the sonic continuity, but not if it’s a clarinet solo.
[D] It’s very effective and as I say, it makes the phrase very long and you don’t think about where you’re supposed to breathe. It just makes it lovely. Certainly you’re not using a Rico number 1 to get your…
[DG] [Laughing] No, but in order to play Klezmer music… And this piece begins with Brahms — as literally as I can, but with incorporating the chords from the string quartet — and ends with a newly composed Klezmer piece, that would have been my idea that Brahms, had he been postmodern, would have followed his very Gypsy-like music with a fast number. And to play Klezmer music you do need a number 1 reed, you need a softer reed than to play Brahms, so I always have to split the difference in reeds.
[D] You do play in a Klezmer band though, do you not?
[DG] Not really, no, I’m actually not a schooled Klezmer player at all.
[D] But you don’t need it, you have it, it’s so innate.
[DG] I’ve perhaps got it someplace. But if you’re going to be in a Klezmer band you just learn hundreds and hundreds of tunes, and I can’t say that for myself.
We listen to Six New Fingers by Daniel Goode [1:19:55–1:24:48]. Published on Clarinet Songs, Experimental Intermedia [CD XI113].
[D] Let’s go back to some of your other compositions. You remarked earlier that you had gone to UCSD and it’s amazing the number of many people that we have interviewed here who have made that connection. Lately often there is something that happens there that has influenced a lot of people.
[DG] I think “happened” is the right word. I keep asking what’s going on there and it doesn’t seem to be the same atmosphere at all. I think it was partly history. You know how everything was changed in the 60s and 70s, and music was just one of those things that just got on the train and everything got larger than life. It’s true, for a time they gathered some of the most interesting composers and they were really out there looking for young talent, people who wanted to study and make a scene and that’s what happened.
[D] Also, you were a Bang-on-a-Canner, were you not? Or are you still?
[DG] Well, I’ve been played by them, more than once actually. Probably I should regard it as quite lucky, I’ve been on their festival three times, but I’m not one of the organizers.
[D] What are you writing now?
[DG] I’ve just finished maybe my first solo piano piece, can you believe that? A friend asked me to write a piece. I mean, I’m not a pianist and I don’t write for piano. I’ve used piano, but how could it be that this is my first? Well, it’s not actually the first, but it’s certainly almost, and certainly as a mature person. It’s based on an original… [Laughter] I’m starting a whole mythology about this, I’m saying (because I’m of Hungarian-Jewish ancestry) that I’d found this tune in a suitcase in an ancestor’s attic. But it’s not true, I composed it by myself and you’ve heard it here, so if I ever say that, you know the truth.
And I just finished a choral piece and again this is [the] first time as a mature composer I’ve done a choral piece. It’s because I’m singing in an amateur chorus, and I’m singing in an amateur chorus because my partner Ann Snitow wanted to sing so badly and she said “I’m not sure I can really read music.” So we had to find a chorus in New York that didn’t have an audition. [Laughter] And New York has everything, we found a wonderful chorus where there’s no audition. People get all the help they need and they learn by ear, and so on. Since I was known as a composer I was asked to write a choral piece, so I’m working on that.
I’m also going to get back to my series of pieces for dancing audiences. I got really turned by my experience in folk music and dance music in Eastern Europe and I decided it’s not really fair to the audience to have such fun playing music and they have to sit there and listen. So I’ve started a series of pieces in which the audience is encouraged to dance and I try to make it easy for them [so] it’s danceable. The first one that I did was this one that was on this programme called Lendler Land, which is a waltz. It was done originally by The DownTown Ensemble, it’s for two pianos and three cellos. We did it twice and the second time the chairs were cleared and the audience is invited to dance. At least half the audience did, it really worked.
I’ve recently written a gamelan piece called Bluish Haze that was also on today’s programme. The idea again was to have enough of a danceable beat so in the right circumstances (probably not an auditorium with fixed chairs and a sense that this formality reigns, but in a less formal situation), people would actually get up and dance, maybe just free style. And that actually did happen too, at one of the performances. And I have a third of these, which is a kind of two-step and I interests me a lot. It’s where I’m bringing together dance music, Eastern European influence, Balkan dancing and an interesting instrumentation. It’s not done yet, I’m going to get back to it.
[D] You had mentioned gamelan, and you are a member of Gamelan Son of Lion?
[DG] Yes. When I was teaching at this famous Rutgers new college, that was called Livingstone College, we hired (then I was on the hiring committee) Barbara Benari (whom you know and have interviewed), who was just fresh out of Wesleyan as a Ph.D. student, had studied Indian violin and actually it turns out she played in the gamelan as a high school student. She used to travel up there on weekends to play the Wesleyan gamelan. She was quite schooled in gamelan and she built these home-made instruments on the model that had been published in a manual by Dennis Murphy, another local talent. She built them with her husband, who is an instrument repair person. It’s a little bit heavy labour, like bending of the keys, heating and bending the keys and cutting them to the right length. The materials are all very humble: plywood, 2x4 type wood, vegetable or juice cans stacked up as resonators. Light to carry, you can bang them around and they’re easy to repair, nothing like the Javanese things which are heavy heavy heavy! I was teaching there then and she was, and who could resist? I got into that. When she did not get tenure, she took the ensemble to New York and it became a professional local ensemble. It has actually for years now rehearsed in my loft. So I have a home gamelan. [Laughter]
[D] But you don’t play clarinet in it, do you?
[DG] I’ve played clarinet a lot in it, I love playing clarinet in gamelan! Now, the tuning is a question, what to do about it? Well, it depends on the situation. I have to say it’s an ongoing question. I’ve played a lot, I can get pretty close to the pitches and depending on the style, that’s close enough. It turns out, in Java, when they add Western instruments — which they do, they sometimes they have brass instruments, trombone and trumpet player — they don’t care about the tuning, they just let the people go on in the nearest approximation. It’s very touching and very non-European not to care whether it’s a little above, below, or so on. Sometimes I find it a struggle, but I have two clarinets, a B-flat clarinet and an A clarinet, and between the two I choose the one that’s best for most of the notes. And of course once it’s in a certain register I can bend notes not too hard. But there are questions there. Recently Barbara’s husband came up with a clarinet that’s almost a half-step sharper than the B-flat and we used that just recently with marvellous results so maybe there’s an actual tuned solution to this.
[D] How do you write for it [the gamelan]? What does the music look like?
[DG] Well, originally it was an oral tradition in Java and Indonesia, they don’t write, they teach everything by rote and by ear, but when the Dutch were the colonizers of Indonesia, the missionaries there apparently wanted to invent a kind of notation and they invented a cipher notation where you number the keys that you are playing. There are seven keys in the pelog scale — five, plus maybe a couple extra at either end — and they’re just numbered. The scores are actually written out as number scores from left to right, with the various choirs from high to low, written almost like in Western style. So lower instruments like the gongs would be one line and the faster-moving instruments would be the top line. That’s perfectly serviceable, they figured out how to do it with rhythm, I won’t go into that, but they dealt with rhythm in a very ingenious way. So cipher notation is the way; when they have to notate, that’s what they do. We have used everything, from verbal descriptions to Western notation where you name the notes (especially in today’s computer notation, it’s easier to use note heads) and then putting the numbers above or below, as you might put lyrics, if you have lyrics. The numbers of the keys would then go above or below the note heads. So whoever feels comfortable with numbers, whoever with note heads. Like an A-flat approximates key number 5 in slendro, and 1 is approximately a D. We use our little computer notations, pelog 1 is represented by a D.
We listen to Eine Kleine Gamelan Music by Daniel Goode, performed by Gamelan Son of Lion [1:37:22–1:43:28]. Published on Bending the Gending, Gamelan Son of Lion [CD GSOL CD-3].
[D] You came up here on the train and you’ll go back on the train and you go around the country occasionally on trains. I remember reading, I believe, that trains do have a certain fascination for you and there is this one piece that I’ve not heard (I hope to hear it soon), the Tunnel….
[DG] Oh, Tunnel Funnel, yes that does have train “orientation” to it. There’s a “chug chug” aspect to it and there’s a sense that you’re on a track and you’ll just go on that track forever. It isn’t in any other way literally a train but there’s something about the directionality of a train and the track and the inevitability of the rhythmic sounds on a train, yeah, that has something to do with that composition. It goes through a lot of transformations but there is one section particularly that sounds like you are in a tunnel and the train is making whistle-like sounds, like hoots or… Amtrack is a sixth chord, by the way.
[D] What is the scoring for the piece?
[DG] It’s very unusual actually, it’s five strings (a string quartet and a bass), then four flutes and four trombones and a piano keyboard and a vibraphone, a xylophone person who does those things. The flutes play all the flutes from bass flute through piccolo, the trombones of course, the tenor and bass trombones. That’s the orchestration.
[D] Finally, you had mentioned that when you were studying you got to be involved with the ARP, was that the ARP 2600?
[DG] Now one of them was the portable. We had the big table model, which was 2500.
[D] Are you doing any electroacoustic music now, or do you consider the way you use your clarinet sort of in an electroacoustic…
[DG] I’ve certainly been influenced by electroacoustic in my clarinet playing and so on, but no. Except that I had a brief foray during the Reagan period doing these really hateful political pieces against the prevailing social things that were going on. I would pick people I particularly disliked and I’d take quotes from them and I’d turn them into computer voices, not actors. I’d pick somebody off the O.J. Simpson trial, Mark Fuhrman, who was a particular egregious foul-mouthed cop, and I got his most racist remarks — out of the New York Times! I didn’t go into the trial, it was right there in the Times, I didn’t have to do any real legwork. I translated those things into computer speech, with a little bit of processing. And I’ll probably go back to that because it looks like we’re going back into another dark period. I thought of them as short radio pieces, Agitprop, that would just appear and pillory something or somebody. Those things were done out of pure anger and wit, and I may have to go back to that using today’s technology…
[D] I wonder, I wonder if we are going into another dark period, I’d like to th…
[DG] You’d like to think that we’re not? [Laughter]
[D] Who knows, I mean we’re not going to get a lot of funding, I don’t see that, but somehow we’ll persevere.
[DG] We’ll persevere but the country may not persevere, I mean we may be war pretty soon!
[D] What a lovely note on which to go out.
[DG] [Laughter] Well, we’ll continue to make music, David, no matter what. Whether it’s regular music or political music, we’ll continue.
[D] [Facetiously] Yes, and that will be the salvation of this race.
Daniel Good, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for being on our show.
[DG] You’re welcome.
We listen to the conclusion of Tunnel-Funnel by Daniel Goode, performed by Crosstown Ensemble, conducted by Eric Grunin [1:50:23–2:00:50]. Published on Tzadik [CD TZ7029].
Transcription by shirling & neueweise, February 2009.