La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela: Dream House 78'17"
Aguirre is performing an invaluable service in resurrecting a number of influential titles from the Les Séries Shandar catalogue. In being made available on vinyl (in 1000-copy editions) for the first time since the ‘70s, these recordings are again able to find a place in listeners' lives and remind of us of where so much of what we listen to today came from. Albums by Albert Ayler, Terry Riley, Sun Ra, Philip Glass, Cecil Taylor, and Charlemagne Palestine are scheduled to follow inaugural releases in the series by Steve Reich and La Monte Young.
The Dream House 78'17" album, which Young and Marian Zazeela issued in 1973, is an especially crucial document in the series and a great way to start it. An incredible mythology has built up over the decades around the oft-described founder of musical minimalism, from his birth in a log cabin in Bern, Idaho in 1935 and involvement in Fluxus and the New York underground art-and-loft scene of the early ‘60s to convention-shattering works such as the Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 (from Compositions 1960), the instructions for which begin, “Bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the piano to eat and drink.” Most critically, his exploration of alternate tuning systems, drone works of extended duration, and the wedding of Western and Eastern forms has secured him an enduring status as one of the central cultural figures of the late-twentieth century. It's no exaggeration to state that Young, Glass, Reich, and Riley profoundly influenced the way many of us hear and experience music today.
Yet in spite of that reputation, the availability of Young recordings remains surprisingly low; sure, clips of various pieces can be heard at YouTube, but the physical recordings themselves are hard to come by (and when they are the prices are sometimes daunting). Enhancing the appeal of Dream House 78'17" is that two pieces are presented of markedly different character: the first, “13 I 73 535-61403 PM NYC,” presents a performance by the Theatre of Eternal Music (the group founded by Young in 1965 to perform music theoretically without beginning or end), which here features Young and Zazeela with trombonist Garrett List and trumpeter Jon Hassell. The vocal techniques developed by Young and Zazeela through their study with Pandit Pran Nath are evident throughout the thirty-nine-minute piece, which features the two wordlessly chanting alongside endlessly droning horn tones. Instrumentally, the effect is akin to the sight of a cloud mass billowing almost imperceptibly; the duration of the horn tone matches the length of a human breath, but through the use of overlapping the drone persists throughout without faltering. Zazeela's singing often aligns itself to the drone of the instruments, whereas Young's vocalizing is more animated and thus becomes the primary focal point. Don't think for a moment that the material's static, however: pitches and volume levels change regularly, and the number of elements in play at any given moment changes just as often.
As important historically but less interesting on purely musical terms, “Drift Study 14 VII 73 92727-100641 PM NYC” is the sonic equivalent of a white canvas. Consisting of an unwavering sine wave tone, the material is the kind of thing one might hear accompanying a Zazeela light installation at the Dream House. Similar to the experience one has in that environment, changes in spatial positioning relative to the sound source can call forth subtle alterations in the loudness of different frequencies. Yet as historically significant as this drift study might be, it can't help but seem secondary to “13 I 73 535-61403 PM NYC” with respect to aural stimulation and sonic interest. That said, it's important to put these time-suspending pieces in context in order to appreciate how radical they were when they first appeared. In presenting such long-form vocal and instrumental drone works in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Young was creating material that challenged the status quo in the most extreme manner imaginable. If some of Dream House 78'17" seems to be of primarily academic interest today, that doesn't discount the importance of the recording as a document of its time.