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Morton Feldman, Earle Brown and
Heinz-Klaus Metzger in Discussion

The following text is a transcription of excerpts from a discussion held in 1972. The corresponding edited recording was included on the 4LP set Music Before Revolution (EMI Electrola, 1C 16528954/957, 1972).

Metzger: Mr. Feldman, most of your music is very soft at a limit of audibility, which means technically in the case of record, at the limit of tapes. I should say your music is ... there is a contradiction between your music and the world in which we live. The world is much louder. Would you agree that your music is negative in the sense, that it is a negation of the existing world. That is the meaning of it, ... that your particular technique to negate the world is softness?

Feldman: If I may be presumptuous, I could say, that all important things negate the world or are in contradiction to the world. I feel that my music is important. I feel that my music is important to the world. But I find, that various attitudes in the world is making it more possible for my music to exist than, for example, twenty years ago, where the environment seemed totally hostile to the music. My music is quiet but the audiences in the past twenty years have become more quiet.

Metzger: But the environment, the technical environment, it's another thing than people. You see the world is technique. Am I right when I say, that your music implies the postulate that the world must change, or that it must be changed, that it must be arranged in a manner that it is even acoustically possible to listen to a piece of yours?

Feldman: I would like to say yes, but I can't. Because I don't write my music in relation to the attitudes of the public.

Metzger: Of course not.

Feldman: I would like ...

Metzger: But objectively, independently from your subjective intentions, objectively, your music postulates, that the world must change. I want to come to the concept of revolution. And in that particular case we have even acoustical criteria for that.

Feldman: I think that the world would listen perhaps with more tolerance, if they could grasp any ideas connected with the music. I think that's part of the impatience of the listener, ... is that the music seems to float, doesn't seem to go in any direction, one doesn't know how it's made, there doesn't seem to be any type of dialectic, going alongside it, explaining it. They are not told how to listen, that is the problem. Most music listens for the public.

Brown: It reminds me a phrase, that someone uses in terms of Gertrude Stein's writing. It said: her writing left the reader alone with the writing.

Feldman: I have great problems, if not confusion, about what happens to my music after it leaves my home. I don't know its place in the world. I don't even know its responsibility in the world. I always thought that the responsibility was, that I wrote it. It wasn't until this music became somewhat known in the world, that I was told, I had other responsibilities besides writing it. And I have never really discovered what these responsibilities are. Something is expected of me.

Metzger: I don't know ...

Feldman: I don't know what is expected of me.

Metzger: ... whether a composer has really a responsibility, socially speaking. The field of art is not responsibility, but frivolity. Frivolity that means liberty, you know art is not reality. The field of aesthetics is more free. You can make a revolution in art; to make it in the real world, that's another problem and another responsibility. Art is a thing that means something, it is not a thing that is something. The world has no meaning, it is useless to discuss the meaning of the world, but the meaning of art ...

Feldman: That's why we discuss it so much.

Metzger: ... is a possible subject of discussion.

Brown: I think, it's possible to discuss the meaning of the world, too. It is not possible to expect an answer, but the fact of discussing is its own way of transforming it.

Metzger: Works of art are conceived to be understood, and the world is not conceived to be understood.

Brown: My works of art are not conceived to be understood. I don't believe in understanding as an absolute.

Feldman: Do you know Lord Byron's remark: Who will explain the explanation? It's very good.

Metzger: Mr. Brown, your pieces as we experienced it today in the case of Folio, have a kind of sociology, I should say ... they are social models.

Brown: Well, there's a real social condition that exists between me, as a composer, the score, as a separate thing from me as a composer, and the musicians, who are separate from all previous too, but we are in a sort of ambiguous social relationship to society. It is a different society than the society of a conductor conducting a Mozart symphony; that there is a social situation created. By the way I want to create music, rather than to say the way I want to create music, the way I want music to come into existence through me.

Metzger: But you see, certain notations in Folio are to be read or visualised, and at the same time as you ask the reading of the score, you ask a spontaneity of the musician. That is the ... ---
I should say, there is no music that is not political.

Brown: Well, there is no music that can't be used politically, but the motives behind the creation of that music can be non-political.

Metzger: Of course. But I am speaking of the objective fact of a work of art, which is a political fact, if the composer wants or not.

Feldman: I think works of art become political only in comparison to the social regime that it is under. For example I never thought, that my work was political in America, because I was under the illusion at least, that I was growing up in an open society, not a closed society. I was very aware of that.

Metzger: That's a terrible illusion.

Feldman: It was an illusion, but where would we be without our illusions. I never felt, for example, that I was remaking society, but I felt that my work demonstrated a kind of intellectual atmosphere of the most formulative, creative part of my life, my early twenties. I was in a society of painters and writers, that were absolutely free, but for another reason, nothing to do with politics. They were free, I was free, because nobody cared. And maybe that not caring is the best type of freedom possible, either for society or composer. Nobody cared. My father cared, because he didn't want me to be a composer, but no one else cared. I gave performances, people really didn't care. They didn't have the energy even to hiss or boo, that's how disinterested they were. And I always felt that that was the best type of environment to be an artist - indifference - I don't mind indifference.

Metzger: Of course. But you see, everything that is done, is always done in a precise historical context. And today we have a dictatorship of loud music. I am speaking of beat, pop, of those phenomenons which fascinate the youth, it is a dictatorship.

Feldman: Are you talking about Stockhausen?

Metzger: Also, yes, because today he is a pop-composer, he is not anymore E-Musik, he is U-Musik today. [Note: E-Musik = classical music, U-Music = pop-music.] Twenty years ago he was a very important composer.

Brown: Why do you say that a prevalence of a taste for a certain kind of sound is a dictatorship of that sound?

Metzger: It is a dictatorship of loudness.

Brown: But it's not enforcing ...

Metzger: In beat and pop-music you have always mechanical beat.

Brown: But one doesn't have ...

Metzger: It is like a machine. It's real machine music.

Brown: But that's their choice.

Feldman: It's more than choice, Earle, I feel that there is a fascistic element, for example, in the Rolling Stones ...

Metzger: Yes, absolutely ...

Brown: An aggressive element.

Metzger: Aggressive and regressive historically. It's a regression to a state of music so primitive, that it even never existed historically.

Brown: But all music has not regressed through that state, and nobody is forcing us ...

Metzger: No, but the new generations are already dominated of it.

Brown: You are a little late. They are already tired of it. There is a whole new scene going on. It's not this enforced loudness.

Feldman: I don't agree with you. I feel that Metzger ...

Brown: You think it is fascistic - the choice these people make in playing their music loudly - is it any more fascistic than if you play your music softly? You choose that you make your music soft, they choose to make theirs loud. Vive la difference!

Metzger: You would say everybody has the right to have his own taste to like certain things, to dislike other things.

Brown: Well, what do you envision, some organisation which prohibits the performance of such pieces?

Metzger: No, I'm against prohibition, but the insight of people should be developed in a manner that they can judge it.

Brown: But is there not enough of what you might call reasonable music in the world that might be changing the insights of people? In other words, I always used to agree with Varèse, Varèse would never join polemical sides you know, ...

Feldman: Not in public.

Brown: ... he said, if you've got a different idea then write the music, and that music will have its effect and it will change things. Don't stand around and holler I have been offended, help! The best thing that you can do is to not put yourself in a polemical position verbally, but just write a better piece of music, if you have got a better idea. Because it is the examples of things, that are better that change people, not forcing them to change.

Feldman: Do you think good things change people or bad things change people?

Brown: Both change people.

Feldman: Name one good thing.

Brown: Your music!

Feldman: Changed nobody. In fact, Lucas Foss told me not to go to Germany. I'm going to Berlin for a year, he says: Don't go there. I said: Why not? He said: You'll have no impact on the culture.

Brown: That's because Lucas is looking for a huge impact.

Feldman: Do I want to change people? That's an interesting question. Let's go back to that question, that's not a bad question. I think, that if you are happy with something, you don't want to change it. And I think that we did change things, and I think that you change things, I mean, why didn't you go to total civilisation, why didn't you go to total control?

Brown: I tried it, I wasn't satisfied with it.

Feldman: Why not? That was the main line.

Brown: But who says I'm a main liner? The point is, I had a different idea, I was not satisfied with serial music.

Feldman: Your idea was in the air ... a kind like a statistical possibility of all the things that might happen any more ...

Brown: But statistics and serialism are absolutely at opposite poles. My music does have a statistical coefficient going on, but you know, I wrote serial music and a kind of statistical control of music out of the Schillinger techniques that I studied, but that was before the Folio pieces. Because I did Folio pieces at the same time I was doing those serial pieces, because I was looking for another way ...

Metzger: If there is a control in the November piece or in the December piece, this control means only that stupidity in reading it, is forbidden.

Brown: Stupidity in reading it?

Metzger: Yes, it is forbidden to read it in a stupid way, not understand it ...

Brown: I mean, I can't control who buys my score and does it stupidly. I can't forbid.

Metzger: When he does it stupidly, it's not the piece. That's the control.

Brown: Well, so is it mine done stupidly, if they are starting from that point, that graphic score of mine and they do it stupidly, then it's my piece stupidly.

Metzger: No, it is not your piece any more.

Brown: Well, in one sense you are right, because the graphic pieces November 1952 and December 1952, I have said in the program notes over and over again that, what the results are, are not my music, which is not a cop-out of responsibility. It's to say that I have created a condition. Now this is a new thing in art, in general. What I did in those pieces was to create an environment of potential, graphically and verbally, and that environment of potential has entered into the detriment of the work or not. Just as the potential of a city can be stupidly organised and violated, but that doesn't mean that the houses are all bad.

Metzger: These pieces are not what they are. They can become, we don't know what.

Brown: Exactly, yes. That's what interests me.

Metzger: And in hundred years we can't imagine what it will be.

Brown: I can stand back and observe that, because those pieces, ... I mean the results of those pieces do not belong to me. They never can be my property. The only thing I did, was to create the environment, the conditions under which people can get together and make music. You know, I am not an anti-ego, or the kind of ego which prides itself by being non-egoistic. I think there's a whole sophistry going on about ego. The other pieces that I do write, 80 or 90% of the given information of, you know, those pieces, I say unhesitating, those are my pieces in a certain sense, those are my results that come about. But these pieces interest me, because they seem to be some of the first pieces which allow that situation of non-owning, and just because it says December 1952, Earle Brown. In the program notes, graphic score by Earle Brown: what you will hear, is the results of the collaboration between all of the people that do it. If you like it, then you must credit those people, if you dislike it, you have to blame me for having such a dumb idea. Well, it's the dumb idea, strangely enough that has come into some working these days.

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Feldman: Well, you see, there is a big problem, just talking about practical things, how music is today. And Earle Brown was telling me in London, that he just got back from Zagreb, and the whole panel was, what would be the music of the future. And some young journalist from Copenhagen came to interview me in London, the first thing he said to me: What will be the music of the future? I would like just to talk about abstract things, because those are the things that I think the audience has to get involved with. The trouble with immediate things is, that in immediate things everybody is an expert. But with abstract things, there will be more silences in the questions, more silences in the answers. -

We'll mix the abstract with the concrete. I think one a priori for example, what is concrete in my musical life, just like in everybody else's, was our initial education, our initial upbringing and then, how this education affects you. In other words, I had the same education as everyone else. I went to a high school in which I got a very lively musical education. I went to the same concerts with my friends - one friend in particular who is a well-known professor in America - we had exactly the same information, exactly the same background, exactly ...

Brown: You see, that's totally uncharacteristic of my background. I grew up in a very small town with no concerts to go to. I didn't have any musical education in the high school. I was taught how to play the trumpet and, the musical influence I came under were primarily jazz and pop-music at that point. So, you know, that's not characteristic. You were in New York, I was in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, that's a hell of a big difference.

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Metzger: For many years now, you are writing these soft pieces. Sometimes I think, they are a kind of mourning epilogue to murdered Jiddishkeit in Europe and dying Jiddishkeit in America, especially in New York. Is there something true about it?

Feldman: It's not true; but at the same time I think that's an aspect of my attitude about being a composer that is mourning. Say, for example, the death of art. I mean, remember that I'm a New-Yorker and a New-Yorker doesn't think about Jiddishkeit. You think about Jiddishkeit if you live with only 5000 other Jews in Frankfurt, so I haven't got that problem. I mean, I don't think of myself as Jewish in New York. But I do in a sense mourn something that has to do with, say Schubert leaving me. Also, I really don't feel that it's all necessary any more. And so what I tried to bring into my music, are just very few essential things that I need. So I at least keep it going for a little while more. I don't think this explains anything, does it? ---

The only thing that applies to me as you talk about Jiddishkeit, is the fact that, because I'm Jewish, I do not identify with, say Western civilisation music. In other words; when Bach gives us a diminished fourth, I cannot respond that the diminished fourth means Oh, God. I cannot respond to that diminished fourth as a symbol. But what my music is mourning, I just don't know what to say. I said just earlier, that perhaps just mourning ... I must say you did bring up something that I particularly don't want to talk about publicly, but I do talk privately.

To some degree I do believe for example, like with George Steiner, that after Hitler perhaps there should no longer be art. Those thoughts are always in my mind. There was a hypocrisy, a delusion to continue, because those values proved to me nothing. They have no longer any moral basis. And what are our morals in music? Our moral in music is 19th century German music, isn't it? I do think about that, and I do think about the fact, that I want to be the first great composer that is Jewish.

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