La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House
FRANK J. OTERI: To turn it the other way around. You had this relationship with a guru, but to take it to the next generation and even before, you as a guru and as a mentor… You were already a mentor to many composers and musicians before you even got involved with Pandit Pran Nath. And you continue to have that role to this day. You mentioned Michael Harrison playing The Well-Tuned Piano and I’m curious about what that meant for you as a composer being in the audience hearing this piece of music you created that had always been done only by you up to that point, a quasi-improvisational work that really cannot be learned from a score. Was it still your Well Tuned Piano? What did Michael add to it? How was it different?
LA MONTE YOUNG: It was a very positive experience. It was very heartwarming. You have a sense that the tradition will go on. It’s definitely still my piece. He may add to it. And, of course, he’s written his own pieces, From Ancient Worlds and Revelation, all of which grew out of The Well-Tuned Piano.
MARIAN ZAZEELA: Although they’re his compositions, they’re children of The Well-Tuned Piano.
LA MONTE YOUNG: But he added his own world. Pandit Pran Nath used to spend part of his time in California, so one time we went to Berkeley and someone arranged a little house concert for us to sing at his house. It’s traditional for the guru to not sit in the same room as the disciples when they sing because it’s considered too hard for them to have to sing in his presence, so he sat in the other room. But he said to one of the students who was sitting with him, “These are my children.” It’s a feeling of eternity. It’s the idea that something can have eternal life, that music can have eternal life. That’s why it’s so interesting to consider recordings in this context because whereas we do carry on Pandit Pran Nath’s tradition, in addition we now have an added support of the entire body of work that’s been recorded. And literally, one supplements the other; there’s no loss. At first, it seemed like when recordings came in, Pandit Pran Nath would not allow us to record any of his lessons. Many of the students wanted to record, and some of the students he let record I think because he thought it was hopeless. They weren’t going to get anything if they didn’t record. But for us, once, twice, three times, he said, “O.K. Now I’m making this special recording for you.” But 99.9% of the time, we had to just listen and remember. There’s a story of when he came to one of his first lessons in front of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib and he bent over and a pencil fell out of his pocket. And his teacher slapped him and said, “Don’t ever bring that again!” It was just considered out of the question because you had to rely on your memory; memory was everything. So recording is a very interesting and important phenomenon. You must take it positively and use it as a tool and then it’s very valuable and nothing is lost.
MARIAN ZAZEELA: We found there was an interesting mechanism that came into play; when he made the few tapes for us as teaching tapes, we tended to not concern ourselves with what was on them because we thought we could always go back and listen to the tape. Whereas the lessons he gave us that were not recorded, we hung on every single note and tried to practice, to memorize them. And he gave us a technique for this. He told us that when we sit and practice, we should think of him and think that we were sitting in front of him. And then everything would come flooding back to us, and actually this does happen. And it’s quite extraordinary. If you really focus, the mind is quite powerful. Cognition is a very interesting process. We learn how we learn through this study. We find that even while we’re sleeping, something is going on. And we wake up the next day and we can remember something that we couldn’t get the day before.
LA MONTE YOUNG: Repetition. Memory is repetition. You set something up inside the mind and you repeat it, and you keep checking it out and bringing it back. If you don’t ever bring it back, it fades and it fades and it fades. In a recent letter we wrote to Ralph Metzner, in fact, we said, “Do you remember this?” And he wrote back, “Memory is a very tricky concept.” Even that old process of saying something to somebody in the first row of the auditorium and by the time it gets back to the last person, it’s a completely different sentence. Imagine what happens to memory each time you bring it back. Is it really the same memory or are you adding to it? How are you reinforcing it? But periodicity and repetition are a part of this process of memory.