La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

11. Alternative Concert Venues

MARIAN ZAZEELA: It became important to create an atmosphere that was conducive to listening to music over a long period of time. So in 1962, -3 and -4, when we started presenting all this music there weren’t really proper venues. I mean, the whole thing of alternative spaces hadn’t really come into being although La Monte had presented the first series in an alternative space at Yoko Ono‘s loft in 1960-61.

LA MONTE YOUNG: If you’ll remind me, I want to talk about the importance of the Yoko Ono concert series.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: So he had done that and we had that idea, but, actually in 1962, Angus MacLise knew somebody who had a gallery on 4th Avenue and they loaned it to us on Sundays. In fact, at first it was two days a week; we did concerts on Thursdays and Sundays. But in any case, we did have a chance to perform in a gallery and that was very good because we could sit on the floor and the audience could sit on the floor and it was a much freer space and we could really see that concert halls were just not right at all for this kind of music. The chairs were very rigid and you couldn’t do much with the lighting in a concert hall. And so on and on as the years went on, it developed thatwell, I guess in 1964 we had another opportunity at the Pocket Theater, which was a proscenium theater and had seats. It was a place that was on the Bowery.

LA MONTE YOUNG: The first gallery was the 10-4 Gallery, right?

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Right. The 10-4 Gallery, that was in 1962. But in 1963, a friend of John Cage‘s got together with Arthur Conescu. He may have been connected with the Cunningham dance group in some way. I don’t know exactly how they knew him. And they rented this old vaudeville theater on the Bowery. I think it’s now a movie house, but he called it the Pocket Theater and they produced some concerts there in the early fall of ’63 and actually that was when John Cage presented Vexations.


MARIAN ZAZEELA: Satie‘s Vexations. And you know, it was 24 hours and he got a lot of different pianists to come and they took turns performing on a schedule of twenty or thirty minutes at a time. And we actually attended the whole thing…well, that was an obvious role for us.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, they even invited me to play, but I didn’t.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Yeah, La Monte considered it but he decided not to play. When we did have a chance to in ’64 to have a whole evening of our own work (the first performances of Pre-Tortoise Dream Music and The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys) at this theater, basically by then I had designed a light box and we simply hung it over the performance area and we had very subdued lighting and that was really the only kind of lighting. So, we went from that idea and then we, soon after I guess, then we did perform in other proscenium theaters the Wurlitzer Theater, which was in the old Wurlitzer building on 42nd Street which has since been torn down was the place that Jonas Mekas organized an Anthology Festival of Expanded Cinema. We gave a performance there and that was the first time I used slide projections on the group in winter, late December of ’65. Following that we did performances of The Tortoise with The Theatre of Eternal Music at Larry Poons‘ loft. He invited us and Henry Geldzahler raised money for our group to do a series of performances there. Larry had a net lease on a loft building in the next block here on Church Street and he let us perform on the top floor. So that experience made it even more clear to us that we needed to perform in these alternative spaces and the lighting would be the vehicle to take it out of whatever ordinary condition the space was in and bring it into a space that was conducive for the music and enhance the music and that was how it developed. Another was the Hardware Poets’ Theater, which was the creation of or project of Jerry Bloedow, whom you know…

LA MONTE YOUNG: One of the concerts that we performed there was on the eve of our wedding…


LA MONTE YOUNG: …of our marriage.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: It wasn’t much of a wedding!

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, we just got married at City Hall. We got married a year to the day we got together. On June 22, 1962 we got together and on June 22, 1963 we got married.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: We almost didn’t make it.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, because I had a concert the night before.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: We had the concert the night before…

LA MONTE YOUNG: And I was so young that I didn’t yet realize that that was an impossibility to have a concert and then recover and wake up and go down to City Hall and get married…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: The marriage was on a Saturday morning and you had to get there before noon. They closed on Saturday at noon.

LA MONTE YOUNG: One enormous thing that I learned from Pandit Pran Nath was how to really prepare for a concert. You know, performing is such a classic tradition in India, that by the time the student is ready to perform, he has learned everything about his teacher what food he ate, what food he cooked before a concert. He was a master cook and he cooked dishes specifically for singers. He could cook a different recipe every day of the week…of the year! Every day of the year and they felt that you had to prepare the food with your own hands, that the vibration of what went into the food was the vibration that went into you. Everything about preparing for a concert is completely worked out. And I was so young and foolish that I didn’t realize that it is impossible to give a concert, recover…you know, you have to unwind. You probably don’t walk home until dawn, after you go to a restaurant and eat something, so then you have to wake up at 9 AM to be down at the Court House at 11 or something. You know come on! [laughs]

MARIAN ZAZEELA: It was touch and go. [laughs]

LA MONTE YOUNG: But what I really want to talk about is the importance of the alternative venue in this panorama of ideas that has to do with what I was able to achieve in my work. When I came to New York in 1960 I had already been presented in New York by John Cage and David Tudor and in Europe. But, somehow, I met Yoko and she invited me she knew that I was collecting a lot of scores… I had always been collecting scores because I was presenting concerts at Berkeley; they let me do the Noon Concerts at Berkeley. In fact, the story goes that Terry Riley and I both won scholarships. And they gave him the residency grant to stay at Berkeley because he was so easy to get along with and then they gave me the traveling grant because they were afraid I was going to take over the music department. They wanted to get rid of me, so I came to New York, in any case, I wanted to get out of there because it was a very stifling situation. Berkeley is not a big artistic scene, whereas the music department was extremely good, and at the university it was extremely good we were second in the nation, second to Harvard. The music scene in the Bay Area wasn’t much. There was much more in L.A. and there wasn’t much there. There were only the Monday Evening Concerts and nothing compared to what was possible in New York. So when I got to New York, I was extremely inspired about the possibilities and I was already collecting scores from having been director of some of the Noon Concerts at Berkeley. And when Yoko met me, she had a loft and she invited me to direct a series of concerts in her loft and it became an enormous discovery process because the only concerts being presented were uptown and you had to be a friend of Oliver Daniel‘s, the head of BMI, to get a concert. Not a concert, you couldn’t get a concert, you’d get a slot on a concert. You could be a composer who had a 20-minute piece if you got a long time. So that was the only outlet for serious music. There was no other outlet, practically. So, when I had this possibility to present concerts in a loft, suddenly, you could have as many rehearsals as you want, you can give composers two or three nights of their own music. You know, ’til this day, if you give a concert in a union hall, they won’t let you record it unless you bribe them with a lot of money and you can’t bring your own recording engineer unless you pay more money and you have to do a soundcheck and do a concert and go home, exactly between these times and to get another day in the hall, it’s like just about impossible. So how can you create work on a high level under those conditions? And it was the opportunity to present concerts that Yoko gave me in her loft that made me immediately realize that this was the only way. If you were going to be creative, you had to have a space in which you could do things according to your own time and your own inspiration and this is I’m sure what inspired the concept of a Dream House. By the time Marian and I got together, we were beginning to talk about the idea of a Dream House a place where a work could theoretically exist in time and go on with a life and tradition of its own. I even had the idea that the musicians would live in the building and that they would be playing continuously and that they would come in and take shifts and two or three would come in and two or three would go out and the music would go on and on. Then of course electronics were developed and that was a big help to making continuous music. Even to this day, O.K., right at this moment, I have a Dream House, but the costof keeping musicians playing continuously boy, talk about just getting them for one concert, they cost money. And the musicians, they must be paid. They deserve to earn money. They have worked their lives to do it. So you have to give them money. And the whole process of having a space, it’s all about economics. But if one is able to solve that problem or work with that problem, then the possibility for true creativity opens up, because to have true creativity, you really must have a large degree of freedom. This situation in an uptown hall is impossible. You cannot do what I did at my concert the other night. The reason I could be so inspired is I had had weeks of rehearsals in this same space and everything was fine-tuned, every sound, the way we were going to record, it was pre-worked out. You cannot do that when you go into a regular concert space. It is just the antithesis of what we have here. So the concept of an environment relates directly to this concept of the discipline of the body in order to achieve this high-spiritual state, because the various senses must be dealt with. If you give people a mandala to focus on while they’re listening to the music, it’s totally different than if they are focusing on somebody dancing around on stage. And to have Marian’s lights as the environment takes care of the entire visual sensation… This puts you in a special state that allows you to have visual stimulus that is supportive of the music and the music can be supportive of the visual stimulus. And the entire environment is simply an extension of this same concept.

FRANK J. OTERI: But at the same time, wouldn’t it be glorious in terms of the sound to have The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights at Carnegie Hall?

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, yes, that’s a nice place! If they would give it to me for 3 months, I’ll take it! [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs]

MARIAN ZAZEELA: You know, we did a performance at Merkin Concert Hall of The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer from The Four Dreams of China. We did light it; it just was kind of hard. We had about one rehearsal in the space. Everything was rushed. I did a light installation and it was, as I recall, a pretty nice realization for the space that it was. And I think Merkin Hall has never quite looked this good, but it’s really difficult. We’ve had some beautiful installations in more traditional, church-like spaces and galleries in Europe and places where we have been given time in the space and a chance to make a site-specific installation and everything comes together. There has been an ongoing installation of The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights at the Kunst im Regenbogenstadl in Polling, Bavaria. You can actually take a virtual walking tour through the installation that I designed for Jung Hee Choi’s Web site.

FRANK J. OTERI: If I can jump in before you jump back in, what’s so interesting about the way your music is experiencedand this goes back to The Well-Tuned Piano at 6 Harrison Street, the raga concert this weekend, and the memory I have of the concert at Dia

MARIAN ZAZEELA: With the Big Band.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, The Theatre of Eternal Music Big Band. And all of those situations, I was sitting on the floor and it was only uncomfortable because it was so crowded, because there were so many people who wanted to be there. But the ability to do what you want with your body as it were…


FRANK J. OTERI: …as opposed to sitting in a seat looking this way and having your physicality completely imprisoned, is liberating as a listener.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Yes, absolutely.

FRANK J. OTERI: And concert halls don’t do that.

LA MONTE YOUNG: There’s something very profound about the fact that for meditation we learn to sit on the ground. And it is a grounding process. It brings us in contact with the earth…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: …On the third floor!

LA MONTE YOUNG: And I have a saying: “In order to live in the clouds, you have to first have your feet on the ground.” And if you, once you ground yourself, then you can leave the body and go out, and leave the body sitting here and really go out of the body. And for some reason the chairs are not as conducive to this process, but traditionally from the beginnings of time, meditation has taken place sitting on the ground. And I similarly think that people should have the option to lie down if they want to. I mean, some of these works that I do now are very long and some people cannot sit on the ground to begin with, so we offer them chairs sometimes, but it’s not the idea to make the audience uncomfortable, the idea is to make them comfortable and give them the possibility to really go deep into the artistic, spiritual experience.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, as glorious as The Well-Tuned Piano would be at Carnegie Hall, I couldn’t imagine sitting in one of those chairs for six hours.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, I have to say, I would love to be able to have Carnegie Hall for a long enough period of time to be able to transform it into one of Marian’s light environments. It’s a great space.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: You know, that reminds me, when we were in Holland in 1977 and Terry and Pandit Pran Nath and we were on tour, and Pandit Pran Nath gave a concert in the Concertgebouw and they scheduled it…it seems that annually they have a tradition in Europe where they do a lot of things for disabled people, you know, they had so many people who were injured during the war, so they actually removed all of the seats for a classical concert, they invited many amputees and people in wheelchairs and they removed the seats and we had a chance to perform before they put them back.


MARIAN ZAZEELA: And it was really beautiful, and acoustically…

FRANK J. OTERI: You had those acoustics, but you didn’t have the discomfort.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Acoustically it was a perfect thing.