La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

20. Piano Technique

FRANK J. OTERI: The question of technique takes us into one of the other areas I wanted to go into prefacing The Well-Tuned Piano. The very early piano pieces, the pieces of 1960, some of them are, from a pianistic standpoint…

LA MONTE YOUNG: Which ones?

FRANK J. OTERI: Two notes held for a long time, for example. They don’t require traditional pianistic virtuosity.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Composition 1960 # 7. That’s not particularly a piano piece, by the way.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: It has been realized as a piano piece.

LA MONTE YOUNG: It’s just a piece.

FRANK J. OTERI: So it can be realized on any instrument.

LA MONTE YOUNG and MARIAN ZAZEELA [in unison]: Yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: Or Any Integer (Arabic numeral).

LA MONTE YOUNG: That’s the repeated forearm cluster. That’s definitely a piano piece, or a gong piece.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s extraordinarily difficult to do, but not in a conventional pianistic way.

LA MONTE YOUNG: That’s right.

FRANK J. OTERI: But once you get into area of The Well-Tuned Piano, you’re entering the area of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. You’re entering an area that you really need to be a Horowitz to do this. It almost has a conventional 19th century Romantic sense of virtuosity.

LA MONTE YOUNG: It absolutely does.

FRANK J. OTERI: How did that become part of the language? I know from the saxophone playing you said that it was translating over, but all of the sudden there becomes this piece that is very much about technique in a really conventional pianistic way.

LA MONTE YOUNG: When you study the harmonies in The Well-Tuned Piano, especially in the transition to the “Romantic Chord” from the area of the “Magic Opening Chord,” the harmonies I present in that area show a remarkable knowledge of traditional harmony and how it can be applied to modern harmony, and then I do it in extremely complex tuning ratios of just intonation. The thing is that I’ve done music my whole life. All of this stuff is a part of me. I’ve played in orchestras. I did all of these things. What has been the oversight is that, necessarily, the way that work appears, piece by piece, little by little, people at first—critics, for example, or other composers—can only have one example at a time. People tend to pigeonhole you right away. Newsweek headlined an article, “Johnny One-note”; “He only wrote one note,” some people said. Well, you know, turns out I didn’t just write one note. Turns out I did a lot of things. Somebody has to take the trouble, or somehow be fortunate enough to be exposed to the whole big picture in order to realize how much I have been involved in music, how much music is a part of me, and how other musics are a subset of my being that then become expressed. The Well-Tuned Piano sums up a very, very large area of musical knowledge.