La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House
FRANK J. OTERI: Theoretically, could any person with any background in any music, no grounding in classical music, no grounding in Indian classical music, maybe not even grounding in the blues, just somebody who’s grown up listening to AM pop music radio, can that person hear and grow to appreciate your music without having to learn any of the theory behind it?
LA MONTE YOUNG: I certainly hope so. I believe it very strongly and I think that’s how it should be. I think you shouldn’t have to learn all the theory that I know to enjoy the music. If the principles that I really believe are at work in my music and in raga are really there, I think this is something that automatically draws you in and allows you to go straight to heaven. However, sometimes we come with preconditioning that holds us back for a while. But there is another factor. We cannot pretend that everybody is really created equal and has the same opportunities and the same physiological structure. I mean, people are born in all kinds of conditions and some people just may not in this particular lifetime be able to hear for example—to make it obvious, just to make it obvious. So we can’t say that everybody absolutely, but theoretically everybody who is capable of hearing and capable of feeling and capable of coming up to a certain level of evolution, I would hope that they should really be able to enjoy The Well-Tuned Piano or raga without any knowledge of the system that goes into making it up.
FRANK J. OTERI: You talked a while back about repetition being the way in or long-sustained tones being the way to hear intervals, to be able to hear patterns and absorb them as a listener. And I found this to be true as a composer; I’ve found this to be true as a listener. A lot of the music of the past century in the West has been about denying repetition, about creating musical structures where intervals never repeat and various formulas are used to subvert hierarchical relationships between intervals and I love a lot of that music. But I love it because I’ve been able to immerse myself into it and I’m speaking now of the music that goes past the Second Viennese School and actually music including Webern, where when a row was finished, it just ends. So it might be 11 measures long. There’s no repetition content, there’s no thematic development in a conventional sense. Is that music something if listeners had no prejudice toward it that they would be able to appreciate without all the theory that gets in the way of thinking that it can be entertaining?
LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, you know, I think that some of us cannot hold ourselves back and we have to study theory. [laughs] We’re just driven. We just can’t live without learning what theory is. Certainly I think that listeners should be able to love Schoenberg, Webern without learning row technique. I certainly knew so much theory by the time I got to Schoenberg and Webern that I know, you know, you can’t use me as an example. And it is true that your average man on the street is probably not going to appreciate the Schoenberg Violin Concerto or the Webern Symphony. I mean, I think that they wrote very sophisticated music that was based on a lot of knowledge of music tradition and they reached a certain point and, you know, some people never develop beyond a certain stage of listening to very, very simple music and…
MARIAN ZAZEELA: You know, I’ve had people say to me, you know, “I only like figurative painting. I just don’t like abstract art.” Well, you know, you can’t even move, you can’t get anywhere with that attitude. They’re locked off in some idea, whether they got it culturally or from heredity, or you know, why they have that limit and they can’t see the beauty in abstract art. I can’t fathom it, but it’s like some people are locked off in some way of thinking and just…
LA MONTE YOUNG: You and I were driven to do what we did and to learn more and to listen more and to write more and to really do something with our lives. I mean, some people are really only interested in making a lot of money and some people aren’t even that ambitious, you know?
MARIAN ZAZEELA: You know, when I first heard that there was such a thing as electronic music—I’m not sure if I heard anything, but I was in my apartment and I heard sort of a screech of brakes and some other sounds from outside and I thought, well, I can imagine that something like that could be music. And that was just from having the idea. Not even from having heard so-called “electronic music,” but, you know, having it presented as an idea somewhere and it allowed me to recognize, well, perhaps that could be electronic music.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, one thing I find so interesting is that certain composers like Stockhausen would be anathema to the traditional concert hall music goers, but to a lot of younger people involved in techno and electronica, he’s a father figure. He’s a guru to these people.
MARIAN ZAZEELA: Sure.
LA MONTE YOUNG: Mmm. Yeah.
FRANK J. OTERI: And you know they, you try to track down those Deutsche Grammophon Stockhausen LPs, you know, they’re like 100 bucks a pop because the DJs want them.
LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, you know, education is still one of the major keys. Let people have an education and you can’t stop them, you know. Give people knowledge and they really eat it up and they appreciate it a lot and the more that knowledge is made available to people, the more they will utilize it and let it be a part of them. And I think that’s the optimistic side. You know, there is this side that you have people that come up in the same schooling system that we came up in and they end up being criminals. You know, why? Why do these people send out viruses to destroy our computers, you know? Like what happened to them? We all went to school and they learned how to do something and they ended up doing something destructive. Well, you know, that’s sad. I’m sure this guy who does that could appreciate Stockhausen, could appreciate Webern, could even appreciate La Monte Young. Does he? I don’t know if he does or if he doesn’t, but it’s important to really have very high ideals and principles and a dedication in life to doing something that gives something back to humanity. And it’s important that people are taught that because through history we are able to learn about our mistakes. And unless we study history and unless we study what has happened and understand what has happened and are taught how to go forward, we end up just going back to the same set of mistakes. So education is definitely an important part of the process. But in every system, no matter how evolved the average person becomes, there will be certain unique people who will be somehow evolving yet even faster for whatever reason. But not everybody is the same and this is a fact and we have to observe that and it’s just a fact to observe. It’s not a qualitative statement, it’s just an observation that people are evolving at different rates, we can say partly because of education, partly because of inner drive, whatever. Whereas I think all of this music should be accessible to everybody without having studied the theory, some people are in a state, like you have a Plato coming along. He was unique and he had ideas and he was able to expound those ideas, but not everybody understood them. And you know, a long time later, we’re understanding them. This is always going to be true, that from the average some people are pushed up, some people try harder, whatever it is that makes them that way, it happens and these people will be a unique intelligentsia—like it or not—and they have the potential to give something really important to humanity and to the earth. And in fact, they have a responsibility.
FRANK J. OTERI: Is there anything we missed.
LA MONTE YOUNG: [laughs] Probably!