La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

LA MONTE YOUNG: When music becomes a spiritual experience, it goes beyond the concept of “I have the fixed composition right here which is a certain duration.” And this process was beginning as I was learning how to improvise. But by the time I had put together my group The Theatre of Eternal Music, I was creating music in which I had sustained drones. I asked Tony Conrad and John Cale and Marian Zazeela to sustain tones while I played saxophone…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: You were already performing saxophone over the voice drones…

LA MONTE YOUNG: I was already performing saxophone over the voice drones before they joined the group and I had been listening to harmonics. Once you begin working with the sustained tones that I began in my demonstration earlier… [La Monte and Marian sing a unison]. Once the tones are sustained, you have the opportunity to listen to them. And sometime in the ’60s I got this idea that tuning is a function of time. When astronomers want to study the periodicities of some heavenly body, they go way back into history and say, “Well, what did the Greeks write about it and what did the Chinese write about it.” It takes a long-term study to really make a very precise analysis. And simply by sustaining the tone, we have the opportunity to listen to the harmonic content. Out of the harmonic content flows tuning in just intonation because every frequency is related to every other frequency as a whole number ratio. This is exactly what the harmonic series is; it’s a system of positive integers. The positive integers1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, on to infinityare such that anytime you sustain two of these integers together, the by-product of these integers, a whole number multiple, is some harmonic in this harmonic series. The harmonic series is the same thing as the positive integers in terms of numerical analysis. Danielou mentions that in sound there’s such a thing as intelligible sound and less-intelligible sound and he thinks that these harmonics are very closely related to intelligible sound. I’ve gone on to discuss the concept of periodic composite wave forms as being one of the key elements in these sets of relationships. Our concept of time could not exist without a concept of periodicity. Periodicity is one of the most important principles that we have. Kronecker said, “God created the integers; all the rest is the work of man.” Through the integers, we are led into periodicity, and through periodicity we are led to the integers.

When I put together my group, The Theatre of Eternal Musicit actually began a little bit earlier in L.A. with Terry Jennings and Dennis Johnson and me and this tenor player Mike Lara togetherand I would play piano. But in New York, I met Marian and had her sing drone while I played saxophone and then sometimes Terry Jennings would come to New York and Dennis Johnson would come to New York. And then I met Tony Conrad. And John Cale played in the group. And later on Terry Riley replaced John Cale in the group, my old dearest brother from Berkeley. Terry Jennings was the first person to appreciate my long sustained tones, and Dennis Johnson was the next, and I would say that Terry Riley was then the next. The same way that Schoenberg and Berg and Webern were very close to each other and had to give each other emotional personal support to do what they were doing… Because the critics, they don’t know anything; they’ll pan you. The public certainly doesn’t know. Half of them just think what the critics write. So who knows? Well, you know, the person that’s creating it knows, hopefully. And if he doesn’t know, he has to find out. He’s the one that’s responsible. The buck stops there. What comes through you is what you’re giving and what you’re leaving to humanity. It’s the lesson that you’re offering them. It’s important that you offer them the truth and that it be extremely pure. Recording has brought an extraordinary new situation into the process. It puts the guru-disciple relationship in a new light. It’s just as important as it ever was. It’s just the same as it was even after they created electronic instruments. The composer was just as important as he ever was. The performer was just as important as he ever was. But it brings a new tool, a new element. Before recordings, the disciple really had to memorize and memorize and memorize.