Kyle Gann concisely sets up four pillars for an American musical revolution:
Conlon Nancarrow for rhythm; La Monte Young (or alternatively, Ben Johnston) for pitch; Morton Feldman for texture and continuity; and Ashley for the relation of text to structure and music.This hit pretty close to home for me and I've been mulling it over for months. I have enormous enthusiasm for Conlon Nancarrow. I love those player piano works as well as the handful of chamber works I've heard. His rhythmic ideas are a rich vein of ideas yet to be fully mined. So far I'm on board with the revolution. In case you haven't noticed the "Scale of the Day" posts all over the place I'll just state that I'm a nut for alternative intonation. So LaMonte Young and Ben Johnston are big in the HurdAudio universe. The revolution keeps sounding better all the time. Morton Feldman is another significant influence. Particularly for texture and continuity. So at this point Gann has called out some figures near and dear to my aesthetic sensibilities. Then he has to throw Robert Ashley into the mix.
I really want to have the same kind of enthusiasm for Ashley that I have for the other three-quarters of the American musical revolution. I am familiar with his work. I've seen it performed live and I periodically give it another chance from time to time. But it plays right into my difficulties with text and voice in music. I admire that he's striving to solve the text/music conundrum but I'm left feeling like he addresses the issue by compounding it. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly rubs me the wrong way because it often seems like he's "doing everything right." Yet I'm reluctant to embrace both the sound and the aesthetic.
To my ears the relation of text to structure and music is a riddle yet to be worked out. Harry Partch hit on a nice track by bending music to fit the natural rhythms and harmonies of spoken prose. But the larger issue for me is content. Words carry such heavy baggage that seem to drain the contrast out of most sonic environments. The missing leg of this American musical revolution seems to call for a different kind of poetry that I have yet to encounter.