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Minimalism Conference, Day 2

New Ear and Tom Johnson perform "Narayana's Cows"A day that starts at 9AM and ends after 11 at night, in which 15 different people give presentations, and which culminates in a two hour concert, is not a day that is easy to distill down to a single theme (except perhaps happy exhaustion).  We began with no fewer than six papers on Steve Reich, some of which were thematically linked but none of which was redundant.  Perhaps my favorite moment of those morning sessions was when Sumanth Gopinath compared a feature of Different Trains to the music from a classic 1980s IBM commercial.  In the afternoon we had papers on Part, Eastman, Glass, and Young.  Kyle Gann described his painstaking reconstruction of Dennis Johnson‘s pivotal-yet-nearly-lost November, which Kyle and Sarah Cahill will be performing in all its 5-hour glory on Sunday.  And at the end of the day the great Tom Johnson, who was the Downtown critic for the Village Voice from 1971 to 1982 and who now lives in Paris, gave an hour-long presentation on European minimalist music that we in the United States aren’t familiar with, and on some of his own music.  Johnson’s book The Voice of New Music is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand minimalism, and it was a real thrill to hear his current thoughts on the European scene.

After dinner, the Kansas City based New Ear Ensemble gave a concert of minimalist works.  New Ear is, to begin with, a superb group–they played some very difficult music very well.  The concert had three high points for me: Vladimir Tosic‘s Arios for piano and cello was quite beautiful and highly formalized in a way that made every moment feel like a natural, organic outgrowth of the preceding.  Jacob Ter Veldhuis‘s The Body of Your Dreams for piano and tape is always great fun, with its Reich-inspired interplay between piano melodies and a tape part assembled from an infomercial about a piece of exercise equipment that promises great results with minimal effort.  The final piece on the program was Tom Johnson‘s Narayana’s Cows, which is an ingenious representation (including Johnson providing explanatory narration) of a math problem supposedly posed by the 14th century mathematician Narayana Pandit:  “A cow produces one calf each year. Beginning in its fourth year, each calf produces a calf. How many cows are there after, for example17 years?”  That may sound dry, but it’s actually a very fun piece.