In a flash, I saw an image on the side of a bus… an oversized reproduction of Michelangelo’s scene where God reaches to Man by the tip of the finger, but God’s arm was replaced by a hairy ape’s arm. I associated this message the with the religious myth of creation where God created the world in seven days (actually six, since he had the brilliant idea to take day off from such a magnificent task). This image challenges the myth by its reference to the Ape, which is, by theory of evolution, our ancestor, and I took it as an omen.

From the early days of Pythagoras, a relationship was established between the cosmic universe and the basic tones that constitute a scale. In search of the ‘music of the spheres’, Renaissance and post-renaissance alchemists and mathematicians, precursors of modern science, among which Robert Fludd, Newton and Kepler, explored the relationships between the ‘heavenly bodies’ and sound waves. Contemporary mathematician Hans Cousto determined the pitch corresponding to the earth (it actually has not one but three sounds, the yearly rotation, the daily rotation and the axis rotation) and the other planets and satellites we know. The music of the spheres is not a fanciful concept but rather the old-fashioned name of a powerful tool for understanding the universe. To many, it is a timeless source of inspiration.

Music as it relates to sound waves is currently used as a scientific model for understanding the universe. A recent article in Scientific American by Glenn D. Starkman and Dominik J. Schwartz (August 2005) discusses the CMB radiation model for studying the conditions of the early universe, by reading energy density fluctuations closely resembling sound waves. The article is called Is the Universe Out of Tune… it explains how some ‘wrong notes’ appeared in the in the cosmic symphony model, prompting scientists to explore further. The universe could very well be microtonal…

The very next day after the omen on the side of the bus, a CD came in the mail: Charles Ives’ Universe Symphony realized by Johnny Reinhard and the American Festival of Microtonal Music Orchestra. I know Johnny personally and am not in a position to review the CD. However, I happen to know its history. In June 1996, I was at Alice Tully Hall for the premiere, sitting in a box with Bobby Buecker, Maude Boltz and other artists from the Soho underground, spellbound and listening for every note. Andrew Bolotowsky headed the large flute section. Johnny Reinhard conducted, along with an assistant conductor to handle the simultaneous different tempos or other complexities required by this piece. Johnny spent years studying Ives’ manuscripts to compile this microtonal realization. The impression I got from this performance was unforgettable. Ives’ piece is a unique combination of harmonious and chaotic, in no particular style, and even so, never difficult on the ear.

The CD, released by Stereo Society, is not a recording of the live performance, but a high-quality studio recording. Why it took ten years for this unique tribute to Ives to become accessible to all is more complex than I can describe here.

The inspiration for the work is undeniably the music of the cosmos as it entered into being, according to the movement titles: Fragment: Earth Alone; Pulse Of The Cosmos; Wide Valleys And Clouds; Birth Of The Oceans; Earth And The Firmament; And Lo, Now It Is Night; Earth Is Of The Heavens. Ives wrote this piece at the end of his life, and never actually got to ‘finish’ it, but fortunately for us, he left detailed sketches. Therefore, realizing these sketches is somewhat of a composition itself, requiring many decisions the composer left to the performer, which is no different than how Cage and many contemporary downtown composers work with performers.

You can obtain this instant library item at www.stereosociety.com. For further information about the piece, please contact Johnny Reinhard directly at afmmjr@aol.com.

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