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Friday, February 4, 2011

Was RAW interested in modern classical music?

Yesterday, I posted a video of John Cage, the famous experimental composer, and today I pose a question. Is there any evidence that Robert Anton Wilson was interested in modern classical music? It would seem odd if he were not. He was interested in classical music and he always was interested in new ideas and cutting-edge art. He lived for many years in the Bay Area, home to many modern composers. (Terry Riley's "In C," which launched a revolution in modern classical music, was first performed on Nov. 4, 1964, at the San Francisco Tape Music Center.)

And yet, when I read Wilson's work, I see no references to Terry Riley, or "In C," or Steve Reich, or Philip Glass, or John Cage, or John Adams, or any number of people who I would expect Wilson to be interested in. Have I missed something?

On a related note, I have a blog devoted to modern classical music.


michael said...

When I interviewed RAW he said he was looking forward to listening to George Antheil's Airplane Sonata...In Email To The Universe RAW thinks of Stravinsky as a sound engineer, a sort of scientist of sound...As a close reader of John Lilly's Programming and Metaprogramming In The Human Biocomputer, RAW would've been well versed in Lilly's experiments with white noise and how the brain can "project" sounds that aren't "really there," something that fascinated a lot of modern musicians, from Cage to Eno...although I have no proof, others mentioned Stockhausen and Varese and their connections/interests in secret societies and Sirius...RAW told me an anecdote about Schoenberg that I've shared in email with you, Jackson...some of us consider jazz to be black classical music, and RAW loved MJQ, saw Bird in NY in the early 1950s, mentions Monk, mentions West Irish indigenous music and its odd sonic affinities to No. African the MaybeLogic course Cage's "Roaratorio" came up naturally, in connection with an interview with New Libertarian in 1976 he mentioned LvB's late quartets (maybe not "modern" the way it's meant by Tom Jackson), and "the less popular and more experimental stuff by Stravinsky."

I think RAW took in a LOT of 20th century art music, but was overall more impressed with Bach, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Mozart, and esp Beethoven; whether this can be chalked up to imprint vulnerability or something else, is ripe for those of speculative mind.

michael said...

I forgot to add that, those composers you named (I like all of them) use or are even identified with minimalism, and RAW seemed to have a very elaborate idea about energy structures and mathematical theories of communication that, I have little doubt, in-formed (!) his esthetic preferences in music. He probably saw minimalism as a reaction to complexity? And his nervous system appreciated a certain amount of complexity - actually, quite a lot. Witness his love for Pound and Finnegans Wake and other thick, difficult, tomes. He may have developed strategies for apprehending info/energy structures in music by the ages of 18-22 and found it difficult to "like" music insufficiently complex to HIS nervous system. Or, less-complex musics-to-his-nervous system weren't interesting enough to write about. (See his many applications of isomorphisms to Shannon's mathematical communication theory, and juxtapose this with the many interior monologues Siggy has about music in the HIC and the Robert Anton Wilson exegete will have one entre into his thoughts on music in general...but that seems only one of many entryways...)

I wouldn't mind hearing others.

Eric Wagner said...

Bob loved Mahler. He makes references to Stravinski as Dr. Johnson mentioned. In general he tends to make comments like "what passes for music" which makes me think he didn't respond to much of the classical tradition after Stravinsky. I don't think he enjoyed jazz as much after the age of thirty as he did in his youth. His top ten cd's included no jazz, and when he came to my house he asked me to put on Beethoven and Bach. Of course, I may have reached an inaccurate conclusion. He may have loved much music I don't know about.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


Antheil's Airplane Sonata dates from 1922. Schoenberg's 12-tone style was developed before World War II. What I find interesting is RAW's lack of interest in classical music after 1945. John Cage was a not a minimalist. And if RAW liked complexity, why no mention of, say, Elliott Carter? Perhaps, as Eric suggests, he simply didn't think classical music of the last 50 years was very good, much as I believe rock music has declined precipitously in recent years.

michael said...

Yea, well both you and Eric make good points. Of course RAW loved Mahler. The after 1945 qualifies the "modern." I know Cage was not a minimalist, but I try to keep my comments short. Good point about Carter and complexity. Milton Babbitt could be in there too. (RIP)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I have some nice Babbitt videos up at my other blog.

Eric Wagner said...

It seems useful to me to think of the tuned in and the not tuned in. Bob tuned into Beethoven to a tremendous degree. He didn't tune into much post-Mahler music from the classical continuum. He tuned into jazz as a young man, but he didn't tune into the post-Coletrane continuum.