The Tortoise: His Dream and Journeys
La Monte Young
Young’s first forays into Minimalism were hard edged, atonal, and deliberately perverse. “THE PURPOSE OF THIS SERIES IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT” shouted the program notes to his 1960-61 Chamber Street series in Yoko Ono’s New York loft. By 1962 he’d calmed down, possibly as a result of finding a soulmate in the form of artists Marian Zazeela and a band of brothers with whom he founded The Theatre of Eternal Music. Quickly his Wild West aesthetic mellowed into a dreamy hum. The ruggedly independent son of a Mormon sheepherder would for much of the rest of his life be found living on another planet - musically and spiritually - divining the sounds of the cosmos.
In 1962 he transcribed the buzz of electric cables in The Four Dreams of China. In 1964 he began arranging the gentle purr of his fish tank in The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys, which became a work with no end. “Tortoises and turtles were ‘static’ in concept,” he explained, “just as is much of the musical form that interests me”. When Rolling Stone did an interview with Young in the 1960s they headlined it: “When La Monte Young says ‘Take It From The Top,’ He Means Last Wednesday”.
Tonight the band will perform one small segment of a small segment of The Tortoise. There is no official score - though an indecipherable table of frequencies and intervals for one chunk of the work does exist. The band has gone as far as possible to retrieve the original sounds and intervals, which include “various sized” major and minor sevenths, perfect fifths, octaves, unisons and their inversions, major and minor seconds, and perfect fourths. Major thirds are excluded.
“What becomes apparent on listening to an amplified well-tuned drone that La Monte has sculpted,” Terry Riley once wrote, “is a molecular world of sounds whose workings are ordinarily covered up by fancy rhythmic and melodic footwork. As the listener allows himself or herself to be drawn deeper into the sound, he or she becomes more and more astounded at all the elements that are functioning naturally without the aid of normal manipulation or musical performance... We enter with him here into the world of the sonic microcosm, where an interval becomes a landscape, each detail illuminated.”