The Genesis of SYR4

by William Winant


I wasn't sure what the plan was for a long time other than that Goodbye 20th Century would be a collaboration that might involve Jim O'Rourke. We decided to do work by contemporary avante-garde composers that we could all learn together. I chose most of the pieces and had Lee Ranaldo contact some of the composers and collect scores from the various publishers. I knew I'd have to find things that would work with these specific people and their instruments, either as a solo, quartet, quintet or sextet. I chose graphic scores with open instrumentation and varying degrees of indeterminacy written into them. Cardew's "Treatise", for example, is an open-ended piece that doesn't specify instruments. Plus, between myself, O'Rourke and the composers who were at the session&endash;Takehisa Kosugi and Christian Wolff&endash;we were able to explain how the compositions were supposed to work. We'd all talk about the pieces until it seemed like we all understood what we thought should happen. Then we'd record until everyone was satisfied that they had performed well. We did two Cage pieces&endash;"Four6" (which was actually written for me) and "Six (for percussion)".

These pieces were part of a series written for various players and ensembles with similar notational schemes. We recorded two versions of "Four6", which is a 30 minute piece. One version was a quartet by Thurston, Kosugi, Lee and myself; the other one was Kim, Steve, O'Rourke and Wharton Tiers, who was also the recording engineer. We combined both versions in the final&endash;you can hear one quartet in each speaker. We also did Christian Wolff's "Edges", which uses a combination of normal and graphic notation, and a section of "Burdocks", a huge piece with 10 movements, with Christian Wolff on organ-synthesizer, some sort of keyboard thing. For Burdocks, we chose a movement that involved several melodies and an accompanying rhythm that could be combined various ways. Kosugi, O'Rourke, Wolff, Lee and I played the melodic parts while Kim, Thurston and Steve did the rhythmic parts, along with Christian Marclay, who was adding turntable-electronics. We considered doing

"To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe, in Recognition of Their Suffering" by Pauline Oliveros because it's a prose score, the only requirement being that at least six players perform it. When discussing the project with Pauline, I asked if she could write something new specifically for us, which she did. "Six for New Time (for Sonic Youth)" was the one thing that was specifically written for the project. Lee brought in "Piece Enfantine" by Nicolas Slonimsky. It's a solo piece for piano that I transcribed for marimba. We recorded the left-hand and right-hand piano parts on separate tracks. The Sonics mixed them together later, and the tape was processed further. We also did "Voice Piece for Soprano" by Yoko Ono, a 'scream piece', which was recorded by Coco, and a Kosugi piece called "+ &emdash;" ('Plus/Minus'). It's a graphic score with different rows of plus signs, minus signs and vertical lines, which tell the players to rise, go lower, or make an open choice, respectively. The time frame is open, as is how to go from one symbol to the next. This was an older piece that Kosugi adapted specifically for us. We did James Tenney's "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion" from his postcard series. He had all these compositions for solo instruments that were musical analogs of Zen koans, musical questions to ponder that would bring enlightenment. The one we did was originally for solo percussion, which I orchestrated for the band. The Sonics also recorded Fluxus composer George Maciunas' "Piano Piece #13 (Carpenter's Piece, for Nam June Paik)", which entailed hammering all the keys on a piano down with nails (!), and an early piece of Steve Reich's called "Pendulum Music", which involved setting up feedback loops with microphones hanging over amplifiers.


William Winant, Bananafish #13

August 1999

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