For centuries composers have used numinous language to describe the transcendent potential of their art. In La Monte Young’s case, however, one cannot dismiss such lofty claims as hyperbole: A presupposition of ontological contiguity underscores his work, such that what appear to be indistinct musical metaphors play out in surprisingly literal ways within the mechanics of his music.
The highly conceptual works from the early 1960s, with their sometimes baffling transgressions of musical norms, resist traditional musical analysis to such a degree as to expand the composer’s activities well beyond the traditional scope of composition.
In his maturity, Young sees himself as a prophet whose highly specialized tuning systems and sustained sound environments recast music onto a spatial, rather than temporal plane, interface directly with the periodic structures of the universe, and traverse the boundary separating the physical from the metaphysical.
This according to Music of a more exalted sphere: Compositional practice, biography, and cosmology in the music of La Monte Young by Jeremy Neal Grimshaw, a dissertation accepted by the Eastman School of Music in 2005.
Today is La Monte Young’s 80th birthday! Below, an excerpt from The well-tuned piano.
BONUS: A complete performance of the work.