The Glass Concert
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, this comment about letting a piece write itself really reminds me of the comment you made at the beginning of this conversation about picking up a rock and imagining being that rock. I mean the Glass Concert piece is a phenomenon. And certainly in your work, more than in the work of most composers, pieces exist as phenomena even more than they exist as individual pieces. I’m thinking of, obviously, A Sound Map of the Hudson River and the Glass Concert. Those aren’t so much musical compositions in the sense of beginning-middle-end as they are phenomena. As I was listening last night I thought: these aren’t about rhythm. Yes, there’s pitch content in them and inadvertently harmonic content in them, but that’s not what they’re about. They are purely about timbre. They’re about sound.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Basically, I intended the Glass Concert to be anti-composition [laughs]: nothing to do with musical structuring, everything to do with asking people to listen beyond language. By that time I was thinking of instrumental and vocal musical norms as being very much about language and expectation—expectation denied, expectation fulfilled—because the language is familiar, and the body is trained by the language, and all of that stuff. Instead of wanting to plug people into that, and those kinds of sound resources, I was just one of a whole cluster of people wanting to suggest, as Cage and other people started us thinking, that any sound is potentially interesting or many, many, many
sounds outside the musical universe are really interesting to listen to no matter where they come from. But that can only be done if you switch off expectations, and if you switch off any connection to drama, or even musical flow. Although, I’m back with musical flow right now, [laughs] but at that point I was trying to bounce listeners and myself out of those comfortable worlds and pull them into really hearing in the instant, hearing immediately. So, the Glass Concert starts off in total blackness. There is no connection between one sound event and the next sound event—one set of glass tools, so to speak, and what happens with the next set of glass tools. The thing I loved about glass was that I could only roughly predict what sorts of sounds would come from a combination of a glass rod with a little edge to it along one side, rolling down a glass pane on glass bricks with everything resonating. And what would happen if I titled the glass pane slightly more/slightly less. There was only rough predictability to that, but the details would shift and change from one time to the next time. So for me it was a very open-ended experience. Eventually we threw theater lighting onto the glass, which is really beautiful and immediately iridescent, and things took on a visual dimension as well. Glass Concert was very useful to me because it shifted my mind about sound, music, and all these issues. It really made me start thinking very, very differently.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s so interesting hearing it with early 21st century ears. This is a record from the late 1960s. I heard it, and to me it does sound like other sounds that are in music. It sounds like electronic music.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: By now, yeah.
FRANK J. OTERI: But it isn’t electronic music, it was all done acoustically. I thought it was funny when you said you switch off expectations. The switch off/switch on metaphor comes from electronics. It’s become so much a part of our language. We use these words and they just become second nature to us, whereas in the ’60s they were only starting to be second nature to us. So many composers who are interested in the environment and the sounds around them tend to use electronics. This would seem, to an outsider, perhaps contradictory. The most antithetical thing to this tree is a machine that you plug in.
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: They’re both running on electrical energy in a way. The tree has its own energy forms creating its processes. It has long seemed to me that electronics are a portal to the acoustic environment—an essential portal if you want to share what you hear, as opposed to sitting down by the river by oneself or with a few other people and listening, which I also love to do, and taking the experience away internally but not anything thing that you can directly share. As long as you want to share the sounds that are emerging at any one time or any one place with other people, I can’t see how else you could do it other than through electronics. And beyond that, of course, there are all the issues of what you do with it now that you’ve got it in digital form these days. So then, what do you do with these bits? How do you modify the original sound beyond the modification that the mic imposes on it, for example? How much further do you go?
FRANK J. OTERI: But you don’t use synthesizers, magnetic tape…
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: It’s where I would have gone if I hadn’t started the Glass Concert work. I probably would have gone in that direction. I mean I’ve done some of it, but it has never been a passion. I think instead of synthesizing complex sounds, I went off on a different track of looking for complex sounds which are preexistent. So that pulled me away from synthesis.
FRANK J. OTERI: Those glass pieces, if someone wanted to reconstruct the Glass Concert from the ’60s, could it be done now? Are there materials…
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: I gave away the glass! [laughs] I’ve been carrying these huge wooden cases with big panes—I mean one of the panes, a beautiful gong like piece, was 6′ x 6′. It’s sort of a facetious response, but it’s true. I had these in a basement for years taking up a huge amount of space. I wasn’t going to reconstruct the Glass Concert myself. I’d moved on, you know. So, I gave all the glass away. Essentially the glass for the Glass Concert could be reconstructed by anybody who made a connection to a glass manufacturer and started assembling all sorts of raw glass basically.
FRANK J. OTERI: And you have scores of some type for these pieces?
ANNEA LOCKWOOD: Oh yeah, the Glass Concert was published in SOURCE Magazine number 5, if I recall. It’s just a series of instructions: use this sort of glass, put it on this sort of surface, and do this with it or that with it, mic it, and see what happens.