Sound Ideas: Prompt #1

Sound Ideas: Prompt #1

crooked roadVariations on A Theme by La Monte Young

In 1960 La Monte Young prompted us:

“Draw a straight line and follow it.”

The reverberations of this radically simple directive have been vast and profound.

But aside from those that we humans create, there are few if any straight lines in nature. So, fifty-two years later, I’d like to propose Variations on A Theme by La Monte Young:

“Find a crooked line and follow it.”

You may choose to realize this in purely visual terms. Or you may want to follow your crooked line and sound it.

You might walk along a shoreline, singing or playing as you go. You might trace a fixed elevation line as it meanders along a hillside, perhaps translating the contour from a map into musical notation. You might follow the course of a stream and record its changing voices.

Maybe you trace in sound the forms of clouds in the sky. Maybe you choose to travel from Point A to Point B as directly as you can, but the crooked line you follow is the rise and fall of the earth beneath your feet.

Step off the rectilinear grid that we impose on the world and wander wherever the infinitely intricate curves of nature may lead you. Alternatively, you might remain in one place and let the lines come to you.

There should be as many possible variations on this theme as there are crooked lines in the world.

And then there’s the possibility of a polyphony of such lines…

Now it’s your turn: write, record, or otherwise draft your response using any method that suits your style and skills, then share it in comments. You can embed a SoundCloud player, a YouTube video, a link to a score file—whatever works. Here at NewMusicBox, we talk about music a lot. This project is our way of shifting focus and actually making some music, too. We can’t wait to hear what everyone creates.—MS


John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams, whom critic Alex Ross has called “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century,” has created a unique musical world rooted in wilderness landscapes and natural phenomena. His music, which includes works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, and electronic media, is recorded on the Cold Blue, New World, Cantaloupe, Mode, and New Albion labels. Adams’s books Winter Music and, most recently, The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music are published by Wesleyan University Press, and his writings about music and nature have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

8 thoughts on “Sound Ideas: Prompt #1

  1. Paul Muller

    Here is a piece written today titled ‘Four Lines’ that I hope meets the intent of Sound Ideas.


    SoundCloud Realization:

    As can be seen from the score there are four lines – a static line in Violin I, a descending line in Violin II, an ascending line in the bass and a crooked line in the alto sax. The idea is that they all somehow work together while converging. The six written measures were expanded to an 8 minute piece using Paul’s Extreme Stretcher, a processing program that extends pitches in the time domain without altering their frequency.

  2. Travis Low

    Very interesting post, I enjoyed it very much. Nice timing too, Oxford University Press just published a fine book about La Monte Young’s life and music called “Draw a Straight Line and Follow It The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young” by Jeremy Grimshaw

    I just finished the book a few weeks ago and enjoyed it very much. Gotta love La Monte Young! Check out the book and description here…I know it is widely available.

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