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#1 2010-01-01 18:07:45

Tairaku 太楽
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Henry Cowell

Henry Cowell was a seminal American composer of modern music. He taught and influenced generations of composers and performers. He was also the first Western composer to study shakuhachi and incorporate that influence into his work. This resulted in the composition of the piece "The Universal Flute" in 1940, more than 20 years before other Westerners began shakuhachi studies. He taught and influenced John Cage, who in turn brought Zen thought to Western composition. Thus Henry Cowell is an icon in the internationalization of shakuhachi and the ideal choice as inaugural inductee into the "International Shakuhachi Hall of Fame".

Virgil Thompson wrote of Cowell:

"Henry Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer. His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, "advanced."... No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive. Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell's achievement becomes impressive indeed. There is no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few."

Nyokai wrote this of Cowell's "The Universal Flute".

"This 1940 compostition marks the dawn of Western music for shakuhachi. The story goes that a man named K. Tamada ran a roadside fruit stand in Cowell's neighborhood, and Cowell was delighted to learn that Tamada played shakuhachi. He began studying the instrument himself, hence his surprisingly idiomatic style in "The Universal Flute," which is dedicated to Tamada. Cowell also organized concerts by local Japanese American performers, many of whom would undoubtedly be interred due to the racist US policy of the ensuing war years. Just days before Pearl Harbor Cowell recorded Tamada playing shakuhachi -- the tape is available in a special Cowell collection at the New York Public Library."

For once Wikipedia has a good article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cowell

I'm sure Nyokai and others will have plenty to add to this interesting topic.


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#2 2010-01-01 22:52:41

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
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Re: Henry Cowell

A few interesting side notes:

Cowell got John Cage to organize a traditional Japanese music concert in Los Angeles way back in the thirties. I believe Tamada played at this, as well as a sankyoku ensemble.

One can guess from the chronology of things that Cowell was already a shakuhachi player before his time in prison. It would be interesting to know if he practiced in prison!

In a biography of Cowell there is a great photo of him playing shakuhachi for Edgard Varese! Varese doesn't look totally comfortable with the experience.

The Universal Flute is a fairly easy piece -- a good one for intermediate students as well as professional performers.

I believe the info in the quote from me above about Cowell meeting Tamada at a fruit stand I got from Rachel Rudich's CD "The Universal Flute," and I seem to remember she got the info from Cowell's wife. Rachel's CD inspired me to add The Universal Flute to my repertoire, and she was kind enough to send me the score at that time.

Last edited by nyokai (2010-01-01 22:56:34)

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#3 2010-01-01 23:11:38

Tairaku 太楽
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Re: Henry Cowell

nyokai wrote:

The Universal Flute is a fairly easy piece -- a good one for intermediate students as well as professional performers.

.

I've got the Western notation. Does anybody have a Kinko version of the notation?


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#4 2010-01-02 01:11:37

rpowers
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From: San Francisco
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 285

Re: Henry Cowell

I've found more information about Cowell and Tamada in a fairly recent article:

Continuity in Composing the American Cross-Cultural: Eichheim, Cowell, and Japan
W. Anthony Sheppard
Journal of the American Musicological Society Dec 2008, Vol. 61, No. 3: 465_540


It's worth checking out if you have access to a library that subscribes (or has online access to the Journal); for those who don't, here are a few highlights.

Cowell met Kitaro Tamada in 1932, and began his study of shakuhachi, which continued through his time at San Quentin--through correspondence and Tamada's visits.

Cowell had presented Tamada in a concert of traditional Japanese music at his home in April 1935; a few weeks later, at Cowell's urging, Cage arranged a performance in Hollywood.

Kitaro Tamada was born in 1894 and first came to the states in 1918. His degree was in agriculture, and he operated a flower shop in Mountain View, California from 1931 to 1940.

Within a few years of Cowell's release from San Quentin, Tamada himself was incarcerated at Manzanar. His camp job was agricultural, but he continued to practice and teach traditional music in the evenings (although the War Relocation Authority was not enthusiastic about promoting the culture of an enemy nation).

In the early 1960s, Tamada retired and returned to Japan; the latest recorded contact with Cowell was in 1962, when he played a house concert in Cowell's home. The articel includes a photo from that performance; Tamada's flute appears to be in the 2.2-2.4 range.


"Shut up 'n' play . . . " -- Frank Zappa
"Gonna blow some . . ." -- Junior Walker
"It's not the flute." -- Riley Lee

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#5 2010-01-02 01:29:09

Tairaku 太楽
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Re: Henry Cowell

rpowers wrote:

Tamada's flute appears to be in the 2.2-2.4 range.

Is it nobe? Does it look Kinko or Myoan?


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#6 2010-01-02 15:10:56

Austin Shadduck
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From: New York, NY
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Re: Henry Cowell

Excellent information, but I thought the composition was written in 1946 rather than 1940...

rpowers wrote:

Cowell had presented Tamada in a concert of traditional Japanese music at his home in April 1935; a few weeks later, at Cowell's urging, Cage arranged a performance in Hollywood.

There's similar information in an article by Mina Yang (2001. “Orientalism and the Music of Asian Immigrant Communities in California, 1924-1945.” American Music. 19(4): 385-416) as well as in Blasdel's The Shakuhachi: A Manual for Learning. The home concert took place on April 1, 1935 and the gathering included John Cage and Lou Harrison. Cowell's composition is dedicated to Tamada.

Last edited by Austin Shadduck (2010-01-02 15:37:09)


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#7 2010-01-02 15:39:13

nyokai
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From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
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Re: Henry Cowell

Just read Sheppard's article, and the coolest thing in it is a letter Cowell wrote from prison to his parents in which he talks about his shakuhachi practicing, how difficult it is to get sound, etc. etc. It reads just like a post on this forum.

I have read both 1940 and 1946 as dates for The Universal Flute -- not sure which is right, but I suspect it is 1946.

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#8 2010-01-02 15:55:31

Tairaku 太楽
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From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
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Re: Henry Cowell

nyokai wrote:

Just read Sheppard's article, and the coolest thing in it is a letter Cowell wrote from prison to his parents in which he talks about his shakuhachi practicing, how difficult it is to get sound, etc. etc. It reads just like a post on this forum.

.

Can you post a snippet of the BBQ type banter?

Does anybody know this Sheppard dude? Maybe he would consent to posting it here.


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#9 2010-01-02 17:42:17

Glenn Swann
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From: Central New Jersey
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Posts: 151
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Re: Henry Cowell

Tairaku wrote:

nyokai wrote:

The Universal Flute is a fairly easy piece -- a good one for intermediate students as well as professional performers.

.

I've got the Western notation. Does anybody have a Kinko version of the notation?

and indeed where might one get the western notation? i tried a quick google, but to no avail....


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I followed rivers, I followed highways,I followed conscience,
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and I'm back here... At the edge of the sky       (New Model Army)

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#10 2010-01-02 18:09:47

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
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Re: Henry Cowell

"I don't know whether I told you that my playing on the shakuhachi has taken a turn for the better recently. As you know, it is extremely difficult to produce any tone at all, and to control the tone after it is made. I do not spend a great deal of time at it, as there are so many other things to do, but I have been playing a few minutes each evening, and recently have been getting a very musical tone, so that I might really be able to play something on it that one would like to listen to. I have a shakuhachi record here, and I tried playing along with the record, and was able to play all the main parts with it, although the very refined variations of course were far over my head. However, I am able to play all the notes which the player in the record played, as far as the range of tones employed is concerned, and I feel quite set up over it, as no one who has not tried can quite appreciate how great an accomplishment it really is!" -- letter from San Quentin to his parents, November 25, 1938.

Here's another anecdote that's a little related. I have a student named Charles Rotmil, a very interesting old man, who first heard shakuhachi back in the early 1950's on a radio show Cowell had in New York. Charles called him and he recommended a teacher in New York, from whom Charles bought his first flute. I don't know who the teacher was, but Charles still has his handwritten copy of Hi-Fu-Mi Cho from an early lesson. Well, after several lessons with the teacher Charles never got any kind of decent sound out, but as a photographer he was well connected in the avant-garde art scene of the time and several years later the dancer Deborah Hay invited him to accompany her on shakuhachi at the first Judson Church group dance concert in 1960, a very famous event that is considered the birth of "post-modern dance." Rauschenberg was there, and Cage, basically EVERYBODY in the NYC avant-garde scene. Charles got no pitched sound out, just air, but people thought it was intentional and Cage even complimented him on his work. Twenty years later, Deborah Hay met another shakuhachi player (me) and I worked and toured with her for a couple of years. She mentioned the shakuhachi at that Judson show, but didn't say too much about it or mention Charles' name. Then another couple of decades go by and Charles calls me in Portland Maine, where he and I both now live, looking for a teacher. He comes over and shows me the old H-Fu-Mi score and a nice letter from Cowell (unfortunately it doesn't mention the name of the NYC teacher, and Charles has forgotten). He also shows me his flute. It is a very bad flute, and also has a serious crack. "Has it always had this crack?" I ask. "Yes," he says, "nothing has changed about the flute since I got it." There is no way to get decent sound out of the flute, which is why he was able to be so avant-garde at Judson, and to impress Cage. So I sold him a Yuu, and in a couple of months he started making some pitched sounds. Now one of my students teaches him, and he's still very much a beginner, slowly working his way through Choshi. So Charles took literally more than half a century to get pitched sound out of the shakuhachi, but became an interesting footnote to the history of modern dance and music in the process, all thanks to Henry Cowell.

Last edited by nyokai (2010-01-02 18:35:34)

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#11 2010-01-02 20:28:58

Tairaku 太楽
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From: Tasmania
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Re: Henry Cowell

He's in JAIL, but can't find more than a few minutes a day to practice? roll Wow, didn't know there was so much to do in jail. smilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmile

Does sound a lot like a forum post.

And the other thing is really interesting, thanks for the anecdote. Hi Fu Mi Cho is Myoan, so that's also fascinating.


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#12 2010-01-02 21:04:51

Jim Thompson
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From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Henry Cowell

Tairaku wrote:

He's in JAIL, but can't find more than a few minutes a day to practice? roll Wow, didn't know there was so much to do in jail. smilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmilesmile

Good point. You'd think all those hard surfaces would make for a lovely natural reverb.


" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx

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#13 2010-01-03 02:59:39

rpowers
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From: San Francisco
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 285

Re: Henry Cowell

Tairaku wrote:

rpowers wrote:

Tamada's flute appears to be in the 2.2-2.4 range.

Is it nobe? Does it look Kinko or Myoan?

It has a lot of bindings, many of them look to be 1.5-2 inches long; makes it hard to tell whether there is a joint. His mustache makes it hard to see the utaguchi clearly, but it looks like it may have a kinko inlay.

Just noticed that he played right hand on top.


"Shut up 'n' play . . . " -- Frank Zappa
"Gonna blow some . . ." -- Junior Walker
"It's not the flute." -- Riley Lee

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#14 2010-01-03 04:32:26

Tairaku 太楽
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Re: Henry Cowell

Not many Kinko flutes longer than 2.1 from that era, although I have seen some 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4. But if Cowell recommended Nyokai's student's teacher in NYC and he was Myoan, maybe there's a connection and Tamada was Myoan as well. Isn't shakuhachi detective work fun? wink


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

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#15 2010-01-03 07:42:47

Rick Riekert
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Registered: 2008-03-13
Posts: 100

Re: Henry Cowell

George Boziwick, curator of the American Music Collection in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, in an article written in 2000 for the Music Library Association gives this description of Cowell's life behind bars:

"While in San Quentin, he became director of musical activities and taught music classes to over two thousand inmates. He was appointed the "official band arranger" and conducted the San Quentin band several times each week. He was also the band librarian under whose direction a corps of copiers made arrangements for the ensemble. He learned to play both the flute [ Hmm, I was under the impression Cowell played the flute for military bands in WWI ] and the shakuhachi, and he completed classes in Spanish and Japanese. In addition to his unpublished book, "The Nature of Melody," Cowell completed roughly sixty compositions while incarcerated. These works include his string quartet United; the symphonic works Anthropos and Opus 17; his suite American Melting Pot; Celtic Set for symphonic band; Toccanta for voice, flute, cello, and piano; and countless other chamber works.  He also developed his concept of "elastic form," which allowed dancers musical and rhythmic flexibility within their choreography. According to Joel Sachs, Cowell did all his original writing in his spare time, in thirty-minute intervals each evening between lockup and lights-out."

All this in addition to working long hours making burlap bags in the prison jute mill. No wonder he was limited to a few minutes of shakuhachi practice each day !


Mastery does not lay in the mastery of technique, but in penetrating the heart of the music. However, he who has not mastered the technique will not penetrate the heart of the music.
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#16 2010-01-03 08:16:30

Yungflutes
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From: New York City
Registered: 2005-10-08
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Re: Henry Cowell

Nyokai wrote:

he was well connected in the avant-garde art scene of the time and several years later the dancer Deborah Hay invited him to accompany her on shakuhachi at the first Judson Church group dance concert in 1960, a very famous event that is considered the birth of "post-modern dance." Rauschenberg was there, and Cage, basically EVERYBODY in the NYC avant-garde scene. Charles got no pitched sound out, just air, but people thought it was intentional and Cage even complimented him on his work. Twenty years later, Deborah Hay met another shakuhachi player (me) and I worked and toured with her for a couple of years. She mentioned the shakuhachi at that Judson show, but didn't say too much about it or mention Charles' name. Then another couple of decades go by and Charles calls me in Portland Maine, where he and I both now live, looking for a teacher. He comes over and shows me the old H-Fu-Mi score and a nice letter from Cowell (unfortunately it doesn't mention the name of the NYC teacher, and Charles has forgotten). He also shows me his flute. It is a very bad flute, and also has a serious crack. "Has it always had this crack?" I ask. "Yes," he says, "nothing has changed about the flute since I got it." There is no way to get decent sound out of the flute, which is why he was able to be so avant-garde at Judson, and to impress Cage.

Great thread! I heard The Univesal Flute performed in 2006  by Ralph Samuelson, Elizabeth Brown, Ned Rothenberg and Shoji Mizumoto. They each started in the four corners of the space and slowly migrated to the stage. It was a wonderful way to experience both the piece of music and the instrument.

Thanks for sharing this Phil. Please have Charles contact me. Deborah Hay's book was the first I ever read on the subject of choreography and I am also very influenced by Judson Church and the Post Modern movement. I will gladly donate my time to mend his flute.


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#17 2010-01-03 09:25:52

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
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Re: Henry Cowell

Yungflutes wrote:

Thanks for sharing this Phil. Please have Charles contact me. Deborah Hay's book was the first I ever read on the subject of choreography and I am also very influenced by Judson Church and the Post Modern movement. I will gladly donate my time to mend his flute.

Very gracious offer, Perry, but I don't think it's a flute worth repairing. I'll take a look at it again some time to make sure.
Glad you liked one of Deborah's books. She's a very old friend -- I worked with her and other Judson people (especially Simone Forti) quite a bit in the seventies.

Tairaku wrote:

...maybe there's a connection and Tamada was Myoan as well...

On November 30 1941 Cowell recorded him playing Nezasaha no Shirabe and Choshi. (There are five other 78's, totally 28 minutes, of Tamada playing other pieces, but unfortunately the names are not indicated. We'd have to go to the NY Public Library and listen.) Tamada's shakuhachi name was Nyokyo. Given the name and choice of repertoire, I would not be surprised if he was a student of Jin Nyodo. In any case, almost certainly Myoan.

Last edited by nyokai (2010-01-03 09:33:35)

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#18 2010-01-03 11:26:13

Jim Thompson
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From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Henry Cowell

I searched and came up empty. Sorry Ed. I failed. What was Tamada in San Quentin for? Being Japanese?


" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx

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#19 2010-01-03 11:55:35

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Henry Cowell

Jim Thompson wrote:

I searched and came up empty. Sorry Ed. I failed. What was Tamada in San Quentin for? Being Japanese?

I'm still unclear on this, but I got the impression that Tamada was put in an internment camp with the evil Japanese-Americans during the war by the WRA. Not sure he was in San Quentin. [And it's OK not to find somethin', if'n it's not there smile]

Last edited by edosan (2010-01-03 11:56:52)


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#20 2010-01-03 11:58:22

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
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Re: Henry Cowell

Tamada was not in San Quentin -- he was in internment camp (the one at Manzanar) during WWII, yes, for being Japanese.
Cowell was in San Quentin from 1937 to 1941 for having consensual sex with a 17-year old male. He had been sentenced to 15 years but due to overwhelming support from the musical world, "good behavior", and the government's assessment that he could culturally help the war effort, he was let out after 4 and fully pardoned a couple of years later.
So ironically, it was the war mentality that helped get Cowell free shortly before it incarcerated Tamada.

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#21 2010-01-03 12:11:34

Jim Thompson
Moderator
From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Henry Cowell

Thanks for the info Nyokai. I was having a hard time squaring all this creativity with  criminal mentalities. Huh! Some criminals!


" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx

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#22 2010-01-03 12:35:27

Jim Thompson
Moderator
From: Santa Monica, California
Registered: 2007-11-28
Posts: 421

Re: Henry Cowell

edosan wrote:

And it's OK not to find somethin', if'n it's not there smile]

.  Thanks Ed. I feel redeemed. Hell, if Ed can't find it.........


" Who do you trust , me or your own eyes?" - Groucho Marx

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#23 2010-01-03 23:48:15

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
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Re: Henry Cowell

nyokai wrote:

well was already a shakuhachi player before his time in prison. It would be interesting to know if he practiced in prison!

In a biography of Cowell there is a great photo of him playing shakuhachi for Edgard Varese! Varese doesn't look totally comfortable with the experience.
.

http://i215.photobucket.com/albums/cc123/Tairaku/CowellandVareseshakporch.jpg

Looks like about a 2.3, hard to tell for sure if it's nobe or whether it's Kinko or Myoan. My guess is that it's nobe and Myoan. And JINASHI! wink

Bad posture, what is it with these dilletantes, between Cowell and Coltrane it's textbook how NOT to sit.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

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#24 2010-01-04 00:38:02

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: Henry Cowell

Varese looks like he's listening attentively, like a good chap, and I'm not sure the man was totally comfortable with any experience, based on
his music  smile

[Fun fact: Edgard Varese was Frank Zappa's favorite composer, bar none, and Zappa aspired to be as accomplished as Varese was.]

Last edited by edosan (2010-01-04 00:41:07)


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#25 2010-01-04 01:13:35

ABRAXAS
Member
Registered: 2009-01-17
Posts: 353

Re: Henry Cowell

Ok, THAT is photo of the fucking century!!!!!


"Shakuhachi music stirs up both gods and demons." -- Ikkyu.

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