issue 17 :: August 2010

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INTERVIEW: Philip Krumm

Without a doubt, maverick Texan composer Philip Krumm should be more well known, especially to us in Texas. Where’s the story, Texas Monthly? One page couldn’t hurt, Austin Chronicle; he knew Roky Erikson. Part of the problem is that so few of his works are currently in print. His “Music for Clocks” is on the ONCE Group 5CD box set, and IDEA Records released a fantastic and unique production of “Formations” for keyboards, electronics and radio telescope recordings. As befitting someone who has worked with “Blue” Gene Tyranny, FLUXUS artists, the ONCE Group, John Cage and Jerry Hunt, his music demands radical interpretation from performers. For years, he was a program host on San Antonio’s KPAC and since 1982, he has run the Clipper Ship Book Store. In November, 2009, I interviewed him in his home in San Antonio, surrounded by books, scores, papers, recordings and a sleepy, old dog. Philip Krumm
Victor Alessandro was the conductor of the [San Antonio] symphony when I was a teenager. He had a very mixed reputation. I thought he was very fine, a terrific conductor. He was always really nice to me and I never saw any of the stuff that he was more famous for, such as chewing people out, bitching them down on stage, insulting them. I never saw it.
During rehearsals?
Yes, but I was there during rehearsals. I was assistant to the librarian, so I would put the sheet music out for the rehearsals for the various groups. And for a young composer boy, there is just nothing better than being able to hear the Prokofiev 5th with just the winds and the percussion, and then just the strings and then hear it all together. It’s a great way to get to know a piece of music. I was able to hear a lot of pieces in sectionals. And also they had a really great opera company at that time, and I met people like George London, Lily Pons, Dorothy Kirsten. George London was a big Mussorgsky fan, and he signed all of my Mussorgsky albums for me. He lost his voice much later, his voice just went away, but he was one of the great bass-baritones.
3 opera stars
London, Pons and Kirsten.
I saw him do “Marriage of Figaro” and “Boris.” Those were hot days. I was 16-17-18, all before I went to Ann Arbor for school.

Alessandro commissioned some modern pieces, played a lot of modern stuff, nothing crazy, but good. He did a William Schuman piece called “Credendum” that was pretty nice. I’ve never seen anyone else do it. It used big pieces of sheet metal and orchestra.

Like thunder sheets?
Yeah, it was like that but they cracked on them, hit them with mallets and made big crack metal sounds. It was big and brassy. Big American music. [Alessandro] also premiered a piece by Alan Hovhaness, a little opera called “Blue Flame” (1959) that I saw in a concert version, and those of us who saw it were the only people who ever saw it because he withdrew it a few years later. The joke about him was that he could get on a plane for New Delhi and by the time he got off the plane he finished two symphonies, a string quartet and an operetta. He was way too productive. He was one of those guys who got his students to write out his fugues... it was a good trick. There are a lot of those stories. People who work with Howard Shore say “he’ll submit a score with twelve dots on it and all the junior orchestrators fill it in.” When you get to be at that stage of a composer, you can sketch out what you want and your minions come in...
Or Charles Mingus at the end of his career...
Oh sure, but that’s good, that people know what to do [to fill in the score]. Of course Cage moved into that in a much more stellar way.
With the computer doing all the coin flips.
He was doing that when I met him. He was working on “Atlas Eclipticalis” (1961). Of course he wasn’t using a computer then, he had neighborhood kids come in and flip the coins. That’s what he told me. That was the one time I went out to Stony Point. I had to take a bus up to Suffern, New York and he came down in a station wagon, and he was very funny and nice. [Silence] had just come out. [pulls out copy of book] He had a box full of them.
Oh, is this the first edition? I have... probably the tenth edition [laughs].
He took it out from the back of the station wagon. That was like the treasure of my life, because I didn’t think I’d ever meet him, much less be sitting in his house. He was wonderful, he was an amazing man. It was an incredible experience working with him in the ONCE festivals. We did a Toshi Ichiyanagi piece called “Sapporo.” This [meeting Cage] happened in 1961. I had stayed with Dick Higgins, he had a loft in New York he let me stay in. I told [Cage] I had been staying with [Higgins] and he laughed and said “well, it’s always a mad rush between everybody and Dick’s mimeograph machine, isn’t it?” It was kind of a joke because he mimeographed everything and cranked it out. A lot of it was good stuff. We did a lot of [Higgins’] pieces here, some of those “Symphonia Sacras.” Cage said, and remember this was in 1961, “I know he is very enjoyable, but beneath all that there seems to me to lurk something evil.” I don’t know how deeply he thought that, or what he meant exactly, but that was what he said. Of course, Dick published Notations and did a lot of stuff with Cage, and I don’t think Cage thought that for very long.
In high school, you organized concerts [1959-1960] at the McNay Art Institute. How did you discover experimental music?
It was several things. First off, it was just a natural evolution from atonality because we had gone through the Schoenberg that we were able to get. The public library had a lot of records that you couldn’t check out but you could listen to them. Many of them there were 78s, of course there were plenty of LPs but they had a lot of rare stuff on 78. One of them was Rene Leibowitz conducting Schoenberg’s “Ode to Napoleon” (1942) and a couple things like that that just sounded incredibly radical to me at the time. Now they sound kind of mellow, like Cage talking about Webern, but at the time they seemed radical and wild and wonderful. The library had a lot of that and some things that I’ve not heard since. There was a nice Hovhaness piece that came out called on a LP called “Upon Enchanted Ground” (1951) for flute, cello and tam-tam, I think it finally got re-released. There was a composer named Chou Wen Chung, who wrote beautiful music; his stuff is hard to find but the library had a bit of it. They didn’t have any Cage, except maybe the “Sonatas and Interludes” (1948).
Were you just listening to everything?
Sitting there with big earphones listening to a metal phonograph that played directly into your ear, but it was a great way to discover music. While we were working on putting those concerts together, Philip Corner was here [in 1959], stationed in the army at Fort Sam Houston.
How did you know who Philip Corner was?
I didn’t know who he was, he just turned up and introduced himself. He came out to where we did the earlier concerts. Before the 5 spring concerts which were big concerts, we did little smaller concerts of my own stuff, and some of Robert Sheff’s stuff and a local composer Edward Garza who is a major composer who doesn’t get any attention. He was at St. Mary’s, a fellow student. In these small concerts I had done what I thought was, well, I didn’t think at the time but what I thought later, was one of the very early pattern minimalist pieces, called "Patterns" (any five instruments). As luck would have it, Victor Alessandro came to that concert, and praised my piece and praised what we were doing. That’s how we met Philip Corner: he just turned up at one of those shows.
He heard about it somehow?
It was in the paper and he’d just come to see what was going on. It was mostly all our stuff, we didn’t have the Cage scores and others at that time. We got those a little later but that was how it began, [Corner] came in and he did a bunch of stuff with us and opened our heads up. I mean he made us aware of a lot of people, and put me in touch with other people. I wrote to Cage just out of my admiration for him, I’d just seen him in Time [magazine, presumably the record review in the November 2, 1959 issue -ed.], and so I wrote to him. He wrote back and said that he would help us with whatever we were doing. I don’t think I still have everything but, he put me in touch with a lot of people and gave me addresses. This is a letter from La Monte Young, that a letter to George Maciunas, that’s more from Cage, that’s a concert I did with Carolee Schneeman, La Monte, Philip Corner and Dick Higgins, they did this little essay I wrote called “New Sounds and What To Do With Them.” These [holding letters from Cage] are all going into a book, somebody is publishing Cage correspondence with everybody, which is gonna have to be a big book I suspect, he was a great letter writer. But Cage put me in touch with La Monte Young and Dick Higgins and Morton Feldman and Pauline Oliveros and...
Did he just give you names or would he summarize what people were doing?
There would usually be names and addresses, and La Monte did too, he put me also put me in touch with Henry Flynt and Lucia Dlugoszewski and pretty soon we had a lot of people sending us scores and [text] pieces and that’s when I got the idea for writing Music Without Notes. I thought it would be good to put a lot of those pieces together in a book, pieces that just were instructions, that didn’t have any notations.
And this was mimeographed?
It wasn’t even that. We had what was called Ozalid, most of my scores were done with Ozalid. It’s the same stuff I used to write the star map pieces, it was lighter than onion skin. It was transparent score paper that you could write and/or draw on and then reproduce. It was best copy system of those times, most of it was that wet copy thing, where it wasn’t really dripping wet but a wet piece of paper would come out of a roller and it would smell, and it was kind of pink. Those were ugly, I thought, but Ozalid made very nice copies. Here’s one [pulling out score]: the “4 Pieces for Flute, Xylophone and Tympani” I wrote for Ross Lee Finney. His assignment was write a piece with one note, write a piece for 2 notes, write a piece with 3 notes, write a piece for 4 notes. That’s what Ozalid looks like. You can see how I could lay that paper over a star map and go to town which was how I did “Music for Clocks” and “Formations” and these [scores] have all suffered rather hideously.

Tom Constanten sent us several pieces and every time he wrote them out by hand, with ball point pen. I’ve got a few of those and so does Blue. If you look me up on your favorite search engine, sometimes his autobiography will come up, it’s called “Between Rock and Hard Places: a Musical Autobiodyssey” and it’s a wonderful book. It’s really interesting, it’s got a lot of wonderful scores in it, and he’s a really interesting smart guy. And, I believe truly that just about everybody he’s ever met is in that book. And people he didn’t meet, he never met me, but I’m in the book, and "Blue" Gene’s in the book. There are thousands of names in there. Everybody he ever encountered it seems like or even thought about, it’s a nice thing to do when you write a book, to put every possible person into it. But it is an enjoyable book, very funny, full of very funny stuff and very clever ideas, he was the keyboard player for the Grateful Dead [1968-1970] and he played prepared piano on a couple of Grateful Dead albums. There are books about the Dead and they’ll have a picture of him, usually in a dervish costume for some reason. Like I said, I never have met him but he was very nice to mention me in his book and it’s one of the things that comes up online sometimes. But anyway, it’s another one of those guys I have some scores from that they seem to be in their original hand.

Could you tell me what pieces were played at the 1960 concerts?
Some of the first ones were mostly our own stuff. My “Patterns” and my “Transcript” for trumpet and piano, and Robert Sheff who is "Blue" Gene now, had a couple of pieces. Eddie Garza, who is Dr. Edward C. Garza, is a fantastic composer. He is not New Music, but he is more modern classical. He was composer-in-residence here [at the San Antonio Symphony]. He writes big full orchestra pieces, very powerful. He wrote a piece called “Atlantis” for tympani and chamber ensemble for the 1960 concert.
Why did you go to Ann Arbor?
I have to back up a little bit. In 1960, I did music for a production of “Taming of the Shrew” at Fort Sam Houston Little Theater. The theater was run by Bill Larsen, William A. Larsen. Later on he bought an old church downtown on South Alamo Street and made the Church Dinner Theater, one of the first dinner theaters here in San Antonio. He had studied with Ross Lee Finney. [Larsen] was a piano major but he had had some study time with Ross Lee Finney and he told me “he’s a good modern composer and he’s not really old fashioned and you ought to get in touch with him.” So I did. I had a tape of the music for “Taming of the Shrew” and some other pieces I had written by 1960. I sent them to him and he said “they are some of the best pieces and worst recordings I have heard and we want to get you here one way or another.” So my mother borrowed some money from my uncle, and I took at train to Ann Arbor with $39. I talked to the Dean and got a President’s Award Fund grant for the first year.

There was a lady here who was head of the art league named Dorothy Steinbomer, her husband was Henry Steinbomer. He built a lot of churches here in Texas, the old central Christian church downtown, in the Roman style, that classical style with columns. He was a nice man, and not very religious. There are a lot of people who designed churches who weren’t religious. Like church music, there is a funny idea that you have to be religious to write religious music. You don’t. A lot of composers weren’t, like Janacek. When he wrote that incredible Glagolitic Mass (1926), he was a cosmic atheist, he hated what the church had become, and he wrote one of the greatest masses ever written. And I saw an interview with John Rutter, whom you may know as a famous church music composer, but he wasn’t a bit religious. I always thought it was a very interesting point that you don’t have to buy into that claptrap to get the idea, in fact, you can probably get the idea a lot better than somebody who is devout who doesn’t get the real message, who just wants to read Leviticus [laughs].

I was made more politically alive than I would have been being here. And they were very arty about it. For instance, there was a march to the President’s [of the University] house. Now in America, I don’t think there could have been a cooler university than Ann Arbor. I don’t think there was one at that time.

It still has a good reputation.
Harlan Hatcher was the president. A group of art students got together and said we’re going to have a march to the house of the president, and they [notified] the papers and maybe a hundred people took part, marched to the president’s home and disbanded. It was just a march to his home. It wasn’t about anything, they weren’t mad at him. It was art, art as revolution. It was a great town. Right after I got there, in the Fall of 1961, and in the early 1962, the Ann Arbor police started raiding the university bathrooms and they would send a policeman in dressed in a fluffy sweater and he would ask you what time it was, and if you told him what time it was, they would arrest you for “attempting to procure an act of gross indecency.” And in the first week they arrested a hundred students and seventeen professors, and in the week after that it was another big number. It was just if you spoke to him, you were arrested. You know milk came in bottles in those days, and they had little paper caps, a little cardboard stopper and then a paper thing fit over that. I took a milk bottle stopper, and on the white part I wrote “I’m not a cop, are you?” and made it into a button and wore it. And then other people started making them. That was our response. I never got arrested. I never went into public restrooms, I had a body chemistry that didn’t like them. They arrested hundreds of people. The point of the story is not that, but what a great school it was. After four or five days there were four or five hundred student arrests and fifty or sixty professor arrests and the University of Michigan brought in Peter Darrow and his law firm and they got everyone released and got all charges dropped and got an injunction filed against the Ann Arbor police from entering the university. That’s a great university. Can you imagine the University of Texas doing that? They would still be in jail, they would have made examples of everybody because that’s how UT was. When [UT Regents Chairman] Frank Erwin was running things, he’s got the center named after him now [a 20,000 seat event center for UT basketball and pop music concerts. -ed.], but everybody knows what a big idiot he was. He was just an old drunk, and he surrounded himself with tiresome old drunks and they were running a major university. They would appoint their friends the heads of departments. It was like a big old country club for Frank Erwin and his drunken pals. What happened in 1966 or so, I had been invited up there by a composer named Kent Kennan. He wrote a lot of nice pieces, “Night Soliloquy for Flute and Orchestra” was one. He was very sweet man, he ran the theory department, and he invited me up there to help put in the electronic music studio, they were going to buy a Moog system. He said to me “you seem to have experience with this, maybe we can get you an assistantship or something.” Frank Erwin had made a friend of his, a salesman, the head of the music school, with no music experience. But he was the one I had to see. He was sitting there smoking with his feet on the desk and I told him “I have experience with electronics and they want me to help install the Moog system.” “But it says Moog [pronouncing it Mewg] here,” he was one of those guys. “It’s Moog, a Dutch name.” “Well, we’ll be seeing you,” and I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing him. But what I did see a week later was a manila envelope in the mail, which contained another manila envelope addressed to him and a note saying “the schematics for the Moog synthesizer have disappeared from the lab and we would appreciate it if you would return them in the envelope provided.” But I had never even seen the schematics, and I certainly wouldn’t have taken them, not if you paid me to do so. So I did what I had done to a director here that had irritated me for no particular reason: I swept my studio floor and emptied an ashtray in the envelope and crumpled up his note and sent it to him with his postage. And that was that. But here’s what happened. A couple of months later, Frank Erwin appointed his nephew the head of the nursing school over people who had been there twenty years. A lot of people resigned all at the same time, William Arrowsmith, the Greek translator, Roger Shattuck, the guy who wrote The Banquet Years [The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885-1918], John Silber, the philosopher, they all resigned in protest. That was the start of the end of Frank Erwin. He knew this because he was gracious enough to die soon after, and that was the end of that era. I think everything got better.
Your teacher at Ann Arbor, Ross Lee Finney, studied with Berg and he wrote serialist pieces. What was it like working with him after performing event scores?
He was really good. He also studied with Roberto Gerhard and also worked with Edgar Varèse, when Varèse was working at the Columbia/Princeton synthesizer, it was just for a day. That was when the synthesizer took up a part of a building; there wasn’t anything portable in 1962.
And now that [pointing to PC in corner] is so much more powerful.
The first machine I worked on was the Buchla out at [UC] Davis, in 1966. It was a little suitcase with patch cords, didn’t have any keyboard. And I did music for a Volkswagen commercial with it. But I got along with [Finney] pretty nicely considering how radical I was and how radical I wanted to be, and how non radical he was. He would suck on his pipe and say “You know, Krumm, I wonder why you like graph music so much, because a score is a graph.” And he was right, it is a graph, a rather elaborate graph that allows for detailed markings, but it was much too confining of a graph for me in those days. He was open-minded about stuff and he did write semi-serial, semi-romantic serialism. I got along with him. Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma didn’t get along with him that well. Gordon called him Horse Pee Funny, and Bob never said anything bad about him, but Gordon was more fun-loving that way. Not that Ashley wasn’t fun-loving, but he was more wry and detached.
Did you show Finney your music?
Yes, I had sent him a tape of “Paragenesis” for 2 violins and piano, I consider it the first piece I did that I still count. Earlier stuff I consider dumpster bound, the other stuff is just too punk to show. But “Paragenesis” I still like. It is based on a Stockhausen piece, the eleventh piano sonata [“Klavierstücke XI”], it’s a group of musical events that you can play in any order, but once you play any of them for the third time you have to stop. Each violin part has things to choose from, but they are all based on the same tonal device. It has a nice sound to it. I sent him that and music for “Taming of the Shrew” and I wrote a piece for flute and piano called Autumn Sonata. The score is lost now. It was written so that I could play the flute with just the left hand, and the piano with the right hand. I hope I still have the tape somewhere. If I still have it, it is just a raw, naked tape sitting in the air. I’m just the worst at taking care of my stuff, but considering how many times I had to move from place to place. And I lost a lot of stuff when I came back from Ann Arbor. Greyhound lost two boxes of stuff, predominately scores. “the Taming of the Shrew” and other pieces just gone. And that was beautiful, in fact the public library had it on display here for a while in a glass case. It was written like a regular piece pretty much except it had aleatoric under-structures that broke up the tonal material that I drew from a couple of Baroque composers, there was a little Da Vinci piece, a dance music piece I arranged. Johann Friedrich Fasch was one of the composers, and the guy who did the famous canon, Pachabel, I didn’t use the canon. I used some of their material and then put aleatoric instrumental backup underneath it. Those and other pieces I sent to Finney, and those what are he liked. And “Transcript” for trumpet and piano, somebody wrote it out for me. I wrote that in high school and I called it that because that piece was going to get me into college. And it did. But Ross Finney was nice and he let me do the stuff I wanted to do even if he did not always like it. He appreciated minimalism. I thought he was a good guy. I did get in trouble once; I don’t remember why I didn’t show up for a lesson, a private lesson, but that is something you don’t do with him, so for my next lesson, he didn’t show up.
The “Concerto for Bass Clarinet...”
Several people have recorded it, Martin Walker is the most famous one. He’s not on [the Opus One recording], that’s Scott Vance, a student of Marty Walker. But I also have a recording of Walker doing it, and I also got a recording of, I take that back, I had a recording of a sax player, Philip Rehfeldt, Martin Walker studied with him. Rehfeldt recorded it first in 1964. Barney Childs, a California composer, he died a few years ago, made all this possible.
There was also a “Concerto for Saxophone.”
It’s the same piece, it’s a concerto for anything, but it has been done twice with bass clarinet and once with saxophone. It was supposed to be a violin concerto. I thought Karen Fierce might do it. I wrote it in 1964 for the ONCE festival. I don’t have the score for it, it is too big. There were some people in Germany who wanted to perform it. I told them they have to talk to the music department of Redlands and Redlands said it was too much trouble, they didn’t want anything to happen to the piece. There really isn’t any score, it is a set of parts, each printed on 4 [foot] x 6 [foot] pages, big pages that you put on the floor. 20 pages. And then there is a piano part that fits in the piano with a hole in it where you can get to the strings, otherwise all the parts go on the floor.
All at the same time?
Yeah, and you can move around when you are playing so there is a motion quality to it.
Did the solo instrument use the same score?
No, he has his own part. But the pages are all in color and [the University of] Redlands doesn’t want to reproduce it and they don’t want to lose it. That’s where Barney Childs was, an old friend. I met him in Ann Arbor at the ONCE festivals. He became a champion of my stuff. When I wasn’t able to get the score out to Ann Arbor, Childs had it done there with Rehfeldt. And he did a nice version, I just can’t find the recording. Apparently they sent me the only recording. I don’t know if I still have it. The Martin Walker recording is my favorite, but the Scott Vance is very good. There is a videotape of it, Barney Childs did it for a show called “What Is New Music?” that they did for the university TV station or public access or something. And he played my piece and a Philip Corner piece, a half a dozen really nice pieces on that show.
How did you become involved with the ONCE festivals?
They’d already done number one before I got there. The first ONCE festival had already happened, the one with the Ashley’s fingerprint as the poster. I got there in the fall of ’61. I worked in the ’62 festival, but I didn’t perform in it. I didn’t have any pieces in the actual festival in ’62. I did in ’63. I did have pieces in the chamber concerts, what they called ONCE friends. [laughs] ONCE friends was a [laughs] very important name. Because people were having their differences even at at that time. A couple of them... well, Roger Reynolds was funny. He’s really good, he’s a really good composer. He was just funny at getting along with everybody. I liked him and I liked his piece, I thought his pieces were good. A good kick-ass composer. But he got along funny with Bob Ashley and Gordon Mumma. But they were all friends. I had pieces in the chamber concerts. I didn’t have any pieces in the first ONCE festival, but I did help out, I did work with them and help set things up. Then in ’63 I had two pieces. I had “Music for Clocks” and “May 1962.” There’s a recording of me doing “May 1962,” and I really like it, I have no idea what’s going on, but it sounds incredible. Whatever it is I did, I’m glad I did it. But, um, I don’t know what I was doing, but the sound is really good.
What does it sound like?
It’s big! I did something big.
You mean electronic?
Yeah, it’s electronic and live. And there’s a recording of “Paragenesis" that they did for ONCE Friends. They sent me all those things. Northwestern University has all these old archived recordings. They sent me a lot of stuff that didn’t come out on the box. Some of it’s mine, some of it’s “Blue" Gene’s. Some of it’s Alban Berg. Anyway, I got involved because it was going on, it was the biggest thing, and there were friends from New York and Ann Arbor in it. They brought in La Monte Young, and he played “921” [“Arabic Numeral (Any Integer) to H.F.” also known as “X for Henry Flynt” -ed.]. It was just a great day, it was just a great concert. It was one of those great moments in avant-garde music. Malka Safro was an artist who lived across the hall from Ray Johnson. I met her when I was up at Ray Johnson’s place. She was a real nice, strange but funny lady. And Malka was sitting in the front row with one of those little clicker counters. And I was sitting along with her. And there were several others from the festival that were sitting in the front row. And La Monte came out and he sat cross-legged on the stage with a big metal cooking pot in his lap, with the bottom up, and this big metal spoon, and he went BOMP!, and it was very resonant, and then he went BOMP!, and then he went BOMP! And then BOMP! After a little while, you began to get the idea that he was going to hit the pot nine hundred and twenty-one times. And that’s exactly what happened. He sat there, and he didn’t go any faster, he didn’t go any slower. But the resonances got better. The longer you sat there, the better the resonances, the better it sounded. You got to hear more overtones in the pot. He hit that son of a bitch nine hundred and twenty-one times. And people were trying to count, and they were all wrong, you know? People counting all different numbers. It finally got to seven hundred [laughs], and then it was eight hundred, and then it was nine hundred. And Malka was the only one who knew the correct answer, because she had the little clicker. She was keeping a correct count. To me, that was one of the best things I ever sat through. It was really one of the great events. Because to me it was what that era of New Music was about. Just something to see if you could take it, if you would take it. And only a certain percentage of ’em could take it. A lot of people left. Part of the fun of new music was seeing who you could get rid of first, you know. Who would be the biggest chicken? Who would be the first one out? I know I took pride in running people out of the auditorium when I got the chance. I did that several times. Because you really wanted to cook it down to the hardcore folks. But that was one of the great days on that festival. And that was in the ’62 festival. There was a lot of good stuff, but to me that was one of the high water marks. La Monte was nice to me. He doesn’t answer mail anymore so. I wrote to him not too long ago and I didn’t get anything back, and that’s kind of what I thought might happen. He was living with a girl named Diane Wakoski, a poet, she wrote “The Magellanic Clouds.” She was pretty famous too. She was a really nice solid, intelligent lady. We had a nice chat. She’s the one who took me to Yoko’s concert at the Carnegie [in November, 1961]. That’s how I got into that, was, we just walked in. Yoko said, “You want to be in my concert?” And I said sure, and suddenly I was performing with George Brecht and Terry Jennings, both dead now.
What were you doing?
We were doing vocables [makes crackly vocal sounds], vocal noises. We had strings of tin cans tied to our ankles. We walked around this little part of the stage area.
This was for a piece, or just...?
Yeah, it was Yoko’s piece. This was at Carnegie, Carnegie Recital Hall. Yoko was down at the front of the stage sitting on a toilet and reading her poetry. And over on this side of the stage George and I and Terry. And George and I had tin cans and strings on our ankles, and making the vocal noises given to us to do. Terry played played chords on the saxophone. He was amazing. He was a junkie, a junkie who died every day, you know? He was one of those guys who falls on the floor and turns blue, and then his friends would pick him up, maybe move his arms and legs, make him walk, bring him back to life. We did that half a dozen times. I and another friend and, you know, whoever we were with when Terry did it. He would shoot up and then he would fall on the floor and we would get him up and make him move. He finally reached a day in 1969, where, I don’t know, I don’t think he died on the floor, I think he just died because his heart finally couldn’t take any more. He had a heart murmur from all the junk. And he just died in 1969. But, as I understood it he was kind of prepared for it by that time. Most junkies I knew could take care of themselves better than Terry could. Terry seemed to know that people would save his life. But anyway, he didn’t have to wear tin cans. He just stood there and played chords on his saxophone. George and I made vocal noises and walked around with the tin cans. And Yoko sat on the toilet reading her poetry. And there was a guy named Tony Cox that she was living with at the time. He was father of one of her kids, and he was a nice guy I thought. He was a poet, artist, composer, etc. He was in the back over a real toilet with a microphone. And every once in a while he’d flush the toilet and this gigantic toilet flush would come out of these big speakers, like Yoko was flushing her poems down the toilet or something. But at any rate, that was the gig. And I was in that part of it. We’re not on any of the posters. I’m not on, neither is George, neither is Terry. But I want to say this about Yoko. She was wonderful. She was wonderful and funny and pleasant. I only talked to her for a few minutes, but she was very nice to me. She was very sweet and pleasant and I want someone somewhere to say that, because no one ever does. Hardly anyone’s got a good Yoko story. Most of the time they’re talking about how rude she was. She didn’t do any of that with me. She was very nice the one day I met her she was as sweet as could be and funny and pleasant. I have no reason to think otherwise, from secondhand information from others.
Well, there’s people who claim to have been personally insulted by her, or snubbed by her, in person. So it’s not too much hearsay. But she didn’t do that to me. That was the same weekend I was at Cage’s house. It’s all the same weekend. Ray Johnson took me around to places too. He introduced me to Joseph Byrd, and a bunch of people. One day he said “You want to see some birds?” He went down to the cellar and there were all these stoned looking guys leaning against a wall zonked out. And he said “There’s some birds!” And I found out that one of them was Joe Byrd. I later met James Tenney, he wasn’t smashed, he was a very nice looking guy, very nice man.
According to the poster, you had a string quartet played at the first Fluxus Festival in Germany [September, 1962]. On the poster the piece is called “MUSTER.”
“Patterns” for string quartet.
Oh, they just translated it into German.
I’ve never seen it again: they have they only copy. That happens with a lot of my stuff, I made a score and gave it to people.
How did your piece get in that festival?
George Brecht was my link. Everything I did [with Fluxus] I did through George. George was going to send clocks for a piece [“Music for Clocks” for the 1963 ONCE festival], and the clocks came the day of the concert, and I kept them in the box they came in. John Cage and David Tudor were there, I said “George’s clocks came for the piece,” and Cage said “What are they? What are they?” I said “you’re not going to believe it,” and I opened the box and it was a tea pot and a tennis ball. And John said “he’s so brilliant! He’s so brilliant!” And it was fantastic, it was perfect. And I have a piece in a book, “The Spirit of Fluxus.” It’s one of my favorite pieces, “List.” It’s just a list of the word “list.”
“List” appears in the first Fluxus newspaper: it’s listed in the Fluxus Codex.
George Brecht was my link to Fluxus. He was a good friend. And he was so young looking, I never dreamed he was so much older than I was. He was so funny. I couldn’t believe that when he died [in 2008] he was 82. But then, that’s music: it makes you healthy. That was Stockhausen’s dictum, anyway: music is good for body, mind and spirit. If you keep music around you will live for a long time. I never met George Maciunas. I never met Wolf Vostell. They were never in New York when I was. So I never saw any of the European Fluxus guys.
Formations CD
“Formations” was composed in ’62. The version on the CD is actually 2 versions. Who put them together?
"Blue" Gene. They’re both very nice. I’ve used them separately myself. I’ve done concerts, I take the recording and play it, and then put microphones into the piano and prepare the piano a little bit, to get some gong and chime sounds and then I’d close the piano up and cover it with a piano blanket and mic’ed the piano into amps.
A ring modulator?
No, just into speakers, in this case, the performance I did [at Trinity University with Sarmad Brody’s CAPASA group], just amplified piano and the recording. But on [the CD] they have a wonderful early ring modulator that Gordon Mumma made. The first time I ever heard a ring modulator... when I was a little boy, my parents bought me classical music records. The first piece I really loved was the “Firebird Suite.” But they bought me a bunch of things like “Adventures in Melodyland” and “Tubby the Tuba.” One of them was “Rusty in Orchestraville,” and it was on 10” 78s, and it was a kid’s introduction to the orchestra. And the idea was that Rusty could talk to the musical instruments and the instruments would talk back to him, and they did it with an early ring modulator: someone would talk into a microphone and someone would play a trumpet [in the ring modulator] so the trumpet would “talk.” I didn’t know it was a ring modulator, it didn’t say on the record, but that got me interested [in electronic sound] and when I found you could take the sum and difference frequencies and take two sounds and make a sound that wasn’t like either one but contained the components, I became very interested in that idea. Somewhere I have a letter from Gordon showing how to make a ring modulator. But [on the CD], they got one of Gordon’s old ring modulators and plugged the piano into one [input] and the organ into the other and went to town. And I love what they got, those beautiful, big resonances they got. And the original tapes were good, it’s just that they were falling apart. I sent them back to Blue a few years ago and I said “you ought to do something with these because they are great recordings and they don’t deserve to be lost.” So he put them in a closet and they sat there for several years and then it came time to do something and the tapes were falling apart, literally falling apart as he played them. He made me copies of what he could, but there were big breaks in the recording. And there is a lot more [than what is on the CD], like 90 minutes.
How did they take the two performances to make the CD? Is it just so much of one and so much of the other?
My guess is that they are probably superimposed. That is how I would have done it. I would have preferred that to keeping them separate.
And there are also recordings of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation?
Radio telescope star sounds from a university. I asked for that to be done when I made the piece, do it over a background of radio telescope star sounds. And that’s what he did, he got it really good, it sounds a lot of the time like [the music] is emerging out of the stellar background. [Note: what Philip calls “star sounds” is actually “universal microwave background noise from the South Galactic Pole provided by Fred Thomson and Duncan Steele.” This distinction is only important to physicists. -ed.]
Because the [score] comes from star maps.
Yes, I can’t find the score right now, but it is one of the prettier ones I did. You can’t tell from the album, Troy tried to stick it in the CD notes. The rest of the artwork is done by Tina Frank, she’s really good. This design here is Tina’s interpretation of what she heard; I like it just fine. But you can see that teeny bit of the score there. A lot of the notes are connected by straight lines.
What do those connections mean?
They’re just design connections between the notes. They indicate possible routes, possible ways of moving.
So if I were to play this, I’m not supposed to play everything...
If you want to.
But I could also just follow the lines.
You could follow the lines and record over it another way. There is a lot of ways to do. "Blue" Gene is going to a concert next year with a violin player and they are going to do a version of this with the straight score, no amplifications, no electronics, just the way it is written, which I’m looking forward to, because I’ve never heard it played as written. [This performance happened April 15, 2010 with Conrad Harris on violin at the Roulette in New York City. -ed.]
How did you meet Jerry Hunt?
I met him at Roger Shattuck’s ’Pataphysics conference.
What was that? I wasn’t able to dig up any info about that [other than it happened in 1963 at the University of Texas].
Do you know what ’pataphysics is? Alfred Jarry’s invented science...
The science of impossible solutions?
Yes, stuff like that. “Joan was quizzical, studied ’pataphysical science in the home...” Shattuck had a ’pataphysics conference and he invited me and he invited Jerry and I don’t remember who else was there. I played Gordon Mumma’s “Four Part Music” and George Brecht’s “Incidental Music.” Anyway, we became fast friends and hit it off right then and there and decided that we’d probably want to do some concerts in Texas together. Actually we did more than that: we did stuff in Texas but we also we did an ill-fated trip in Jerry’s Renault Dauphine to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts where we performed with Alvin Lucier and the Brandeis Chamber Orchestra. It was really very exciting because he was a dynamo, Jerry was just a dynamic, crazy guy. He was a very inspiring, wonderful crazy guy. The concert was on November 15th, 1963, right before the [JFK] assassination. In fact, we had a concert here in town scheduled on the 23rd. You can imagine the turn out: imagine how many people wanted to go hear a new music concert after that. None. Nobody.
What’s “May 62?” [piece announced on Brandeis concert poster]
That’s a theater piece. It’s a design score, just a geometric design, points connected by lines.
For piano?
You can make it any way. It’s mainly designed as a theater piece, just like Cage’s “Theater Piece.” It was a design so that you could do pretty much whatever you wanted. We also did Ichiyanagi’s “Sapporo” and Jerry did Cage’s “Concert for Piano and Orchestra.” Ashley has a piece called “Letter to Stockhausen” that he did in Ann Arbor, and one of the lines in it is a bunch of crazy kids and they got a pile of electric junk in the back seat and they’re going off to do a concert. But that was us. We had the back of the Renault Dauphine full of electronic junk.
Dauphine car
I took a bus to Dallas and Jerry and I drove to Brandeis and back to do that concert. Jerry had a bottle of benzedrine that he would not share, and he was crazy anyway, certified crazy. The thing about Jerry that people don’t seem to understand when I point it out to them, and it isn’t a bad thing, the thing about Jerry that made him so great, when he was younger, he was certified crazy. It was the key to the gates; he was free. There are people who get that news and get sad: that’s a bad way to do crazy. The way to do crazy is to like it and have fun with it. Because all artists are crazy, maybe everybody is crazy. But people who are really good in the arts are crazy and the more crazy you are, the better you do. Jerry was delightfully, wonderfully crazy every day of his life. On benzedrine, he was even crazier. We’d be driving for 20 hours at a time and he’d be talking non-stop. We got to this one place and we couldn’t go any further, it was a flea-bag motel, we just had to stop and sleep for a while. And this creepy man was there with a horrible beard. We were afraid he would kill us in the night. He said “I don’t have nothing but a double bed. You guys going to stay in a double bed?” Like it was going to be something really weird for us. And Jerry said “A double bed is too big, do you have an ironing board we could sleep on?” So we took the double bed. When we got to New York, Dick Higgins gave us the key to his loft that I stayed in when I went there before. Jerry said “I have to go get cigarettes.” And he left and never came back. It was nine o’clock in the morning and there was no Jerry. I went out and walked around the block and just by good fortune, there was Jerry, asleep against the wall in a giant camelhair coat. I asked, “what happened to you?” He said “cigarettes, I went for cigarettes and I couldn’t find the car, I lost the car.” I said “why did you go to the car, why didn’t you just get the cigarettes?” It turned out that he had moved the car and he didn’t know where the car was, and we had to leave to go to Brandeis. I didn’t know what to do, so I asked a policeman. He said “when did you park the car? We have snow streets, and you have move the car every day, so your car is going to get a ticket.” So he called the station and found the ticket, took us to the car and ripped up the ticket and sent us on our way. We drove up to Waltham and they had promised us room and board. We got there and the room was someone’s living room, and in that room were folding, plastic cots. We went to rehearsal for the pieces. I asked for a film projector: I had an old film of Flip the Frog I was going to show over the performance of “May 62.”
Flip the Frog
Then we had to go back and get changed, get ready for the concert. So we got in Jerry’s car and went back. Except we didn’t know where we were, and we didn’t know where the house was that we were staying at. And we couldn’t find it. We drove around and it started to get dark. And we were wearing these clothes that we had had on for days. And Jerry was out of his mind: “sonofabitchwhycan’twefindthatfucking sonofabitchhouse?” But we couldn’t find the house, so we finally went back to the university, and by that time it was a quarter of eight and we heard a loud thumping sound outside. We get inside and this place is jammed, packed to the rafters, and they’re going “We want the show! We want the show!” Alvin Lucier runs up to us and asked “Where were you guys? We’ve been looking for you! ” [laughs] We did it, we got on the stage and did the gig, and everything was fine, except the movie projector... When you tell people you want a movie projector to show an old cartoon, I forgot to tell them that it has to be a movie projector with a bulb. So it became extreme concept art, I put it in anyway and it ran through the projector with no bulb. To me it was just more Art. And I had these little squeaky toys that I gave to the audience... the concert itself was great. Then we found out that they were going to mail us our money. After all that torment, we had no money [to get home]. I had almost no money. Jerry still had a few dollars and said “we won’t be able to take any toll roads on the way back.” We got to the Texas-Oklahoma border with just eighty-five cents between us, and bought eighty-five cents worth of gas. We rolled into Dallas on fumes, but Jerry could cash a check there to buy more gas. But that’s how to do a concert on absolutely nothing. It was one of the great stories of the time, somebody who is so totally devoted to what they’re doing that they’re willing to drive 1500 miles with no money to clamper out on stage and do a concert and drive all the way back. But we were really devoted to it. And that was Jerry. That is part of the story about the Great Journey. It was one of those things that were so horrible when you’re going through it, but it makes a decent story later.

That was how I met Jerry, and we were friends for life, friends until he died. And he could call up, or I could call him, and we could chat for two or three hours and never get bored. He was always funny and brilliant, one of the most funny, brilliant, intelligent, wonderful people I ever knew. And I was so sorry... he just smoked himself to death and got horrible emphysema. He just couldn’t quit and it got him. There were just buckets of blood at the end.

And he was in a lot of pain.
He was in horrible pain and coughing up tons of blood. He had a little CO2 container that he saved for the final moment. I hated losing Jerry, he was one of the best friends I ever had.
Roger Shattuck had invited me to dinner one time, and I gave him a copy of a piece I had written called “Lincoln Center,” which was a game board, where you throw a die and move pieces on the board, and there were musical events on the board. He thought that was funny.
score in Notations
I found a page of one of your scores that was just labeled “sax/piano/tape.”
That’s the piece in here [Notations by John Cage and Alison Knowles], and that’s the name. It is a big piece, too, written on the same kind of pages as the “Concerto.” A friend who was working for a billboard company had given me a lot of billboard poster paper, and I wrote on the back of them. It was actually several pages, and I don’t have it any more either, it is in the Cage archives, the Notations archive where all the scores are [at Northwestern University]. This is the piano page.
Then there is a sax page and tape page...
The tape part you make up out of the other pages; you do some of this and put it on tape and play it. I could either supply a tape or they could make a tape. And these comments [in the book: “The writing is obviously beautiful, but one isn’t sure off-hand what notes were written.” in a variety of fonts, as Cage’s writing was during that time. -ed.] as you no doubt realized, don’t have anything to do with my piece. It says it is beautiful, but you could say that about any of the pieces in here; they were randomly assigned, so it doesn’t have anything to do with my piece.
Was this piece ever performed?
Yes, we did it on TV and radio. In 1964, KLRN was out of Austin, it is KLRU now, and there was a show called “The Music Hour.” I also did a show called “Sampler,” but I did “The Music Hour” with Jerry Hunt and Ed Vizard, a sax player whom you may know from Austin, he played with Asleep at the Wheel and Joe Ely, we’ve been friends for many years. I think I played piano at that show. It was a great TV show. You have to understand this was 1964 and I made little parts, little sketch scores for the director, for the camera people for the guy who worked the board in the control room, just diagrams and sketches and said “do what this suggests.”
The camera guy would move around...?
It was great. We did my piece, Ed did a piece of his own, a sort of improvisatory sax piece, Jerry did one of his Helix with theater function pieces, which was amplified piano played with contact mics, stroking the strings with the contact mics making bok-bok-bok sounds, really some nice stuff. In the middle of the show, when Jerry was playing, I looked at the monitor and the screen was going... everything they could do at the time, tiger teeth, squares, every design effect they had, the picture was breaking up and pictures of Jerry’s face were coming out in squares, pictures of the whole band. It was amazing. And it was being simulcast on the radio and people listening to the radio had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t believe it, it was the best TV I had ever seen at the time. They were clapping at us and we were clapping at them and we were all proud. They called me the next day and told me that one of technicians had accidentally erased the tape, because they generally didn’t save the shows. I have a big open reel of the audio, but it is really beat up and has to go to someone who knows how to salvage tape. I also did a show called “Sampler” with Robert Wilson, the guy who did “Einstein on the Beach” with Philip Glass. He was very young and he lived in Waco and he had put something together called the Waco Modern Dance Group, they were phenomenal, they were aged from 14 to 22 and they were completely uninhibited vocal- and performance-wise, and [Wilson] had given them interesting stuff to do with black-light. They wore all black and had big white elastic bands that were the only thing you could see under the black-light, and they would tie them and float them around. They had a big finale with Brillo boxes and Tide boxes that had that psychedelic shimmer when the black-light was on them, and a Statue of Liberty lady came out dressed in Christmas tree lights, and had a recording of an 83 year old lady singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and accompaning herself on the piano really badly. It was a wonderful show! So I took it to Austin. The woman who did “The Music Hour” was named Eleanor Page, and she also did a show called “Sampler” and she said “we’ll do a “Sampler” with you all,” and we did. They did the Waco Modern Dance Group, played a recording of “Music for Clocks,” and some guy I never saw before performed a solo dance piece for “Music for Clocks.” Then there was a finale of the Waco Modern Dance Group and they couldn’t do the black-light piece on TV [because it was black and white], but they did some of the same stuff, and I’ll tell you what: this was 1964 and in 1968 they were still showing some “Samplers” on TV and every time I would tune in, it would be that show. And of course I had no video recorder then, and I talked to Eleanor a few years ago and she said all those tapes rotted away, no one was able to save them. But we did some phenomenal TV.
Music for Clocks score
page from score to "Music for Clocks"
I found references to two pieces, and maybe they are the same piece: “Exciting Moments in the Life of Frederick the Great” and “Great Moments in the Life of G.F. Handel.”
They are the same piece [“Exciting Moments in the Life of G.F. Handel”]. It was supposed to be “Frederick the Great” but I wasn’t able to get my hands on the “Frederick the Great” sonatas, I liked his name better, but I did have the Handel sonatas, I could play the sonatas, I played them a number of times in regular settings. My sister played tam-tam in the “Music Without Notes” concert, I played flute and Robert Sheff played piano. It’s the same pieces, you just don’t have to play them in any order, but you are still playing moments from Handel.
But separately.
And randomly, or as random as you could get playing off an old score.
In 1965, Carolee Schneemann and James Tenney did a version.
They did?
That’s what I uncovered. Richard Kostelanetz wrote “The Discovery of Alternative Theater: Notes on Art Performances in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s” [in Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Winter, 1989), pp. 128-172] and that performance was mentioned.
I’ll be damned: I never knew about that.
Mostly he made snide comments about everything being not up to his standards.
That’s OK, even if it’s me, I don’t mind.
So he mentions that performance of “G.F. Handel...”
He didn’t like it?
He said, quote, “Philip Krumm’s “Great Moments in the Life of G.F. Handel” juxtaposed quotations played by a badly handled flute and piano against a constantly varied background of clanging cymbals. Performers Carolee Schneemann and James Tenney.”
God, I’m honored! I never knew that even happened. I never met Carolee Schneemann even though we performed in a concert together. Linda Pace, who ran the Pace Gallery downtown, she’s dead, too, brought her down for a show [1999] and I went and I hung around all evening. But I’m honored by the bad review, most of them were bad, and the ones that were good were sissy-butt, sometimes a good review would be worse, because it would be some bonehead arts booster just saying some fluff.
“A very nice piece by P. Krumm...”
Yeah, and they won’t know what they are talking about. We had a guy like that, a very nice man named Gerald Ashford and he had a knack for sending a friend to see the concert and tell him what it was like. I have a review like that: I did music for a production of “The Caretaker,” the Harold Pinter play, and it was live electronic music for the play and he wrote “ol’ Herb Punkle went and said it was pretty good.” One of those reviews. There was a concert here at the symphony, there was a pianist, I forget his name, but he was a prominent pianist who was getting older and he died and he didn’t come, the symphony did a different concert, but he got a good review any way, and it was the beginning of the end for poor Gerald; he couldn’t get away with is any longer. Charlie Winans, whom I mentioned before, did a show in one of the galleries and had a sculpture called “Where Are You Gerald?” and it was a head with those eyeglasses with the eyes in them... When they start making fun of you because you don’t actually attend the concerts that you review. [Ashford] died years ago. He reviewed the “Music Without Notes” concert. It was a nice review, but he had no idea what we were doing, he said so.

It’s worth mentioning that criticism in San Antonio didn’t stay mediocre. In the mid-sixties a critic named Tom Nickell came along and saw a local performance and said “get these hicks off the stage.” There was some upset, but things got better. And later, Mike Greenberg took over. He was an excellent and intelligent critic who did a great job for many years. In fact, he’s sorely missed.

But I later found myself in the same spot when I wound up doing reviews for the Light [San Antonio newspaper that folded in 1993 -ed.]. One night I was covering the George Cisneros Third Coast Festivals, a really good New Music concert series, and I had to cover them because no one else wanted to do that kind of music. One concert was a group of really nice people, and I can’t think of the people’s names, but they were wonderful people, I loved them, just loved them, but it was just one of those evenings where nothing quite gelled, and I unfortunately said that instead of saying “it was wonderful, it was wonderful.” Boy, Catherine Cisneros just lacerated me, I thought she would never speak to me again. And you find yourself in that spot, you either say what you want to about the show, or you become an arts booster, and no one benefits from arts boosting, if something is good, you say it is good, if it’s not you say “it could have been better.” But that’s spot you are in if you are a composer who winds up as a critic, but I had to do it because I was one of the few people in town who knew what that stuff was. I did a New Music radio program for ten years, because I knew what that stuff was. I had spent my life with those composers. We had pieces on the air a year or two before the [published] recordings came out. We had a good show. It was the only show on our station that ever won an award, it won two awards from Texas Music Association because I played so many Texas and San Antonio composers. When the new super-mom came in from corporate, her background in classical music was she had produced Marketplace for NPR.

[laughs] Oh no!
I swear, any one of us at that station knew more about classical music when we were twelve than that lady, [speaking directly into tape recorder] than that lady knows today. What she did was, and I am very glad to have a way to say this even though it never goes anywhere, she took a station that a lot of people knew to be a cut above most classical stations in the country and made it just like every other classical station. Nothing “wrong” with it. Everything you’re going to hear, you’re going to like, but in the old station you might hear “Pierrot Lunaire” at four in the afternoon, now you won’t hear it at four in the morning on the new station. You won’t hear anything like that. When she killed my show, she told me “I’m going to do a quality and professional program on modern music.” Guess what the show she came up with? “Coming to Terms with Stravinsky.” [laughs] This was 1996. Pretty much everyone had come to terms with Stravinsky. There were people there who told her that Stravinsky was no longer a problem, and you needed to come to terms with other people now. There’s guys now who play other stuff, but there’s no Musica Nova any more. She told me I could keep the name and do it on [another station]. It was ten years of fun, well, when the manager let me go, he said “there will be no more masturbation radio for you Phil.” [laughs]. Well, that’s what he thought it was... I though we had a really fine show for ten years. The lady who was the original manager of the station, Sharon Wilson, was really great, she was smart, she knew what modern music was, and that was why we were on at midnight and why we had the freedom that we did. But I told her, there is nothing on at midnight, people play whatever they want to out of the library. If I had a long piece I wanted to play, like an opera, could I do that? “You can play all night if you want.” But most of the time it was an hour show, but we had shows where I played Kaikhosru Sorabji’s “Opus Clavicembalisticum.” Ever hear that piece? It’s a beautiful piece, his real name is Ray Green [some sources say Leon Dudley Sorabji -P.K. Note]. “Opus Clavicembalisticum” is a five hour long piano piece and we played it, complete. We played La Monte Young’s “Well-Tuned Piano,” that’s five hours, too. And we played Stockhausen’s “Licht,” Wednesday one time, Thursday another time. They’re pretty long pieces. And once in a while we did a special where we just played violin players, Jane Henry, the local girl that plays avant-garde violin, and Laurie Anderson, Scarlet Rivera, Takehisa Kosugi, Paul Zukofsky, maybe a three or four hour show of remarkable violin music. I played a little controversial stuff. There was an album they sent me called “Word Up” that had some avant-garde poetry and it had some bad language in it. No one called in during the show, but they called in after the show and I got in trouble for it. And I played “ITSOFOMO (In the Shadow of Forward Motion)” by David Wojnarowicz, the artist who died [in 1992 -ed.] It’s a killer piece. It’s a narration piece that talks about being beaten up for being gay. That one got me in a little bit of trouble.
Because of the... gayness?
Yeah, the gayness and it has a little strong language. It’s a fantastic album. He died just as it came out. His producer called me and told me how to say Wojnarowicz. I didn’t do the show live, I recorded it in advance to get it into the program guide that was sent out. That way I didn’t have to be in the station at midnight. I did a show with some Gordon Mumma, “Megaton for William Burroughs,” which is a very trying piece. It was playing [on the air] and all of a sudden it stopped and the on-duty announcer comes on: “there’s a problem with tonight’s Musica Nova program. Here is “Giselle” by Adolphe Adam.” I called in and asked what was the problem. Did you ever see the old movie “Scanners,” with the exploding heads? It was like that: “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the musicanovaprogram: you just play a lot of crap, and any time you play that crap, I’m going to take it off the air!” That was the over-night announcer. But the station manager backed me up on this, and none of my programs were ever interrupted again.
You studied with Stockhausen at UC Davis [in 1966]...
[initial response lost on tape] ...Stockhausen will be there and it will be so much fun. I drove out there with a friend and it wasn’t any fun. It was like they had forgotten they had invited me. It was just a lot of hard work. I was computer programmer for the library, this was in the days of IBM [punch] cards and FORTRAN. I didn’t last very long, only six months. But Stockhausen was very nice to me.
Did you have a lot of access to him?
More than I thought, more than the university wanted me to. The guy who was head of the [music] department went on sabbatical and this Euro-Nazi came in who was a big jerk and he decided I wasn’t with the university; I wasn’t a student, I wasn’t faculty, I was staff at the library. They invited me to use the [Buchla] synthesizer when it came it, but he wouldn’t let me use it. And poor Dary John Mizelle, he was very nice, he smuggled me into the synthesizer lab one evening. I was at the synthesizer grinding out a little doodly crap that turned out to be a Volkswagen commercial, and John was guarding the door, making sure no one would find us. So that part was lousy, but Stockhausen was nice. He took me to lunch with him and we chatted in his office. He liked rock-and-roll music and I showed him the bars that had live music. The only thing I remember that came out of it, was he asked me “Who do you think is the best composer in America?” I thought for a second and said, and remember this was 1966, “it is hard for me to choose between Bob Ashley and Bob Dylan.” I felt Ashley was fantastic, way greater than anybody recognized even back then. Now, I believe he is up there with Henry Cowell and Virgil Thompson, he’s not like them, but he has that greatness. “Dust” and “Perfect Lives,” those are great pieces. But I thought he was great in Ann Arbor in the days of “Details” and “Maneuvers for Small Hands.” And “Public Opinion Descends Upon the Demonstrators” I thought was one of the greatest pieces I ever saw, and incredible piece of concept art, a crowd control piece. He had taken the audience and he set four blocks of chairs facing each other, so everyone was facing the center. He wasn’t in the center, he was off at the side with his tape player and big speakers. He was playing “The Fourth of July,” a tape piece of his. And it is sounds of people walking around, somebody says something, and noises, and radio sounds and then it stops. And then there is a long silence. And then the sound came back on, and then more silence. And then more sound. And then an audience member stood up to leave and the sound went off and everybody watched that person leave, and then the sound came on again. And everybody looked at everyone else. When somebody stood up to leave, the sound went off. The person sat down.. then people finally understood [Ashley] had them where he wanted them. Are you going to leave? A very interesting exercise in crowd control. It was a very brilliant, and clever and nasty. It was the kind of thing Ashley was really good at. But when I said Bob Dylan, he had just done “Blonde on Blonde,” and in his own world he had gotten avant-garde, too, he moved into his own avant-garde.
And he came out with his book Tarantula around that time, too.
Yeah, it came out in the same period as Yoko’s book, “Grapefruit,” everyone had that. But when I said that to Stockhausen, Dylan had that wonderful gift of pissing off people who really liked him. I liked how Dylan can turn on his audience, to me that is the mark of a great artist is to say “I don’t care what you think.” But now I think Ashley is one of the greatest living composers; nobody is doing like what he is doing. Those verse operas are great.

Stockhausen did allow me to attend his seminars. He only talked about his own works. “Mikrophonie” had just come out from Columbia and it was one of my treasures at the time. It took a whole week’s worth of food to buy it. He talked about how he made it. He was very inspiring. You weren’t going to write like a piece like him, but he showed you how to combine groups of material like that; systems you could apply to your own way of doing things. I was very lucky, considering nothing else at Davis was lucky. The performance they did of my piece [“Sound Machine”] was terrific. But everything else went to shit. I was glad to get out. I thought it would be like Ann Arbor, but it wasn’t. At the ONCE Festivals, when you thought of competition it was “how can I blow your brain up with a really good piece? How can I amaze you with something I’ve done?” At Davis there was a different kind of competition. And I don’t mean the Davis New Music Ensemble: they were nice. The university was like that. It was disappointing, depressing. But then I came back here to work on HemisFair and that was good.

I had my own light show production company, Light Sound Development, and managed two rock bands. One was the Children and the other Rachel’s Children. I didn’t name either one of them.

When did you work with the Children?
They were both ’67 and ’68. The Children were very professional. They could be puking and still perform. They were fantastic. The other group, Rachel’s Children, they were amazing, but if they didn’t feel like playing, they didn’t play. There were things I liked about that, but they weren’t people you could press for a hard gig. One of the best stories along those lines... I had developed some light show machinery based on some of the stuff I had seen at Ann Arbor at Cohen’s Space Theater. What he had done was take a big plywood turntable and placed prisms and mirrors and different kinds of glass. He would shoot projectors into it and light would be splayed all over the auditorium. It was rather exciting. I started building stuff along those lines when I came back from Ann Arbor. By 1967 I had teamed up with a great artist, Charles Winans, considered the original hippie in San Antonio, he had the first... Grandma’s TeaHouse, what do you call those places you could buy papers and stuff?
Head Shop?
Charley Winans, he died the year before last, and it was very sudden, he was one of the great San Antonio artists, every time I talked to him, I wished I could be recording it because it was just volumes of information about San Antonio, people and its history, and it’s all gone, it all went away with him. He had built a mirror ball, but it wasn’t like a disco ball, it was really elaborate, it had all different colors and kinds of glass. Do you know what dichroic glass is? They use it in stage lighting. It is a round piece of glass, but it is in four pieces with slits so the heat can come through, if you shine a light on it, it will reflect yellow, but if you shine a light through it, it shows blue. I had a whole bunch of it. We made this complicated irregular mirror ball all this stuff on it, prisms, and we put it on a turntable with other mirrors and prisms.
dichroric glass
Rachel’s Children and the light show group and I all went to Cascade Caverns Cathedral Room one day in 1967 and they turned out all the lights so there was nothing but our light show machinery, and in that completely black environment it was just monster. Just a pen light on the mirror ball was a lot going on, but when we shined movie projectors or slide projectors on it, we had the place throbbing with light. Rachel’s Children were playing. And these people from KTSA, a rock station, turned up, and they believed themselves to be God’s gift to rock music, they could make you or break you, that was their attitude and Rachel’s Children didn’t want anything to do with the station, so nothing ever happened. They didn’t want the degradation of being on KTSA. We did the concert for nothing, for a handful of friends and KTSA. That was the thing with Rachel’s Children, they liked to do things that no one ever saw again.

I was assistant to the director of the youth pavilion at HemisFair in 1968. And the youth pavilion had a really nice theater, and we had access to anything in terms of machinery and we did a light show for Rachel’s Children. We had 6 overhead projectors, 7 or 8 movie projects, a dozen slide projectors. No one ever had so much stuff. We had the liquid wobbles and moire patterns that everyone did, but we had our own stuff. The place was packed, thousands of kids in there just for Rachel’s Children. It was one of those evenings where everything got up and took off on its own. Jim Wharton, the director, he leaned over and said “that’s the god-damnedest greatest light show I have ever saw in my life.” And everybody agreed. We’d been to the Fillmore. We’d been to the Avalon. It was nothing compared to what we did. It was like play period compared to our show. It was the best. It just was.

Every once in a while you’re a part of an event that transcends everything you’ve been doing.

Did Rachel’s Children ever release a 7”?
Never. They had some very nice recordings, but they all disappeared with... do you know who Billy Brammer was? William F. Brammer? It hurts to say this: Billy Lee Brammer? He was a pretty famous Texas writer, famous for one novel: The Gay Place, and it’s not about gay people. It’s about Lyndon Johnson. He was a very nice guy, we called him Billy, no one ever in the two or three years I was around him did any one call him Billy Lee. But when he died and they started reprinting his stuff, they made him Billy Lee, and this made those of us who knew him very mad because it is one of those phony things that publishers do to try to squeeze some Texas out of somebody. He wound up with all of Rachel’s Children’s tapes and he said to Don Harding, the singer and lead guitar player for Rachel’s Children, “I’m about the only one I know over 50 who is still shooting speed” and a month later he was dead. Don Harding died shortly later of meningitis.
Were you working with the Children when they went to California?
No: I was there guy here. I was probably not the world’s greatest manager, but I got them some great gigs. I don’t think I was born for managership, especially for crazy bands. But they were really fun to work with. Some of them are still around. Bill Ash, the guitar player, died. Cassell Webb, the singer, I’ve heard is back in town. Louie Cabaza, the keyboard player, I’ve seen him once in the last few years, he played in a jazz program at the Unitarian Church. But they were amazing. But after they went off [to California] and hooked up with Lou Adler, I didn’t see them anymore. They made the big album [“Rebirth”] and I was glad for them. But the way it turned out: Bill Russo, he’s dead, too. He’s an old jazzer, he was in Stan Kenton’s original band, trombone, and then went on his own as a composer/arranger. He was commissioned by the city of San Antonio to write a piece for the opening of HemisFair. It was called “The Civil War: A Rock Cantata.” Some of the songs on the “Rebirth” album are based on songs from the cantata.
The string arrangements?
The [arrangements] aren’t his, they were done for the band. He was very upset, he threatened to sue them because they didn’t get permission to do any of that, but since they had all the material they did it anyway. He got upset but nothing ever came of it. It was a great gig. He was really strange. He needed a flute player. I had played flute for a long time, but I quit playing flute in 1966 when I had to hock my flute to a fellow worker at [UC] Davis when I didn’t have any money. I let it go for $50. I came back from Davis... by 1968 my embouchure was ancient history. Somehow, somebody told Bill Russo that I played flute. I played with Bob James, he and I were students of Ross Lee Finney, I played jazz flute for him in a bar in Ann Arbor, [Robert] Pozar on drums, so I could get around on it OK. Bill Russo demanded that I play flute. I didn’t have a flute and he went and got me a flute, “good, now you can play flute.” And I said “no, it will be horrible.” And it was horrible. Naturally there’s a picture of me in the paper. We sat up all night before the show, with had a bottle of dexamyl, this was 1968, the police are smoking pot, the whole world was smoking pot at the time. We stayed up all night smoking pot and drinking from the dexamyl bottle. It came time for the gig and we were all pancake-brained. Everyone was burnt and our lips were all crusty... [laughs]. And if I had been in stellar condition, if I had gone to bed at 9... my lips would have still have sounded like crap because I didn’t have any embouchure. And there is a picture of me in the paper, and we’re all baked and I looked like a beatnik with my glasses [hanging down]. It was so horrible. The singer forgot the words and scatted through it. I kept my flute down so you didn’t hear a wind machine. But everyone loved it. It was done with slides of Mathew Brady’s fabulous photographs of Civil War dead. It was a very beautiful visual and musical production. No one could tell I wasn’t doing anything. Bill didn’t seem to mind. The audience loved it. But that was the origin of some of the material on their album. There’s other stuff [on the CD], some of the people were in the Argyles, and then the Mind’s Eye, which was the house band for a club the Mind’s Eye, the first psychedelic night club. My light show company did the first light show there, we opened the Mind’s Eye with our magic mirror ball. Rachel’s Children played, and also the other band I was friends with, the 13th Floor Elevators. They were good friends from the day their first 45 came out, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Try to Hide.” I stayed friends with the Elevators until they broke up, which was right after HemisFair. By that time Roky... reportedly had a patch over his third eye, a total space case. A very pleasant space case.
With the Children and Rachel’s Children, did you give them any musical ideas, coming from your experimental background? It seemed like psychedelic bands were looking for new ideas...
Kind of, yes, especially Rachel’s Children, they were open to some of that stuff, they were much more improvisatory. The vocal parts of their performances were very brief and there would be very elaborate musical interludes. That’s where they were really good. But like I said, they were very personable. They only wanted to play for themselves and a few friends. They didn’t care about fame or publicity.
I was commissioned by the Bay Area Pianists to write a piece the 100th anniversary of Henry Cowell’s birth in 1996. I called it "Banshee Fantasia" it was based on Banshee or at least kind of picked up where I felt Banshee had stopped.
Your piece just used the techniques of Banshee?
It starts out like it, but it goes off and actually embodies a number of what I thought were Henry Cowell references. It’s got a tonal quality to it too. I used not just Banshee but a number of Cowell ideas, just references; the tonal type of things he liked to do, the intervals, the use of the flattened 5th. I combined a number of different Cowell influences.
Like sliding on the strings?
Yes, played on the strings. I didn’t have a score of Banshee at the time and I couldn’t get it. I’ve got it now; it is an interesting looking score. It didn’t matter, I didn’t need the notations to do the piece. But anyway, "Blue" Gene premiered the piece and it came out great. Charles Amirkhanian did the introduction to the program and he was very nice to mention that he had played in my piece Sound Machine at the world premiere. The performance with "Blue" Gene playing my piano piece, for the Henry Cowell festival, it’s one of those things where sometimes one of the best evenings in your life you’re just sitting by yourself at home in front of the stereo. I just got the tape in the mail one day and I sat down and played it and it wonderful to hear my piece played by a great player, introduced by a great composer and musicologist.
So you weren’t in California.
No I couldn’t afford to go out there. And the applause, lots and lots of applause. Applause that went on after they turned the thing down, it was still going on so you could imagine it going on and on and on. But it was a very wonderful experience. It should come out. It was recorded by New Albion, and may come out on an actual record someday.
Troy Curry is going to re-release [“Sound Machine”] on LP. It’s going to have “Axis,” “New Year Song,” “Mumma Mix” and “Sound Machine.” He got the tape from IRIDA: Stephen Housewright has all the original masters. The version of “Sound Machine” Jerry did is very sustained, he just took the pulses quietly and put those little designs, overlays that go over the pulses. When it was first performed it was performed by the Davis New Music Ensemble with Larry Austin, Stanley Lunetta, Pat Woodbury who’s also called Billy Alexander, Arthur Woodbury, John Mizelle, and Charles Amirkhanian. They did a real kickass performance of it, not a bit like Jerry’s, which I liked, but it was much more lively, the pulses were very fast and the little melismatic overlays and those little overlay sections were beautifully done and they passed the pulse back and forth between them.
Special thanks to Seth Tisue and Henna Chou for transcribing portions of the interview.
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