My Main Muses

Everyone has a muse (or muses) who have helped them find their own path. For me, that list includes teachers, coaches, leaders, artists, musicians, crafts people, friends and family. 

 

Ben Johnston and Harry Partch
My photo of Composers Ben Johnston and Harry Partch (taken at Harry’s San Diego home just months before his death)

The American composer Harry Partch probably had the biggest influence on my musical thinking and yet there are many obstacles blocking his general acceptance. The performance of his music requires a unique set of extremely large instruments and a devoted ensemble to produce his epic works. His book Genesis of a Music first published in 1949 details ancient systems of tuning and individual musicians who used beautiful scales throughout the history of the world. If it weren’t for this information, I would not have been inclined to make my first windchime in the 1970’s, the Chimes of Olympos, to hear what the sound of a scale (and maybe a taste of the music) from the seventh century BC sounded like.

 

Dr. Thomas Rossing, Gold Medal award from the Acoustical Society of America and faculty member of CCRMA at Stanford University
Dr. Thomas Rossing, Gold Medal award from the Acoustical Society of America and faculty member of CCRMA at Stanford University

In order to build that first Windchime I studied woodworking, metallurgy and acoustics in college. My physics professor Dr. Thomas Rossing is a renowned acoustician who helped bridge the gap between science and art for me. Without the information and experience I gleaned from Dr. Rossing, I again would not have ventured the path that I did.

 

Frank Zappa, who greatly affected my thinking, listed many of his influences on the cover of his 1966 Mothers Of Invention album Freak Out!. One of those influences was the French born composer Edgard Varèse whoonce said “An artist is never ahead of his time, it is his audience who are behind theirs.”

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa


While Frank Zappa and the Beatles were ahead of their time they did have a significant following. Others however took time for the audience to catch up including Steve Reich, Philip Glass and other contemporary composers who grew out of the experimental 1960s. It is heartwarming to see the growing interest in that music. My musical inspirations include Jazz, Indonesian Gamelan Music, Early Music, J. S. Bach, Harry Partch, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Steve Reich, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky and Karlheinz Stockhausen, to name just a few.
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Playing with Steve Reich and NEXUS helped shape my musical life over the last 30+ years. Steve opened my ears to many new ideas and sounds including the concept of psychoacoustics (sound perception).

Steve Reich, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and me at the Mayor’s 2013 Arts Awards
Steve Reich, NYC Mayor Bloomberg and me at the Mayor’s 2013 Arts Awards

While the members of NEXUS have many things in common, we all share our ideas with each other ranging from percussion to politics to the meaning of life. We haven’t figured out the meaning of life yet but we are close to a better understanding of percussion at least.

NEXUS at the Byrdcliffe Theater 2004
NEXUS at the Byrdcliffe Theater 2004

For the Greeks, the nine muses for the arts were Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania and Melpomene. But for me, nothing inspires one as much as family and good friends. To that list I add my colleagues that I work with daily at Woodstock Chimes who are always looking for new ideas that work. Who is your inspiration?

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”  -John Cage

John Cage
John Cage

 

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