An Interview with Daniel Goode


Anton Rovner

AR: Mr. Goode, could you tell us about your development as a composer, especially about people who have influenced you and your music, as teachers, colleagues or mentors?

DG: I started out my musical career quite early, at the age of eight with recorder, nine with piano, twelve, with clarinet lessons. I play the clarinet professionally and have had several recordings of my clarinet playing, including one solo CD. During that time, around nine, I started improvising and then wrote some of the music down; my mother helped me write music down before I really knew notation, though she was not a musician. I went to a high school where we had basic music theory, instrumental lessons, bands and orchestras, so I had a very lucky education in music by the time that I graduated from high school. At Oberlin, where I went to college, I did not major in music, but merely took courses in counterpoint and theory. I was a philosophy major, being so much involved in philosophy, that I interrupted my musical studies and went to graduate school for one year at Cornell, majoring in philosophy; however I did not finish the program, but steered seriously into finishing my musical education, which I did at Columbia University. I briefly studied with Henry Cowell who taught at Extension Division of Columbia (School Of General Studies), for a year. At that time, though, I did not know his music very well and he was not a primary influence, though an important American composer to have come in contact with in my youth. At Columbia I also studied with the famous composer, Otto Luening, who was very open-minded, Jack Beeson, and a couple of other people on the faculty. I received my Masters degree in Composition and wrote as my thesis, a chamber orchestra work, which, to this day, has not been performed and went on to teach in various places in the Mid-West.

After a while, I ended up on the West Coast, in California in 1968 at the University of California in San Diego, where there was a very interesting and active environment in the field of new musical composition. It was the late sixties and many composers and performers were turning up to be part of an enriching musical scene: everything was happening that could be termed part of the "experimental tradition." In that time in California, I had a chance to meet some very influential composers, whose music I had gotten to know beforehand. One of them was Pauline Oliveros. She started out as an early electronic music composer and her first pieces were reel-to-reel tape pieces; later on she engaged in composing conceptual pieces, verbal instruction pieces and pieces with punch lines (like the ending of a joke, but with complex resonances). She also composed Sonic Meditations, which was a series of exercises, investigations of sound and meditation, connected with her interest in Tai Chi, mystical teachers and dancers. Pauline Oliveros taught electronic music, which was not strictly A composition class, and she also directed a music program for undergraduates, which featured music-making for non-musicians. This approach fitted perfectly into what everyone was thinking at that time - that it was possible to make very interesting new and experimental music by using natural sounds, devices that were not musical instruments, toys, tape - those were all were all very important, with some direction. You did not need to have a background in sixteenth-century counterpoint in order to use these things creatively. In the undergraduate course, which she administered, a few of my colleagues and I were teaching assistants. I also studied electronic music with her, where we basically studied the analog synthesizer, the Moog (named after Robert Moog) and the Buchla (named after Donald Buchla), which is the equipment that they had there; I learned enough about it to pursue it later on independently. I had private lessons with Kenneth Gaburo, who was another influential composer. Gaburo was interested in language, structure, philosophy, and, especially, the sound of language. He taught a course called "compositional linguistics" and wrote a lot of important electronic music, as well as music using elements of theater, space, light and all sorts of other elements. He directed a chorus called the New Music Choral Ensemble and taught at the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, and UCSD and directed a small music press, called Lingua Press. Unfortunately, he died at an early age of 65 in 1992. He was, very much the live-wire and was perfectly sympathetic to my musical interests and aims and was very rigorous in his own kind of Socratic way: he looked at your work and asked you to think about what you were doing. He also taught us Schenker for composers.

Then there was another influential composer, Robert Erickson. He did not teach us composition as much as special extended musical subjects like timbre and psychoacoustics, which all of the graduate students took. As a composer, Robert Erickson started out as a post-serialist, then passed through several other phases of development as a composer. There was an expressionistic trend in his music, as well as a sound-oriented trend; he wrote compositions, which utilized live sound, compositions with graph-like scores, as well as with static, sustained sounds, the latter compositions later became tonally-based, often sustaining one triad throughout each composition. Some of these works were with tape, and some of them were only for tape. One of these compositions has the title "9 1/2 For Wilber, Orville And Henry". It combines recorded overhead jet planes sounds and car sounds from the highway near the university campus, where he taught. He also wrote a book about timbre in music. As I heard, he recently died.

At UCSD I regularly performed new music on the clarinet as it appeared in the repertory. It was a very performance-oriented music program for composers and many unorthodox things were done, boosted by people like Pauline Oliveros, who, being on the faculty herself, led the way for the most improbable directions in music, such as sonic meditations, huge theater pieces with astrological and cosmic symbology and many very witty short pieces of the time which were just wonderful to have experienced first-hand.

After I completed my studies at UCSD, I was hired off the campus by Rutgers University, for their newly opened Livingston College. This college was meant to have all the new materials which the old University would not teach, in the humanities and social sciences, which were supposed to be expanded to a high level. I started an electronic music studio, which, in its beginnings, occupied a closet, before it later expanded to an adequate level. Having established myself in terms of a job, I pursued my real interests: composing and performing in the downtown area of New York, which was bursting with new artistic energy in the early 1970s. All the musical innovations, which were taking place in the late 1960s, were starting to receive recognition. I was simply one of the musicians doing their stuff, simply learning and, at the same time, producing and being part of various musical performances and part of some experimental music ritual groups like "sounds out of silent spaces" organized by Philip Corner and Julie Winter, eventually a collective. It was not until much later that I established the DownTown Ensemble, with my co-director, William Hellermann, which to this day has regular concerts of new music in New York. In the late 1970s I became co-founding member of the Gamelan Ensemble, a percussion ensemble, which used Indonesian instruments, and which is still in existence too; in fact it meets in this very loft where we're interviewing and it has put out a CD and various LP's on such labels as "Folkways".

As far as the composers that have influenced me, I just love the late 19th Century composers, which is, generally, very unusual for a musician who is identified with Downtown Music. I had always been fascinated by the way time had been extended and blown out of proportions by the symphonists of the late 19th century as well as some of the minimalist techniques that you find in composers of that time. This is true even with such composers as Sibelius, certainly not with that intent, but nevertheless, unexpectedly for themselves, they achieve similar results to the minimalists. If you look at some of Sibelius' symphonies, they have certain segments, which develop in a very gradual and expanded process - this is very interesting to me from the point of view of today's technique. I was very interested in the giganticism, not so much of Wagner, but more of Mahler, Bruckner, as well as some of the Northern composers, including Nielsen, Sibelius and others. And in the modernist sphere, of course, everybody who did not adhere to twelve-tone music and even some who did, reacted to John Cage's ideas and his compositions. I certainly felt what many others before me felt: that he gave us permission to do many things, which we never thought of previously and his own work laid out so many new territories which our teachers did not really think about. He never told anyone what to do, but he was just there as an example for all of us. It is interesting to observe how in the late 50-s early 60-s, Cage was starting to achieve big success, even if it was controversial; nevertheless his work and name was never mentioned within the halls of Columbia while I was there. Even the music of Cowell was never brought up or performed at Columbia, though he was a serious representative in American new music, and teaching there in the Extension Division. It was a very strange situation where the people who might have been put on my agenda then were not, and it was only much later, that I found my way to them.

AR: Can you tell us about some of the trends of composition that you are following in some of your own works and some of the stylistic traits in your works? I know that you have written a number of electronic or computer pieces, since you taught electronic music for many years at Rutgers and have studied it previously and had a lot of experience with it. One of your important electronic pieces is called Selected Chambers, which also uses some live sounds such as rivers and birds and other things. Your solo clarinet composition, Circular Thoughts uses certain techniques, which could be identified as minimalist as well as aleatory, where the performer chooses his or her own patterns of performance. I have also seen your collection One Page Pieces which is a mixture of notation, words and picture diagrams, where the aleatory trend is carried out even further.

DG: I would like to get right to the aleatory question and chance and you mentioned Circular Thoughts and One Page Pieces. The way I think of those is very, very different from what Cage had in mind when he thought of chance as a way of determining all the specifics of a musical score. As I am sure you know, he had multiple matrices in which he would use a random procedure, either the I-Ching and coin tossing, or even a computer program later on, that was written for the purpose of randomization. This is one use of the word "aleatory" and it really means in Cage's case, trying as much as possible to make all the decisions that one could make - by chance. Of course, chance within some set of limits. It's not total chance. And of course you have to define your limits in order for chance to be meaningful. Even Cage couldn't give everything to chance - he had to set up a system in which certain things were structured or at least were determinate enough for the operations to fill in certain things that already existed, such as a structure. I don't really look at mine as "aleatory" in that sense at all. What I'm really more interested in is what performers can do in a direction that's given to them - with an armature, a set of possibilities, a set of rules, a set of notes, and maybe some rules on how to use them - even maybe written notes and verbal instructions that rule in some things and rule out other things.

I don't really like the term "aleatory" in that sense - I really like more the term "performer choice". Even "improvisation" is a little bit more risky, since it has so many associations, such as: "you can do whatever yo like" or "you can go wherever you heart takes you" or "the inspiration of the moment". That's not exactly what I mean, though certainly inspirations and momentary thoughts do exist and can often make or break a performance. But I do like the idea that there is a very definite compositional idea to these One Page Pieces, or in the case of Circular Thoughts which has a lot of notes and patterns which are written out, minimalist in the classical ways of the slow change and process. You still have to understand it before you can perform it. There are various forks in the road - I like to think about it as a road map with forks which take you in - first there's that fork and you have to make a choice, and then maybe that next fork would give you choices that you would have to make. But there is definitely a road or a system of roads and you are definitely following them. In some of my other music which is even more open-ended like, for instance, Shaking Music, the concept is very, very strong but it can result in various types of music making. In that particular piece, which is as far out as I have ever been, the instruction is "Shake yourself in some manner in order to change your state of consciousness" - then you're supposed to play a phrase of music of your own devising. Now that is very, very open-ended. But that's sort of one direction. There are other pieces there which are very much like Circular Thoughts that give you a vocabulary or a certain set of processes and then have very controlled ways of dealing with performer choice. But, yes, performer choice makes this set of One Page Pieces appear very short in paper or in manuscript and actually can be very, very long, if necessary, in real time.

AR: You have mentioned yourself as being a definite part of the "Downtown School." As it is known here in the United States there are two famous trends which emerged in New York City in the 60's and 70's - the "Uptown School," which is the serialist school of Milton Babbitt and Charles Wuorinen, which was based around the Columbia University area, and the "Downtown School," which was based around the Greenwich Village area in New York or the Tribeca or East Village or Soho, of which some of the most famous names are John Cage and Phillip Glass, and which is known for its less formal approach to music. Could you tell us a little about what is the position of "Downtown" music today and who are some of the most notable people with whom you have been in contact in this music?

DG: First, let me take issue with the way you have been expressing the division between "Uptown" and "Downtown" music. I don't think that Downtown Music is any less formal. I think that the forms are different. If I were to look at Cage, for example, he was one of the most formalist and modernist composers around. He simply starts from a different premise where he makes his matrices from chance decisions instead of twelve-tone rows, but he is every bit as pre-compositionally structured in his music. In fact, I can imagine that the amount of time it takes to finish a score might be even longer in Cage's case than it might be in a Babbitt case. Cage is certainly formal and even a formalist, except that he starts from a totally opposite idea and philosophy of what elements should be used. Even totally different composers, such as, for instance, Steve Reich have very formal elements in their music. In the case of Reich, he constricts the compositional process absolutely and completely, choosing the musical material very meticulously, in order to contain what it had in it and allow no other material enter into it. That was the approach of the early rigorous minimalists, which established them as just as formal as the serialists. Why they congregated down-town is very obvious - the uptown concert halls, the performance directors and even the players could not or would not perform their music - had no interest or were even hostile to it, so they had to start their own situation.

Now I think the big thing about the downtown scene was diversity and ability to see the connection between different styles, at least on a social basis if not on a musical basis. So all types of improvisers were there ranging from the totally spontaneous, free improvisers to people who follow jazz traditions and jazz technique. There are performance art people who are barely in the world of music but there is often a lot of sound or music of some kind or other in their performances, and some of them do have big voices and perform within musical parameters. Whether you like it or not is a different question, but nevertheless, such musicians as Jerry Hunt, who is recently deceased, Karen Finley who is a text-based performance artist and a host of others, are important experimental artists and composers whose names will eventually come out.

I think today's Downtown musical scene has this to be said about it: first of all, there are many fewer performance venues open now. The art galleries which promoted and sponsored the Downtown scene have mostly withdrawn from that and financers of this kind of activity have mostly pulled out. I don't think there is a single art gallery in Soho now that sponsors contemporary or new music. The other important reason is that the real estate values in downtown New York have become so inflated that no artist unless he is independently wealthy, can really relocate here, unless he moved here early enough. My case is a middle case - I did not move in early enough but I got in just in time before prices became very inflated and bloated. In the present day, the whole Downtown music scene has dispersed into all boroughs, including people who live and work uptown.

Since musicians became geographically dispersed, the movement has become an idea, not a place, and the main thing I would say about it in the present day is that it is very eclectic. Composers who are of younger generations than me are doing things very differently from the composers of my generation. I do not think that there is anything like "pure minimalism" going on, just as there is no "pure chance music" and, probably, very little "pure serialism" if these terms make any sense. "Downtown music" is so varied that it can never be put into one bucket. There are always new musical activities starting - the most recent information which I just received was a flyer from an experimental music series going on in a film organization: Anthology Film Archives, which runs experimental films and does a very good job of archiving these films, has put on a season of new music with new names and new venues which I had little knowledge of. So things are always happening within the "Downtown" music scene, though not necessarily in the same way as they used to.

Among some of the prominent names in the "Downtown School," many of whom I closely collaborated with in concerts and have included their music in my concert series with the DownTown Ensemble, I can mention the following people: first of all there is Alison Knowles, who is basically known as a visual artist but also did performance scores as well as one page scores, very similar to mine. I have mentioned Pauline Oliveros, who I think to be a very important figure. There was the famous English composer, Cornelius Cardew, who died a number of years ago - he led the Scratch Orchestra, a very interesting experimental ensemble. Phillip Corner was another very influential composer, also used to teach at Rutgers, and was involved in many movements, such as minimalism, Fluxus, chance-music and various Eastern and Asian influences. There is Annea Lockwood, who does instrumental, conceptual and electronic pieces, William Hellermann who does sound-sculpture (objects which emit sounds, funny-humorous music lines) as well as instrumental work and who is the co-director with me of the DownTown Ensemble. Robert Ashley, James Tenney, Tom Johnson, Nicholas Collins, Earl Brown, Jackson Mac Low, a sound artist, Mauricio Kagel - he's a blast from the past, Larry Polansky, Skip La Plante, who specializes in music for home-made instruments, Christian Wolff, Otto Luening, my teacher, Noel DaCosta, professor of composition at Rutgers, Barbara Benary who started the Gamelan Ensemble that I play in, Richard Teitelbaum and Yoshi Wada - these are only a few of the people performed by the DownTown Ensemble among many others.

AR: Does improvisation play an important role in your music-making and did you have a lot of experience with pure improvisation and does it relate to your own music which, as we have mentioned, does include aleatory elements?

DG: This is an interesting question. I tried what is called free or spontaneous improvisation together with musicians who are mainly professional improvisers and I felt that I blended very well with them. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I am a good improviser, I never felt that improvisation was something that I could lay legitimate claim to, mainly because I have a conceptual problem with it. If you do it all the time, every day, constantly, I am sure that you have certain improvising skills and are able to develop them to a level of perfection, beyond the level of a musician who improvises only occasionally, where, even as Elliott Carter said it, you play your habits. One result which could occur, which could be dangerous, is that a performer who is a regular "professional" improviser tends to repeat certain musical effects which prove to be effective as opposed to what he or she is inspired to do it at the moment, in which case the main components of improvisation may turn out to be a secondary situation.

On the other hand there is something to be said and something profound about responding to other people making music in a similar situation; that is, the number of possibilities that can take place when you improvise in a group of other improvising musicians, where one musician plays a particular musical passage while you choose to play another musical sound and the results could be unpredictably varied. I do think that improvising is a very valuable musical asset and greatly contributes to the language of music in general. On the other hand I always find that because I do not improvise on a regular basis, a certain kind of reservoir of musical ideas piles up in my mind in a passive, unconscious manner. If someone presses the button and sets me off, I actually have a lot of material ready to go - something does come out of me in a spontaneous sense. It is when I try to do it more often that I begin to feel the contradictions in it. So I am a kind of off-and-on improviser, and, as I said, it does not play a part in my composition, because I usually define the field for the improvisation so strictly that you only have the possibility A and B, not possibilities A through Z, and there I can do my best work because I want the players to have a sense of direction as well as a sense of being liberated so I try to get the best of both possibilities. It only works with the players who are willing to take my premises, while not every player will find this mixture of determinism and freedom to their liking. Still, one of the things that I found in downtown area of New York, especially Soho, where I have taken part and performed in many concerts, is that there are a lot of players who respond well to the challenge. By the way, the free improvisers do not respond that well to this challenge, because the free improvisers do not willingly accept the restrictions that I impose on performers in my pieces, though many of them have much experience and can play in any style. My music is not necessarily the best place for them to carry out their art in its entirety.

AR: Can you tell more about your two ensembles which you have mentioned before, namely the DownTown Ensemble and the Gamelan Son of Lion ensemble: when did they start, what kind of instrumentation is involved, what kind of people play in them, where do you meet and what kind of music do you play?

DG: Gamelan Son of Lion was the first of the two ensembles to be started: in the mid-1970's. It was started by Barbara Benary, a composer and an ethnomusicologist with a PhD from Wesleyan University, who is a fine performer on many instruments including the violin, the erhu, several wind instruments and of course the complete gamelan repertoire of instruments. She built the instruments on which we still play, using designs from an American musician, Dennis Murphy, a specialist in Asian instruments, constructing them out of local materials: wood and steel. She tuned these instruments to the correct scales and tunings of Indonesian music, specifically Javanese music.

One of the main reasons for her to construct these instruments was to teach a course in Asian music at Rutgers University. Then she brought the instruments to New York and started the ensemble as a professional group, inviting some players from the New Jersey ensemble, including me, Phillip Corner, as well as a few talented students from Rutgers who wanted to continue commuting to New York to be in the ensemble; afterwards we recruited new people. The members of the ensemble constitute a wide range of musicians, from professional percussionists, musicians who play other instruments as well as people who are not professional musicians. One interesting feature of the Gamelan ensemble is that the performers do not necessarily need to be trained instrumentalists who practice their instruments for years, as in the usual classical music ensemble. You can learn to play some of these instruments in a short period of time if you have the aptitude.

When I say: people who never did music, I mean that these people had aptitude but never played a traditional instrument. A few performers in our group are composers, which adds to the creative potential. We meet regularly once a week, as we used to from the very beginning, and arrange extra rehearsals when needed for concerts and recordings. The first time that we visited Indonesia as a group was during the summer of 1996. We had a very successful tour in Java. If we had performed in Bali it might have been less successful, since Bali is a place which is less receptive to foreign styles. In Java we were very accepted, and our our repertoire, which is not in the main Javanese- influenced, has had tremendous success there. We played at an International Festival of Gamelans and in many smaller concerts around Java. One was a particularly strange concert where we were the lead-off ensemble for a traditional concert of West-Javanese music and dance. Our ensemble, which played only its own repertoire, turned out to be the most unusual thing that most people there have ever heard. We also played in traditional music schools where they teach Gamelan - they have wonderful traditional arts conservatories there - and we were met with tremendous success and were reviewed in the newspapers.

Though we have a Javanese and a Balinese repertory, we do not play it very often. Our ensemble includes specialists in Javanese Gamelan music and instruments, people who have been trained either here or in Java in the traditional Javanese arts. Our real innovation has been a highly imaginative repertory composed for the ensemble by Americans, mostly members of our group. Generally speaking, the trend of a lot of the music in our repertory is very similar to what I have described about my own music: it frequently involves performer choice, short scores which give prose directions for long performances, as well as music using experimental notation of various kinds, including, among other things, number notation that the Javanese learned from the Dutch colonialists who simply numbered the keys and wrote down transcriptions using the numbers of the keys. The way composers use notation and performer choice in extremely different, individual ways, is not altogether different from the principles of such pieces of mine such as the One Page Pieces. But another, equally significant quantity is totally written out in the manner of European classical music, or in Javanese cipher notation. The ensemble is based on a variety of elegant mallet instruments, ranging from small to large as well as gongs, not to mention occasional traditional or Western wind or string instrument soloists. I occasionally play the clarinet in the ensemble and I have performed pieces for clarinet and gamelan which I have written particularly for the ensemble, one of which is called Random Chords, another, Welcome, Slendro Clarinet which is on our new CD. We are currently meeting in my loft once a week and we have our own season; we receive New York arts funding and state arts council money on a regular, multi-year basis, plus we raise additional money for special projects.

The DownTown Ensemble was started later in 1983 by myself and my co-director, William Hellermann, because we felt that even the Downtown music scene was neglecting certain trends and elements of music which we felt to be very important. We were very interested in the area of graphic scores which was not given the proper attention by most contemporary music ensembles - this trend was associated with Earl Brown, some of Cage, as well as Ichianagi in Japan, early Morton Feldman, as well as a group of European composers. Another thing which we were interested in and tried to promote were conceptual scores, verbal scores that lay out the musical process in language. Mostly these verbal scores were easy to understand, though not necessarily always - in some cases of verbal scores, at times members of our ensemble can sit like disputing monks, arguing about a meaning of a word in a verbal score for a lengthy period of time during the rehearsals and eventually agree or not agree. In general, musicians do not like to read words or take words as instructions; they prefer to look at notes. Nevertheless we felt that the verbal scores were very important as an art form and deserve to be given as much respectful treatment as musical scores with notes. Of course we also perform music written out in traditional notes, though having an experimental character. We invite many of the most qualified musicians into our group, the ones that are most committed to performing this kind of experimental music. We keep the group small, partly for financial reasons - we have a very small yearly grant from the New York State Arts Council. We manage to do four concerts a year on a thousand dollars plus friends and in-kind contributions - though you might say that this is an impossible task, but we have managed to do this since 1983. Recently we have performed out of New York, trying to do concerts in the rural areas of the States which do not hear much new music of any kind and where funders are happy to support what we are doing. We occasionally commission composers to write pieces for us when we get the commissioning money. Presently we are working on recording our first CD, though most of the individual members have each put out their own CD's.

We do not have a fixed instrumentation - we choose the scores first and then fill in the instrumentation that would make the program work. At the same time we tend to work with the same people on a regular basis. A pianist, Joseph Kubera has been in many of our concerts; Phillip Corner has also played the piano in many of them. Some of the regular instruments of our ensemble are: keyboards and piano, I play the clarinet, my co-director Bill Hellermann plays acoustic guitar (which is called for in much of our repertoire). Other instrumentalists that have performed regularly with us are: Peter Zummo, composer and trombonist, James Pugliese, percussionist, William Rule, also percussionist, Andrew Bolotowsky, flutist, as well as various string instruments; nobody is a regular in the string department but we bring in any of the string instruments when needed. Our typical ensemble for a concert would not be more than four or five people, unless we become funded for a large ensemble, which occasionally we have had some luck with in a few concerts. I, myself launched a big piece which was out as of February 1998 on Tzadik Records, called Tunnel-Funnel, which is a 35 minute long chamber symphony. I had it performed by the DownTown Ensemble in 1988 and 1989, which was an exceptional case, since we had to hire a much larger number of extra musicians than we usually do, in order to put together an ensemble of fifteen people and a conductor.

ex tempore
as published in Vol. VIII/2, Summer 1997