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La Monte Young

La Monte Young (born October 14, 1935) is an American composer whose eccentric works have been classified by some as avant garde or experimental. His compositions question the nature of music and often stress elements of performance not normally indicated.

He was born in Bern, Idaho[?]. His family moved several times in his childhood while his father searched for work before settling in Los Angeles, California. He studied at Los Angeles City College[?], and was such a good saxophonist that he came out ahead of Eric Dolphy in an audition for the school's jazz band. As well as Dolphy, he also played alongside Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins[?].

He later entered the University of California at Los Angeles to study music, and later still the University of California at Berkeley. He also studied electronic music with Richard Maxfield[?] and attended the summer courses at Darmstadt under Karlheinz Stockhausen. Over this period he virtually gave up playing the saxophone to concentrate on composition, being influenced by Anton Webern, Gregorian chant and various music of other cultures, including Indian classical music and Indonesian gamelan music. These interests later led to him studying with Pandit Pran Nath[?] from 1970 (his fellow students were his wife Marian Zazeela and the composer Terry Riley).

Young's early works mainly use the twelve tone technique of Arnold Schoenberg (who Young at sudied with at Los Angeles), although several of these early pieces were destroyed by their composer. When he visited Darmstadt, he discovered John Cage through Stockhausen, and became more interested in theatrical elements of music. He also began to incorporate drones into his work more under the influence of non-western musics.

In 1960, Young wrote one of his best known collections, Compositions 1960. They include pieces which emphasise the theatrical element of music. They consist of simple instructions to the performer rather than the usual musical notation. One instructs "draw a straight line and follow it", another instructs the performer to build a fire, and another says the performer should release a butterfly into the room.

Other examples of Young's less conventional works include a piano piece in which the performer plays, only once, the chord comprised of the notes B directly below and F sharp directly above middle C, and allows them to sound until they had completely died away; another piano piece in which the performer is instructed to push the piano towards the nearest wall, and if the piano goes through the wall then keep pushing, otherwise to stop once the performer is too tired to continue; and a piece instructing the performer to urinate.

Young has written more conventional music as well. One of his better known early pieces, the String Trio of 1958, while considered very extreme at the time of its composition, can now be seen as one of Young's more conventional works. It is a serial work, but rather than using the technique to create dense, complicated music, Young's trio is slow moving, mainly very quiet, and full of drones.

The Well Tuned Piano, a series of pieces for a piano tuned in just intonation, likewise explores Young's interest in drones, as does The Tortoise, his Dreams and Journeys, a piece which has been given a number of realisations over the years. Most have long titles, such as The Tortoise Droning Selected Pitches from the Holy Numbers for the Two Black Tigers, the Green Tiger and the Hermit; The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as they were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gong, Illuminated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot and the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer; and The Melodic version of the Second Dream of the High-Tension Line - Stepdown Transformer from the Four Dreams of China.

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