36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 345: Avant-garde music, my thoughts


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 345 — Avant-garde music, my thoughts
12-Jul-1972 (Wed.)


First sight of the Berlin Wall
First sight of the Berlin Wall


Decided to move out of room. Too expensive. Told landlady. Had a pleasant conversation.

Tried to find a cheaper room. At studentenheims—booked. Got a room in student hotel, more expensive. Surprise—when I got back, the landlady said that she would let me stay an extra night “kostenlos!” [free] I couldn’t believe it. Plus, she gave me a free breakfast, but then I paid for it. Delicious breakfast. She was really nice and I couldn’t believe it. This brought down the cost of staying to a more reasonable 10 DMs. Great.

Expo Electronique

When I walked into the hall—large, modern, good acoustics, art displays—there were about 10 people. Now, about one hour later there are only two of us.

Taking notes on pieces. See separate sheets. Most of the music is typical, and for me, not so good. Some of it (very little) is interesting.

Performers coming. Making preparations for the concert. Already, the American groups are being a pain. Artists are always demanding. Ha.

Did a little sightseeing. Park area. First sight of a section of the Berlin Wall. Quite a number of guards with rifles there.

Really interesting Neue Galerie. All of these weird , large, metal sculptures. One of them is a giant sliding pond. The kids have a wild time. I’ve never seen so much emphasis on the new and modern.

The Berlin girls are really chick and wild. I haven’t met any but I can still look.

Subways are fast, efficient, large, clean, and safe. Quite a change. The whole city seems clean and also safe—in spite of the large number of hippies.

I think that the youth are in control They have it great here. The places (diskoteks) are cheap to go to.

Saw a computer music lecture (in German) by a guy from Indiana. Extremely interesting.

2nd Night—Avant-garde

Two Instrumental groups. Wildfire and Intermodulation. As usual (see notes), most of the music is not as good as I hoped for.

However, I’ve heard two really interesting and meditative-type quality works by Morton Feldman for two pianos. Uses normal notes but produces an effect. Interesting and good.

The concerts here are well attended. Mostly by the youth. Dress is casual. You sit on the floor. Smoke, etc. Only thing I don’t like is the walking around. I think that even these “way out” youths (I think I’m still a youth) are not affected by it. (Unless it’s the thing to do.) I think applause is “out of it.”

Most of the time when I write about the music, I say that it’s typical. What I mean is that
it’s typical. In other words, for myself, it’s old and used up, perhaps also a cliché. It can be “good typical”—a good piece, it just happens to be in that style. “Bad typical” might mean that it’s a bad piece or it is a newly-written thing but in a “used-up” style (for me). Maybe I mean that if you have written in such a category, then that is bad. When, I say it’s typical, I basically mean that I am tired of hearing it. Or, in other words, for myself, I need another direction.

Example of typicals:

(a) Piano music that uses clusters, wide intervals, typical eighth-dotted-quarter note rhythms.

(b) New ideas of extremely long “dauer klangs”. Already a cliché.

( c ) Use of normal instruments trying to produce new sounds. Already clichés.

Etc., etc.

A big problem in this music is perception. A similar thing after a while becomes automatically turned off in the mind. Examples: cluster or interval music (non meter), sounds the same after a while because the ear cannot discern tonal differences (except big ones) in the clusters, and in non-metric music. The rhythms are all meshed together because the ear cannot discern difference. Result: so much new music always sounds the same. The ear has no criteria or comparison guide.

Is it conditioning? I know it’s a problem. What to do? ??

Met John Cage and David Tudor. Nice guys. Asked them what they thought of the audience participation. Cage said, “Well, it wasn’t imaginative.” I said that I thought audience participation was a great idea but I didn’t know if it would ever work. Nice, but short, conversation.

Maybe the biggest problem is that the music does not say anything, most of the time. It seems to me that the performers improvise and make sounds (sometimes interesting) but they always seem to lack direction. The music doesn’t go anywhere. Static. No climaxes and releases. Maybe this is why the music usually seems so dull. And dull is a good word.

Well, after five hours of concert, enough. To bed.


My landlady. It looks like I am worried about money again. Although, I leave to find a new room (just as expensive), the lady of my current room, she lets me stay one night free and gives me breakfast. How nice. I’m surprised. I end up staying.

Expo electronique. I go to the hall where the electronic concerts are happening and stay a while listening to pieces and taking notes. Don’t know where those notes are nowadays.

Berlin Wall—First sight. A bit of sight-seeing and I see the Berlin Wall for the first time. (See photos.) With guards, guns, fences, and barbed-wire. The real world is a serious place and until you stare into its mouth, you don’t quite get the full impact. But when you do wake up to the world, it can be surprising and shocking. A short while ago, I met a gentleman from Berlin and I briefly recounted my Berlin trip to him and the Wall. He told me that when he was a young boy, and their family was traveling across the wall, he witnessed a man being shot by the East German guards. Not a pleasant world.

Modern art. Berlin is modern and so is its art. I’m enjoying the emphasis on contemporary art and music in Berlin. I enjoy modern and abstract art, as well as traditional, and Berlin comes to the fore. Berlin is on the cutting edge of modern music, art, and the avant-garde. I’m at the Neue Gallerie. The kids are having some fun on a giant sliding pond.

Berlin girls. It looks like the Berlin girls have caught me eye. Remember, I’m only 22 years old. You know what this means: bra-less. I have to leave both Montclair State and Vienna to experience the liberation of women. Well, I still don’t meet anyone. I’m really a shy person (sometimes).

Avant-garde concert and music. I talk quite a bit today about why I am not liking the avant-garde music in the concerts. I can say that I know that I enjoy most music, whether traditional or avant-garde, but as a young person, I am more emotional about it then, than I am today. I do make some valid points. Often, contemporary music sounds the same. A tonal cluster banged on the piano is going to sound similar to another, yet different, cluster banged on another piano. I seem to think that when you take away the patterns of our traditional musical listening structure (motives, melodies, rhythms, phrases, cadences, form, structure, tempo and such), that the ear and mind thus has a harder time finding patterns and linking things into cohesive units. Thus, avant-garde music begins to sound “typical.” Another way of saying this is that the “techniques” and “style” and “melodic/rhythmic” treatments used in many avant-garde pieces are often similar and tend to a common consistency. There may not be movement towards tension or climax and resolution to offset the tension. It’s harder to determine direction. There is truth to all of this but it is still music that can, and should, be listened to and enjoyed.

And I’m a guy who makes music with sound. I should be talking.

Meeting John Cage. I meet John Cage and David Tudor relaxing on the floor. Except for Vienna, this is one of the few times I’m seeing someone famous. I actually talk to Mr. Cage and, in my usual never-leave-things-alone-style, I bring up the topic of audience participation. At least he admitted it wasn’t what it should be. Thanks for being honest, Mr. Cage. For a photo of Cage and Tudor, see Day 351.

Plenty of photos today. Berlin’s parks and outdoor areas, the Zoological Garden, and modern art at the Neue Gallerie.

Park setting near Schloss Charlottenburg
Park setting near Schloss Charlottenburg
West Berlin had a lot of parks and great outdoors areas
More parks in West Berlin 01
More parks in West Berlin 02
More parks in West Berlin 03
More parks in West Berlin 04
West Berlin’s Zoological Garden
West Berlin Zoological Garden 01
West Berlin Zoological Garden 02
Art at the Neue Gallerie
Art at the Neue Gallerie
Art at the Neue Gallerie 02
Living art: children enjoying the giant sliding pond
Children on the sliding pond


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