New York School composer Christian Wolff shares his open-ended conceptions of communal music making with Chicago’s Aperiodic | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

New York School composer Christian Wolff shares his open-ended conceptions of communal music making with Chicago’s Aperiodic 

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click to enlarge Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff

Courtesy the Artist

Christian Wolff is the only living member of the New York School, the coterie of composers that revolved around John Cage during the 1950s and included Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, and David Tudor. Their experimental music mirrored developments in the art world at the time, including Fluxus and abstract expressionism. The group’s hallmarks—including chance procedures and durations—remain deeply influential in experimental circles. But Wolff, 83, who was born in France to German parents who relocated the family to the U.S in 1941, has continued to produce fascinating work that’s moved beyond the New York School’s legacy, often engaging improvisational and untrained musicians. On this rare local appearance he’ll collaborate with the Chicago performance collective Aperiodic for a survey of some of his strongest works. He’ll perform music from Keyboard Miscellany—his ever-expanding book of short, melodic pieces typically composed to celebrate an individual or a birthday—along with several older works that continue to feel as forward-facing as when they were first written. Edges (1968) is a graphic score that asks musicians to interpret not the actual notations but the spaces around them, which he described as “something like a photographic negative the developed picture of which would be realized by the player.” The concert will also include a selection of his Exercises, a numbered series of pieces for unspecified instrumentation and numbers of musicians—who get identical scores for each piece. As time has passed, exceptions have been made, consisting of one or more single-line phrases that each participant determines how much of and how long to play while navigating in an improvised fashion with other ensemble members. Finally, Aperiodic will play a few of the ten parts of Burdocks (1971), another wide-open work for undefined instrumentation. It has bits of standard notation and fixed durations, but it demands that the participants navigate the parts of other players, putting focus on the importance of listening as a musical skill.   v

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