"The Well-Tuned Radio" --A Different Nature presents LaMonte Young's "The Well-Tuned Piano"

A Different Nature
Air date: 
Mon, 12/30/2013 - 8:00pm - Tue, 12/31/2013 - 1:00am
Short Description: 
KBOO presents LaMonte Young's complete "The Well-Tuned Piano"
"The Well-Tuned Radio" A DEEP LISTENING experiment--
8:00 PM til 1:00 AM
A DIFFERENT NATURE presents LaMonte Young's minimalist classic, THE WELL-TUNED PIANO--- KBOO invites YOU to participate in a DEEP LISTENING experience--THE WELL-TUNED PIANO
tune your radio into an "air-purifier" --Tune it to KBOO (90.7 FM in Portland, 91.9 FM in the Columbia Gorge, and 104.3 FM in Philomath, Corvallis and Eugene) --turn it up and then walk away from it, letting it supply your soundtrack for the entire evening...Do the dishes, straighten the living room, curl up with your current book, make dinner, eat dinner, do your laundry or climb into bed and turn out the light-- but LEAVE YOUR RADIO TUNED to KBOO and let the meditative, peaceful sounds of "just intonation" purify the air in your home, as KBOO and A DIFFERENT NATURE proudly present LAMONTE YOUNG's entire 5 hour historic piano piece, THE WELL-TUNED PIANO. 

You could also sit in front of your speakers (or put on headphones), close your eyes and sit relaxed in a warm but darkened room, embracing the concept of "deep listening". In 1991, composer PAULINE OLIVEROS coined the term "deep listening" pertaining to "Sonic awareness and the ability to consciously focus attention upon environmental and musical sound, requiring continual alertness and an inclination towards always listening. Deep Listening is a concept and practice that Richard Francis, A Different Nature's founder also embraced.
THE WELL TUNED PIANO has been described as "the most important piano work of the late 20th century" by composer and Village Voice critic Kyle Gann, who also said,
"My personal experience with The Well-Tuned Piano was one of just such heightened concentration...the flow of momentum marshaled the vibrations of air in the room, slowly making the ear aware of sounds that weren't actually being played….I thought I heard foghorns, the roar of machinery, wood blocks, a didgeridoo, and most powerfully, the low, low vibration of the 18-cycles-per-minute E-flat that the ear supplied as the "missing fundamental" of the piano's overtones."
—Kyle Gann, The Village Voice (1987)

La Monte Young was born October 14, 1935, in Bern, Idaho. Growing up, he often listened to the sounds of nature spilling into his log-cabin home. Young cites these sounds as inspirations in later life, and his compositions often involved drones and atypical tuning. With saxophone as his primary instrument, Young attended Los Angeles City College and UCLA. where he studied composition with Leonard Stein, a student of Arnold Schoenberg, and counterpoint with Robert Stevenson, a student of Igor Stravinsky. Young is often described as one of the founding fathers of minimalism, along with Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. as well as an advocate for Indian classical music, having become a disciple and student of Pandit Pran Nath. In 1962, Young married visual artist Marian Zazeela. The two have often collaborated on projects that combine visual art and music, including The Well-Tuned Piano. As an audience member at a live performance of The Well-Tuned Piano, one is surrounded by the, "pure and intense color sensations," of The Magenta Lights. These lights are magenta in color and are installed into the performance area and projected throughout the space.

The Well-Tuned Piano, being improvisatory in nature, as well as ever-changing, has no specific form. The closest a listener can come to understanding the structure of Young's piece is by studying the liner notes from the 1981 Gramavision recording. Within the liner notes, Young breaks the performance into seven major sections and further deconstructs each of those sections into multiple subsections. The sections and subsections are not notated or described, but simply listed along with the duration of each section so a listener can easily follow along. The seven major sections are as follows.

  1. The Opening Chord (00:00:00-00:21:47)
  2. The Magic Chord (00:21:47-01:02:29)
  3. The Magic Opening Chord (01:02:29-1:23:54)
  4. The Magic Harmonic Rainforest Chord (1:23:54-03:05:31)
  5. The Romantic Chord (03:05:31-04:01:25)
  6. The Elysian Fields (04:01:25-04:59:41)
  7. The Ending (04:59:41-05:01:22)

The subsections are often called themes, and each is vastly and descriptively labeled. A few examples are "The Flying Carpet", which belongs in The Romantic Chord section, and "Sunshine in The Old Country", which is found in The Magic Opening Chord section. Each theme is made up of a specific, unique combination of pitches. However the smaller themes found in one larger section will often have many pitches in common.

LaMonte Young gave the world premiere of The Well-Tuned Piano in Rome in 1974, ten years after the creation of the piece. Previously, Young had presented it as a recorded work. In 1975, Young premiered it in New York with eleven live performances during the months of April and May. As of October 25, 1981, the date of the Gramavision recording of The Well-Tuned Piano, Young had performed the piece 55 times. The only other person to ever perform the piece besides Young is his disciple, Sarmad Michael Harrison. Young taught Harrison the piece, which not only allowed him to perform it, but also to aid in tuning and preparing the piano for performances. In 1987, Young performed the piece again as part of a larger concert series that included many more of his works. This performance, on May 10, 1987, was videotaped and released on DVD in 2000 on Young's label, Just Dreams.

Each realization is a separately titled and independent composition. Over 60 realizations to date. World première: Rome 1974. American première: New York 1975. Chords from The Well-Tuned Piano (1981–present), are presented as sound environments. Includes: The Opening Chord (1981), The Magic Chord (1984), The Magic Opening Chord (1984).


"The playing waxes and wanes, with the slow parts ritualistically simple and repetitive and the fast parts whirling and flurring notes together into eerie, independently generated voices….This sort of music is certainly not for everyone, and even for those who respond to it, there is sometimes the question of whether it should be concentrated on, mediated upon or simply lived through. Whatever one does, Mr. Young remains a fascinating if austere figure in our musical life.

—John Rockwell, The New York Times (1975), 

The grand performing space was dimly lighted with magenta lights. There were no chairs. Listeners wore no shoes, reclining on plush white rugs….The work lasts about four hours, and listeners are encouraged to attend numerous performances. This listener's consciousness became a little restless after two hours of overtonal influence, but Mr. Young has clearly achieved something extraordinary, creating unexplored regions of sound.

—Edward Rothstein, New York Times (1981), 




Well-Tuned Show

I really appreciate your bringing this piece to my attention. I'd never heard of Young, though I've listed to your show for years (sporadically) and am a fan of Terry Riley and Philip Glass.  "The Well-Tempered Piano" will be playing a lot in my place for a while -- I converted the YouTube videos to MP3s.  


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