While listening to a Charles Ives track last month, I realized that this constant stream of disparate music via the iPod was beginning to overwhelm my comprehension. It was if it was an extended version of that Police MP3 where all those hits are multi-tracked on top of each other in a Cageian way. Interesting but cumulatively deadly. To compensate, I juggled my iTunes smart playlists to inject all tracks by a selected composer (although not all at once of course). For a couple weeks, that meant the 96 Aaron Copland tracks I own -- melodies, brash brass, poignant woodwinds, poignant brass, etc. All in all, a more coherent and mostly pleasurable experience. (except maybe Symphonic Ode and a poor recording of Rodeo).
Ok, after the Adams channeling Varèse quote ("I would say that my guardian angel is composer Edgar Varèse because, for me, Varèse’s music was the original post-nuclear holocaust sound.”), next up as featured composer was Edgard Varèse. After a week or so of his works, I found I needed a break; not just from Varèse's music but from all music. Recovering two days later, I'm back listening to Déserts and liking it. Alex Ross calls his music "earsplitting" in the article on Doctor Atomic in the new New Yorker. We'll see what the long-term effects of intense exposure to such modernism turn out to be.
I'm also reading the composer's recent biography by pop music author Alan Clayson. The father/son relationship was dysfunctional, to say the least. Regarding his teacher Vincent d'Indy:
Any concordat once established with d'Indy had deteriorated to the level at which the teacher was deemed by the provocative Varèse as being of the same authoritarian kidney as his father, as well as with the same short-sightedness, mental sluggishness, and -- if Edgard was feeling especially uncharitable -- cloth-eared ignorance.
Maybe this partially explains why we don't hear Copland-esque life-affirming melodies from Edgard...
Two Amazon-related pieces of trivia: the one statistically improbable phrase in the Clayson book is "organised sound" and the sales rank for the Chailly complete works of the composer is a surprising #9,984. That's not very long in "long tail" terms.