Inner Cities are where you go to get debriefed, to dance a tarantella with Gurdjieff; to see Italo Calvino greet Giordano Bruno in Campo De’ Fiori; to play low C 78 times and low D-flat once for Giacinto Scelsi’s 79th birthday; to hear Louis Armstrong fuse time and space in Providence, and Ella, Peanuts Hucko, and Brubeck fill a Newport stadium unamplified; to watch Cage and Braxton play chess in Washington Square Park; to roll around in a pile of rags with Pistoletto and Simone Forti; to listen to Ezra Pound’s silence by the Grand Canal; to hear Julian Beck say "Paradise Nooow....." and years later on film say "I wuz bawn in a garbage can"; to become a composer in the Coolidges’ apple tree; to hear Miles and Coltrane blow minds at Storyville (price, one coca-cola); to listen to Cy Twombly just back from the Gobi desert; to meet Diana in her temple on Lake Nemi; to hear Art Tatum play the whole world from memory; to record, for Perlini’s "Otello", a tin can rolling through a Venetian church; to give an impromtu ram’s-horn concert for Palestinian shopkeepers; to ride with a New York cabbie nuts about Gubaidulina; to sit at Patience Gray’s table; to plant a Magnetic Garden in the Beat 72 theater; to make love with a Jewish Rhein-maiden; to help Giuseppe Chiari remix Palazzo Strozzi and Robert Ashley collect dust from the union-floor of Local 802; to hear fog-horns with the Narragansett Indians; to cook funghi porcini for Luigi Nono in Berlin-Friedenau; to meet Morty Feldman on Eighth Street; to make the Ligurian coast into watercolormusic with Edith Schloss; to hang with the Carrara anarchists and the Bertolucci’s in Tellaro where DH Lawrence had his piano delivered by mules; to get booed off the floor staging Korean folk songs in Darmstadt; to listen for Messaien in Birdland; to hear Evan Parker play the Festa dell'Unita and George Lewis play the Tower of Pisa; to see and hear Annea Lockwood’s astounding glass concert at the Middle Earth; to be sitting in a room with Alvin Lucier; to hear Thelonius Monk detune time at the Five-Spot; to observe Sartre and Beauvoir drinking Campari from a window on Piazza Navona; to accompany ventriloquists, hypnotists, sirtos dancers, and bouzouki players in the Catskills; to watch Lenny Michaels dance the mambo at Susan’s Piano-Bar and Grill; to see Steve Lacy play his soprano sax with his left leg; to blow shofar to Judith Malina’s Shelley; to split the MEV door at the Obitorio; to copy for Cardew while he rolled the revolution on the banks of the Tiber; to play on a Holland American Ocean Liner which later catches fire and sinks; to wish that Meredith Monk, Diamanda Galas, Joan La Barbara, Billie Holiday would sing from the minarets five times a day; to play Dixieland in the Brussels World’s Fair across from Varese and Xenakis’ Phillips Pavillion; to play "An American in Paris" in Dahomey with John Sebastian Sr. on harmonica; to witness real Balinese dance in trance; to accidentally step on Dietrich Fischer Dieskau's foot backstage at the Akademie der Kunste; to record an interview with King Hussein of Jordan; to watch Trisha Brown levitate on Bach in San Francisco; to help Cage squeeze lemons into his fresh taboule on 18th Street and watch David Tudor mix chili peppers and lasers at the Grand Hotel des Palmes; to play the Sydney Harbour like a bandoneon; to teach advanced-orchestration in the Greek Theater at Mills College with Pauline Oliveros and the ghost of Harry Partch; to shake Stravinsky's hand in the American Sector-Berlin and Varese’s in New Haven; to watch Kosugi dance his electric violin around Marcus Aurelius; to get thrown off stage in London as a warmup act for the Pink Floyd; to meet Stockhausen at a strobe-light show in Düsseldorf; to open windows on Cage’s cue for adding real cold air to his Winter Music; to camp out with Teitelbaum and Rzewski for Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point; to hear Terry and LaMonte’s landmark concerts at the Attico in Rome; to help Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik get an introduction to the Pope; to nearly get sequestered along with Arnold Dreyblatt’s instruments at the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof; to play the "Tennessee Waltz" with a banjo-band in Florence; to hear Maryanne Amacher make sound circle your head in her Boston harbor basement; to have tea and guffaws with Helen and Elliott; to play "Drumming" with Steve Reich in Pamplona; to bury 80 loudspeakers under Melissa’s Floor Plan in Linz and feed hay to a Diskklavier in Donaueschingen; to play with the original Scratch Orchestra; to make 300 people in 6 countries who cannot see or hear one another play together on the radio; to drink a Turka-Cola at the foot of Mt. Ararat; to hear Scelsi’s piano sonata on the car radio in central Anatolia; to make a concert of shiphorns in the "Golf of Poets"; to be 5 years old in Central Falls, Rhode Island, sitting next to my father in the trombone section at the Sunday afternoon Vaudeville show.
I offer these disconnected autobiographical fragments like a drawer full of fossilized imprints to put you in the same position I am in now, attempting to connect the dots and tell you something, anything about the pieces on this set of CDs, maybe my best music.
In these Inner Cities there is no "drive-by" anything; there’s merely back alleys, empty lots full of stubborn weeds and clear sky, trails of memory which may or may not lead anywhere or even have relevance to the music at hand. The bottom line: these pieces are a set of contradictory etudes - studies in liberation and attachment, cryptic itineraries to the old fountain on the town square whence flows all artistic divination and groping for meaning in the dark.
Inner Cities began in 1991 as an single innocent piano piece and has now evolved into a musical cycle of 12 pieces sometimes performed (following Daan Vanderwalle’s brilliant intuition) in its 6-hour entirety My goal, as always, was to reduce the musical elements to their ultimate essences, to repudiate and embrace dualism, and to emulate, even in permanent notation, the feel of spontaneous music-making. The music therefore is open, unhurried, brutally lyrical, quiet, private and tonal as it is raucous, aggressively impolite and obsessively meticulous in making the simple relations between tones and durations an unending adventure of personal wonder. Each piece starts with a single idea, chord, or cellular pattern, which serves as its own source of narrative and history. These could incorporate anything from the simplest melodicizing on a single tone, in IC I, to a vast postmodernist sonata, as in IC 10 (in itself lasting over one hour), where the music no longer understands where it is coming from or where it’s going.
IC 1, written as a birthday gift for Ernstalbrecht Stiebler, is composed on a single A major chord in first inversion supporting a one note melody on "A." When this gets boring the music "modulates" to a 3 note melody over a 4th chord.
IC 2 is based on two intertwined quietly arpeggiating augmented 9th chords which slowly evolve into a piano-bar rendition of the song "Body and Soul."
IC 3, incorporated later into this collection, was originally written for toy-piano, hence very minimalistic in its bold-fast attitude; it too ends on a song, written in the mid-seventies for my solo performance Light Flowers/Dark Flowers.
IC 4 dedicated to the memory of Lou Harrison, is a long and wandering but very focused melody, refering tangentially to many possible melodic practices around the world. This ends on an arpeggiated figure (quasi improvised in time) with a continuation of the former melodic essences.
IC 5 is a compressed version of the out of control structured inprov that ends IC 10.
IC 6 and 7 (written for Jed Distler) return the music to explorations of 4 part "unintentional" (multidirectional) harmony, freely interrupted by explosive and agitated mobs.
IC 7.5 is a drunken waltz which staggers out of the ethereal end of IC 7 and, while a piece unto itself, serves as a moment of comic relief on the way to IC 8.
IC 8 (written for Eve Egoyan) continues like the previous 2 works, refining the harmonic language down to just 3-part chords and taking a 40-some minute tour of the world in search of all possible family (relations and relatives).
IC 9 (written for Reinier van Houdt) is approaching virtuoso disjunctions using unique moments very high and very low and passionately letting all these spaces resolve themselves under one roof – this comes in a "walking-bass" resolution at the end.
IC 10 is for Daan Vandewalle, who receives a music lasting just over one hour which is clearly a planetary sonata form where land-masses and oceans, volcanoes and rivers and quiet grasslands, all swirl out of a classic set of arpeggiated 5ths...a tour-de force structured triadic improvisation to be played as fast as possible concludes.
IC 11 is by contrast the simplest of simplest musics... a blues with a one note melody, nothing more, nothing less. This, called the Aglio Olio Peperoncino Blues, is dedicated to my dear friend and colleague Frederic Rzewski, who in a recent email suggested that these three humble foods were all one needed for lasting life: garlic, olive oil, and hot chili peppers.
Alvin Curran 14.8.04
Inner Cities 1-11 (1991-2003), for piano. Four-CD set of the complete cycle, performed by Daan Vandewalle, published by Long Distance Records (Harmonia Mundi) in March 2005.