The latest Monday Evening Concert at the County Museum of Art was devoted to music by Earle Brown, who will be 60 next month. Brown is also president of the American Music Center, which organized the current American Music Week being observed nationally.
Although Brown himself introduced and conducted his music, there was nothing particularly celebratory about the occasion. An affable, mild-mannered man, Brown offered only anecdotes, rather than any serious discussion of the music or what he referred to--always in quotation marks--in the program notes as its "poetics."
Brown's compositional means--principally graphic notations and open form--are better known than the end product, if only because in open form there is no definitive result. There is perceptible shape to the music, but in "Available Forms I," that is as much the creation of the conductor as of the composer.
Abstract visual arts have been a major influence on Brown. "Available Forms" is a mix-and-match game, with a variety of "events"--musical blocks--that can be played in any sequence. Brown the conductor reveled in the juxtaposition of wildly contrasting blocks, with the alert cooperation of 18 instrumentalists.
This non-linear, often splotchy process thwarts traditional expectations and rigorous concentration. Brown is a masterful orchestrator, and the play of sonic color is the substance of his music.
"Windsor Jambs" uses the textless vocalise of a mezzo-soprano (Jeannine Wagner) as a wind instrument. The piece is more structured than "Available Forms," and features more traditional antiphonal interplay between three winds, three strings and a pianist and percussionist.
In many ways, "Tracer" is a similar work. It too blends and opposes three strings and three winds, and relies on recurring textures for architectural identity. But the players' contributions modify and comment on a fuzzy-sounding tape of the beep-boop-zzzt sort.
For the listener, Brown's open forms and notations are largely irrelevant, as they do not produce unique sounds or textures. The "graphically notated" sections of "Hodagraph I" were not distinguishable from the rest of the short work, despite the able efforts of flutist Dorothy Stone, pianist Delores Stevens and percussionist Arthur Jarvinen.
But the techniques do truly involve the performers. The intent playing of pianists Stevens, Gaylord Mowrey and Lorna Little thoroughly exploited the coloristic potential of "Corroboree."