La Monte Young and the Theatre of Eternal Music

On October 2, 2011 by Will Hermes

La Monte Young is the father of what became known as “minimalist” composition, an approach that inspired Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, and many others, in New York City and beyond. In the ’60s Young worked in the shadow of his hero-turned-rival John Cage, collaborated with his friend Yoko Ono, and led a group that included John Cale, who later left to form the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed.

Young increasingly became obsessed with the idea of the “eternal” in music—a work that might literally last forever—and he began setting up what he called “Dream House” installations: rooms in which music was produced continuously by precisely-tuned sine wave oscillators, sometimes with human accompaniment. The initial and primary one was in his loft at 275 Church Street; it ran pretty much uninterrupted from September ’66 through January ’70.

Recordings of this music were somewhat beside the point. But Young often rolled tape, and in ’73 some of it became a French LP called Dream House 78’ 17”, long out-of-print. The number denotes the duration of the LP, and the “song titles” noted simply the date, time, and locale of the recording. The piece I’ve linked to here, side A of the LP, is titled “13 I 73 5:35-6:14:03 PM NYC.” It shows off vocal techniques inspired by Young’s work with North Indian master singer Pandit Pran Nath. The music runs for 39 minutes here. But presumably it began before the recorder was turned on, and continued after it was shut off.

Performances of extreme duration—lasting as long as, say, a psychedelic drug experience—were being explored by many artists and musicians of the era. New York Times critic John Rockwell identified a “newly meditational mode of perception” in audiences, partly code for saying most everyone was stoned to the gills.

Astonishingly, the Dream House is still operating, and you can experience it Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for a small donation. It’s still at 275 Church Street, a dream-vision of ’70s NYC music culture trapped in amber. More information here

One Response to “La Monte Young and the Theatre of Eternal Music”

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