LaMonte Young

The Well Tuned Piano 81 X 25 (6:17.50 - 11:18:59 PM NYC)

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The Well-Tuned Piano is La Monte Young's magnum opus, the work in which many of his theories are crystallized and laid out for the listener. It's a massive solo piano performance, lasting a little over five hours, during which Young displays virtually every combination of chords that he deems special, seguing one into another. At the end of the day, the question is: Given the formal system and obviously huge amount of time devoted to its investigation, is the resultant music beautiful enough to justify the large amount of hype accompanying the project? The first thing that strikes the listener is the sound of the piano itself, a Bosendorfer that has been tuned in just intonation. The sounds of the notes themselves are fascinating and, to Western ears, exotic enough to compel attention; one hears harmonies that sound strangely alien yet apropos. Young keeps the sustain pedal pressed almost throughout, the harmonics surrounding each chord like a cloud. The music itself, to the extent that one can dissociate it from the theory involved, is where things get a bit chancy. The themes tend to alternate between idyllic ruminations and rumbling, pulsating passages, each of which more than a bit reminiscent of the often overindulgent solo work of Keith Jarrett. The titles to the sections may impart an idea of the new age-y drift that sometimes occurs here. There's simply not a great deal of meat to it, as though Young expects that the sheer beauty of the tuning system is enough. Once one gets acclimated to it and accepts it as an alternative (and quite attractive) way to tune a piano, inevitably one comes back listening for deeper meaning and structure. And there's not much there. Indeed, there's more than a whiff of arrogance to the project, such as in the "Playback Suggestions" printed at the beginning of the large (and very informative) booklet accompanying the set. When one has found the correct volume setting, allowing the sound of the loudest sections to fill the room, it suggests that the listener "may eventually want to mark [the setting] in order to avoid adjusting the volume control as you listen." Yeah, OK. Young was a vitally important figure in the genesis of minimalism as a musical movement, and contributed numerous crucial ideas to the avant-garde from the late '50s onward. Fans of his will obviously require The Well-Tuned Piano in their collections. Newer listeners may be better served by picking up smaller-scale releases like The Four Dreams of China before making the commitment. There's certainly a danger otherwise that, after five hours of music that has more than its share of noodling, the listener might well wonder what all the fuss was about.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 30:10
2 29:07

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 34:34
2 27:21

Track Listing - Disc 3

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 33:16
2 28:00

Track Listing - Disc 4

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 29:19
2 32:59

Track Listing - Disc 5

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 29:22
2 32:27
blue highlight denotes track pick