Fireside Chat

La Monte Young

60 minsFirst aired 17 Apr 2017
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American avant-garde composer and godfather of minimal music, La Monte Young tells his fascinating life story.

In ’60s New York, La Monte Young was making the experimental underground hum. As the first post-Cage composer of significance to embrace tonality, using drones and only a few pitches to create music, his dissonant take on form has deeply influenced some of the 20th century’s most prominent American composers – even giant of minimalism Brian Eno called Young “the daddy of us all.” After growing up in Los Angeles and playing for jazz greats like Ornette Coleman in his youth, he moved to New York and befriended, worked with and influenced artists like Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Rhys Chatham, Jon Hassell and Phillip Glass in late ’50s-’60s. In forming the early genesis of minimalism, he became part of the Manhattan artistic avant-garde and participated in many Fluxus downtown loft concerts through collectives like the Theatre of Eternal Music, which fed his ideas into the rock and pop auteurs of the day – particularly with Yoko Ono and The Velvet Underground, the latter of which Young worked with closely in various machinations. What defined Young’s influence is his decades-long devotion to and exploration of the drone: in those ’60s loft rehearsals, Young and his musical peers (and students, perhaps, although they may not have realized it at the time) would tune their instruments to “the underlying drone of the city;” the constant electronic whirls and pulses of New York that seep deep into the skin.


Interview by Alan Licht
Written and produced by Frank Westerkamp

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