La Monte Young was a 20th century composer who is most well known for his very experimental set of works named Compositions 1960. The most famous, #7, is credited with being the first minimalist piece, being only two notes, a B and and F#, meant to be held for a long period of time. Other pieces instruct players to light a fire, push a piano through a wall, feed a piano a bale of hay, set some butterflies loose in a room (the piece ends when they leave), or just contain cryptic messages, like “This piece is like whirlpools in the middle of the ocean.” There’s also one about grasshoppers. Basically, these pieces challenge the very definition of music and have always been fascinating to me. I recommend you at least check out the Wikipedia page for Compositions 1960, if only to have a laugh. I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to do when I wrote the story, or passage, or whatever, below. Maybe it was a bit of a writing exercise, to see how many references I could fit in. Maybe it was a reflection on these strange pieces, or a tribute. Maybe it doesn’t really matter.
Incidental Music (A Tribute to La Monte Young)
Most of them were very old grasshoppers. Not all of them, though. Some of them were only slightly old, some of them were young. A few of them were moths.
The music moths make is a little darker than the music of butterflies. A little more minor key, although imposing a tonality on all of this is a little too far out of my range. But it is darker, and sadder, and it lasts longer, because once a moth gets into a room it doesn’t leave. It dies there. So the piece doesn’t end until the next spring clean. Butterflies, though, butterflies always find an open window. Or rather, they are usually provided with open windows.
Perhaps it would be best just to leave all the music to the grasshoppers. They know their music, especially the old ones. Most of them here are old, so their music has heart, soul, texture. Not that you or I could hear it, of course. But then, this music isn’t for the likes of you and I. We are incidental. Right now, it’s all about the grasshoppers.
Which is why I think it’s a terrible idea to put them on a piano. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it was a bad one. Not only are the grasshoppers totally unsuited to the instrument, but the piano itself is not in prime condition. It’s bony. Looks hungry too, the way it keeps opening and shutting its lid, making no noise. It needs feeding, only it won’t eat the hay. It never decides to eat the hay. I think it just needs a little push. Or perhaps we should just put it out of its misery and set it on fire.
Not that any of that matters to the grasshoppers. They’re leaving now. Fine musician, in their own way, but the problem is that they can’t follow a straight line. Can’t hold two notes for any length of time. In this world, they are completely lost, like little whirlpools out in the middle of the ocean.
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