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Morton Feldman - Christian Wolff in Cambridge

Morton Feldman wrote music that was very quiet, often very long and slow, and in which nothing much ever seemed to happen. He made a career out of whispering, having learned that this is the surest way to make people listen properly to your music. I think it's because he was certain of his audience's attention that he was able to get away with such sparse material.

Christian Wolff in Cambridge from 1963 is a short piece for unaccompanied choir. It's dream logic music: the way he moves from chord to chord makes perfect sense at the time, it's only afterwards that the sequence of events falls apart. It's as if Feldman, like Pauline Oliveros, is telling us that different rules apply for different types of listening.

Morton Feldman - Christian Wolff in Cambridge
(alternate download)


dream logic

I can remember the first time I listened to Feldman, a segment of his piano, violin, viola, cello played in a survey of recent chamber music. As you say, the music seemed to have its own logic, and the flow made riveting sense, though I couldn't tell you how. Additionally, though, having to listen so hard brought me into a dimension of hearing and experiencing that I'd never been in before. My sense of time slowed and took on a sense of urgency, and my experience of being in the classroom took on a very different aspect from the presence of such fragile sounds. I think a key to his music's success is not just his assurance of the listener's attention to soft dynamics, but also his way of bringing the listener's whole experience into a different space furnished by his music. Kind of like an immaterial Rothko Chapel.