La Monte Young
has pioneered the concept of extended time durations in contemporary
music for over 50 years. He contributed extensively to the study of
just intonation and to the development of rational number based tuning
systems that are used in his periodic composite sound waveform
environments, as well as in many of his major performance works.
Presentations of Young's work in the U.S. and Europe, as well as his
theoretical writings, gradually influenced a group of composers to
create a static, periodic music which became known as Minimalism. Musician
magazine stated, "As the acknowledged father of minimalism and guru
emeritus to the British art-rock school, his influence is pervasive,"
and in 1985 the Los Angeles Herald Examiner wrote, " for the
past quarter of a century he has been the most influential composer in
America. Maybe in the world." In Minimalism:Origins, 1993,
Edward Strickland added, “Young is now widely recognized as the
originator of the most influential classical music style of the final
third of the twentieth century.”
In L.A. in the '50s Young played jazz saxophone, leading a group with Billy Higgins, Dennis Budimir and Don Cherry. He also played with Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Terry Jennings, Don Friedman and Tiger Echols. At Yoko Ono's studio in 1960 he was director of the first New York loft concert series. He was the editor of An Anthology (NY 1963), which with his Compositions 1960 became a primary influence on concept art and the Fluxus movement. In 1962 Young founded his group, The Theatre of Eternal Music, and embarked on The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys (1964- ), a large work involving improvisation within strict predetermined guidelines. Young played sopranino saxophone and sang with the group. Jennings, Dennis Johnson, Terry Riley, Angus MacLise, Marian Zazeela, Tony Conrad, John Cale, Jon Gibson, Jon Hassell, Lee Konitz and David Rosenboom are among those who worked in this group under Young's direction.
With Marian Zazeela in the early '60s, he formulated the concept of a Dream House, a permanent space with sound and light environments in which a work would be played continuously. Young and Zazeela have presented works in sound and light worldwide, from music and light box sculptures to large-scale environmental installations, culminating in two Dia Art Foundation realizations: the 6-year continuous 6-story Harrison Street Dream House (NYC 1979-85) and the 1-year environment (22nd Street NYC 1989-90) within which Young presented The Lower Map of The Eleven's Division in The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base) in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119 with the Theatre of Eternal Music Big Band. This 23-piece chamber orchestra was the largest Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble to appear in concert to date. Young has since presented Dream House sound environments at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009), Espace Donguy, Paris (1990); Ruine der Künste, Berlin (1992); Pompidou Center, Paris (1994-95 and 2004-2005); Musée Art Contemporain Lyon (1999) and the MELA Foundation Dream House: Seven Years of Sound and Light, which opened in New York in 1993 and has continued through present.
Young and Zazeela helped bring renowned master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath to the U.S. in 1970 and became his first Western disciples, studying with him for twenty-six years in the traditional gurukula manner of living with and serving the guru. They taught the Kirana style and performed with Pandit Pran Nath in hundreds of concerts in India, Iran, Europe and the United States and continue to perform with their group The Just Alap Raga Ensemble. In June 2002, Young was conferred the title of Khan Sahib by Ustad Hafizullah Khan Sahib, the Khalifa of the Kirana Gharana and son of Pandit Pran Nath's teacher, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib.
The 1974 Rome live world premiere of Young's magnum opus The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-73-81-present), was celebrated by a commission for him to sign the Bösendorfer piano, which remains permanently in the special tuning. Gramavision's full-length recording of the continuously evolving 5-hour-plus work has been acclaimed by critics to be "the most important and beautiful new work recorded in the 1980s," "one of the great monuments of modern culture" and "the most important piano music composed by an American since the Concord Sonata." At the 1987 MELA Foundation La Monte Young 30-Year Retrospective he played the work for a continuous 6 hours and 24 minutes.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, The Theatre of Eternal Music Brass and String Ensembles led by Ben Neill and Charles Curtis presented numerous performances in the U.S. and Europe of The Melodic Versions (1984) of The Four Dreams of China (1962), one of Young’s most important early minimal works, from which in 1991 Gramavision released a CD of The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer. In 1990 Young formed The Forever Bad Blues Band, which has performed extensively in Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy and the U.S., presenting two to three-hour continuous concerts of Young's Dorian Blues, with Young, keyboard, Jon Catler, just intonation and fretless guitar, Brad Catler, bass, Jonathan Kane, drums, and Marian Zazeela, light design. In 1993 Gramavision released the 2-CD set, La Monte Young, The Forever Bad Blues Band, Just Stompin’/Live at the Kitchen.
For La Beauté, the celebration of the Year 2000, the French government invited Young and Zazeela to create a four-month, large-scale Dream House installation featuring the continuous DVD projection of the 1987 six-hour 24-minute performance of their collaborative masterwork, The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights, set in a site-specific light environment created by Zazeela. Shown daily and visited by more than 200,000 people, the installation was headlined by L'Express: "La Monte Young: Le Son du Siècle.” From May through October 2001, Kunst im Regenbogenstadl, Polling, presented the German premiere of the DVD Dream House installation, continuing from 2002 through the present as a long-term installations with the addition in 2007 of the European premiere of an electronically generated continuous periodic composite sound waveform environment of The Magic Opening Chord from The Well-Tuned Piano. In March-April 2002, MaerzMusik Festival of the Berliner Festspiele premiered the DVD installation of The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights set in Zazeela's light design for the monumental Berlin Staatsbank. Just Dreams released the DVD of The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lights (JD002) in 2001, described by The Village Voice as "The most important piano work of the late 20th Century."
In 2003, under commission from four European organizations, Young and Zazeela created Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord in a setting of Abstract #1 from Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals with Dream Light, for solo cello, pre-recorded cello drones and light design. The full evening work was composed specifically for cellist Charles Curtis, who premiered it during 2003-04 in Paris, Dijon, Lyon, Berlin and Kunst im Regenbogenstadl Dream House. In 2005, the American avant-premiere was presented as part of the La Monte Young 70th Birthday Celebration in a three concert series at the MELA Dream House, New York. In May 2008, Curtis presented the Italian premiere at the Angelica Festival in Bologna.
In 2005, the world premiere video installation of The Just Alap Raga Ensemble performing Young's composition Raga Sundara (ektal vilampit khayal) set in Raga Yaman Kalyan was added to the long-term Regenbogenstadl Dream House. The 2005 La Monte Young 70th Birthday Celebration also included the avant-premiere perfomance at Kunst im Regenbogenstadl and the world premiere performances at MELA Foundation, New York of the Just Intonation Version (1984-2001-2005) of the Trio for Strings (1958) by The Theatre of Eternal Music String Ensemble led by Charles Curtis, as well as two concerts of the ongoing avant-premiere of Young's Raga Sundara by The Just Alap Raga Ensemble at MELA Foundation. Featuring extended alap sections and sustained vocal drones in just intonation over tamburas, The Just Alap Raga Ensemble is now Young's primary compositional and performance vehicle. He has presented annual concert series of the group at the MELA Dream House from 2002 to present, including two world premiere performances in March 2009 in the Young Zazeela Dream House sound and light environment installed at the Guggenheim Museum as part of the exhibition The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia.