Three decades after its composition, La Monte Young's The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer remains as radical a statement and as uniquely revelatory an experience as ever. ... Long, steady tones and protracted silences gradually efface the clock, to open up an airier, unfenced domain. Facets of sound become apparent that are usually only peripheral to conscious perception. The tones diffract (via Harmon mutes) to form a brilliant corona of partials that soon flares to dazzling intensity. In a dream, events of little apparent significance may be evocative of fathomless resonances. As The Second Dream develops, the four pitches virtually turn inside out to reveal astonishing depths of sonic phantasmagoria.
Sandy McCroskey, 1/1, 8/3, May 1994
The Second Dream, like The Well-Tuned Piano, takes music inward to a primal, elemental level, through the quieting and suspending of time brought about by long, sustained tones, but above all in the audible manifestation of universal truths that sound in his purely tuned intervals. Young's music touches deep emotional resonances in many listeners. The authentic experience of the musical creations of one of the most original and visionary composers of our time is accessible at last through these recordings.
Douglas Leedy, American Music, II/1, Spring 1993
The beauty of The Second Dream is not in the tones, or in the rests between them as in, say Ry Cooder's fretwork. It's in the intervals, the distance between simultaneous pitches, where the music surpasses the theory. Young's genius is in the way he lets the notes relate, giving them enough duration, not just to assert themselves, but to create a vast, timeless void.
Neil Strauss, L.A. Weekly, January 24, 1992
Before there was minimalism there was La Monte Young, an uncompromising composer who was known for 1) an inclination for creating complete environments for his music, sometimes occupying a whole house for his concerts, and 2) creating slowly evolving works of enormous length. His newest recorded work, The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer from The Four Dreams of China, consists entirely of four notes played drone-like by eight muted trumpets. It's a purely internal piece of music where all the action is underneath the notes, in the little variations of breath, tone and time among the performers. Imagine the musical equivalent of Mark Rothko's nearly monochromatic canvases.
Richard Kadrey, Covert Culture Handbook, 1992
Stepdown is an extraordinarily important transitional work between the sustenance of Trio for Strings and the sine-wave drones of The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys. ... The name of his ensemble [The Theatre of Eternal Music], of course, alludes to the notion of the eternal music of the spheres, which the Pythagoreans (according to Socrates in the Republic) believed was produced by the singing of a single tone by a siren atop each sphere. John Hollander notes, "In answer to the objection that no mortal had ever heard that music, it was often retorted that the constant droning of that noise deadened the ears of earthly inhabitants by custom alone, and that because it was so constant, it was inaudible." Here's your chance to raise its volume.
Edward Strickland, Fanfare, November/December 1991
...the pure intervals diffract into a psychedelic interplay of upper harmonics if you can ignore the most obvious notes and aim your ears upward. It's a game piece; intricate rules steer the (extremely slow) melodies away from the dissonant 17/12 interval (F to B) to create a dramatic, huge-scale form, as well as allowing for canons and choir alternations between trumpets. Calm your brain, exercise your ears.
Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, August 1991
At the end, the long and languid reverie by La Monte Young called The Four Dreams of China used eight trumpet players, four in each of the church's two side galleries. Layers of pitches, at first in perfect intervals, fade in and out and overlap. The players create the textures spontaneously but according to general rules of procedure. If this is music at all, it is not the kind we are used to ... I think there is a strong element of physical therapy at work. Over long stretches of time, one did feel a developing sense of calm, acceptance and corporeal well-being. Mr. Burns and his colleague, Ben Neill, are to be congratulated for their imaginative choice of music, their own fine playing and their choice of trumpet playing friends.
Bernard Holland, The New York Times, November 20, 1988
The two most memorable works [on the program] were the two most opposite: Carter's Canon for 3 ... and Young's The Melodic Version of The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer ... The Melodic Version calls, in this performance, for eight trumpets placed in the balcony surrounding the church floor. Deep red and blue spotlights placed by Marian Zazeela cast thick, soothing shadows through the space. The musicians played long single notes, mostly muted, mostly consonant but occasionally marked by slightly buzzing dissonance, for nearly an hour. The time scale shifted, as it does in minimalism. Outside sounds-- subway rumble, car horns--lost their distracting power. The gentle vibration of pitch, sustained and even, became deeply engrossing.
Peter Goodman, New York Newsday, November 14, 1988
In The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, (one of the century's great titles), [Young's] meditative lines began to flow. In this ethereal realization by eight excellent trumpet players, only four pitches were used ... their combinations carefully circumscribed to give an impression of purposeful freedom.
Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, June 9, 1987
As the acknowledged father of minimalism and guru emeritus to the British art- rock school, his [Young's] influence is pervasive. His tools are deceptively simple: long sustained tones used singly as drones, or layered to create spacious harmonies with overtones. ...The brass quartet, suspending time for seventy minutes, led the audience through a cosmos of aural delights.
Charles McCardell, Musician Magazine, February, 1986
A small, select audience at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater took a trip Wednesday evening without even leaving their seats. The panglobal music of composer La Monte Young transported them around the world in roughly 70 minutes without once breaking the sound barrier. ...Perfect intonation by all, and their ability to set up varying harmonic combinations, improvising within the context of Young's explicit directions, were what transformed a well-gauged theory into a piece whose purity of sound made one oblivious to temporal concerns.
Charles McCardell, The Washington Post, October 18, 1985
The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer from The Four Dreams of China is based on four pitches....An apparently static 'harmonic' music results--harmonic in the sense of the intervals formed not only between the basic tones but between their upper partials and the combination tones that are produced when these simple fundamental tones are dwelt on. But, as the performers develop their own sensitivity to such 'harmonies,' and to the degree that the listener does also, the music is not at all static; a strange, hypnotic, dream-like succession of delicate sound-images unfolds in shimmering, undulating procession.
Wiley Hitchcock, Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey. 1974, 1969