Young, La Monte (Thornton)

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Young, La Monte (Thornton)

Young, La Monte (Thornton), American composer of the extreme avant-garde; b. Bern, Idaho, Oct. 14, 1935. He studied clarinet and saxophone with William Green in Los Angeles (1951-54); also attended Los Angeles City Coll. (1953-56) and studied counterpoint and composition privately with Leonard Stein (1955-56); was a pupil of Robert Stevenson at the Univ. of Calif. at Los Angeles (B.A., 1958); pursued further training with Seymour Shifrin and Andrew Imbrie at the Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley (1958-60) and attended the summer courses in new music in Darmstadt; subsequently studied electronic music with Richard Maxfield at the New School for Social Research in N.Y. (1960-61). In 1963 he married the artist and illustrator Marian Zazeela with whom he subsequently gave audio-visual performances in a series of “Sound/Light Environ-ments” in Europe and America. In 1970 he visited India to study Eastern philosophy and train himself physically, mentally, and vocally for cosmic awareness, gradually arriving at the realization that any human, subhuman, or inhuman activity constitutes art; in his Composition 1990 he starts a fire on the stage while releasing captive butterflies in the hall. In his attempt to overcome terrestrial limitations, he has decreed for himself a circadian period of 26 hours. He achieves timelessness by declaring, “This piece of music may play without stopping for thousands of years” Several of his works consist solely of imperious commands: ’Tush the piano to the wall; push it through the wall; keep pushing/’ or, more succinctly, “Urinate.” He ed. An Anthology of Chance Operations, Concept Art, Anti-Art, etc. (N.Y., 1963; 2nd ed., rev, 1970), which, with his own Compositions 1960, had primary influence on concept art and the Fluxus movement; his own contribution to it was a line drawn in India ink on a 3 x 5 filing card. He has contributed extensively to the study of just intonation and to the development of tuning systems based on the set of rational numbers which make up the components of his periodic composite sound waveform environments. He received a Guggenheim fellowship and a grant from the NEA. Among his ascertainable works are 5 Little Pieces for string quartet (1956); For Brass (1957); For Guitar (1958); trio for strings (1958); Poem for tables, chairs, and benches (moving furniture about; Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, Jan. 5, 1960); Arabic Numeral (any Integer) for gong or piano (1960); Studies in the Bowed Disc for gong (1963); The Well-Tuned Piano (1964); The Tortoise Droning Selected Pitches from the Holy Numbers of the 2 Black Tigers, the Green Tiger, and the Hermit (N.Y., Oct. 30, 1964); The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gong, Illuminated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot, and the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer (N.Y., Dec. 12, 1964); Map of 49’s Dream of Two Systems of 11 Sets of Galactic Intervals Ornamental Lightyears Tracery for voices, various instruments, and sine wave drones (Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 28, 1968); and The Subsequent Dreams of China (1980). Also an arbitrary number of pieces of “conceptual” music and tape recordings of his own monophonous vocalizing achieved by both inspiration and expiration so that the vocal line is maintained indefinitely; various physical exercises with or without audible sounds. His Selected Writings were publ. in Munich in 1969.


W. Mertens, American Minimal Music: L. Y., Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass (London, 1991).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire