|American Contemporary Music Ensemble
Clarice Jensen, Artistic Director
and Alan Zimmerman, percussion
“[T]he obligation—the morality, if you wish—of all the arts today is to intensify, alter perceptual awareness and, hence, consciousness. Awareness and consciousness of what? Of the real material world. Of the things we see and hear and taste and touch.” —Joseph Byrd
The imaginative and carefully crafted music of Joseph Byrd (b. 1937) assumes an astonishing variety of guises: he was an integral part of the experimental arts scene in New York and Los Angeles in the 1960s and he founded the psychedelic rock band The United States of America, and its successor Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies, to name just the most salient. Byrd’s career resists easy categorization because his collective activities encompass a broader sound world than is typically admitted within the confines of a single genre. In this sense, Byrd possesses the spirit of radical exploration that has long characterized composers of the American experimental tradition. He initially moved to New York in 1960 to study with John Cage, but among the most influential of his experiences during this period were his two lessons with Morton Feldman, whose delicately floating music enchanted the young composer. The works on this recording provide a rich musical document of Byrd’s activities in New York between 1960 and 1963, when he studied with Feldman, served as an apprentice to Cage, and participated in the Fluxus group. Crafted with technical precision, all of the works were designed to explore the “singularity of sound” that was central to Byrd’s lessons with Feldman.
When Byrd’s music was performed at Carnegie Recital Hall in the spring of 1962, Eric Salzman of The New York Times described the concert as a “thimbleful of tiny sounds” that were “generally just this side of the threshold of inaudibility.” Initially, the “thimbleful of tiny sounds” assembled on this recording may not appear to anticipate the extraordinary diversity of Byrd’s subsequent work, but they reveal the key to his early studies and the foundation of his artistic development. As with much of Feldman’s music, the low dynamic levels and subtly shifting timbres and textures persuade the listener to attend to the sounds more carefully, thereby enriching the perceptual experience.