by George Grella
The program for Christian Wollf’s concert at Roulette this month has both premieres and older works. The earliest, For 1, 2 or 3 People, dates from 1964, while another, Keyboard Miscellany, is both older and newer—a collection of short keyboard pieces Wolff began making in 1997 and has been accumulating since, adding some new parts that he will be playing. That is something of a snapshot of Wolff’s work, an ongoing exploration of activity, space, notation and improvisation, built on the idea of mixing them all. (The program, as Wolff detailed in conversation, differs from that on the event page at Roulette’s website: For 1, 2 or 3 People, Percussionist 5—in a duo version for drums and percussion—Look She Said for solo bass, solo percussion piece Exercise 32, Keyboard Miscellany and Roulette.)
That has been part of Wolff’s work for decades, a balance he approached in different ways. “If it’s strictly specified, then I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get. But even there, I still leave things a little vague about dynamics and articulation and stuff like that. I think of myself as notating the music the way old music is notated, you know, Baroque, Renaissance, where there’s a whole lot of stuff they don’t specify and they have a tradition of how it should be done. And so you don’t need to write it down.”
Wolff, one of the members of the New York School of composers (alongside John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown, essential to the development of 20th Century avant garde and experimental composition), points out that his own tradition is “a little skimpier,” one that in both concept and sound has a close association with free jazz and non-idiomatic improvisation...