Artist's View: The Music of Daniel Lentz
by TAKAMI Kazuki (buyer, Tower Records)
Daniel LENTZ is an American composer who first visited Japan in 1991 as part of the "Interlink" concert series. His unique works allow the listener to hear the process used in creating a piece by using a multi-track recorder during his live performances. In this issue, with TAKAMI Kazuki as interviewer, Lentz discusses his musical views and plans for the future as part of an event that was presented at Tower Records Shibuya this past April 8.
Recently, minimal music has once again become popular, if only within the framework of the packaged music format. As a means of reactivating the New Age market, which has already leveled out, or with the aim of producing hits along the lines of PÄRT, GÓRECKI or Gregorian chant, there has been a steady stream of new recordings and re-releases by GLASS, ADAMS, and of course, REICH over the last two years. Along with well-established labels like Nonesuch, ECM, and New Albion, and releases from new labels like Point Music and Argo (responsible for the Nyman boom) that have appeared over the last two or three years, it is not an overstatement to say that record stores are filled with the new releases by minimal music artists, new as well as veteran, every month. In the midst of all this activity, is an artist who for the first time in a long time has released a new recording, Daniel LENTZ.
According to Lentz, "There is beautiful music and there is ugly music. To me, music that is important is not pretty but beautiful." But for a long time, Missa Umbrarum, an album of his compositions from the 70's, was the most familiar (and sole) link between Lentz's words and his music. "Until now, I didn't have much interest in packaging and distributing my work. From now on, I'm planning to pay a little more attention to this kind of thing." And true to his word, following the release of b.e. comings, a collection of pieces written at about the same time as The Crack in the Bell (Angel--out of print), on February 25 by Fontec, an album of his latest music, a collaboration with Harold BUDD of works written to accompany texts by Beat poets, is scheduled to be released (on Crepuscule) at about the time this article is published. Since moving to Arizona from California, Lentz says, "I'm getting a darker, more adult sound; it's desert music," and I had been looking forward to hearing it for myself. Unfortunately, during his recent visit to Japan he didn't play any concerts, so it's impossible to know for sure what kind of music he is currently making. Despite Lentz's image having been frozen in time by impressions from his 1991 tour of Japan and that one album, he explains, "Along with my life and my environment, my music naturally also changes." I took advantage of his recent visit, upon the release of his new work, to ask him a variety of questions and get a clearer image of Lentz. The following is from a talk event that I arranged at the Tower Records store in Shibuya, Tokyo.
First of all, I asked about the group that he was most active with during the 60's, California Time Machine. "In that group, the important thing was, as the name says, 'time' rather than sound. We did conceptual performances that were extreme in a political sense. For example, one of the most representative was a performance where we read all of the names of the soldiers who had been killed in the war in Vietnam. Of course, reading all of those names took a few days, and we started by reading the name of a friend of mine who had been killed. After that, we read the names of people who weren't real Americans--since America is made up of some many different races--people who had moved here from other countries and died in the war. Finally, we finished with the names of Vietnamese Americans who were killed in action. This is the kind of thing we would do." After these activities, in the 70's, he formed what became the forerunner of The Daniel Lentz Group, a group called San Andreas Fault. "That was a group that had eight vocalists and me as the conductor. We did a European tour that was a big success." The Missa Umbrarum album released by New Albion documents the group's repertoire. The four vocal pieces on the album were written in the form of traditional masses, using wine glasses as accompaniment. They are excellent compositions that include the memorable performance method of controlling the pitch of the glasses by drinking the wine little by little. It was from this time that voice began to be an essential element in Lentz's work.
What was it about the voice that attracted him? "That was because the voice is the only instrument that can deal with words. Excluding, of course, sampling machines. And to write vocal works, words are important, and I think the mass form using Latin texts was ideal because it is the most natural way of handling voice and words." It was around this time that the Cascade Echo System, a system that would become very important in constructing his music, first appeared.
The system was vital in actually developing the idea of time, something he had long had a strong interest in, in his work. It gave a concrete form to his vision, "Unlike my interests during the California Time Machine era, I designed the system to be used with an analog tape delay system as a method of manipulating time. Aside from the technical part of it, I started out by making the pieces very simple, and through the use of the system, they developed into something much more complex by adding temporal meaning." Although I wasn't able to ask him in detail, it seems likely that his ideas about time at the time were based on the ideas found in STOCKHAUSEN's piece, "Gruppen," written for three orchestras. (Some time prior to this, he apparently wrote a thesis on "Gruppen.") The Daniel Lentz Group was formed after this period.
"b.e. comings," the piece that was newly recorded recently, was composed using the same methods as the compositions on The Crack in the Bell. The old analog tape delay system has been exchanged for a digital multi-track recording system, but the simple intervals of octaves and fifths and the rhythm that seems to connect points on a line bear a slight resemblance to Terry RILEY's "In C." "I cut the words out of the sentences and reconstructed them using the echo system," Lentz explains. It is music in which great importance is placed on the changes that take place as it progresses. And music in which the sound and meaning of once broken down words begin to surface, and through this process, develops toward an even richer concept of time in the form of creation. On the album, the last sounds of the composition are presented as a device to make it easier to follow the live version that was recorded for the second half of the album, "For the people who can't wait until the end." Compared to the pieces from the 70's on this album, many of the pieces from the 80's have a sketchier style, which may partly be because the system for making sound has changed from vector changing to bit mapping. The revised version of "Wolf Mass," which was composed from 1986 to 1987, has at last been completed, and my talk with Lentz ended as we watched a video of it being performed in Czechoslovakia. It is a symbol of how active The Daniel Lentz Group was in the 80's, and is extremely well-made. Lentz directed not only the music, but also the visuals, and I was encouraged when he enthusiastically mentioned his great interest in doing more activities of this kind. At the end, he said, "I've written a fairly large-scale choral work, and I'd really like to perform it in Japan," and slyly added, "Actually, I'm in the middle of negotiating with a choral group." I have no idea which group that might be, but we can only hope that the project will be realized.
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