Interview with Charles AMIRKHANIAN

SHIMODA Nobuhisa

(Xebec staff)


When the San Francisco-based composer Charles AMIRKHANIAN visited Japan, we had the opportunity to ask him about the "Other Minds Festival," a unique festival he is a program director of. Rather than focusing on the theme of the music alone, the festival is unique for its focus on the relationships between the composers and their relationship with society. In this issue, we present the first part of our interview.

Shimoda: The name of the festival is very interesting and impressive.

Amirkhanian: When John CAGE died, there was an article in the New Yorker magazine about him. We don't know who wrote it because no one signed the article, but it said his epitaph should be that he composed music in other people's minds. Because he said music is all around us if you listen. So Jim NEWMAN, the president of Other Minds, who is himself a musician, said that would be a good name for our festival.

Shimoda: You invite composers and other artists to the festival. What kind of things do they do there?

Charles Amirkhanian

Amirkhanian: First of all, the festival is organized differently than most festivals. When the composers are invited, they come for four days to the Djerassi Program, where we have a 600-acre ranch. And they sit together each day and play music for each other. Many times these composers have never met before and the purpose of this is to help them understand each other. So when they go to San Francisco to give concerts for four nights and participate in panels discussions, there is a deeper understanding between them. In most music festivals, the composers go to the hotel, and then they rehearse the music--the entire purpose is the performance. But that sort of atmosphere can be very competitive because the composers never spend any time together talking with each other. So the purpose is not so much to give concerts but to have panel discussions on big issues in music.

Panel Discussions

Amirkhanian: For instance, we have had discussions about censorship because in America there were some senators who were saying that artists should not have money because they use profanity or they sometimes incorporate sexually explicit material. So we had a discussion about censorship. That discussion was with Laurie ANDERSON, Pauline OLIVEROS, Roger REYNOLDS, Henry BRANT, and some people from other countries like I Wayan SADRA from Indonesia and a Chinese composer, GE Gan Ru. When these composers spoke about censorship, it was really extreme. Sadra discussed how when he gave a performance of his music, army tanks came to the performance area and scared all the people away. It's illegal even to speak about love between a young man and woman in a song. And he has music which criticizes the government, but is very, very disguised. So he has been under attack by the government.

Shimoda: In Indonesia?

Amirkhanian: Yes, in Indonesia, in the countryside when he was giving a concert outside, tanks came.

So, we looked at him and thought this is real censorship. Then we looked around and Ge Gan Ru had tears coming out of his eyes. "For years," he said, "I was in a camp digging potatoes because I played a Western violin. And every night I would go at four in the morning to an abandoned barn, take out my violin and a candle, and I would play. I had an another friend who would also play." We asked who that was? He said, "The concert master of the Beijing Philharmonic, my teacher."

That's when we realized we had to make a statement. So we wrote a manifesto saying that artists should be able to do whatever they have to do without restriction. And Laurie Anderson called the UPI (United Press International), and she read it, and it was printed in all the newspapers in America.

So this is the kind of thing we would like to do when we have panel discussions.


Amirkhanian: We also have concerts in San Francisco. The concerts this year will include a piece by Lukas LIGETI, the son of George LIGETI. This piece "Groove Magic" is for 12 players. Each one with headphones, each one playing in a different tempo. We also have Frederic RZEWSKI, playing a new composition for piano, George LEWIS, and Henry KAISER. Do you know the Japanese artist YANAGI Kazunobu? He does big brush paintings.

Shimoda: He's a visual artist?

Amirkhanian: Yes. He will paint a large canvas in response to Henry Kaiser's live improvisation performance. And then we have other composers. La Monte YOUNG is coming, and some other composers from China.

Shimoda: So the participants will be coming from all over the world, and the festival will run from November 21 to 24? And that's going to be concerts and panel discussions?

Amirkhanian: Right. And before that, for four days, the composers will be meeting at the Djerassi Program. This will be the third festival. We've been having it every 18 months, but from now on we will be doing it once every 12 months.

Shimoda: So it's going to be an annual event? And you started in 1993, didn't you?

Amirkhanian: Right.

Shimoda: It sounds very unique, especially since the main focus is on the communication between the composers. Is another focus perhaps what will come out of these meetings?

Amirkhanian: You mean when the festival is over what happens with the results?

Well, we have a Web page and we publish our panel discussions. About 60 photographs can be seen from the first two festivals. And the Djerassi Web page also has a lot of photos of the Djerassi Program.

(to be continued in our next issue)

Djerassi :

Other Minds :

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