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Kyle Eugene Gann (born November 21, 1955) is an American professor of music, critic and composer born in Dallas, Texas. As a critic for The Village Voice (from November 1986 to December 2005) and other publications he has been a supporter of progressive music including such Downtown movements as postminimalism and totalism.
As a composer his works fall generally into three categories:
- microtonal works in just intonation, involving electronics;
- rhythmically complex works for Disklavier (computer-driven acoustic piano); and
- piano and ensemble music whose rhythmic complexity tends to be milder and within a single tempo framework.
Of particular importance in most of his music is the concept of repeating loops, ostinatos, or isorhythms of different lengths going out of phase with each other; the idea leads to simultaneous layers of different, mutually prime tempo relationships in his Disklavier and electronic works, and is used in a less obvious structural way in his live-ensemble music. This concept can be traced back to suggestions in the rhythmic chapter of Henry Cowell's book New Musical Resources, but is also related here to inspirations from astrology, into which Gann was drawn by the writings of composer/astrologer Dane Rudhyar.
Another thread in his work has been the influence, both rhythmic and melodic, of Native American music, particularly that of the Hopi, Zuni, and other Southwest Pueblo tribes. Gann first learned about this music from reading a musical analysis of a Zuni buffalo dance published in the book Sonic Design by Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot. According to Gann, "It was going back and forth between different tempos: triplet, quarter, dotted quarter, and quarters. So I started collecting American Indian music. [It] solved a rhythmic problem for me, because I was really interested in music with different tempos."
Starting in 1984 with his political piece The Black Hills Belong to the Sioux, Gann adopted a method of switching between different tempos (usually between quarter-notes, dotted eighths, triplet quarters, and other values) as a more performable alternative to the simultaneous layers at contrasting tempos that he had sought earlier under Charles Ives's influence.Ironically, other composers had arrived at a similar technique via other routes, coalescing into a New York style of the 1980s and '90s called Totalism.
A common Gann strategy is to set a rhythmic process in motion and use harmony (mostly triadic or seventh-chord-based, whether microtonal or conventional) to inflect the form and focus the listener's attention. Gann's microtonal music proceeds according to Harry Partch's technique of tonality flux, linking chords through tiny (less than a half-step) increments of voice-leading. In 2000, Gann studied jazz harmony with John Esposito, and began using bebop harmony as a basis for his non-microtonal music, even in contexts not reminiscent of jazz.
Raised in a musical family, Gann began composing at the age of 13. After graduating in 1973 from Dallas' Skyline High School, he attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music where he obtained a B.Mus. in 1977 and Northwestern University, where he received his M.Mus. and D.Mus. in 1981 and 1983, respectively. At Oberlin he studied composition with Randolph Coleman and also studied Renaissance counterpoint with Greg Proctor at the University of Texas at Austin. He studied composition primarily with Ben Johnston (1984–86) and Peter Gena (1977–81), and briefly with Morton Feldman (1975). In 1981-82 he worked for the New Music America festival, and afterward gained experience as a journalist at the Chicago Reader, Tribune, Sun-Times, and New York Times. He was hired at The Village Voice in 1986, where he wrote a weekly column until 1997 and then less frequently until December, 2005. He taught part-time at Bucknell University from 1989 to 1997. Since 1997 he has taught music theory, history, and composition at Bard College in upstate New York.
Gann's books include:
- American Music in the 20th century, ISBN 0-02-864655-X
- The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, ISBN 0-521-46534-6
- Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice, ISBN 0-520-22982-7
- No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage's 4'33", ISBN 0-300-13699-4
Major musical works
- The Planets (Astrological Studies: Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) for Relâche: flute, oboe, alto saxophone, bassoon, viola, contrabass, synthesizer, and percussion (tom-toms, cymbals, and vibraphone)(1994–2008)
- Composure for four electric guitars (2008)
- Olana for vibraphone (2007)
- Kierkegaard, Walking for flute, clarinet, violin, cello (2007)
- Sunken City (Concerto for piano and winds, in homage to New Orleans) for solo piano with flute, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, three trumpets, horn, three trombones, and electric bass (2007)
- Fugitive Objects for keyboard sampler (2007)
- On Reading Emerson for piano (2006)
- Implausible Sketches for piano four hands (2006)
- my father moved through dooms of love for chorus, violin, and piano (2005-6)
- The Day Revisited for flute, clarinet, keyboard sampler, synthesizer, and fretless bass (2005)
- Unquiet Night for Disklavier (computer-driven acoustic piano) (2004)
- Scenario for female voice and soundfile/orchestra (2003-4)
- Private Dances for piano (2000/04)
- The Watermelon Cargo, microtonal chamber opera for six singers, three synthesizers, flute, fretless bass, and drummer (2002-3)
- Love Scene for string quartet (2003)
- Petty Larceny for Disklavier (computer-driven acoustic piano) (2003)
- Tango da Chiesa for Disklavier (computer-driven acoustic piano) (2003)
- Cinderella's Bad Magic, microtonal chamber opera for six singers, three synthesizers, flute, and fretless bass (2001-2)
- Transcendental Sonnets for chorus and orchestra (2001-2)
- New World Coming for solo bassoon with flute (or oboe), violin (or viola), and piano (2001)
- Hovenweep for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello (2000)
- Time Does Not Exist for piano (2000)
- "Last Chance" Sonata for clarinet and piano (1999)
- Custer and Sitting Bull for speaker, synthesizer, and soundfile (1996–99)
- The Disappearance of All Holy Things from this Once So Promising World for orchestra (1998)
- Snake Dance No. 2 for five percussionists (1994)
- Desert Sonata for piano (1994)
- Chicago Spiral for flute, clarinet, saxophone (or three flutes), violin, viola, cello, synthesizer, and drums (1990–91)
- Cyclic Aphorisms for violin and piano (1987)
- I'itoi Variations for two pianos (1985)
- Baptism for two flutes, synthesizer, and two drums (1983)
- Long Night for three pianos (1980–81)
- Max Limpag. "American Festival of Microtonal Music," (on the 27th Annual Festival) New Music Connoisseur. Undated. Retrieved Aug. 6, 2007.
- Jeff London. "An interview with Kyle Gann," Vocal Area Network, February 12, 2007. Retrieved Aug. 6, 2007.
- "On Both Sides of the Fence: Kyle Gann in conversation with Frank J. Oteri, March 1, 2010". NewMusicBox. 1 April 2009.
- "Gann, Kyle" in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music & Musicians
- "Gann, Kyle" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music
- Kyle Gann's Homepage
- Postclassic, Kyle Gann's blog
- Interview with Kyle Gann by Daniel Varela
- Making Marx in the Music: A HyperHistory of New Music and Politics by Kyle Gann © 2003 NewMusicBox
- Minimal Music, Maximal Impact by Kyle Gann © 2001 NewMusicBox
- GannAudio from Kyle Gann's Homepage