Sudden Music: Improvisation, Sound, Nature

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Music, said Zen patriarch Hui Neng, "is a means of rapid transformation." It takes us home to a natural world that functions outside of logic, where harmony and dissonance, tension and release work in surprising ways. Weaving memoir, travelogue, and philosophical reflection, Sudden Music presents a musical way of knowing that can closely engage us with the world and open us to its spontaneity.

Improvisation is everywhere, says David Rothenberg, and his book is a testament to its creative, surprising power. Linking in original ways the improvised in nature, composition, and instrumentation, Rothenberg touches on a wide range of music traditions, from Rob Nachman's stories to John Cage's aleatory. Writing not as a critic but as a practicing musician, Rothenberg draws on his own extensive travels to Scandinavia, India, and Nepal to describe from close observation the improvisational traditions that inform and inspire his own art.

The accompanying audio disc features eleven original compositions by Rothenberg, none of which have been previously released on CD. Included are a duet with clarinet and white-crested laughing bird, and another duet with clarinet and Samchillian TipTipTip Cheeepeeeee, an electronic computer instrument played by its inventor Leon Gruebaum. Also featured are multicultural works blending South Indian veena and Turkish g-clarinet with spoken text from the Upanishads; a piece commissioned by the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival with readings of texts by E. O. Wilson accompanied by clarinet and electronics; and improvisations based upon Tibetan Buddhist music, Japanese shakuhachi music, and the image of a black crow on white snow.
Sudden Music is a concise and delicate work of beauty. It will help all readers experience the world as a musical place, full of wonderful events that come out of nowhere to create a strange and rhythmic harmony.

Acknowledgments:

Thanks to all my teachers in music over the years: Ken Fears, Armand Ambrosini, Paul McCandless, Brian Silver, Jimmy Giuffre, Joe Maneri, and especially the late Ivan Tcherepnin, to whom this book is dedicated. He’s the first teacher I had who insisted that I follow no one’s path but my own. Thanks too to all the musicians I’ve played with: Doug Stumberger, David Smith, Matthew Nathan, Dion Sorrell, Bendik Hofseth, Graeme Boone, John Rabinowitz, Marc Carnegie, Jeff Goldberg, Eugene Friesen, Hamid Drake, Glen Moore, Leon Gruenbaum, Amit Chatterjee, Jaron Lanier, Sussan Deihim, Richard Lerman, Douglas Quin, Bill Douglass, Russ Gold, Brahim Fribgane, Mark Brooks, Geoff Gersh, John Wieczorek, and Lisa Westberg, to name but a few. Thanks to the Mesa Refuge for giving me a quiet place to finish this work, and to my agent, Kathleen Anderson, who worked so hard to get the publishing world interested. To those who have offered thoughts on the words inside my thanks as well: Evan Eisenberg, David Appelbaum, Debra Pughe, Jonathan Willard, Melissa Nelson, Oliver Lowenstein, Melita Rogelj, David Abram, Francisco Lopez, Chip Blake, Marta Ulvaeus, Jack Shoemaker, Joshua Glenn, and Rebecca Saletan, and to Barbara Ras for taking a chance on this wild and willful mix of sound and idea. Portions of this work have appeared previously in different form in Parabola, Terra Nova, Fourth Door Review, Orion, and The Best Spiritual Writing 1999, edited by Philip Zaleski. Thanks to Mikael Levin for allowing me to quote liberally from his father Meyer Levin’s book, Classic Hasidic Tales. And I’d like to thank my parents, who always wished I would become a musician and nothing else; I hope I haven’t disappointed them with the odd mix I have pursued. And thanks to my wife, Jaanika, and son, Jaan Umru, for listening and dancing along through all our days and nights together.​
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