Interview with Peter Thoegersen

I didn’t believe that there are still innovators in music but Peter is one of them! I’m very glad to know him and he’s one of the people whom I have frequent communication fortunately! I discovered him on Facebook, in the group Xenharmonic Alliance (if I remember well) few years ago. He has a PhD on Polytempic polymicrotonality! For more info, read his great manifesto here and listen to his music here. I knew from the beginning that this interview would be good and I appreciate that he spent some time to give me good answers!

 

1. Which was the 1st sound you heard?

My mother singing songs in the kitchen.

 

2. When did you decide that music will be your main activity?

When I was 3 years old, I would sing Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell songs, unabashedly for my family and their friends. I was a little entertainer. It must have been a hangover from my previous life, because that little boy disappeared. I was also drumming in the closet on Tupperware. But, I did not make the conscious decision to do music until I was 11 years old, when I fell in love with the drums, particularly the Hi Hats, from a Steely Dan album, the Royal Scam. I was intensely fascinated by the Hi Hats.

 

3. When did you begin to play drums? Did you try other instruments before that?

No. I went straight for the drums at age 11, but, I had a toy drumset at age 5, so, the drums have been fascinating me my whole life. I remember seeing a drumset in a neighbor’s room, and loving them, even then, at age 3 or 4. I felt I knew them. The drums had always fascinated me. They still do. They always will. The drumset is a new musical organism that the academic idiots and morons fail to understand.

 

4a. Do you remember when the idea of polytempic polymicrotonality came into your mind for 1st time?

Yes, I remember the precise moment: I was sitting in a graduate seminar at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, I had just done very well for my doctoral interview for becoming a candidate at the CCM. I went to go listen to Roig-Francoli lecture and I posited the question “what if each part of a string quartet were in a different tuning?”, and Roig-Francoli looked at me and said “that is just ridiculous”.

4b. Tell me one work of yours which is the most representative of your innovation.

String Quartet #3, in 12, 13, 14, and 15 tet composed in 2013, and input into Finale in 2016.

 

5. Do you regret that you studied music at a university?

NO! Absolutely not! It was a needed and necessary experience for me. I am a fundamentalist, at heart, and I believe in a proper classical foundation, hard work, and deep study. I needed to learn all the mechanics of all styles of European music, into today, including computer music and electroacoustic music. I needed to study scores in the library at UIUC, which has one of the best music libraries in the country.

It’s the academic personalities themselves and their priorities and politics that I became disenchanted by. I became aware of the need to maintain the status quo, and accessibility and cost effectiveness as the main focus of academic music. Everything was geared towards a downward collapse of a once huge and expansive art form. The “sweet spot” was considered something slightly complex, but could be sight read and minimally rehearsed. Microtones were still not taught, nor incorporated for theory or ear training. Polyrhythms and polytempo were still never discussed,

because it was impractical and not cost effective. All music that required intense practice and rehearsal was ignored and avoided. This is what I mean by “cost effectiveness”, in that any, or all, adventurous works by doctorate students would be relegated to the back of the library, collecting dust.

The awards process would inevitably reward the most compromised music, faking all attempts at originality, with lots of rests, and a litany of extended techniques. When the percussionist, who always stands, btw, whips out a string bow, and is about to “bow a cymbal”, be prepared, you will be witnessing ACADEMIC MEDIOCRITY in action, and it will undoubtedly win a Guggenheim…

The awards process is only for professors to keep appointments, tenure, and make money. It’s purely a survival mechanism, and does absolutely nothing for the pushing of art music boundaries. But I speak only for acoustic composition. Computer music is still an entirely different arena.

 

6. What would you do if capitalism and money stopped existing?

I would jump for joy!!! It is the whole reason for mediocrity. Marx predicted that capitalism would eventually cave in on itself with a huge pile of unsold and unsalable commodities, because all the capital would be in the hands of two or three assholes, while the world starved to death in the streets. Trump is promising to fulfill this promise of capitalism’s absurd extremes. I think we need to transfer, or transmogrify the whole economic system into a system of informational exchange. The value of knowledge is sheer raw, naked, power. Greece, your country, would be instantaneously out of debt, and these draconian austerity measures would be reversed, since you guys gave us Plato, Socrates, Sophocles, Euclid, Herodotus, Myths, Philosophy, Logic, Drama, Architecture, etc. Money and debt now are all binary numbers on a computer, anyway…money has no intrinsic value and it’s a waste of cotton, too. When we start doing business with aliens, will they really acknowledge dollars? NO. They will want information without having to abduct us and extract our genetics for their own database. But information needs to be free for all, and a Utopian society, up until now, has been impossible.

 

7. Tell me some of your fave bands/composers/musicians, painters, writers etc.

King Crimson, Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Ives, Nancarrow, Jean Etienne Marie, Bach, Stockhausen, Carter, Carrillo, Wyschnegradsky, Vinnie Colaiuta, Huun Huur Tuu, Ben Johnston, Johnny Reinhard, Lore Lixenberg, Sorabji, Ferneyhough, Berio, Varese, Bartok, Webern, Berg, Chopin, Josquin Deprez, Machaut, Aristoxenus, Xenakis, Cage, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rembrandt, Leonardo, Munch, Agnes Martin, Burroughs, Bukowski, Henry Miller, Faulkner, Yeats, Blake, Dylan Thomas, Hunter Thompson, Kubrick, Peter Sellers.

 

8. What’s your opinion about John Cage?

John Cage is fascinating because he had no ego. His depiction of his encounter with Schoenberg left me irate the first time I read about it. To arrogantly tell someone that they have “no feeling for harmony”, as Schoenberg told Cage, has got to be, under normal circumstances, a blasphemous and debilitating thing to tell someone in the infancy of their career. In this case, Schoenberg, more or less, backfired, and helped motivate one of the greatest musical minds in all of music history. Needless to say, Schoenberg is also one of the greatest musical minds in all of history, as well…nevertheless

Cage opened up the metaphysical and epistemological questions about what constitutes music, and how do we know it as music(?). Cage, also, spotted the role of the composer in 20th century

composition as diminishing, and the burgeoning role of “procedure,” or “process,” as paramount, thus putting an art form of time based emotional and evocative sounds on par with the rigorous acumen of science and its experimental and pragmatic methods. Cage had dehumanized the human composer and assigned him the role of a “bon chance, de rigueur”, which still stands today, as indeterminacy.

Therefore, Cage, in his philosophy of music as “purposeless play”, highlighted the future academic compositional conundrum in a nutshell! The whole idea of “process”, btw, this reminds me of Kafka’s “Der Prozess”, which is actually “The Trial”, in English, which, frankly serves as the perfect metaphor for academia, as these clandestine, bumbling, fumbling agents, like Willem and Franz, from the novel, who come to arrest Joseph K. for a crime he had no idea of what, in a court of no name, with no charges…and of law and order in art, or academia. because Cage had put in question the composer’s “druthers”, or perhaps, FREE WILL, seen to be on Trial for no other reason than the need for a lack of communication between players…in other words, a totally random concatenation of notes, like his early experiments with 25-note tone rows (Ives?). Cage would have rejected, and did reject, the entire academic purpose, ultimately, even though he partially created it by his own innovations that actually influenced the course of serial music, itself! How ironic, that the man that unwittingly influenced the beginnings of serialism, had also rejected it in favor of chance procedures. This sounds like it was a pre-written comedy script before Cage had lived it.

FAVORITE CAGE WORKS:
Williams Mix
Cage’s first huge tape piece!! Composed with Earle Brown, who invented pictogrammatic scores.

Music of Changes
My mother introduced me to the I Ching!! So, I already knew about the I Ching way before it was discussed as a function of Cage’s musical process. I knew about Darrow sticks, or using quarters, to throw and decode the Hexagrams. I also was familiar with the concept of Jung’s Synchronicity, as a significant and meaningful a causal occurrence. So, in essence, it really IS NOT CHANCE! Hahahahah. The I Ching is an oracle; a divination book. One asks a question of the universe and the I Ching answers by way of throwing the Darrow sticks, or coins. This, is how Cage derived his new process for musical parameter choice, since it was out of fashion for composer’s to just simply CHOOSE any of their own parameters. So, is there really any difference between a computer programmed to a random choice procedure, weighted, such as a Markov Chain, or throwing coins for the I Ching?

Freeman Etudes
Are wonderfully complex pieces for solo violin, finally performed by Irvine Arditti in 1990, and are so complex, that Cage had to put them aside for 10 years. Cage, of course, used the I Ching, and I believe also star maps, as used in Etude Australis, for solo piano. Cage was not just a minimalist!

Imaginary Landscape

Sonatas and Interludes (Sonata III has the same rhythmic procedure as Constructions I, check the wiki page)

 

First Constructions I, in Metal, 1939, Cage used rhythmic patterns of numbers, which seems to have been a big influence on the thinking of Messiaen, during Cage’s visit in Darmstadt. Both Goeyvaerts and Messiaen, himself admit that Cage’s unique crisp rhythmic patterns and structure of number sequences applied to rhythm, ultimately influenced Messiaen’s invention of total serialism. The

European elite, who abhor the American Experimentalists, abjure this, totally. In fact, they also refuse to acknowledge Ives’s early experiments with tone rows, and even Cage’s early experiments with his own 25-note tone row! Cage expands on the concept: there are five sections of 4, 3, 2, 3, and 4 units respectively. Each unit contains 16 bars, and is divided the same way: 4 bars, 3 bars, 2 bars, etc. Finally, the musical content of the piece is based on sixteen motives. This influenced Messiaen greatly!!!

4’33”
This piece is totally Zen.

HPSCHD
UIUC with Jerry Hiller. 1969, for 7 harpsichords, and 52 pieces of tape recorded computer generated sounds, over a five hour period, including slides from NASA, was a fantastic multimedia enterprise far in advance of what composers now take for granted on laptops!!! 48 years ago!!!

 

9. Do you think free improv is fundamental?

Yes, absolutely. If a composer can’t play an instrument at this level, I must ask why the fuck are you composing?????

 

10. What’s your main goal in your art/life? What message do you want to send through your art?

In my paper Polytempic Polymicrotonal Music and Freedom I try to propose this new approach as the most far out polyphony possible, while still existing within the same composition. This extends from the drumset, my first instrument, where, as a youth, I attempted to become the greatest living drummer. I studied all aspects of limb independence and this eventually led to polymeters, and ultimately polytempo, as the further logical extreme of that trajectory. As I became a composer, I built on this idea of total limb independence; there are always just four parts, at different tempos, and since I am interested in microtonality, and making the musical materials as different as possible, I chose polymicrotonality.

My doctoral thesis, therefore, was the personal exploration of who had done what I wanted to do first, so as I could both claim it as my own, and see what others had done before me. I found that only Ives had done this very similar thing first, in his Universe Symphony, realized first by Larry Austin, and then Johnny Reinhard.

Ives had, in fact, employed more than three tempos, and had up to four different tuning systems within this one work, which still stands as a marvel of music, over a century later. The academics, and the European elite, as usual, don’t take it seriously, probably because the reconstructions are still in dispute by Ives scholars, and that the work itself is just so far out, that even by today’s standards, is considered impossible to perform. But, musicians today are embracing all types of microtonality, as well as polytempo. Neither of these parameters are included in standard sequencing, or notation software yet, but they will be. I did not steal this idea from Ives. I did find solace in his having thought of this, and having embarked on the writing of it, but my approach is still different than his, because I am deliberately assigning a tempo to a tuning in each part. Ives did not do that.

There will have to be a graded consonance/dissonance scale, very much like the Hindemith consonance scale, but incorporating every microtone in existence. Microtonal systems will need to be statistically compared playing in counterpoint with other systems and statistically analyzed for a distribution of consonance/dissonance.

Philosophically, I am a radical left wing pluralist communist, in a pure Marxian sense, without dictators or the Cheka, which ultimately became the KGB. Lenin really fucked up by instituting the Cheka, the military arm of communism, under the leadership of Dzerzhinsky, a crazy lunatic and the first KGB commisar. This is the false aspect of communism that went drastically out of control and became totalitarianism. Stalin brought this to its horrible conclusion by killing millions of his own people. THIS IS NOT COMMUNISM. THIS IS NOT WHAT MARX ESPOUSED. In fact we have neither Marxist, nor Adam Smith’s conceptions of either communism or capitalism. But capitalsim has reached its own final conclusion, which is the exclusion and austerity of the poor, billions of poor, as opposed to the very very few billionaires, who control all the resources. This is unjust. This is intolerable. Furthermore, today, there is a new scapegoat in the world: the muslim. He is being targeted as the new enemy for whom which we must all hate and fear. For him, there will be new camps, and possibly a new genocide. Humans just don’t learn. Therefore, I speak for plurality. Pluralism is the coexistence of disparate peoples and cultures under one roof. It’s the same as polytempic polymicrotonality, as it contains the disparate parts of its nature, just as humans must contain the disparate parts of their own nature.

 

11. What advice do you want to give to young/new musicians?

Follow your dream, but work hard. Study. Don’t take any easy way out. Practice your ass off. Study your ass off. Become great, or if not, then consider another art, or field. There are way too many composers out there today. Stand out, or drown. If they hate you or ignore, then they respect you. Avoid the status quo. Awards don’t mean shit.

 

12. Your future plan?

I believe Lore Lixenberg will sing my Facebook Cantos at Oxford in May, 2018. Johnny Reinhard and the AFMM (American Festival of Microtonal Music) will be performing at least three of my pieces in New York, in 2018. I will continue to compose polytempic polymicrotonality and get back to my drumming. I miss it. I may be old, but I can still play my ass off.

 

13. End this interview however you want.

I want to address my Facebook persona. I understand people are freaked out by my posts. I am a weird man. I do not apologize for my weirdness. But, I am not the same in person. I am mostly facetious on Facebook and I enjoy the shocked reactions and unfriendings, because I just refuse to speak about the loveliness of life and personal successes, as that, to me, is the worst type of bragging any idiot can do. Never brag about your success. That is just despicable. When people brag about their lot in life, I attack them. I usually attack them in very sarcastic and passive aggressive manners. They eventually delete me, without ever understanding why I did what I was doing: I WAS PROTESTING YOUR DECADENCE. Plain and simple.

Author: George Miskedakis

I'm a sono/artphile from Athens, Greece!

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