Posts Tagged ‘Available Forms’

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Lucky

August 22, 2012

A conductor who was to give the first performance of Trailing Vortices, my Fromm commission from Earle, met with me a few months before the premiere. His first comment was, ‘Your music is nothing like Earle’s’. ‘Uh, huh right should it be?’ I asked. We did not hit it off. ‘Is the selection of a composer for a commission based on if the commissioner feels you cop his style sufficiently, or on a deeper intrinsic value, something one sees or hears below the surface of the notes?’

Trailing Vortices (1986) was premiered at the Aspen Music Festival

Earle could see and hear something that goes to the core structure of sound and the potential of an individual passionate about moving the language of music forward. I have come to realise that it was not mere luck, but instead being at the right place at the right time and with the right score. The stars lined up for Earle and me. I am grateful to have known him.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375


Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Recordings

August 5, 2012

Bruno Maderna’s legendary recording of Earle Brown’s “Available Forms I (1961)” recorded in 1967

What happens when Available Forms I or II is recorded? A result somewhat like the Calder sculpture that does not move at the Hirshhorn: it takes on a fixed shape in space and time. Listening to a recording of Available Forms I or II, or to any of Earle’s open-form works, many times will elicit an unintended through-line. So, optimally the work should be performed a few times during a concert.

Here is an alternative approach to experiencing this work: with today’s computer technology, a website similar to Earle’s homepage,, could show the score and the listener could click on different sections (that had been recorded by a real orchestra or spliced from existing recordings) and thus act somewhat like a conductor telling the musicians which section to play and when.

(As of this posting on WordPress, Earle Brown’s Novara was recorded by the ensemble Alarm Will Sound. However, it was not recorded for a one-time linear experience. The various sound constellations in the score were recorded separately. These “sound objects” will ultimately be manipulated via a program allowing anyone – and not only a conductor – to “collaborate” with the musicians and composer.  An accessible graphic user interface will allow even a novice an interactive experience to shape the ordering of the piece and sculpt the sound in much the same manner one can move a Calder mobile and alter its shape.)

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Non-linear

July 29, 2012

Score excerpt from Earle Brown’s masterpiece “Available Forms II”

Compose several constellations of sound and then allow the conductor to change the order of the constellations at each performance – a brilliant idea that is at the heart of Available Forms I and II. There is no fixed ‘through-line’; it is different at each performance.

I have been deeply influenced by this approach when I compose. I create small chunks of music or phrases that can be a few measures or many in length. After composing a certain amount of these chunks, I order them in a way that I think works. This approach is not much different from the Available Forms, other than the fact that the material is fixed: I do not have a preconceived notion of an overall arc or through-line.

I would like to try writing a piece someday where the conductor can choose an order of preference, but that would necessitate many performances to assume the desired effect of variation, as in the Available Forms. At the moment, I am not that optimistic.

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Intersection

July 11, 2012

Earle Brown conducting his music

In 2007, I was asked to contribute an essay to Contemporary Music Review, a UK publication with the title “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics”. Earle had a huge influence on my work. I wrote twelve short essays called AVAILABLE RECOLLECTIONS. Here is the first one with more to come…


I met Earle Brown for the first time at the 1985 BMI awards for young composers. I was 24 and had studied his works for many years. If it had not been for Earle, I would not have been invited there. I had composed Pentateuch, a grand divisi orchestral work in quarter-tones, including three choral groups and soprano solo with strong hints of György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis. Because of its size, Earle was the only judge who took the time to open it up and understand it. ‘I had to fight for your score,’ he told me. ‘No one else wanted to look at it.’ Earle did not mind ‘rolling up his sleeves’, so to speak. It was serendipity that he was a judge that year. My life changed.

Available Recollections
Author: William Susman
Published in: Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

N.B. What I failed to mention in the original publication was that the score Pentateuch was 6 feet long and Earle told me he spread it out on the floor. The BMI judges were passing around scores and there was not enough space at the table. Back then, I copied this oversize score at a blueprint shop in Palo Alto and it could not be cheaply reduced to a manageable size as it is today.