Restocked! In 1976, Walter Zimmermann decided to travel to America to interview American composers who were important and influential to him. He did not personally know the composers, he would simply try to locate and contact them armed with his Nagra tape deck and two microphones. This journey became the book Desert Plants, a landmark both for American experimental music and for its account of a young West German composer discovering his own musical sensibility.
While several of the musicians interviewed remain less well-known or well-known only in niches, with the passage of time the music of many of those included in Desert Plants has attained a prominence that sometimes makes it hard to recall how great a challenge their music posed to the then-establishment (and, to some extent, still institutional) avant-gardes, American and European alike.
Long out of print yet always in demand, Zimmermann decided to reprint Desert Plants as a facsimile reproduction of the original: soft cover, still typeset in the original IBM Selectric typewriter font, etc. Only some typos have been corrected. The book is dedicated to Carol Byl, who at the time transcribed the tapes largely literally in order to maintain the "stream of consciousness". The cover picture was drawn by Michael von Biel.
The edition is accompanied by a CD which makes the surviving sound documents available in restored form as mp3 files, including the famous telephone conversation with La Monte Young. Thus the original voices from 1975 can be heard – a contemporary document.
Walter Zimmermann's interview partners are Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, John Cage, Philip Corner, Jim Burton, Phil Glass, Steve Reich, Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, Joan La Barbara, Pauline Oliveros, David Rosenboom, Richard Teitelbaum, Larry Austin, James Tenney, J. B. Floyd (about Conlon Nancarrow), La Monte Young, Charlemagne Palestine, Charles Morrow, Garrett List, John Mc Guire and Ben Johnston (about Harry Partch).
Here's 23 Sentences from Desert Plants:
Morton Feldman: Something that is beautiful is made in isolation.
Christian Wolff: I try wherever possible to discourage competitive sort of careerism.
John Cage: So that it takes an old fogey like myself to suggest again as Thoreau did all of his life, revolution.
Philip Corner: A lot of people hang up to restrictions which are not only in the external institutions. They are in your own mind.
Philip Glass: The quintessence of harmonic music is in cadence for me.
Steve Reich: You must love music or be a duck.
Robert Ashley: If you record a conversation with fifty people in the United States about their ideas, and if you get into each conversation really deeply, that when you get to the end, you will have one of me, one of Steve Reich, but you will have fifty of yourself.
Alvin Lucier: But when you stutter, you scan the language. You are scanning your past.
Joan La Barbara: You know, instead of trying to direct the voice, I try to let the voice direct me.
Pauline Oliveos: I’m aware of my own physiology. And then I’m hearing it as a whole, and I’m aware of the various rates that are going on, the kinds of breaks in concentration that occur and how they are corrected.
David Rosenboom: What I’m looking at really is the existence of regularly pulsing energy.
Richard Teitelbaum: I played the same synthesizer for ten years. Me and it are very close to each other.
Larry Austin: Ives’ main thing, I feel, was the concept of layering and getting us out of the idea that the sounds always had to come from the same place; that is, right in front of you.
James Tenney: I realized in writing these pieces that this was one way to avoid drama, which I’m still trying to find ways to avoid.
J. B. Floyd about Conlon Nancarrow: Somebody actually brought up what was going to happen to the piano roles after he died; and he said, “Why? Do you want one?”
La Monte Young: You can always say that you wanted La Monte Young, but it was impossible. He was so mercenary, he wanted money.
Charlemagne Palestine: I’m searching for sort of this golden sonority.
Charles Morrow: The high art itself is a form of power consciousness, that in a way one listens to the high art in the same way that one walks around being a flirt.
Garrett List: The only way for a one-world kind of feeling is where each nationality, each locality, has its own strength; so that people don’t need to have to take from another place.
Frederic Rzewski: It’s still true that most Americans care more about the price of meat than they do about the exploitation of Bolivian miners.
John Mc Guire: But sooner or later I am sure that I will return to America.
Ben Johnston about Harry Partch: He was really willing to be as direct and as simple and as corny as you like, as people are when they aren’t trying to be concert artists.