Craig Dworkin & Christian Wolff

Taking "Taking Chances"







Craig Dworkin is the author, most recently, of The Fate of Innovation: 21st Century Poetics (Roof Books) and MAPS (/ubu editions). He teaches contemporary literature at the University of Utah.

Taking "Taking Chances" is the translation of a paragraph from the eponymous essay by the composer Christian Wolff:

"The first one of us, however, who really went in for indeterminacy in performance was Feldman with those pieces written on graph paper where the range of the instrument is divided into high, middle, and low, and the performer can pick any note from the specified register. Feldman has dropped indeterminacy nowadays, and he must always have looked at it very differently from Cage. I think this interest had to do with his interest in painting."

[Cues: Writings and Conversations (Köln: MusikTexte, 1998): 66-68].

Each letter of the source text was translated either into its note name equivalent (for the first seven letters) or a quarter-note rest (for any other letter). Duration and articulation were determined by where the letter came in a word and where the word came in a sentence; the essay's punctuation determined accidentals. Dynamics are left to the performer.

The line for the bass clef was created from the second half of the essay in a similar manner, but taking the spatial distribution of letters as the basis for the score.

Christian Wolff was born in Nice France. He's lived mostly in the U.S. since 1941. He studied piano with Grete Sultan and composition, briefly, with John Cage. Though mostly self-taught as composer, the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman, David Tudor and Earle Brown have been important to him, as well as long associations with Cornelius Cardew and Frederic Rzewski. A particular feature of his music is the various freedoms it allows performers at the time of performance as well as the variable results possible for any one particular piece, for which various new notations have been invented. Underlying notions in the work are shared freedom, self-determination and democratically-spirited collaboration.

The music, currently about 170 pieces, is published by C.F. Peters, New York and much of it is recorded (including 19 solo CDs), on many labels. A number of pieces, starting in 1953, have been used and commissioned by Merce Cunningham and his dance company. Wolff has been active as a performer and as improvisor - with Takehisa Kosugi, Steve Lacey, Christian Marclay, Keith Rowe, William Winant, the group AMM, Kui Dong and Larry Polansky. His writings on music (up to 1998) are collected in "Cues: Writings and Conversations", published by MusikTexte, Cologne.

He has received awards and grants from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Ford Foundation, DAAD Berlin, the Asian Cultural Council, the Fromm Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and Meet the Composer. In 1995 he received the John Cage Award for Music from the Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts. He is a member of the Akademie der Kuenste in Berlin and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 he received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the California Institute of the Arts. Academically trained as a classicist, Wolff taught classics at Harvard from 1963 to 1970 and was professor of classics and music at Dartmouth College from 1971 to 1999.