Sound American 19:
The PLACE ISSUE
From The Editor
David Dunn (L) with Kenneth Gaburo
San Diego, 1979
Photo by Ellen Band
I first met David Dunn on June 22, 2010. In my youthful exuberance, with a healthy amount of naivete and arrogance, I had set about presenting a live roundtable discussion on the legacy of composer Kenneth Gaburo for Nick Hallett and Zach Layton’s New York “Darmstadt” series at Issue Project Room. I had fantasies of unlocking the rich world of Gaburo's interplay of linguistics, composition, the body, and publishing for my peers, and being culturally rewarded for my unearthing of a lost American hero. My fanboy love of Gaburo’s music and philosophy was immediately tempered, however, by the level of intimidating intellect I would be pretending to control and manipulate for the good of the audience: Larry Polansky, Chris Mann, Warren Burt (via Skype), and David Dunn.
While I don’t remember much about how the evening unfolded, other than a few magical moments of old footage of Gaburo performing a Beckett-esque solo work and once-in-a-lifetime chances to hear Mann and Burt perform, I do recall the erudition and kindness of all the participants, especially Larry Polansky, as the evening progressed, and my limited knowledge of the topic at hand hit a wall.
And, I remember the specific calm presence of David Dunn.
In this issue, there are intimations of Dunn the explorer; Dunn the prophet; Dunn the technological mystic, ecologist, writer, thinker, and iconoclast. In my short time with him, it is easy to cast him in any and all of those lights, though he showed the kind of confidence that doesn’t need to illuminate itself.
After that evening I immersed myself in the music of the participants and, thanks to Polansky and Lingua Press, their intersections with Gaburo. Luckily, I found myself in an office where recordings and scores of their works were close at hand, and this study did more to change the way I think musically than anything before or since. I had heard rumors of Dunn’s seven-hour environmental piece, PLACE, around this period, and much of my free time was spent trying to find apocrypha, writings, or a recording of the work; the holy grail. Since PLACE had never been performed, my hope of finding documentation was ephemeral, and my quest was eventually forgotten as living life in New York continued its hegemony over all things cerebral or artistic.
However, there are those, like Colin Tucker, Ethan Hayden, and their Buffalo-based Null Point collective for experimental music, that aren’t as easily swayed. Luckily for us all, they not only sought more information on PLACE, but had took it upon themselves to create two realizations of the work, at Silo City and Artpark spaces, both in the Buffalo area. Both realizations were heavily documented and, in late 2017 Tucker wrote and proposed a guest curatorship of Sound American to talk about their performances or and scholarship around PLACE, and the woefully underappreciated legacy of David Dunn.
Although I was excited about their world-premiere realization of a piece I had been so interested in at one time, I will admit to being nervous about presenting something so conceptual in this journal. Any long-term reader of Sound American will know that it has always been our attempt to present music, for better or worse, in plain-language in order to demystify and invite the engagement of all listeners. My concern with an entire issue about David Dunn was that he may be part of a small group of composers whose work not only doesn’t benefit from this approach, but may, by the very nature of that works abstraction and innovation, subvert our ability to speak in simple terms.
I am writing this introduction just as the last page has been formatted, double and triple checked, and a short prayer has been given forth that the internet trolls will forgive for tired eyes. And, I can say with complete certainty that what Colin, Ethan, David, Madison, Eddie, Jennie, and all the participants in their performance and this issue prove my worries to be unfounded. They have not subsumed their passion for the music of David Dunn, in the rigorous terminology they use to describe it. Their erudition is couched in the genuine excitement of being the first to perform a work of high concept and profound consequence—musically and otherwise. The amount of their verbiage—and there is an amount—is commensurate to the depth of Dunn’s work, and there is no more fitting tribute to one of America’s great living iconoclasts than what proceeds from this point on.
Nate Wooley, Editor-in-Chief
No opening to an issue would be complete without some housekeeping. I will keep it brief.
First, this issue is absolutely full to exploding with text, streaming video, streaming music, and photos. We've done our best to contain all this material, as it adds multiple dimensions to the experience of David Dunn's PLACE, while keeping the bandwidth that requires small. However, there may be a page or two that requires a little extra time to heft its girth onto your screen. Please be patient. Get a coffee while it loads. It will be worth it. In that same sense, this issue is best experienced on a desktop or laptop computer. No matter how much you want to use your phone, you will be dissatisfied with the experience.
Second, Sound American is always working to have more resources to do more issues like this, and we need your help! Signing up for a subscription or purchasing something from our store puts money right back into these issues, allowing us to pay the participants a meager fee for their incredible work. Our second book of past issues is being released concurrently with this issue and I suggest that as a lovely way to help out the journal and have something nice for your commute.
Finally, thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to engage with the journal and with Sound American as an engine for bringing contemporary music to people in a plain, no-nonsense format. It is the energy given by the readers that allows SA to continue.