I first met David Dunn on June 22, 2010. Through a cocktail of youthful exuberance, combined with a healthy amount of naivete and a splash of arrogance, I had set about presenting a roundtable discussion on the legacy of composer Kenneth Gaburo for Nick Hallett and Zach Layton’s New York “Darmstadt” series at Issue Project Room.
My fanboy love of Gaburo’s music and philosophy was immediately tempered as I realized the level of intimidating musical (and, as I was to soon discover, general) 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, in the unfolding of the evening. And, I remember the 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 had the kind of confidence that doesn’t need to illuminate itself.
Following 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 heard rumors of Dunn’s seven-hour environmental piece, PLACE, around this period, and much free time was spent trying to find apocrypha, writings, or the holy grail of a recording of the work. My quest was eventually forgotten as attention veered wildly from point to point and living life in New York continued its hegemony over all things cerebral or artistic.
Luckily for us all, there are those, like Colin Tucker, Ethan Hayden, and their Buffalo-based Null Point collective for experimental music, that aren’t as easily swayed. Tucker wrote in late 2017 and proposed a guest curatorship of Sound American to talk about 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 the journal. Any long-term reader of Sound American will know that it has always been our attempt to present music in a plain-language and demystifying way, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our detriment. The 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 its very nature, 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 have done is pitch perfect. They have not subsumed their passion for the music of David Dunn, even while being rigorous in the terminology they use to describe it. Their erudition is still couched in a genuine excitement to be the first to perform a work of high concept and profound consequence—musically and otherwise. The amount of verbiage—and there is an amount—is only 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.