Today’s my dad’s birthday. He left this physical world on Sept. 25 of 2015, so it’s a year of firsts now – first holidays without him, first birthdays, each one with its own meaning. I celebrate the dude. He was a brilliant and unusual man.
In his younger days, John Dinwiddie was an active composer. And only in recent years, some of his pieces have emerged on the Interwebs.
Here’s one of my favorites, “An Avalanche Of Pianos,” played by twenty-one pianists on twenty-one pianos in a Berkeley piano shop in 1971. The KPFA radio crew did an amazing job of recording this, and I’m so glad it’s available to listen to now. There’s a little background info at archive.org about this program, which was performed exactly once. After “Avalanche” is a performance by the same group of Philip Corner’s “C Major Chord”. (Note – there’s some warm-up and intro sounds at the beginning, then they get going)
Also performed live on KPFA but in 1973, this 80 minute set contains several John Dinwiddie originals, including two versions of “Quiver.” (Also hosted with some background info at archive.org)
“Quiver” involves placing glass lenses on the strings of a grand piano and tapping them, causing the lenses to quiver back and forth on the strings as gravity slowly brings them back to inertia. John and his friends used to practice this sort of thing at our home when I was very young, and I was utterly fascinated by the whole affair. I remember asking my mom, “what are they doing?” To which she replied, “they’re having a rehearsal.” Now, I didn’t know what a rehearsal was, it was not yet in my 5-year-old vocabulary. But, at that moment, I decided that I must have a “rehearsal” too! It just looked like too much fun.
They experimented with every parameter of what you can call “music.” It was at the height of John Cage’s obliteration of conventional constraints on musical notation and everything else, and my dad and his friends were in the thick of it.
Here is a picture of John at work on his piece, “Winters,” in which he hung an array of mirrors and attached a small contact microphone to each one. The audience would wander through the structure and tap at the mirrors, the sound of which was sent through some electronic filters and amplified through loudspeakers in the room. And that was the whole piece. This spectacle was, for a time, the dining room in our house.
I’m grateful and I miss the guy, but, I get the sense he’s doing something unusual and creative and fun, in some form or another, perhaps without the constraints of linear time.
Happy Birthday, Dad!