Lou Harrison

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 4 10:51:17 MST 2003

Lou Harrison in Conversation with John Luther Adams (4/99)

JLA: We're in a time of extremely rapid change and growth in music, and
I remember you once observed that all good things must come to an end...
even the 20th century. We're almost there, and I wonder if now (from the
vantage point of the eve of the millennium), you might offer some
observations on what you feel have been some of the most significant
musical developments of the 20th century.

LH: Well, it's been a long century, for one thing. And Bill [Colvig] and
I were just thinking the other day (he's 82 now, and I'm going to be
next month) that it's extraordinary what's happened during our lifetime.
We both remembered hearing the first crystal sets on our block. Now both
of our names are on Mars, and that's quite a trajectory from 82 years.
We also figured out that during the past 30 years, the population of the
Earth has doubled, and we wondered what had happened in the 50 years
before our lifetime. Well, it doubled then. So it has had two big
doublings since we were born, and that's quite a lot. And what that
means is there are that many more composers and that many more ideas,
which makes a happy riot of a party, making it ever more fascinating.

Because of that, plus advances in technology, we are in communication
all around the planet, which means that we have musical facilities and
ideas which would not have occurred to us before. And now they're right
here in our laps, which is a very good thing. I think Henry Cowell was
right: in order to be a 20th-century composer, or even a future one, you
have to know at least one other culture well, other than the one you
were raised in. So it's not enough to know just European tradition, or
those raised in that tradition, or the Japanese tradition, or whatever.
And I think that's very good advice.

JLA: Certainly a uniquely 20th-century perspective.

LH: Well, to a degree. One does remember, of course, that there were
exchanges between the Ottoman Empire and Europeans. After all, they told
the people that Mozart wrote Turkish marches. Why? Because the advanced
part of the Ottoman Empire was at the gates of Vienna.

JLA: I guess it's deep within human nature that we are basically
inquisitive and acculturating animals. But it is unprecedented that just
in the past 50 years, for the first time, we have had the entire world,
and the entire history of human cultures at our fingertips.

LH: Yes, and almost all of it! Of course, new discoveries are happening
all the time, and they're utterly fascinating. Theology and archaeology
are showing us so much and I absorb as much as I can. Of course, it has
dangers, too. We get more dangerous as we accumulate knowledge, and
that's both a sadness and something to control, try to learn to live
with, make terms with.

JLA: So, relativity, quantum physics, the science of ecology, mass media
electronic technology, two World Wars, all of these things in the mix in
the 20th century...?

LH: They do affect us. And I think one of the major items has been the
discovery that we can, and indeed are, destroying the planet. That's
quite a problem. I'm a terrible pessimist... I really don't think we're
going to make it. But every so often, there's some little ray of hope.
Have you read, for example, about the Colombian village Gaviotas? Isn't
that amazing?

JLA: It is indeed.

LH: It's just astonishing to realize that in a country that is most
difficult in terms of militaries, paramilitaries, governments, deaths
and murders, etc., there is a little village which no one will touch
because it's done things right! It's as though some country (I've always
thought we could do it) just simply totally disarmed and said: "Here we
are, come look!" But there they are, totally disarmed, no one touches
them, and they've developed all sorts of useful things for us around the
planet. It's astonishing and amazing to realize that some people have
got it right. It almost brings tears to my eyes to realize that.
Particularly to someone who is so old and grounded in pessimism.

JLA: Well, so perhaps there is hope, after all.

LH: Yes, there is. Let's hope that there's hope!

full interview:


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