My initial interest in modern classical originally centered around three people: John Cage, Charles Ives and Edgard Varèse. Since then, I’ve pretty much lost all interest in Cage, mainly due to his experiments with chance music. Chance music, different from free improv, is dull to my ears because it takes the creative process away from not only the composer, but the performer as well. However, I still have a huge interest in Ives and Varèse. I’ve already done an entry about an Ives piece, now it’s Varèse’s turn. Varèse is probably known best for “Poème électronique”, my first exposure to electronic music as classical composition, but the majority of his works are for ‘acoustic’ ensembles.
For the record, “Ionisation” is not chance music, nor is it improvisation. No way, bro, this is straight up scored for 13 percussionists. I feel it’s necessary to point that out, given the sometimes well-deserved reputation avant-garde music has for disrespecting established rules - even something fundamental like 'notes go on staff paper.' I won’t give you a full list of instruments used, but they span both traditional and non-traditional orchestral instrumentation. All sorts of non-standard percussive sounds can be heard.
Also notable about this piece is that it’s cited by Frank Zappa as the initial inspiration for him to pursue music as a career. Zappa even convinced his mother to let him call Varèse as a fifteenth birthday present. Varèse was not at home and Zappa wound up talking to with Varèse's wife instead, but obviously that was no deterrent. Zappa albums such as Uncle Meat and even Jazz From Hell show a strong Varèse influence with regard to how sound is organized and the embracement of modern technology to enhance the composition process.
The editing of this video makes it fun to watch, though reading through the comments leads me to believe that some of the instruments are not exactly as Varèse intended. (Wait, why am I wasting time reading YouTube comments?)
The reference to a lack of time in paragraph one is prescient. Now that I'm in grad school, time becomes an ever-more-precious commodity. I will try to update regularly and keep adding new songs, but I ask for understanding should entries occur at a less frequent pace.