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Feldman in review and in Huddersfield

Feldman is among the featured composers at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Tomorrow afternoon (19 November), Chris Villars is speaking about his engagement with Feldman’s music. Coinciding with this, two articles by the composer Christopher Fox have been published: a general introduction to Feldman in The Guardian, and a review article about the book in the Musical Times (autumn 2006) – online only this way.

In both his pieces, Fox is perceptive about Feldman as man and artist, and about his work. But it’s in the Musical Times that he has the space and the leisure to talk about the book as book, in a way that reviewers hardly ever do. After describing some of the physical qualities of the Morton Feldman says, he asks ‘Does this matter?’; and then supplies the answer:

For a book about Feldman I think it does. He was after all a composer who said ’I’d stop writing music unless I had a beautiful piano’; and elsewhere that ‘pitch is a gorgeous thing. If you have a feeling, a tactile feeling for the instrument’. Of course all the information in Morton Feldman says can be got from a computer screen but how much more appropriate to its subject that it should be elegantly presented on paper in a book that has a good weight in the hand.

In fact, by no means all the information in our book is on Chris Villars’s website: the Darmstadt lecture, and the interviews by Robert Ashley, Alan Beckett, Austin Clarkson; the notes to all the texts; the many photos; the chronology by Sebastian Claren; the extracts from Feldman’s scores; and – not least, by any means – the index to the book. Also the book presents the texts in a more final and definite way than they appear on the website. These interviews have been drawn from quite different kinds of source: magazines and journals, each with their own conventions of orthography, and books, with other orthographic conventions; there are transcriptions from tapes made by people with different ideas of how the job should be done. Feldman spoke slowly, in a rich Brooklyn argot, and this presented special difficulties in transcription. (It may be easier, if much less interesting, to transcribe Noel Coward.) The job of subediting in our book was to change none of the words, and yet to make the words consistent with each other; and to make the punctuation coherent and regular, and the conventions by which a pause or laughter are shown the same throughout the book. So it wasn’t just to regularize how the word ‘colour’ is spelled (‘color’?); though that was part of the task. Further, the process of subediting showed up a few mistakes and muddles in the texts – as it always does. So the texts in the book are, we hope, more correct than on the website.

Beyond the specific content it offers, Morton Feldman says is also a typical case of the virtues of print. Digital storage and digital formats will come and go, but printed pages fix words and images forever; or at least until the floods and the fires come.