Music Notes: A Newly Recorded Work for Electric Guitar by Morton Feldman

I’ve long been a fan of Morton Feldman’s unique form of minimal music. (You can read several articles about his music and writings.) I discovered today that there is a new recording of a work that Feldman composed for electric guitar in 1966, for Christian Wolff, and that had never been recorded.

Feldman possibilityMorton Feldman’s The Possibility Of A New Work For Electric Guitar iTunes Store is a brief work – especially for Feldman – at just under 5 minutes. Recorded by Seth Josel, for Mode Records, this “single” is one of two versions that Josel has recorded.

This work has a complicated history; this document by Chris Villars explains how it was created, and what happened after the manuscript was lost.

Feldman discussed the work briefly with John Cage, in on of their conversations that were broadcast on WBAI.

Morton Feldman: […] I wrote a piece for electric guitar, and I tried to overcome the fact of an electric guitar. And so Christian came over to the house and I had him try various things, very strange things and strange registers, and when it didn’t sound like an electric guitar, I wrote it down (laughs). I mean, it seemed too obvious just to write a piece for electric guitar. He plays it very beautifully, very hesitant.
John Cage: Merce Cunningham told me it was marvelously soft …
MF: Yes.
JC: … and yet it was coming through an electric sound system.
MF: Yes.
JC: And it was still very soft?
MF: Yes. It was very difficult to do (laughs).
JC: I know it would be. It must have been magnificent.
MF: I have to recopy it. I gave him the only score. I wasn’t sure about the piece. In fact, when they asked me for a piece for the program, I said, “Well, there might be a possibility of a piece for electric guitar,” and that’s what they wrote down in the program, “A Possibility of a Piece for Electric Guitar”.
JC: But it has another title now?
MF: No, I think I have to get it back and look at it and …
JC: Oh, I see.
MF: … go over it, and make, not a piece out of it, but copy it out.

It’s a brief work, but interesting. It makes one wonder what Feldman could have done with a longer work for guitar, in his later period, when many of his works are more than an hour long.