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Classical Music; The appeal of an iconoclast
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Series & special reports; Personal profiles; Composers
Author: Soltes, Eva
Date: May 14, 2006
Start Page: E.40
Section: Sunday Calendar; Part E; Calendar Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

In 1961, his life shifted when he received a Rockefeller grant to go to Asia. This was when his eyes were opened to Korean court music. On his return, he started constructing his own stringed instruments after an Asian model. In 1967, craftsman and musician William Colvig arrived on the scene; he was a perfect companion for Lou because he took over the constructing of instruments that Lou was eager to compose for. Lou often said, "If I hear a kind of music that I like, then I want to do it. Me too!"

The only music that was a total pleasure for Lou to compose was for gamelan, in particular the kind from the region of Java, where the slow-paced music creates wafting melodies punctuated by a deep gong. Lou loved this tradition of music that respected instrument- making. In an Indonesian gamelan, all the instruments are made by one maker and tuned by one maker. The instruments remain with a village while the players come and go. This is unlike a Western orchestra, whose instruments come together for the unmusical reason that the players happen to own them. The tuning of instruments was a primary concern for Lou. He didn't subscribe to the Western music scale of 12-tone equal temperament. He considered this tuning out of tune.

I was with Lou and [Bill Colvig] a number of times when the "American Gamelan" instruments were to be used for a performance. It was such a complicated process getting them put together and voiced. Bill's style of instrument-making was very precise musically but a little bit funky on the craft side. Yet Lou's ear was so refined that he heard the tiniest little buzzes, which Bill then had to chase down and somehow stop. Bill would argue with Lou, "Nobody is going to hear that buzz," and Lou would reply, "I'm an artist," and Bill in a resigned voice would answer, "I know doing things the right way has gotten you where you are -- you don't have to tell me that again." But it was true: Once Lou was done tuning and voicing a set of instruments, it sounded like heaven.

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