One often associates the log cabin with American pioneers and the frontier spirit. Which is just fine in the case of composer La Monte Young, whose works during the past 27 years have been on the cutting edge of the avant-garde. Appropriately enough, his first sound recollections were of the wind whistling through his log cabin home in Bern, Idaho -- sounds he still fondly recalls as "very awesome and beautiful and mysterious."
The words still apply to Young's music. In a rare appearance Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, he will offer the world premiere of "The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer" (melodic version) for four trumpets, from "The Four Dreams of China." The work, composed in 1962, was designed to allow modifications. "There are quite a number of ways of playing the piece," said Young in a recent phone interview. "The main thing, though, is that the instruments have to be capable of producing sustained tones and they have to be capable of playing perfectly in tune, in what's called 'just tuning.' " The players will improvise, mindful of certain strict rules Young has established for this performance.
Why the title? The continuous tones of telephone poles attracted Young's sensitive ears as a youth; the idea of using tones of long duration has persisted throughout his career. An accomplished saxophonist, he played "free jazz" in the '50s with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins, concocted conceptual works (one is for piano, hay bale and bucket of water; the piece ends when the piano chooses or refuses the meal), "trained" rock legend John Cale and established his own "Dream House" -- a controlled sound and light environment -- with his artist wife Marian Zazeela in New York.
Young, part mystic, but wholly realistic, is a sound explorer who never lets the past interfere with the present. "I've always tried to let intuition lead the way . . . I develop techniques and methods I know work, but it's my nature to continue to evolve."