Alexander Keefe seminar talk at AUB will focus on La Monte Young’s relationship with India, Indian music and especially Pandit Pran Nath, whom the composer accepted as his spiritual and musical guru in 1970. For Young, “guruji” presented a powerful model for emulation: both improviser and composer, singer and yogi, disciple and master. In him, Young heard a sound that stretched back through the ancient Vedas into prehistory and cosomogony. He also heard the future: for himself and his music.
Keefe starts with John Cage’s early engagement with Indian aesthetics and first visit to India in 1964 with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Cage kept Indian music at a distance, borrowing philosophical ideas from books while avoiding direct contact. La Monte Young, who first visited India with Marian Zazeela and Terry Riley in 1971, could not present a sharper contrast, or one more indicative of the generational chasm separating the two composers. Cage’s India had been one of concert halls, cocktail parties and Corbusiers; Young’s was one of small-town temples, cave-dwelling ascetics, daily practice and spiritual pilgrimage. His formal initiation as disciple carried with it obligations, not only to a living guru, but to a hallowed chain of past masters, as well as to imagined futures — and eternities.
Alexander Keefe is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has appeared in Bidoun, East of Borneo and Artforum, among others. Keefe did graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian studies at Harvard University and later taught as an assistant professor at Ohio University. A 2010 grantee of the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program, he has also received a Fulbright for research in India and currently holds the Inaugural Alan Erasmus Fellowship in Unpopular Culture at NYU’s Colloquium for Unpopular Culture.
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