Koston's Distant Intervals
What Beckett Taught Me About Dina Koston's Music
The recent Koston celebrations at the Library of Congress provoked some very positive and warm responses to Koston's muisc. I was delighted to find that. I was sad, but not so surprised to find that the praise was not unanimous.
Koston's *Distant Intervals* was presented as a musical reflection of Beckett's Ohio Impromptu. That turns it around a bit too much. Really, Koston deserves to have us look at the relationship the other way around-- how might the Beckett play help us understand Distant Intervals? Distant Intervals really cannot be taken as a mirror of the play at all. It hardly even asks that we do so. No doubt, she sent me the volume of Beckett plays and told me to read Ohio Impromptu. There is a connection, for sure. The musical work should not be judged by how overt that connection is, or certtainly not by how faithful the work is to the Beckett play.
Before the performance I explained to everyone my instinct that it is in the quiet spaces between the loud and upsetting "walls of sound" where we can find Dina's authentic voice. After digesting the pair of Koston events (March 7 and 8 at the Library of Congress) and sleeping on it for several weeks, I see those Varese-like walls of sound serving a poetic purpose.
In Ohio Impromptu we see a man and his doppelganger. The man is reading, making explicit certain realities. The doppelganger, through his knocking on the table, stops and starts the reading as necessary, stopping to take time to digest, to come to terms?
Those walls of sound loom large in Distant Intervals. We all struggle with them. One mistake I see people making--they assume that Dina's not struggling with them. The walls of sound are some hard realities, and in the cracks between those immutable realities we find the individual, the voice, Koston's authentic voice, uttering some equisitely beautiful phrases.
I have always felt Dina was onto something. I understand her music better now. Having more thoroughlly digested *Distant Intervals*, I can go back to other of her works. Remember her first work came after a 30-year silence. (She stopped composing while running TCP.) That first work was *In Memory of Jeannette Walters*. Death started her creative streak, and her own death ended it, even serving as the subject matter.
I have always told stories about music. As a player it is easier, through that strong visceral involvement, but even when I am not participating as a player, the dialogue with a work is a creative effort. In Dina's case she loses a people because she doesn't shy away from being unpleasant. (This was a theme in discussions of Dina as a person as well.) People don't make the creative effort if they are pushed away with loud, unsettling harmonies.
A few general notes about Koston's work - she can sound like a Boulanger student (which she was) when the octotonic scale starts to to dominate, but it is remarkable how well she keeps the 8-note scale from dominating. As an improviser (she writes what she hears), it is a feat to avoid falling into traps like the octotonic soundworld. She has her habits, no doubt, but one of her good habits is balancing the minor third cycle with other things, and it's remarkable that she does that intuitively. This implies a harmonic dynamism throughout--*distinct* distant intervals.
Her harmonic rhythm is always very ruminative. That limits our ability to stay with her for more than one or two works. Best to program her music with other faster music.