To be musically avant-garde in the 1950s meant to be difficult. Not by the end of the 1960s. That decade saw a group of American beatniks overthrow the musical givens of postwar Europe. In a series of disobediently straightforward compositions La Monte Young, Terry Jennings, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass declared that music could be clear, honest, pretty and experimental. Turning their backs on the conventional centres of musical power, the earliest minimalist works got their first public audience in La Monte Young's 1960-61 Chamber Street Series in Yoko Ono's New York loft. Through the 1960s in art galleries and alternative spaces, the minimalists slowly demystified, democratised and Americanised European modernism. They rejected the angst (what Philip Glass would call "crazy creepy music"). They rejected the invisible games. They rejected the theatricality. "I don't know any secrets of structure that you can't hear," wrote Steve Reich in his 1968 minimalist manifesto, Music as a Gradual Process. Minimalism claimed that there was enough interest in the sounding process itself and enough new territory to be explored in rhythmic patterning to sustain a work. If one removed the Baroque complications - the harmonic story-telling and thematic cleverness - that were obscuring the natural beauties of rhythm and sound, what would be revealed and discovered could provide classical music with a new lease of life. They were right. Minimalism was the last great musical revolution of the 20th century. And it became the most influential and successful ism of them all.
Manhattan in the Sixties. Every day, at the corner of 54th and Sixth, stood an imposing blind man with a druidic beard, dressed and helmeted like a Viking. Every day, he played music with home-made percussion instruments and declaimed poems. A simple eccentric or picturesque figure? No. Louis Thomas Hardin, called 'Moondog', was one of the true geniuses of his time. And even one of the geniuses of all time, prolific and visionary, capable of linking Bach, jazz and Amerindian rhythms, writing mini-symphonies, madrigals, piano pieces, highbrow makeshifts… His art? A rare treasure accessible to all, as unique as it is universal. His life? A solitary odyssey strewn with encounters – from Philip Glass to Charlie Parker (to whom he dedicated Bird’s Lament, his best-known song), and from Leonard Bernstein to Stephan Eicher. This extraordinary career ended in Germany, at the heart of this Europe where he always felt like a child in exile. As time went on, Moondog's admirers would include Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin, John Zorn, Sophie Calle, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Philippe Starck, Antony Hegarty, Riad Sattouf et al.
Katia Labèque thus presents a selection of pieces rearranged with the group Triple Sun (David Chalmin, Massimo Pupillo and Raphaël Séguinier) These performances, both free and respectful, never lose sight of the author's quest for rigor and balance and demonstrate to what degree Moondog's music is also, quite simply, an appeal to constant motion.
Immense thanks to Amaury Cornut for his precious help and research work.
13/06/2016 Le Monde « Some nights are the work of a genius. This one for the evening devoted to Moondog at the 'Nuits de Fourvière' [festival in Lyon], was to have given free rein to Katia Labèque in the second half, with the group Triple Sun.... Her version takes on its full meaning only after the evocation, as original as it is faithful and ambitious, of the first half with Ensemble Minisym of Amaury Cornut, 28, biographer (Moondog, Le Mot et le reste) and activist of operations for the centenary of the angel of the bizarre.»
KML / Deutsche Grammophon