rare and forgotten experimental music

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Frederic Rzewski - Coming Together

Rzewski's "Coming Together" is unquestionably one of the great Minimalist masterpieces, and this first recording of it is absolutely incredibly amazing. It's ridiculous that it's never been re-released.

"Coming Together" is an extremely simple piece. It's really nothing more than a short text read over a repetitive, fast sequence, much of which is played in unison. But the overall effect it creates is of a very slow build up of tension to an incredible climax after 19 minutes.

The text comes from a letter written by Sam Melville, who was an inmate at Attica prison, and was one of the leaders of the 1971 Attica riots, where Melville was killed.

The music starts with the piano playing fast rhythmic notes while most of the other instruments playing longer tones over this foundation. Gradually the other instruments start to play faster until they're all playing in a fast, tense unison.

The lineup on this recording is pretty amazing. Rzewski himself plays piano. Jon Gibson, who has worked with the big four minimalist composers (Young, Riley, Reich and Glass) as well as being an excellent composer himself, plays alto sax. Composer Alvin Curran, also of Rzewski's MEV group, plays synthesizer. Garrett List, whose beautiful LP Your Own Self will probably be the next thing I'll feature on this blog, plays trombone. Karl Berger play vibes, and has played on some classic ESP jazz recordings as well aso working with Don Cherry. Violist Joan Kalisch has played on recordings by Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, and Richard Youngstein has worked with Paul Bley. The reading is done by stage actor Steve Ben Israel, who was a member of New York's Living Theatre.

The other pieces on the album are "Attica" and "Les Moutons de Panurge". "Attica" has the same lineup as "Coming Together", though Curran plays piccolo trumpet rather than synth, and is sort of a companion piece, with the text coming from a quote from former Attica prison inmate Richard X. Clark. It's much slower, calmer and droning than "Coming Together".

"Les Moutons de Panurge" is a classic piece of process music, whereby the performers are supposed to play a very long melodic line through a process of adding one note at a time (playing the first note, then the first and second notes, and so on). The interesting bit of the piece comes in the instruction that if the performers forget where they are in the piece (which should happen pretty easily), they are to continue playing but not try to find their way back together again. The piece is played here by the Blackearth Percussion Group.

This LP was recorded in 1973 and released on the excellent Opus One records - all the covers of LPs on the label were meant to respond to black light! Trippy.


Blacklodge said...

Thank you so much, truly moving...

jr said...

Thank you very much, dear Aaron.

I hope you are also in an excellent physical and emotional health ;), and will promote your blog in this internet forum where you all can find many links to other versions of those and other pieces from Rzewski:


Greetings from Barcelona!!

Munnnnnph said...

after listening to the Garrett List album i got to check this one out. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

also download it here


or watch


Anonymous said...

This is really incredible. I cannot stop listening to the title track. Really amazing. Thanks a lot.

Love Letters Journal said...

Thanks for posting this, I like this musician so you're doing me a favour.

Mike said...

I grabbed this from this blog because I thought it sounded interesting; several listens later, "Coming Together" is now probably one of my favorite pieces of music ever. So, thank you.

BTW, were you informed that this post was adapted into an UbuWeb page? http://www.ubu.com/sound/rzewski.html

Aaron said...

Mike -
I wasn't aware of the Ubuweb page.. Thanks for telling me about that.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard the version with the narration by rapper Mos Def, which was just posted on YouTube?

Aaron said...

Dang, I was not aware of that Mos Def version. Amazing. Solid performance, too.

yossarian said...

I have long been a great fan of Coming together but have always wondered what the title actually means... Could anyone answer this question (which, I think, ought to be pretty for a native speaker).

Does it mean anything like "being in a very close-knit in jail"?

Queso Frito said...

Huge Fan of this piece. I heard an amazing interpretation by the Talujon Orchestra of Coming Together. I would love to hear the album in its entirety but none of the links work. Can someone re upload this file to sendspace?

Jair-Rohm Parker Wells said...


Unknown said...

Chatter Albuquerque

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_A3FFFiL_0#t=1189

Unknown said...

I participated in a performance of "Coming Together" last month at the Arts& Letters Club in Toronto.
The piece really grew on me. I am often not a fan of minimalist compositions.
I think it is a very fine composition and should be performed more often .
our performance was organized by accordionist Branko Dzinovic. The narrator was accompanied by piano, accordion, Flute, Clarinet( doubling bass clarinet), Baritone Sax, and Alto Sax.

Daniel Kernohan said...

This is one of my all time favourite recordings, extraordinarily beautiful.