Notes from the Inner Ground:
An Interview with Kraig Grady
I met Kraig Grady a couple of years ago for the first time, and he mentioned to me that his interest in pursuing a decidedly different musical path came about from seeing a performance of Partch's U. S. Highball in 1976. Since then I've followed keenly Kraig's involvement with the Island of Anaphoria, and I thought it would be of interest to publish this interview done with Brian Timothy Harlan (part of an ongoing series) to show how Partch can influence an artist without necessarily creating a clone.  [JMS]
Brian Harlan
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It is a steep and convoluted path which winds up the hill to the Anaphorian Embassy. At the bottom I could already feel the South-Eastern gust which would nudge me up the initial incline. As I turned the first bend the embassy dogs greeted me warmly, and as I reached the top, an elderly woman smiled at me knowingly as she continued past in the opposite direction. I approached the building, stepping carefully around the scattered array of wood-working tools, which seemed to increase in number the more I neared the entrance. The doors were wide open. Once inside, I found a wooden interior from ceiling to floor, and in the place of the customary furniture, there were musical instruments from wall to wall. I was shown to a study in the East wing where I was served a cup of tea made with fresh mint (presumably from the garden) and I waited, somewhat impatiently, fumbling through my notes and checking my audio equipment in earnest anticipation.

Meeting Kraig was far easier than I had expected. He was open and warm, comfortable at once, yet there was even more to him than this. As our conversation deepened, I noticed more than a spark of intensity both in his eyes, and in the intonation of his voice. It was this dimension of his personality which I found most intriguing; perhaps this was the Kraig I came to speak with. I found the breadth of his musical knowledge as exciting as it was informative, and I often discovered myself asking tangential-even unrelated-questions for the sake of my own interest. I only wished that I had brought more than ninety minutes of audio tape, for many an important insight grew out of our informal chatter which preceded and succeeded the interview proper. Nevertheless, the dialogue which follows should amply provide the reader with an introduction to Kraig Grady the composer, as well as Kraig Grady the individual.

Harlan: Good afternoon Ambassador Grady, and thank you for speaking with me today.

Grady: No, no. No, I'm not an ambassador. I would have to be a citizen of Anaphoria. I just help them out.

Harlan: A sort of liaison.

Grady: Yes, I'm not an official, government type anyway.

Harlan: I see. I was hoping we could begin by discussing your venture into Anaphoria, and the influence this has had on your compositions.

Grady: Well I think that, with most of the music I have enjoyed in my life, one of the reasons that I liked it was because it created a sense of space -- almost like an imaginary landscape. With Debussy's music, for example, I can always picture a certain sort of area in which I would be standing if I were inside the music. So once I found Anaphoria, I realized that the space in which the music I wanted to do was already there. Its as if I'm in the middle of it, as opposed to it being inside of me.

Harlan: And as listeners, are we inside of it as well?

Grady: Hopefully. That's the idea, to put the listener there also.

Harlan: Do you mean in a programmatic sense, or in a visual sense, or as some sort of physical sensation that we are somehow somewhere else?

Grady: I guess I would have to call it a kind of "visionary geography"

Harlan: Is that your own term?

Grady: It might be. I'm not sure.

Harlan: All right. Now, I understand that your interest in composing began when you were a teenager.

Grady: That's right.

Harlan: Was there something that sparked your interest at this time?

Grady: Well this was in the late sixties, and there was so much good music around, which really inspired me, and I thought, "yeah, I want to write music". What's funny is that I always wanted to write music more than perform it.

Harlan: Really?

Grady: Actually, my father wanted me to become a doctor.

[We both laugh]

Harlan: Sorry, I shouldn't laugh.

Grady: That's ok, its a funny story. We were driving in the car and he says, "I don't see how you have any musical talent!". And I said, "Well that's what I'm going to do". I had a Coke bottle in my hand, and just as I said this I put the bottle down at the edge of the open window, and right as I did it went, "tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu", this really long whistle. My father cracked up and he said, "I give up". It was a small moment of fate.

Harlan: Then how did you begin composing?

Grady: I think I spent the first ten years by writing things I never finished. I would start ideas, I would go along, I would experiment with things, but I could never seem to get them to work as a solid form. So it took me ten years until I could actually finish something -- outside of a few simple pieces.

Harlan: What instruments were you writing for?

Grady: I think I was writing a lot of piano music at that point. Also during that time I was doing a lot of free improvisation, because of all those Stockhausen pieces-you know like From the Seven Days. So I organized a little ensemble and we were doing that type of stuff. We were trying to see how much music we could make without either melody or rhythm; that was our goal.

Harlan: Was it at all like free jazz?

Grady: No, it was definitely in the vein of Stockhausen. I suppose nowadays that sort of thing seems to be more associated with jazz, but not so much back then.

Harlan: Did any of your early compositions survive? You didn't burn them did you?

Grady: Just about. I think they got destroyed along the way. I'm not great on my possessions in general.

Harlan: I see. Let's talk about some of the people you studied with. What was it like to study with Byong-Kon Kim?

Grady: He was actually one of my favorite teachers; philosophically he had a lot of influence on me. He really seemed to understand what I wanted to do. He almost seemed more concerned with helping me do what I wanted to do than anything else.

Harlan: At that time did you know what you wanted to do?

Grady: At that point I was writing textural pieces-along the lines of Ligeti, and things like that.

Harlan: And before this you studied with Dean Drummond?

Grady: Yes. I had called up Subotnik because I liked what he was doing at that time, and Drummond was working, either as his copyist, or with him. Subotnik suggested that I study with Drummond based on what I was doing. Drummond really grilled me on complex rhythms; he was good for me on that level. He introduced me to subdivisions of fives and sevens, and he made me count them with different mixtures of rests.

Harlan: That sort of thing can really open up your thinking.

Grady: Right.

Harlan: Just as microtones open you up, yet in a different way.

Grady: Psychologically, if nothing else.

Harlan: So did Drummond have an interest in instruments at that time?

Grady: He only had one instrument, it was made out of automobile springs, but I think he was using it mainly for timbre. He wasn't that interested in microtones yet either.

Harlan: Did you ever talk about it with him?

Grady: No. I didn't really get into microtones until I saw a performance of U.S. Highball. I had met Erv Wilson maybe six months before that.

Harlan: Did he tell you to go to the concert?

Grady: No, he didn't .

Harlan: Did you see it in the paper?

Grady: Yeah, I just saw it in the paper. In those days it was worth going to the Monday Concert. More variety .

Harlan: What was your reaction to U. S. Highball?

Grady: It completely changed my course. When I saw it, I just realized that this was a whole other way of approaching music than the way I was going, and it seemed like there was more potential to go in that direction than in the direction I had gone. With textural music I felt that to make it work I needed more and more instruments to get more and more interesting sounds. With Partch's stuff, even with very simple things, it was much more dramatic and the range of expression was much wider. One of the things that made me disinterested in a lot of Avant Garde music was that I felt that the variety within it seemed a bit limited. And here was music, and acting, and visuals, everything you could think of was right there.

Harlan: So what about your relationship with Erv Wilson?

Grady: When I went to LACC there was a Physics teacher by the name of Walter O'Connell; who I found out later was also Lamont Young's teacher, because Lamont had gone there about twenty years before me. At that time I was working with junk. I was making junk instruments kind of how Skip Laplant did in N.Y. Then I began thinking, how could I predict what something will sound like before I make it. So I asked Walter O'Connell, "If I cut something in a triangle, is there some formula that will allow me to predict what the harmonics will be?" He told me that it was much too complex, but that I should talk to Erv Wilson because he was building instruments and using different tunings. So I went over to Erv's house, and at that time he showed me some thirty-one tone instruments made out of tubes and the different things that were capable with that. But I think it took the Partch performance for it all really sink in. It's one thing to have a scale demonstrated for you on a set of tubes, but when you see what happens with a large array of timbres you start to understand something.

Harlan: And as you said, Partch's music is much more than mere instruments and tuning.

Grady: Right.

Harlan: You've talked about Erv Wilson as being important to your tunings here and elsewhere, has he also been important to your music?

Grady: He's the best teacher I ever had by probably twice-with all due respect to my other teachers. Erv has an interesting way of teaching, which is mainly by asking you what it is you want to do. He might say, "Well if you want to do this, this is what tuning you might use. Over the years I've seen him meet people, and even though he probably knew a hundred times more than them, and he would ask them what it was they were doing. Because a lot of times those people my be trying to do something that he never thought of, but then he might end up finding some solution for their problem. And his philosophical viewpoint I always find very encouraging too. He doesn't compromise at all, and doesn't think anyone really should; he doesn't think that that is the purpose of artists in our society.

Harlan: I would imagine you probably don't think that either.

Grady: Yeah. And I find that Erv's tuning's are much better than anything I could do anyway. Like the Eikosany, which are the complement to the diamonds; the same harmonics organized in a different way. With these structure you can do a music without a tonal center and still remain within consonance.

Harlan: So you went from improvisatory compositions to textural , and then you discovered, first the idea of making your own instruments, and then different types of tunings. Did you put these all together or did you leave something behind?

Grady: Well I started to use non-pitched instruments less and less as I became fascinated with the tunings that were possible. I became fascinated with the idea that you could have just one little line that could do all this stuff that would take maybe twenty instruments to do with a texture. So it almost seemed much more economical. These tunings allow you different types of melodic possibilities that you just don't have on the piano.

Harlan: By the way, was piano your first instrument?

Grady: Piano and viola

Harlan: Like Partch.

Grady: Yeah another viola player. I've met a bunch of violists over the years that have been interested in tunings. When I went to LACC I knew two violists and they were always tuning to a just major scale. I think that it might have to do with the fact that violists are always stuck playing the 3rds of chords, so they are used to adjusting their pitch to things above and below them.

Harlan: Can I ask you if finished school at LACC?

Grady: Well that's just a junior college. I ended up going to five different colleges in eight years and I never even got a bachelors. There's this story in one of Cage's books where he's talking to one of his students and the student says "What I do is go to each university, find the best teacher, take their classes, and leave-I'm almost through with this one". I always liked that, and at that time I was very idealistic. So I thought, "What good is a music degree going to get me". I guess no one ever told me I could teach. I thought, "I'll just go from school to school". So from LACC, I went to Cal State LA because that's where Byong-Kon Kim was teaching, I went to Northridge, UCLA I used to go to without ever signing up for the classes. I hope they can't make me pay if they read this.

Harlan: I'll cut that out.

Grady: Actually, when I played at Betty Freeman's house Robert Winter insisted on introducing me to her. Because I had studied some analysis with him, he introduced me as a UCLA alumni, and I thought, "Ok".

Harlan: So when did you decide to start building your own instruments?

Grady: I think right after that. I started with a 31 tone instrument, and working with that I realized there were certain tunings I wanted to use more than others-like the Eikosany. Erv and I had gone to St. Louis for some thirty-one tone convention, Ben Johnston was there, and Ben was really the one who talked me into the idea of tuning things in just as opposed to equal temperament. I was glad that I did that. Once I had a 9:8 I was so happy, because the major second of thirty-one is really flat. It was such a big relief; it kind of keeps the music moving, where thirty-one is much too restful a lot of times.

So I noticed that besides your instruments you also built this house, how did you learn how to do all this?

Grady: Oh, just by trial and error. I'm still probably not a very good instrument builder, some of them are kind of sloppily made. Carpenters always come over and laugh at me. With those very low bars, the Meru Bars, I actually had a carpenter help me make those.

Harlan: Those look sturdy.

Grady: Yeah, Otherwise I don't think they would sound as good. They wouldn't be as air tight if I would have made them alone.

Harlan: So what was the first instrument you made?

Grady: A set of brass chimes tune to an Eikosany. That was about '79 or '80. Ivor Darreg did some concerts where I gave my first performances.

Harlan: Were they solo performances?

Grady: Yes.

Harlan: Since you were interested more in composing then in performing, did you feel somewhat forced when you had to play your compositions yourself?

Grady: I was pretty much. There was no way that anyone else was going play that stuff. At that point-and I would say even until maybe five or six years ago-people would say to me "this doesn't sound any different than twelve tone", or "it just sounds out of tune" which of course is a contradictory statement. So there was no way I could get anyone to play these things.

Harlan: Do you enjoy performing now?

Grady: Yes, now I do , at this point it's easier.

Harlan: Well, it also seems like you would have to live with these instruments for a while before you could develop a decent technique on them.

Grady:: The hardest thing about when I have had ensembles of these instruments is that people have to come here to learn on them. So if we have a rehearsal once a week, they don't play them for a week. They come back and they don't necessarily remember-meanwhile they've were plying their guitar all week. Fortunately I've been having better luck with musicians lately, a much higher caliber of musicians.

Harlan: I've also noticed recently that you are starting to include orchestral instruments in your ensembles alongside your own instruments.

Grady: Well there is a couple of early pieces where I used ensembles of Western instruments, but it's only been in the last two years that I have been able to find instrumentalists that would even attempt to play these tunings. There was always a resistance like, "I can't do that."

Harlan: Was it just a coincidence that you met these players or were you looking for them?

Grady: Actually both of the orchestral musicians playing with me are friends of Erin. And with both of them it only took me about a half an hour, we would just go up the scale, and they would figure out the fingerings. Like Sarah the bassoonist, I can give her a note, and she will find three or four different possible fingerings for the same note. It then becomes a matter of whether we want to have the fifth harmonic or the third harmonic; its more a choice of timber. So these things have always been capable of being done

Harlan: So you think they work well together?

Grady: I have some reservations about the association of Western instruments with these instruments. I would almost rather work with instruments which were made specifically for these tunings. Jim French, who lives in San Diego, has made some woodwind instruments and I feel very comfortable playing with him. We've done some recording together, but he lives down there, I live here, it's kind of far. Jim has one of most phenomenal ears of any woodwind player I know.

Harlan: Back to the instruments you've made for a moment; what kind of woods do you use?

Grady: I've been using padauk for the bars, and I keep using padauk because that's what I've used before. The way I ended up with the wood for the fifth Mesa, the 22 tone marimba, is that Dan Wolfe was making a marimba out of padauk, he got a splinter and his whole hand swelled up. He realized that he couldn't use it and he was gracious enough to give me four hundred dollars worth of wood.

[Editors note -- Daniel Wolf wrote me the following upon reading this article: "...there is a slight correction -- I gave him the pile of padauk because I was poisoned inhaling the sawdust, not from a splinter. It's really a wonder Partch lived as long as he did, working with so many different hardwoods."]

Harlan: Does a little danger add excitement to making your instruments?

Grady: Well I haven't had that type of reaction yet. Although, someone told me yesterday it was loaded with mercury, so maybe I'll start to feel it 2 years from now.

Harlan: And you've also worked with tuning metal?

Grady: Yes, the Meru Bars, and I have some brass chimes. Downstairs I also have a set of aluminum tubes that are tuned to a seventy-two tone octave, but I'm not quite happy with it. I got the wrong diameter of metal. It should be smaller, one inch instead of one and a quarter inch, but you don't always know what something's going to sound like until it's all done.

Harlan: Do you ever work with bamboo?

Grady: No, I made one instrument out of bamboo bars, but it seemed like every 3 months the tones would change to a different pitch. So I decided that its a little too frustrating. I'd like to make some string instruments.

Harlan: I was just going to ask you what you were planning next.

Grady: Strings is what I think I'd like to try. The nice thing about already having the metal is that I have a good sustain to tune the strings to.

Harlan: Do you use an electronic tuner?

Grady: Yes, here it is, but this tuner busted and I think there's probably only one other tuner in Los Angeles. You could probably change the whole history of microtonal music by distributing three tuners in every major city in the United States-so that people could actually have something to tune to. If Erv didn't have this tuner I don't know what I would have done. I mean now I can tune to a monochord, but I don't think when I first started I would have been able to.

Harlan: Do you think that the instruments that you've built are crucial to the performance of your compositions?

Grady: Probably so, I mean, unless someone duplicated the instruments. I can't really see them being transcribed for string quartet or anything like that.

Harlan: I guess you know what I'm getting at. There's been that debate recently about transcribing Partch's music.

Grady: I don't think it should be done at all. Especially Partch's music. Its so completely unique and inseparable from its theatrical aspect, which just doesn't come across in transcriptions.

Harlan: I understand that he was never even really satisfied with his recordings.

Grady: Even the films, outside of maybe The Dreamer that Remains never really caught what happened live on stage. You know, Part is a Greek revivalist -- that's how Lou (Harrison) refers to him. The whole idea that, to the Greeks, music and theater could not be separated is an important part of Partch's music.

Harlan: I agree. Let's return to you. What has been your training as a musician?

Grady: I would say that I'm predominantly self taught, outside of tuning.

As we discussed, In composition I studied briefly with Drummond and Kim, but also Nicholas Slonimsky I went to him when I could barely read music, so I didn't really gain as much as I could have. After I decided to become a composer, I think just after I learned what a major scale was, I went to Slonimsky He said, "You have to know a lot more than this". But Slonimsky got me to work really hard. He really impressed upon me that if this was what I wanted to do, there was no fooling around.

Harlan: But as a player, you never studied with anyone?

Grady: No.

Harlan: Well your technique looks rather good.

Grady: I did have one lesson with David Rosenthal. He taught me stick control, and I practiced that for years. Along with it I also studied different ethnic music through books; I would learn patterns, and I learned a lot that way. John Bergamo said to me one time "You are a percussionist", and I think that's one of the greatest complements anyone has ever given me. When I'm around percussionists I tend not to think of myself as a percussionist, but I guess I am at this point.

Harlan: It's not up to you anymore.

Grady: Yeah but don't ask me to do a decent roll on a snare drum. I'm not sure I could pull it off.

Harlan: Ok, now this is not a trick question, but do you consider yourself a concert musician?

Grady: Well, there's an advantage to playing both concerts and in clubs. So much of my playing has been clubs, just because there have been opportunities to play. To this day there are not that many concert opportunities for me to play. Although it gets better all the time. Most universities don't even accept what I do, or haven't yet. In clubs there is all kinds of music that I can't do. I don't really put as much demand on the listener to follow intricate forms. I tend to do much more simpler music. But I enjoy that I can do both clubs and concerts. So I sort of feel like I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't really fit in either one. Ideally I'd like to play outside.

Harlan: Do you think the outdoors would also be the ideal way to listen to your music?

Grady: Maybe so. Because I think these tunings inter-react with space in a way that is quite nice.

Harlan: Could you say something about how your think you work relates to the rest of the current musical world?

Grady: I'm definitely influenced by the music around me, but I'd have to say that most of the music I buy is ethnic music -- the most traditional one I can find. I'm not so much interested in pop fusions or westernized world music. I think the idea from Western music that I like the most is the idea of modulation. To me that's the best western idea there is. One of the things that drove me away from working with electronics is that there were already so many people working with electronics. I like a sense of balance. I think that's another thing that appealed to me about Harry Partch, here was all this potential. I always try to make up for what I feel is lacking-maybe I write what I don't hear. If I hear it out there, then there isn't any reason to write it down. When it gets to the point that there are four hundred composers writing in just intonation that have stuff out, I'll probably stop.

Harlan: Do you think that that's going to happen any time soon?

Grady: I think it will. I think probably within the next fifteen years. I only wish there were more instruments builders. There are a lot of people doing electronic, and I don't really find that as satisfying.

Harlan: Any chance I could see one of your scores?

Grady: Sure, but it might take me a few minutes to drag one out, so maybe we should it another time.

Harlan: All right.

Grady: Oh, wait.

[Kraig fumbles through some boxes in the next room for about a couple minutes. When he returns, he is holding a large piece of cardboard ornamented with brightly colored notation.] Here's one of the parts of Creation of the Worlds. I would say that I write parts more than I write scores. I never found any reason to do that.

Harlan: How does this work?

Grady: Well, you have a green and a blue, one player is the blue and another the green. The Green player will be improvising on this note, and then the Blue will be improvising on this note while Green holds the other one. The Blue will then change to this note -- so it's kind of like a leap frog on the top line. Then on the next line Green will be improvising on 3 notes while Blue is holding this note. After Green is finished improvising on these 3 notes Green moves to this note, which signals Blue to improvise on these 3 notes. And that's pretty much how it all goes through.

Harlan: No repeats?

Grady: No. See, this is an eight tone cycle, and this part is an inversion of it.

Harlan: It seems serialistic in a way.

Grady: But because of the way the Eikosany is set up you can have the same note, but it will form completely different chords depending on how you play them together. Unlike serialism this is actually based on acoustical relationship. All these notes are related by simple ratios, and then these will alternate harmonic or sub-harmonic tetrads.

Harlan: I see. Well one might also say that your use of improvisation adds an aleatoric element to this piece.

Grady: Some people have said "But how good this piece is, is all determined by how good the players are".

Harlan: Well, all music is like that.

Grady: What I've noticed is that when different people play it I can recognize the piece, so I figure that if really is a real piece of music. One of the reasons that I came up with this notation system is because some of the people I was working with a long time ago were good musicians but not exactly proficient readers. So I had to come up with a way to get them to play the sounds that I wanted.

Harlan: I can't really tell from this part, but are there any shifts of meters?

Grady: Yes, I tend to like long meters. A lot of the time I'll experiment in my practicing with long meters, and then I wont think about it anymore, and they just come out when I play. I believe long meters have a psychological effect on the listener; they force them into more long term thinking. We've had enough short meters.

Harlan: Is that an influence from Indian music?

Grady: Perhaps.

Harlan: Let me conclude with a question that I hope will not be too awkward. Some people have said that you can be a little secretive about your approach to composition. That doesn't seem to be the case right now, nor through our correspondence. Do you think that this can be true at times?

Grady: There are some things that I'm not ready to talk about; I need to work on them longer. But it's usually just a matter of time. Anyone's welcome to look at these parts, but then they don't really tell you much about the piece. Of course, on the liner notes to Creation of the Worlds I did a parody of the whole idea of keeping things secret. I think some people thought I was serious. But then there is an advantage sometimes to keeping things secret, because when you let them out later people actually pay attention to them.

Notes from the Inner Ground is a series devoted to recognizing and acknowledging the far reaching influences of Harry Partch upon current composition. To my way of thinking, a sincere understanding of Partch's message to the world precludes those composers which would attempt to re-create Partch's music in a superficial way. Admittedly, some of Kraig Grady's work would have possibly been too abstract for Partch's taste, yet, Partch's approval or censure is no longer the point. The works of any composer who has been truly touched by Partch, does not manifest as mere imitation, or pastiche. If it did, it would not be very important. What these composers do have in common is their endeavor to remember, and rekindle, what Partch once called the "Ancient Magic". Kraig Grady is one of these composers, nevertheless, and once more keeping Partch's message to the world in mind, as an "Individual Being" Grady must also be appreciated for his own merits. Kraig's work is profoundly unique, both in its character and in its sincerity. There is simply no other music like it. Only after one has experienced it, can one truly understand the nature of Grady's "visionary geography"; his music enshrouds the listener within an ataraxic mist, which continues to linger long after its sounds have faded away.