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Born to a cultured family in Lahore, Pran Nath grew up in an atmosphere of live performances of the masters of traditional vocal music. Illustrious musicians were invited by his grandfather to perform at their family home every evening. He was singing by the age of six and before long decided, against his mother's wishes, to devote his life to music. He left home at age thirteen and studied for twenty years as a disciple of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, the foremost master of the Kirana gharana, which descends from Gopal Nayak (ca. 1300), and is also known as the style of Krishna. Pran Nath's performances on All India Radio since 1937 and at Music Conferences throughout India established his reputation as a leading interpreter of Kirana style with an exceptional knowledge of traditional compositions and the delineation of raga.
His uncompromising adherence to the authentic rendering of the traditional ragas and his unwillingness to change his style to meet modern tastes for rhythmic and popular elements contributed to his reputation as a "musician's musician" credited with a voluminous knowledge of hundreds of ragas and several times as many compositions. Many well known professional singers, including Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan and Bhimsen Joshi, came to him to perfect their understanding of particular ragas. From 1960 through 1970 he taught the advanced classes in Hindustani vocal music at Delhi University.
Pandit Pran Nath's first appearance in the West in 1970 essentially introduced the vocal tradition of Hindustani classical music to the U.S. He has since performed throughout America, as well as in Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Iran and France, becoming the most influential exponent of the Kirana style. His 1971 morning performance at Town Hall, New York City was the first concert of Morning Ragas to be presented in the U.S. Subsequently, he introduced and elaborated to Western audiences the concept of performing ragas at the proper time of day by scheduling entire series of concerts at special hours. Many students and professional musicians have come to him in America to learn about the vast system of raga and to improve their musicianship.
Pran Nath's majestic expositions of the slow alap sections of ragas combined with his emphasis on perfect intonation and the clear evocation of mood have had a profound impact on Western contemporary composers and performers. Minimalist music founders La Monte Young and Terry Riley, and the calligraphic light artist Marian Zazeela became his first American disciples. Fourth-world trumpeter Jon Hassell, jazz all-stars Don Cherry and Lee Konitz, composers Jon Gibson, Yoshimasa Wada and Rhys Chatham, new-age pianists Michael Harrison and Allaudin Mathieu, mathematician Christer Hennix, concept artist Henry Flynt, dancer Simone Forti, and many others took the opportunity to study with the master.
In 1972, he established his school in New York City, the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music; in 1973, he was Artist-in-Residence at the University of California at San Diego and from 1973-1984, was Visiting Professor of Music at Mills College, Oakland, California. Pran Nath has contributed many innovations to the design of the tambura. His special unvarnished "Pandit Pran Nath style" tamburas have achieved worldwide recognition. He has designed a continuous drone instrument based on the tuning fork, the Prana Nada.
His numerous awards include CAPS, Guggenheim and NEA grants to continue his work in composition in the Kirana style of Indian classical music. From 1975 through 1985, the Dia Art Foundation, in cooperation with the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, presented frequent concerts of Pandit Pran Nath's work. From 1977 through 1985, Pran Nath held a commission from Dia Art Foundation to establish a performing, teaching and archival facility for the presentation and preservation of the Kirana tradition. He has held commissions from the Pellizzi Foundation, Dia Art Foundation and MELA Foundation to perform and record an archive of the Kirana style of Indian classical music, including the six major ragas.
In 1987 under a commission from MELA Foundation, with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, Pandit Pran Nath composed "Darbar daoun" set in the classical Raga Darbari. In 1989 he received a commission from the Kronos Quartet to create a new work for voice and string quartet. This work, Aba Kee Tayk Hamaree, was recorded by Kronos with Pandit Pran Nath, voice, and released in 1993 on their Elektra Nonesuch album, Short Stories (79310-2, 4). In Between the Notes, a video documentary on his life and work, produced by the California College of the Performing Arts, has been telecast on WNET and other public TV stations. A VHS edition of the video documentary is now available from MELA Foundation, as well as his renditions of Ragas Todi and Darbari, featured on the Gramavision/Great Northern Arts recording, Ragas of Morning and Night, a 1986 New York Times Top Ten Critics Choice.
After becoming a permanent resident of the U.S. in 1972, Pandit Pran Nath returned to India almost every year with groups of American and European disciples and students who wanted to study his music in the land of its origin. From 1992 through 1996, he led master classes in India for several weeks annually. He performed and taught in Bremen, Germany in 1995, and in Paris, France in 1996. He inaugurated the MELA Foundation New York Dream House in November 1993 with three Raga Cycle concerts. On May 12 and 17, 1996, his two Raga Cycle concerts of Afternoon and Evening Ragas in the Dream House were his last public performances. He returned to Berkeley, California, and for the next 27 days he continued to teach several students daily, in the last days, even from his hospital bed, with a final telephone lesson in Raga Darbari just a few hours before he died of congestive heart failure and complications of Parkinson's disease at 6:26 PM, June 13, 1996.
La Monte Young began to pioneer the concept of extended time durations in 1957 and for over 50 years contributed extensively to the development of just intonation and rational number based tuning systems in his performance works and the periodic composite sound waveform environments of the Dream House collaborations formulated in 1962 with Marian Zazeela; presentations of his work in the U.S. and Europe, as well as his theoretical writings gradually had a wide-ranging influence on contemporary music, art and philosophy, including Minimalism, concept art, Fluxus, performance art and conceptual art. "During the summer of 1958 [Young] composed the Trio for Strings—a landmark in the history of 20th century music and the virtual fountainhead of American musical minimalism," (K. Robert Schwarz, Minimalists, 1996).
Musician magazine stated, "As the acknowledged father of minimalism and guru emeritus to the British art-rock school, his influence is pervasive," and in 1985 the Los Angeles Herald Examiner wrote, "for the past quarter of a century he has been the most influential composer in America. Maybe in the world." In Minimalism:Origins, 1993, Edward Strickland added, "Young is now widely recognized as the originator of the most influential classical music style of the final third of the twentieth century."
In L.A. in the '50s Young played jazz saxophone, leading a group with Billy Higgins, Dennis Budimir and Don Cherry. He also played with Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Terry Jennings, Don Friedman and Tiger Echols. At Yoko Ono's studio in 1960 he was director of the first New York loft concert series. He was the editor of An Anthology (NY 1963), which with his Compositions 1960 became a primary influence on concept art and the Fluxus movement. In 1962 Young founded his group, The Theatre of Eternal Music, and embarked on The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys (1964- ), a large work involving improvisation within strict predetermined guidelines. Young played sopranino saxophone and sang with the group. Jennings, Dennis Johnson, Terry Riley, Angus MacLise, Marian Zazeela, Tony Conrad, John Cale, Jon Gibson, Jon Hassell, Lee Konitz and David Rosenboom are among those who worked in this group under Young's direction.
With Marian Zazeela in the early '60s, he formulated the concept of a Dream House, a permanent space with sound and light environments in which a work would be played continuously. Young and Zazeela have presented works in sound and light worldwide, from music and light box sculptures to large-scale environmental installations, culminating in two Dia Art Foundation realizations: the 6-year continuous 6-story Harrison Street Dream House (NYC 1979-85) and the 1-year environment (22nd Street NYC 1989-90) within which Young presented The Lower Map of The Eleven's Division in The Romantic Symmetry (over a 60 cycle base) in Prime Time from 112 to 144 with 119 with the Theatre of Eternal Music Big Band. This 23-piece chamber orchestra was the largest Theatre of Eternal Music ensemble to appear in concert to date. Young has since presented Dream House sound environments at the Guggenheim Museum, New York (2009), Espace Donguy, Paris (1990); Ruine der Künste, Berlin (1992); Pompidou Center, Paris (1994-95 and 2004-2005); Musée Art Contemporain Lyon (1999) and the MELA Foundation Dream House: Seven Years of Sound and Light, which opened in New York in 1993 and has continued through present.
Young and Zazeela helped bring renowned master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath to the U.S. in 1970 and became his first Western disciples, studying with him for twenty-six years in the traditional gurukula manner of living with and serving the guru. They taught the Kirana style and performed with Pandit Pran Nath in hundreds of concerts in India, Iran, Europe and the United States and continue to perform with their group The Just Alap Raga Ensemble. In June 2002, Young was conferred the title of Khan Sahib by Ustad Hafizullah Khan Sahib, the Khalifa of the Kirana Gharana and son of Pandit Pran Nath's teacher, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Sahib.
The 1974 Rome live world premiere of Young's magnum opus The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-73-81-present), was celebrated by a commission for him to sign the Bösendorfer piano, which remains permanently in the special tuning. Gramavision's full-length recording of the continuously evolving 5-hour-plus work has been acclaimed by critics to be "the most important and beautiful new work recorded in the 1980s," "one of the great monuments of modern culture" and "the most important piano music composed by an American since the Concord Sonata." At the 1987 MELA Foundation La Monte Young 30-Year Retrospective he played the work for a continuous 6 hours and 24 minutes.
Marian Zazeela is one of the first contemporary artists to use light as a medium of expression and perhaps the first to compose recurring motivic and thematic statements and permutations with light over time as in music. Over more than five decades Zazeela has exhibited a unique iconographic vision in media encompassing painting, calligraphic drawing, graphics, film, light performance, sculpture and environment. Expanding the traditional concepts of painting and sculpture while incorporating elements of both disciplines, she created an original visual language in the medium of light by combining colored light mixtures with sculptural forms to generate seemingly three-dimensional colored shadows in radiant vibrational fields. Light and scale are manipulated in such a way that the colored shadows, in their apparent corporeality, become indistinguishable from the sculptural forms, enveloping the viewer in the continual interplay of reality and illusion. "While the shadows on the wall change shape, the fixed geometry that produces them yields a uniform intensity of colour. This luminous shadow is, paradoxically, more present, constant and solid in appearance than the object that produces it… This phenomenal reversal demonstrates that the relationship between the physical and the perceptual is far more subtle and malleable than is commonly understood," (Ted Krueger, Interior Atmospheres (Architectural Design; Wiley, Profile No 193, Vol 78, No 3; pp. 12-15; May-June 2008). Zazeela's work has taken the directions of performance in Ornamental Lightyears Tracery, sculpture in the series Still Light and neon Dream House Variations I-IV, environment in Dusk/Dawn Adaptation, Magenta Day / Magenta Night and her major work Light, and video projection in Quadrilateral Phase Angle Traversals.
As artistic director of The Theatre of Eternal Music, she creates the works that form the innovative visual components of Dream House, a sound and light work in which she collaborates with composer La Monte Young. Zazeela has presented Dream Houses, light installations, performances and calligraphic drawing exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. Major installations include the 2009 Guggenheim Museum exhibition, The Third Mind, American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989; the 2005 Lyon Biennale; Tate Liverpool; Pompidou Center, Paris; Ruine der Künste, Berlin; 44th Venice Biennale; Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf; MELA Foundation's "La Monte Young 30-Year Retrospective," New York City; and Köln Kunstverein. She has received grants from the NEA, EAT, CAPS, Lannan and Cassandra Foundations. In 2009 she was the recipient with Young of the first Yoko Ono COURAGE Award in the arts to honor their having "never strayed from giving their uniquely creative efforts in Art to the world."
Under a commission from the Dia Art Foundation (1979-85), Zazeela and Young collaborated in a 6 year continuous Dream House presentation set in the 6-story Harrison Street building in New York City, featuring multiple interrelated sound and light environments, exhibitions, performances, research and listening facilities, and archives. Arts Magazine described the centerpiece of this installation: "There is a retreat to reverie as if one were staring up into the summer night sky. The Magenta Lights is experienced as a meteorological or astronomical event, a changing color display above one's head, like an art equivalent of the Northern Lights." And Artforum wrote: "Zazeela transforms material into pure and intense color sensations, and makes a perceptual encounter a spiritual experience. The Magenta Lights is an environmental piece in every sense of the word. What Zazeela has represented is the subtle relationship between precision and spirituality."
Zazeela's work has been significantly influential. Her abstract calligraphy was the primary influence on the calligraphy of the great poet and founding drummer of The Theatre of Eternal Music and the Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise. The visionary tradition of her curvilinear graphite on black and dot-style calligraphic drawings has also been carried on and taken to a highly imaginative level in the pencil and pinhole drawings of her senior visual arts and raga disciple, Jung Hee Choi. Zazeela's Ornamental Lightyears Tracery has been credited by Glenn Branca in Forced Exposure #16, 1990, and by David Sprague in Your Flesh # 28, 1993, to have been the direct influence on Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
From 1961 to 1962, Zazeela worked extensively with legendary filmmaker Jack Smith. She was the featured model in The Beautiful Book (dead language press, 1962) and appeared in Smith's revolutionary Flaming Creatures, which was written for her and for which she also created the calligraphy for the film titles and credits. In 1964, Zazeela was filmed for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (Andy Warhol Screen Tests, Harry N. Abrams, 2006) and selected to be one of the models included in his Thirteen Most Beautiful Women series.
Zazeela began singing with Young in 1962 as a founding member of The Theatre of Eternal Music, and performed as vocalist in almost every concert of the ensemble to date. In 1970, she became one of the first Western disciples of renowned master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath and has since performed and taught the Kirana style of Indian classical music. She accompanied Pandit Pran Nath in hundreds of concerts throughout the world and continues to perform in The Just Alap Raga Ensemble, which she founded with Young and Choi in 2002.
Jung Hee Choi works in video, performance, sound, drawing and multi-media installations. Choi's work has been presented in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including FRAC Franche-Comté, France; Berliner Festspiele, Germany; Dia Art Foundation, Guggenheim Museum and MELA Foundation Dream Houses, NYC; FRESH Festival, Bangkok; Korea Experimental Arts Festival, Korea. Commissioned by MELA Foundation, her video sound performance and installation, RICE, was chosen as one of The 10 Best of 2003 in the December Artforum. Choi, disciple of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela in the classical Kirana vocal tradition, founded with them The Just Alap Raga Ensemble in 2002 and has performed as vocalist in every concert, including those at the MELA Dream House, the five-concert Pandit Pran Nath Memorial Tribute Tour in Berlin, Karlsruhe and Polling, Germany in 2012, the Yoko Ono Courage Award ceremony, the Guggenheim Third Mind Live concert series and the Merce Cunningham Memorial celebration in 2009. Her work is in the collection of Frac Franche-Comté, France and Dia Art Foundation, NYC. Choi graduated BA summa cum laude, and received her MA in art and sound from NYU.
Choi's electroacoustic and modal improvisation ensemble, Sundara All Star Band was premiered in 2015 performing her Tonecycle for Blues Base 30 Hz, 2:3:7 Ensemble Version with 4:3 and 7:6 at Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, Dia Art Foundation, New York. The founding members include La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Jung Hee Choi, voices; Jon Catler, fretless guitar; Brad Catler, fretless bass and Naren Budhkar, tabla. The ensemble performed again in the MELA Foundation Dream House in August 2016 with Hansford Rowe, fretless bass, who joined the ensemble in 2016. The Sundara All Star Band performs live in Choi's sound environment, Tonecycle, which serves as an underlying cantus firmus-like drone created with the continuous infinitesimal circular motions of interrelated sine wave frequencies.
Choi has presented series of environmental compositions with video, evolving light-point patterns, incense, performance and sound involving the concept of "Manifest, Unmanifest". Her synthesis of expression in this series collectively creates an intersubjective space as a unified continuum and emphasizes the totality of sense perceptions as a single unit to create a state of immersion.
In 2015, the Dia Art Foundation acquired a unique version of the La Monte Young Marian Zazeela Jung Hee Choi Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, which opened to the general public from June 13, 2015 to October 24, 2015. In this installation, Young and Choi presented for the first time their sound environments in simultaneity.
On August 28, 2015, The New York Times wrote about Choi's multimedia installation Ahata Anahata, Manifest Unmanifest IX at Dia 15 VI 13 545 West 22 Street Dream House, NYC, "A movie-screen-size black surface is perforated by tiny holes through which bright light passes, creating a roughly symmetrical, Rorschach-like image resembling swirling galactic gas. This is overlaid by slowly changing, soft-focused shapes in colors from toasty brown to luminous blues that mask and reshape parts of the basic starry image. … With extended listening, what at first seemed mechanically repetitious turns out to be a complex interweaving of different, slowly oscillating pitches. If you give in to it while watching Ms. Choi's hallucinatory screen, you may find yourself in an altered state of consciousness, on the verge of some ineffable, transcendental revelation."