Kyle Gann
Background information
Birth nameKyle Eugene Gann
Born (1955-11-21) November 21, 1955 (age 68)
Dallas, Texas
Occupation(s)Music professor, music critic, composer

Kyle Eugene Gann (born November 21, 1955, in Dallas, Texas) is an American composer, professor of music, critic, analyst, and musicologist who has worked primarily in the New York City area. As a music critic for The Village Voice (from 1986 to 2005) and other publications, he has supported progressive music, including such "downtown" movements as postminimalism and totalism.


Gann was born in 1955 and raised in a musical family. He began composing at the age of 13. After graduating in 1973 from Dallas's Skyline High School, he attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he obtained a B.Mus. in 1977, and Northwestern University, where he received his M.Mus. and D.Mus. in 1981 and 1983, respectively. As well as studying composition with Randolph Coleman at Oberlin,[1] he also studied Renaissance counterpoint with Greg Proctor at the University of Texas at Austin.[2] He studied composition primarily with Ben Johnston (1984–86) and Peter Gena (1977–81), and briefly with Morton Feldman (1975). In 1981–82 he worked for the New Music America festival.

Gann has also worked on Dennis Johnson's once lost minimal compositions, November,[3][4] which was written for solo piano in 1959 and later revised. The creation of November was inspired by Johnson's UCLA college friend La Monte Young's Trio for Strings, written in 1958. Part of it was recorded by Johnson in 1962 on audio cassette. November was in return an inspiration for Young's later 1964 The Well-Tuned Piano work.[5] Young gave, from his archive, a cassette copy of November to Gann who made a new recording of it, as well as producing six pages of the original score.[6] Gann first performed a four-and-a-half-hour version in 2009 with Sarah Cahill and he has produced a new performance score based on the original material that R. Andrew Lee recorded in a five hour version released in 2013 by Irritable Hedgehog Music, after receiving good reviews.[7][8] In 2017 the Dutch pianist and composer Jeroen van Veen released November as part of his eight-disc Minimal Piano Collection, Vols. XXI–XXVIII.[9]

Gann also worked as a journalist at the Chicago Reader, Tribune, Sun-Times, and New York Times. In 1986, he was hired as music critic at The Village Voice, where he wrote a weekly column until 1997, and then less frequently until 2005. Gann taught part-time at Bucknell University from 1989 to 1997. Since 1997, he has taught music theory, history, and composition at Bard College.

Gann is married to Nancy Cook and is the father of Bernard Gann, a guitarist formerly with the New York "transcendental black metal" band Liturgy.

As composer

Gann's work as a composer can be classified generally into three categories:

Most of his music has expressed the concept of repeating loops, ostinati, or isorhythms of different lengths going out of phase with each other; the idea leads to simultaneous layers of different, mutually prime tempo relationships in his Disklavier and electronic works, and is used in a less obvious structural way in his live-ensemble music.[citation needed] This concept can be traced back to suggestions in the rhythmic chapter of Henry Cowell's book New Musical Resources. Gann has also said that he found inspiration in his studies of astrology, into which he was drawn by the writings of composer/astrologer Dane Rudhyar.[citation needed]

Another thread in his work has been the influence, both rhythmic and melodic, of Native American music, particularly that of the Hopi, Zuni, and other Southwest Pueblo tribes. Gann first learned about this music from reading a musical analysis of a Zuni buffalo dance published in the book Sonic Design by Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot. According to Gann, "It was going back and forth between different tempos: triplet, quarter, dotted quarter, and quarters. So I started collecting American Indian music. [It] solved a rhythmic problem for me, because I was really interested in music with different tempos."[11]

Starting in 1984 with his political piece The Black Hills Belong to the Sioux, Gann adopted a method of switching between different tempos (usually between quarter-notes, dotted eighths, triplet quarters, and other values) as a more performable alternative to the simultaneous layers at contrasting tempos that he had sought earlier under the influence of Charles Ives.[citation needed] Other composers had arrived at a similar technique via other routes, coalescing into a New York style of the 1980s and '90s called Totalism.

A common Gann strategy is to set a rhythmic process in motion and use harmony (mostly triadic or seventh-chord-based, whether microtonal or conventional) to inflect the form and focus the listener's attention. Gann's microtonal music proceeds according to Harry Partch's technique of tonality flux, linking chords through tiny (less than a half-step) increments of voice-leading. In 2000, Gann studied jazz harmony with John Esposito, and began using bebop harmony as a basis for his non-microtonal music, even in contexts not reminiscent of jazz.[citation needed]

Selected bibliography

Gann's books include:

American Music in the 20th Century (1997), ISBN 0-02-864655-X
The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (1995), ISBN 0-521-46534-6
Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice (2006), ISBN 0-520-22982-7
No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage's 4'33" (2010), ISBN 0-300-13699-4
Robert Ashley (2012), ISBN 9780252094569
Charles Ives's Concord: Essays after a Sonata (2017), ISBN 9780252040856
The Arithmetic of Listening: Tuning Theory and History for the Impractical Musician (2019), ISBN 9780252084416

Major musical works


  1. ^ Kyle Gann. "Completion of an Earlier Thought". PostClassic.
  2. ^ a b Jeff London. "An interview with Kyle Gann," Vocal Area Network, February 12, 2007. Retrieved Aug. 6, 2007.
  3. ^ Kozinn, Allan (January 9, 2019). "Dennis Johnson, 80, Creator of a Rediscovered Minimalist Score, Dies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 10, 2019. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  4. ^ Walls, Seth Colter (29 July 2015). "as if to each other .. – R. Andrew Lee". Pitchfork (review of R. Andrew Lee's recording of Jay Batzner's piano composition). Retrieved February 7, 2023.
  5. ^ Bell, Clive (March 2013). "Dennis Johnson: Maths, Mars landings and minimalism". The Wire. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  6. ^ Gann, Kyle. "Reconstructing November". Irritable Hedgehog. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  7. ^ Smith, Steve (10 March 2013). "R. Andrew Lee rewrites the history books with November". Time Out New York. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  8. ^ Kirk McElhearn (25 July 2014). "Music Review: November, by Dennis Johnson". Retrieved 7 February 2023.
  9. ^ "Minimal Piano Collection, Vols. XXI–XXVIII", Van Veen Productions
  10. ^ Max Limpag. "American Festival of Microtonal Music," Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine (on the 27th Annual Festival) New Music Connoisseur. Undated. Retrieved Aug. 6, 2007.
  11. ^ Kyle Gann (March 1, 2010). "On Both Sides of the Fence". NewMusicBox (Interview). Interviewed by Frank J. Oteri (published April 1, 2010).

Further reading