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On the eve of La Monte Young’s 77th birthday in October this year, comes this first full-length analysis of the life and music of the father of minimalism, memorably described by Brian Eno as ‘the daddy of us all’.

Ironically, given his standing and influence, Young has been the subject of scant discussion in print. And for good reason, the composer notorious for considering little of his music fixed or finished, constantly re-visiting and re-working pieces, and altogether suspicious of – and resistant to – critical interrogation. So, the surprise of Jeremy Grimshaw’s book is Young’s initially willing involvement in its creation – an unheard of precedent – with the author granted access to both the composer and his archives. Less surprising is Young’s subsequent separation from his biographer in a dispute over what Grimshaw pithily describes as ‘a problematic degree of editorial influence’.

With or without Young’s blessing, however, what results is a deeply considered portrait of a gnomic figure whose possessive sense of ownership seems to border on the pathological. It finds expression in a no less pronounced reluctance towards analysis by others of music rooted in a complex ideology that embraces Mormonism, mysticism, mathematics and much else. It is not always an easy read, the text necessarily taking time to unpick and re-thread the abstruse religiosity and cryptic maths embedded in many of Young’s compositions. And, not least, because of the often conflicting claims of the ‘mytho-biography’ that results. But the composer’s involvement and the appreciably level headed approach adopted by Grimshaw (an assistant professor at Utah’s Brigham Young University and himself a practising Mormon) makes for a fascinating read. And that despite the author’s acknowledgment that the book is, ‘to some extent, a “Mormon reading” of Young’s life and work’.

If Young remains at its end no less elusive and even a little more idiosyncratic, and the issue of Mormonic influence stubbornly disputatious, Draw a Straight Line and Follow It nonetheless proves valuable for mapping out the mental, emotional and creative landscape of a singular composer.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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