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Larry Polansky & Jody Diamond: The Music Makers

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This is a pair of extremely talented, dynamic individuals. Polansky is a composer, guitarist, creator of music software, and professor at Dartmouth College. Diamond is head of the American Gamelan Institute, and one of the country's foremost authorities on the gamelan, the unique musical ensemble of Indonesia. And if that's not enough, they are co-founders of Frog Peak Music, a composers' collective whose aim is to get contemporary music into circulation and keep it there -- in recorded and printed form. Here are two excerpts from their chapter: how they met, and what Frog Peak is all about. 

 

 

Polansky and Diamond met in storybook fashion -- in the context of modern music, that is. “We taught for almost a year at the same school without meeting -- Mills College in Oakland, California,” Diamond recalls. “Then in 1982, there was a music festival in Santa Cruz, and the composer in residence was John Cage. It was John’s 70th birthday, and Lou Harrison had a birthday party in Lou’s backyard."

 

Cage and Harrison were giants of contemporary music. You couldn't ask for a better place for two musicians to meet.   

 

Diamond continues:  "So Larry and I went to that, met each other, and we sat down on this stone bench and said, ‘we could do this project, we could do that together.’” One of their first projects was Frog Peak, founded that same year. Their marriage came two years later. 

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You might recognize some of the names on Frog Peak’s roster. Lou Harrison; Anthony Braxton, a master of experimental jazz; James Tenney and Fredric Rzewski, leading figures in the avant-garde. But most of the artists are obscure, and are likely to stay that way. They are the ones at the core of Frog Peak's mission.  

 

As Polansky puts it: “We don’t really care whether something sells one copy or a thousand copies. It’s irrelevant to us, and not just in a philosophical way -- we don’t make any money on anything anyway.” 

 

That's because Frog Peak lets the artists keep control and ownership of their work. Polansky and Diamond see Frog Peak and their other endeavors with a missionary's sense of purpose. "I have an endowed chair at Dartmouth," says Polansky. "I don't have to worry about the next paycheck since I've been here." 

 

(Polansky is interrupted by the sounds of a gamelan emanating from Diamond's handbag. It's her cell phone; the ring tone was composed by Polansky.)

 

He continues, "I feel honor bound to return as much as I can to the community. For me, it seems kind of an ethical imperative -- not a religious feeling, but to tithe as much energy and influence as I possibly can." 

Read the rest of their story in my book, including how Diamond influenced the music of Lou Harrison, Polansky's wide-ranging travels as a young man, and my visit to an amateur gamelan ensemble. 
 
Read excerpts from our interviews, including: the purpose of Frog Peak Music, how Diamond became involved with gamelan, and Polansky on composing with computers.  

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com