ArticlesNo. 95, Spring 2013

Improvising Compose Yourself


The post–World War II era in the USA saw the emergence of a high–modernist discursive project begun by Milton Babbitt (1916–2011) and students collected around him at Princeton University. But around 1970 the sustaining premises of musical discourse as a scientific pursuit were challenged by some of Babbitt’s own students. A drastic Turn occurred, and perhaps the single most decisive moment in the Turn was J. K. Randall’s (1929–2014) publication of the first few sections of Compose Yourself—A Manual for the Young. This article takes place in two parts: the first offers transcriptions of portions of Randall’s drafts for Compose Yourself, and a quotation from an interview with him, both housed at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. During the longer part two, I offer my own improvisatory, experimental analysis or close reading of sections of Compose Yourself. The goal being to shed further light on an important document in the history of American experimentalism.