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The machine room at IRCAM, 1989. Photo by Martin Guy

The machine room at IRCAM, 1989. Photo by Martin Guy

I had dinner last week with some family and friends at Six Main, in Chester, Connecticut. The friends, a couple of my parents’ generation, hail from Rochester, New York, where they’re involved with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Naturally, my classical-music background came up in conversation.

I have friends who studied with John Beck at the Eastman School of Music, I mentioned, learning in turn that my parents’ friends, Paul and Carol, have known Beck for many years. In addition to teaching at Eastman for the better part of half a century (today, he’s Professor Emeritus of Percussion at the school) Beck was the Rochester Philharmonic’s timpanist for 40 years. Carol’s father, it turned out, had for years been a violist in the orchestra.

Paul mentioned the name William Cahn, a member of the celebrated percussion ensemble Nexus and a former member of the Rochester Philharmonic.

In college, I said, I played Cahn’s Raga No. 1 for timpani.

The conversation turned to the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival and to the many acclaimed artists Paul and Carol have had the pleasure to see and hear perform over the years.

As the discussion broadened, Steve Gadd’s name came up — he was raised in the Rochester area and is one of the most accomplished and admired drum-set players of his or any generation — as did the names of several other players whose work I’ve long admired.

I got to talking about Frank Zappa, as I’m wont to do, and just as I did, I heard the couple at an adjacent table talking about IRCAM, the music-research facility in Paris that iconic composer and conductor Pierre Boulez founded in the 1970s. Zappa’s Perfect Stranger album, it’s worth pointing out, was recorded at IRCAM where the music was performed by the Ensemble InterContemporain under Boulez’s direction.

The conversation about IRCAM was being had by composers Paula Matthusen and ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, both of whom teach at Wesleyan University.

I leaned over and said I couldn’t help but to hear mention of IRCAM — something that doesn’t happen every day.

The world, in that moment, seemed phenomenally small.

— David Brensilver

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