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Presented together for the first time, American composer John McGuire’s Pulse Music series (1975-1979) blurs the popular narrative that Minimalism was a reaction against Europe’s angular, intellectual, inscrutable high-modernism. McGuire, born in California, studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles and UC Berkeley before going to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Gottfried Michael Koenig. His compositions lock serialism’s warped geometries onto an evenly spaced grid, perfectly preserving serial music’s multi-dimensionality while smoothing its wildest disjunctures and sharpest angles. If serialism is Montreal’s Habitat 67 modular housing complex, McGuire’s Pulse Music compositions are the primary-colored grids of Le Corbusier’s L’Habitation apartment complex — an exuberant expression of the same materials and principles.
Every layer of pulses is made distinct through its timbre, register, and tempo. We hear them as a plurality, organized like stars in the sky. Every so often the sky rotates and the stars appear in a different arrangement. Our ear naturally starts to draw connections and, as it sweeps between one layer and another, what was discrete becomes continuous. Pulses become flows; quantitative reality becomes qualitative experience.