Recollections: The California Years

1986-1996

Marc Lowenstein

“Writing a piece dedicated to the memory of a friend who was also a composer is strange. Do you quote his music, his style, or do you write how you feel (and what on earth does that mean anyway?) Randy Hostetler, who died early in 1996 was quite a composer. He was deeply influenced by the music/philosophy of John Cage, so much so that he is reported to have said that he was wondering when Cage was going to die so he, Randy, could get on with his own life. Other stories about Randy include numerous tales of his project to record as many different squeaks as possible for potential use in his music (and sometimes just for their own sake), his driving for hours to record a particularly melodious herd of cows, and his piece for strings, the score to which consisted of a video of palm trees. At the root of this wonderful craziness was a ferocious technique, and an enduring memory I have is of his tuning my piano and finishing with a test run that consisted of a breath-taking Bach toccata from the e-minor partita that segued smoothly into James Brown’s “Sex Machine”.

Rick Applebaum

A lot of people make a mistake in believing that improvisation — or the fact that the types of forms Randy chose, or the media that he chose — weren’t always easily definable by traditional standards and that somehow that made him quirky or esoteric. Randy was brilliant. And there’s nothing that he approached that didn’t bring that brilliance to it.

Just because Randy had such a good time doing the projects that he did, does not mean that he wasn’t deadly serious about his work and how he went about approaching things. He was very, very very intense about what he was working on. And he tried to integrate all the different elements of his life in the last few years. Randy had been taking T’ai Chi and vocal lessons and he built a garden and was cooking in new ways and exploring other approaches. And all of this he brought into his ideas for making pieces and performances. He had the ability to take the smallest moment, or the strangest accidents and turn them into something really fascinating and interesting.

Randy was not interested in just doing things to be funny or odd. He had a deeply profound caring for the world around him and people in the world. Some of his greatest times he had were just talking to people in the street or observing things. Getting to know people’s stories. Randy was prolific at making pieces and making people laugh wherever he went.

His range of musical interest and abilities went from arranging Gershwin for a vocal group at Yale, to performing in a West African group at CalArts for three or four years, to making composition with Super8 and video, to intense performance art in silence using only hand movements.

Randy wrote for instruments and electronic music. He played piano expertly. He performed in varying groups with a wide range of styles and improvisations. And, of course, Randy’s forte was making pieces with “found” sound. He was a master of text collage.

He founded and coordinated the Living Room Concert series in Los Angeles, usually in the living room at his house. This was a huge huge ongoing series. Concerts would happen on the first of the month every other month. Pieces ranged from the sublime — like a Cage piece for water dripping, conch shells and leaves burning — to the outrageous when he once miked his bathroom and had people go take showers. When they got out they were to make squeegy sounds on the foggy mirror which were amplified back into the living room.

He had boundless energy. And though often seeming frazzled and disorganized, Randy had an attention to detail unparalleled by his peers and colleagues. Randy could listen to the subtle variations of one sound for a long long time. Or he could be really excited and break out in dance to P-Funk or James Brown or salsa or jazz.

R. Wiley Evans

Music Next Millennium:
Unfortunately , I don’t think I ever told Randy how much he really meant to me personally. Like most CalArtians the both of us were always running around too much to take the time and say things like “you have really inspired me man!” Randy was a very LOVABLE annoying person, always bugging me to do more music and more performances. I say annoying because he never let down. He always had 14 projects going, yet he never missed a concert or an opportunity to perform.

I remember this one gig he had roped me into… it was interlude improv music for a bunch of short plays. He had me playing a piece of steel while crouched (for an hour and half) on top of a huge structure he built. He literally had too nag me everyday to practice this and to help set it up, but when we were done with the show I was actually very happy that I was a part of that performance and we had many laughs about that performance.

It was at the time in my life where I was really starting to LISTEN while improvising and he had a lot to do with that, especially because he was always at ALL of the CalArts concerts that I was playing at. And he was sure to give me shit when I wasn’t listening. But, he would always be the first one to tell me how much he liked my pieces; and it wouldn’t be just, “I liked your piece, man”; it would be a very animated and annotated description of what exactly he like or disliked. There was no holding him back.

Then there was the living room concerts that he would beg us all to come down to and to play in. I was just talking to a friend last night about how we used to dread going to one because they usually lasted for hours and hours, and usually the pieces were unrehearsed and filled with many technical breakdowns, but these concerts were the seed to Music Next Millennium and its success is because I learned so much from him about how to put on concerts and how to see the value in everyone’s music.

I think the thing that hurts the most is that when Music Next Millennium sends out a call for pieces, he IS the first to call me and say that he has pieces already, and the day that I had heard he died was the same day the call for entries got to his house. So I had been bracing myself for a couple of days knowing that phone was going to be ringing off the hook with Randy saying we should do this and that, and he wanted to do a half a dozen pieces on the first concert or a 4 hour piece on the second concert.

Eric Forte

A dear friend, Randy Hostetler, passed away in February of this year. Randy and Iwent to the California Institute of the Arts together. He was adept in so many facets of the creative arts. From acoustic and electronic music to experimental video, performance art and dancing and playing in the CalArts African Ensemble, Randy did a lotin his thirty-some-odd years.

One of my favorite rememberances of him will be when he and Francesca came to visit mewhile I was studying in Nice, France. It was often his habit to live in a sort of performer mode and ‘script’ his life. He was taking pictures of the surroundings andof us three. He liked being the one who would set up the camera to take a picture with a time and then run in and join the picture, but keep his back to the camera like he wasn’t aware of it being there.

It sure was a shock to hear about Randy. I regret not having gone back out to California in the five years after graduating; just to hang out and talk about music.I was tickled to be one of the stops in Randy’s great beatnik-style piano-tuning touracross the US as he made his way towards a workshop with Malcolm Goldstein in 1992.

There was always a certain Dadaist approach to a lot of the things that he didand also a shared belief in the musical qualities of so much of the sounds in ourworld and also a shared interest in creating long, slow-moving pieces, as long as themedia that we had at our disposal would allow.

It’s common knowledge that the 120 minute tapes made in the seventies and eighties wereextremely thin and would break after a few uses. I remember walking into the cafeteria at CalArts one day and seeing Randy and a few other friends at a table. They were talking about these new 110 minute tapes that wouldn’t break like the old ones. Withoutmissing a beat, Randy and I looked at each other, laughed and said, “Cool! 55 minutepieces!”

Albert Harum-Alvarez

Small Company
Randy and I met at CalArts and were neighbors in Silver Lake. He took over my piano student, Dan, when my wife and I left California. I was happy to have found someone so talented and empathetic to take over with Dan.

I was overjoyed to hear that Dan, who is severely autistic, participated in Randy’s staging of Vexations, the marathon piano piece by Satie. Randy sent me tapes of Dan’s singing and playing, and it was obvious that Randy’s teaching was having a great effect on Dan!

Randy also sent us off cross country well supplied with road trip tapes. We still listen to them. I loved his own music too. He was very much a kindred spirit to me.

Thanks to the world that gave us Randy.

Arthur Jarvinen

I assume most of you aren’t as familiar as I am with his musical activities in Los Angeles and I just want to give you a sense of how important I think they were. A typical musician’s life in L.A. involves a lot of self-promotion and expending a lot of energy on trying to improve your position on the food chain and reenforce your own success. Randy provided what I think is a very healthy, and much needed, alternative model to that way of living and working. He just didn’t do it.

To give you a sense of how meaningful and important his Living Room concert series was to some of us, I remember being at one and was impressed by the fact that at that particular one a clarinet player from Las Vegas and several musicians from San Francisco had come into L.A. at their own expense to play for free, just because they wanted to be part of those events that Randy was instigating.

Paul Lansky

I met Randy in the fall of 1987, when I visited Cal Arts. He was one of my private composition students. I sort of doubt that I taught him very much. He knew what he wanted to do, and he knew how to do it. I was thrilled to have a student like this, and gave him all the encouragement and enthusiasm I could. This was particularly easy since the piece he was working on at the time was such an utter knockout. In fact, the piece changed my life. It’s called Happily Ever After. I’m sure most of you know it, and if you don’t you should.

The piece is made of recordings of Randy’s friends and family telling stories which need only begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and end with ‘Happily Ever After’ — the rest is up to them. What is so remarkable about the piece is not only the extraordinary way it works, musically speaking, but also the wonderful way in which it enfolds Randy’s personal life into the experience. I feel as if I know a lot about all of the speakers on the tape…

The piece persuaded me that music can and should be about the way we live our daily lives, and reflect the intensity of the experience. Since that time I’ve played the piece for people all over the world. I was in Australia the following summer and played it for folks there. The young people in particular loved it and said that they felt that they had gotten a wonderful insight into American culture. The piece also kept me company in the hospital for a few nights during some minor surgery. I listened to it many times. I make sure that each generation of my graduate students at Princeton hears it, and they always love it. It should be on a CD, and I’d like to suggest that his friends work towards that goal — I’ll be glad to help.

Our weekly sessions were constantly interesting. I remember one in particular in which Randy gave me a lesson on the joys of Bob Dylan, whom I professed not to properly appreciate. With appropriate irony, I came to think of Randy every time I hear Dylan. Randy was not an eccentric composer (even though he wrote a piece using billiard balls to play a piano). He was just an honest composer. The work he did came directly from his perception of who he was, and what he wanted to say. We’re all the more fortunate because he was so good at expressing these things, and what he had to say was, and is, such a joy to hear.

We’d stayed in touch since that time, he came to visit a few years ago, and we’d been in contact electronically in recent years. But, I think that because of the profound effect his piece had on me, as well as the utter sincerity, honesty and decency of his personality, that Randy became, for me, one of those people whose image flits across consciousness almost every day. I bet that in one way or another I have thought of him daily since we met in 1987. And, I’m sure that he will continue to be a presence in my thoughts.

Bob Lee

I had known Randy for 7 months. He was my neighbor and my friend. I moved into Echo Park after having lived in what had become a really bad part of the San Fernando Valley. I couldn’t be friendly with many of my neighbors and it was a joy to be part of this neighborhood. I am a musician, composer and computer type. I could not have had a better neighbor than Randy. We became fast friends. When he would go out of town for a performance or to visit his family, I would feed his cat and move his car for street cleaning. He did the same for us. We all watched out for one another. We both have a passion for technology. I got him hooked up with an internet provider and was going to help him get a web page going.

***

At the memorial I met many of Randy’s friends….Many of them told stories of their relationship with Randy….There were audio and video taped performances of some of Randy’s compositions and arrangements. I had known he was a musician but I had never really heard any of his music and was stunned by the musical brilliance and humor that Randy displayed. I felt a further loss in that we never made music together. The video was one of Randy standing on a stage in his underwear dancing to some music in headphones he was wearing; then there was the music everybody else in the house was hearing. The difference was hilarious.

Fredric Rzewski

Randy was my student at the Yale School of Music in l984. We have remained friends ever since. I thought he was one of the most talented people I have ever met, and someone who was bound to make an indelible mark on the culture of our country sooner or later. Certainly he was a key figure in the world of struggling Los Angeles artists. With him surely a part of our hopes for a renewal of the arts in America has vanished. We must carry on.
  • Sign Up

    If you would like to receive periodic Living Room Music announcements and important updates in your mailbox, please subscribe to livingroommusic.org by clicking here. Your e-mail address will never be shared with anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any time.

    To learn about how you can post your own events on our Kitchen page, and/or receive Reading Room articles in your mailbox, please click here.