He’s Music’s Mr. Adjacent, Connecting Minimalism to Disco

Gordon spent a summer at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, studying Webern scores and playing sax in a funk band. “It became clear to me that I wasn’t going to be a jazz cat,” he said. “I couldn’t replicate Charlie Parker’s solos, so I had to learn to make my own music.”

Gordon visited a friend at the University of California, San Diego, and discovered its electronic music program: “It seemed like my destiny.” The school had a futurist mandate as well as early models of the Moog and Buchla synthesizers, which were located in Quonset huts left behind by the Marine Corps, the campus’s previous occupants. “There was no respect for any kind of vernacular music,” Gordon said. “Tonality was forbidden.”

“Peter was an early adopter — he was always ahead of the game,” said the guitarist and music scholar Ned Sublette, who met Gordon when both were grad students at U.C.S.D. After the alternative opera composer Robert Ashley came down from Mills College in Oakland and gave a performance that Gordon found “both vernacular and radical at the same time,” Gordon transferred there, moving to the Bay Area with Acker, who was his girlfriend.

At Mills, he studied with Ashley and Terry Riley, whose landmark piece “In C” (1968) had captivated him. “It was like, Wow! This is the music I’ve been looking for,” he said. In an email, Riley called Gordon “one of the most brilliant students I taught at Mills.”

Gordon began to imagine a fusion of his influences: Riley, some Jeff Beck, some Captain Beefheart, and a lot of the hard-honking R&B sax sound of Junior Walker and King Curtis. Minimalism and funk share a common element, he realized: repetition.

In 1975, he moved to New York City with Acker, who quickly became renowned for her transgressive, blood-soaked prose. She “often behaved like a child, and a bratty one at that,” her biographer Jason McBride wrote, and she was disliked by many of Gordon’s friends. “She had very dark spirals,” Gordon said, “which could be fascinating and compelling.”

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