notes from ELECTRIC SOUND The Past and Promise of Electronic Music

ELECTRIC SOUND The Past and Promise of Electronic Music:
As talked about in the Australian documentary film (What the Future Sounded Like):
Tristram Cary talked about a creative problem becomming a technical problem.
“Very often what happened was that I came across a creative problem. I wanted to create a certain sound, and I knew how I could do it, but it needed a special gadget. So I would stop being a composer for the moment and build something, with the result that the studio became as most studios in those days, very personal matters.”
This chapter, ‘The Great Opening Up of Music to All Sounds’, as well as exploring Cary’s wwork for Dr Who etc, also talks about the Barrons studio and productions for Forbidden Planet and John Cage’s Williams Mix between pages 52 and 58.
I found the explanation of comosing Williams Mix interesting; the Barrons created around 600 sounds which were categorised and filed in envelopes, then, using the I Ching, the piece was composed (the remaining bits of tape were used on a piece called Octet by Earle Brown and John Cage).
Brian Hodgson talking about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop:
“There was a large echo machine that was so crackly that we turned it on the day before we wanted to use it, so it would get all the crackles out of its system.”
David Tudor talking about making sounds for Rainforest IV:
(I’ve interpreted it)
Get some objects (whatever, wood, metal, plastic etc) and hang them in a way that they can vbrate. Attach a transducer (contact Loudspeaker) and play sounds ‘into’ the object via the transducer so the object vibrates at its resonant frequencies. Experiment with different sounds for each object. Attach a contact mic to the object so you can hear or record it.
In Chapter Five, COMPUTER MUSIC:
Talking about MUSIC V, Max Mathews 1960s non-realtime computer music software: “Musicians generally like to work intuitivley, hearing their music as they perform, trying things out as they compose, occasionally singing a tune.”
same chapter:
F. Richard Moore talking about the CARL thingy and, I suppose, a good reason to use audio software…:
“There was no limit on the complexity of the sound that could be produced. If you wanted to produce 10,000 sine waves all at the same time, you could do that, no problem. […] Another thing is that it very much lent itself to experimentation. It is far easier to prototype a software unit thatn to prototype a hardware unit, and it doesn’t require anything near the technical expertise.”
Curtis Roads talking about pre-recorded:
“For Roads, a composition on tape or compact disc is like a book or a work of art that does not require a performer. Roads argues: “You might ask a painter why he does not paint on stage and he would look at you as if you were crazy, saying ‘What does that have to do with making art?'” And his view, like the presentationof a painting in a wel lit gallery, the public presentation of music should be managed in a suitable space with suitable equipment”
Paul Lansky (on the same page):
“I’ve done a lot of pieces by creating complicated textures or scenarios which allow the listener to use an active imagination while listening – a piece on tape or compact disc has to perplex the listener; it has to have something about it that’s puzzlingand not completley straightforward”
Describing the piece Idle Chatter (1984): “The surface of the piece is relativley simple but it’s a backdrop to a much more complecated texture. people would talk to me about the piece and nobody would say the same thing. It was as if I was providing them with an environment in which they could let their ears dance, where there was no particular thing they should be listening to at any point.”
A technique to try out by Lansky:
“For Night Traffic (1990), for example, Lansky recorded cars passing at night and used the chaos of the sounds, with their noise and Doppler-shift elements, as a filter through which to hear the melodies and harmonies that he composed. […] thsounds of the cars themselves are an excitation function of the music and the cars become the inner voice of the music.”
Trevor Wishart talking about the Composers Desktop Project:
“I like programming – I find great excitement in making an instrument and changing it’s specifications to make it do what I want it to do.”
Billy Klüver talking about the development of computer music software, how it is a social activity through the CMJ etc. is followed by John Pierce stating:
“It’s Billy Klülver’s idea that ‘isn’t it wonderful that the arts will attract the assistance of a lot of engineers,’ but the real thing is thatit’s amazing how may musically talented people become expert with computers.”
Page 183 talks about the development of MAX by Miller puckette.
Chapter Seven, beginning P185, ‘The MIDI World’ is about the connection between the academic world of computer music and the jump toward domestic & home user music computing.
‘worth revisiting at some point.
Continuing in the MIDI world:
“Manfred Rürup observes:
People often have good musical ideas. But to learn an instrument can be really hard and after you’ve gone through that process, you’ve sometimes lost your ideas. With sequencers, people who aren’t really professional musicians can do their stuff and put it into a good musical form. And not only amateurs. There were all these groups that couldn’t play, and sequencers allowed them to do anything.”
Page 204 is vaguely talking about IRCAM and the drive toward software for home users, computer creativity and early Apple Mac based audio editors.
Christopher Dobrian observing that MAX was “accessible to a lot of people who might not otherwise have had access to computer music programming…”
I didn’t know about the opera by Tod Machover, who, whilst at IRCAM had composed an opera based on the PKD novel ‘Valis’. I’m not interested at the moment about the production side of this project (it falls in the ‘Inputs and Controls’ chapter), however, I am attracted to it by the fact it is a work based around an author I think is great!
“For Peter Otto and Michael Waisvisz, who viewd elecronic music radically different from the past, the musical problem was how to control complexity.”
“In 1988, as the audio industry was completing its conversion to digital technology, Otto designed what he called Contact. In his view, “What was lost in digital technology was the gestural, tactile immediacy of the analog world, so here you were with this incredible computing power and just a mouse to control it with.” Control is a desktop control surface containing ninety-one knobs, switches and faders, each of which can be assigned to control any musical or audio variable, or group of variables, in any system to which it is connected. Otto’s solution, in other words, was a large number of independant performance controls that could be flexibly applied to a large number of variables.”
Anthony Widoff talking about U2’s lead guitarist, The Edge’s guitar sound:
“The source signal is a magnetic pickup producing waveforms from a metallic string. Then there’s a vast processing through an extremley complicated matrix of signal routing. He’s got some of his own custom effects devices and a wide range of both high- and low- end digital processing. Then he has at least a half dozen vintage tube amplifiers. You have these 30-year-old tube amplifiers that are receiving signals from devices invented yesterday.”
Making Sound chapter:
Dave Smith, consultant to Korg…
“In general nobody programs synthesizers. I noticed in machines coming back for servicing that nobody had changed the sounds. Other companies noticed that too. And as synthesizers become more comples, it’s even harder to change the sounds. Korg has a team of voicing experts to make sounds for the new instruments and someone who buys a synthesizer is better off, in a sense, using the factory provided sounds. Obviously there’s a group of computer musicians who will get in there and change things, and we try to provide a top-level macro control surface for them, but to think that somebody that buys this thing will sit down and program is a fallacy.”
[…]one of the historical dreams of electronic music has been to compose sound as well as music. Edgar Varése said it in 1939 “I need an entirley new medium of expression: a sound producing machine (not a sound re-producing one).”
Jean Claude Risset: “The easier a system is to use, the more limited are it’s possibilites.”
Barry Truax: “I’ve never used any software except my own, but nowadays, I suspect most people are the opposite, that they’ll never use their own – I don’t think that most people are aware of how commercial software colours their musical process and causes standardisation.”
Paul Lansky: “The most interesting music is generally going to be made by people who have taken the design of their instruments into their own hands.”
Gottfried Michael Koenig talking about his programming of PR1: “I had invented a structure which I could have written out as a piece of music. For me, PR1 was a composition, a structure, based on rules – but where the rules could be used to create another piece. In fact, I realized that I could write at the same time many other pieces.”
(I’m noticing and reenforcing a thread here of making your own software or hardware to make original sounds with, and not relying on the presets.)
Where are we going Chapter:
Woody and Steina Vasulka saw no division between electronic music and electronic video, they worked with Rhys Chatham to control video with audio signals in the early 1970s.
Morton Subotnick’s All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1993), the first musical composition created specifically as a multimedia CD-ROM…
“As personal computers and CD-ROMs became normal consumer items in the early 1990s, the idea of artistic interactivity at home became a common thought. Some people, of course, had thought of it much earlier. Whereas a compact disc might bring a concert hall into one’s living room, Max Mathews had reasoned that an interactive approach would actually let someone conduct…” The Radio Baton and Conductor Program…
the most interesting question for me (talking about Music Mouse and Sound effects improv on P336:
“But if the performer is composing, what has the composer done?” In the two stage process of design then do, the composer has designed an instrument and its sounds so that the performer can do the music. As part fo the design, the composer has defined the connections between the performer’s controls and the musical variables. The composer has determined, in other words, what happens when the performer does this or that…
i think the book paints a good picture of developments up to that point.
i jumped back into this book after zipping through Tom Wolfs Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests and followed it up with about half (so far) of The San Franciscon Tape Music Center (TSFTMC).
where i saw Electric Sound heading is where the market itself has gone – domestic.
the latter quotes above are pointing that way and that’s the area that appeals to me.
i have found this journey of electric music to computer music to be very academic, but have noticed a couple of interesting connections to underground rock and other forms of music production and consumption…
there’s mention of the band Brainticket and a little computer program on P321,
i have quoted above about The Edge from U2,
Peter Gabriel is also mentioned with regard to CD-ROM projects on P333
along with the U2 MAX controlled lazerdiscs in their live shows during the 90s…
the book was printed in 97.
there’s also mention in TSFTMC of dual roles in the underground rock scene in 60s SF and composers of ‘serious’ music (p246 – Bernstein talking about the SF rock underground during the chapter on Stuart Brand.

this reading is leaving me wanting to know more about the cross-over and use of electric music techniques in more mainstream musics.
i guess that once i have finished reading TSFTMC, i should tuck in to The Art Of Electronic Music as there’s plenty in there – interviews with Klaus Schulze etc…
it’s also leaving me with a desire to create some of my own music or sound producing tools.
i have had a go at this physically with circuit bending Speak N Spells, also my MA work revolved around MAX/MSP which spilled into a bit of stuff for Semiconductor and further fiddles around sample manipulation etc.
so there’s a couple of avenues to persue at some point from here:
obviously building software in something like MAX, Reaktor or Supercollider etc.
and also, perhaps ‘obviously’ again, building some hardware stuff like one of the Gakken project synths and even getting stuck into one of those Klee sequencer kits…
from a music production perspective though, i also need to get stuck into making some sounds, so, and i have mentioned this in another post, about producing a sound track of some sort.
i also like the idea of creating a bank of sounds in response to a book or something and ‘composing’ the sounds in some form or other…
both PKD and Cage used the I Ching as a tool for composing in both their respective areas, so maybe this is something i could look into as well…
now, what was the book PKD wrote using the I Ching..?
…The Man In The High Castle


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