Source: Lee de Forest, “Audion Bulbs as Producers of Pure Musical Tones” (The Electrical Experimenter, December 1915)
May 20, 2014, 11:02am
Source: Lee de Forest, “Audion Bulbs as Producers of Pure Musical Tones” (The Electrical Experimenter, December 1915)
May 20, 2014, 11:02am
For a while now I have felt that the site as it currently exists falls short of my vision of what it could be, and simmering frustrations with the technical limitations of the Tumblr platform have pushed me to the realization that Acousmata needs a new home and a new format.
So please bear with me as I make the transition—there is still much to be done, and it will likely be several months at the least before the new site is ready to be unveiled.
August 21, 2013, 12:24pm
Sur les echasses (On Stilts, 1934)
No one individual did more to bring harp technique into the twentieth century than Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961). Born in France to Basque parents of Sephardic heritage, Salzedo graduated from the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 16. After permanently moving to the United States in 1916, Salzedo quickly immersed himself in the contemporary arts and music scene. Among his many activities, he co-founded the International Composers Guild with Edgard Varèse and established the harp department at the newly founded Curtis Institute of Music, where he taught for many years. Salzedo’s contributions to harp technique were first set forth in his 1921 book Modern Study of the Harp. Beyond introducing a bevy of new notations and playing techniques, such as the “Aeolian flux” (Salzedo’s improvement on the traditional glissando), the book projects a modernist vision of never-ending musical possibilities. In his foreword, Salzedo writes, ”There is nothing difficult. There are only NEW things, unaccustomed things.” His own music ranges from shimmering Debussyan compositions of his early years to his more probing later works, which explore texture and form within an extended diatonic framework, as in this piece from his 1934 collection Short Stories in Music.
Example from Modern Study of the Harp
July 26, 2013, 10:23am
Chorale 1 (1999)
The work of Maryanne Amacher explored many diverse phenomena at the cutting edge of experimental music and sound art. In her City Links project, she created an artificial urban soundscape by planting microphones throughout a city and transmitting their input over telephone lines to a central location where they could all be heard in simultaneous superposition. She also developed an intensive approach to site-specific sound installations by investigating the effects of unconventional loudspeaker placement, so that “the rooms themselves become speakers, producing sound which is felt throughout the body as well as heard.” Her most distinctive compositional impetus was based on the phenomenon of “ear tones,” or otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), measurable vibrations produced by the ear either spontaneously or, more often, in response to particular musical stimuli. In her essay "Psychoacoustic Phenomena in Musical Composition," Amacher suggests the composer’s job is now to map out a new “perceptual geography” by coordinating three distinct levels of activity: the sounding source, the response tones stimulated in the listener’s ear, and the subjective aesthetic impression as the mechanical impulses are converted to electrical signals in the brain. Despite her relatively meager available output (two CDs on John Zorn's Tzadik label, plus a smattering of short articles), Amacher's work has exerted a large and seemingly ever-growing influence on contemporary sound art and theory.
July 11, 2013, 4:11pm
July 11, 2013, 7:01am
From our Curators’ Introduction:
Since the taxonomical work of Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs in the early twentieth century, organologists have classified musical instruments into four major categories, each distinguished by its primary sound-producing mechanism: idiophones (vibrating body), membranophones (vibrating membrane), chordophones (vibrating strings) and aerophones (vibrating air columns). Beyond these basic divisions, scholars have proposed such logically consistent additions as electrophones (for electronic instruments) and corpophones (for the human body as a source of sound). We propose a seventh category: fictophones, for imaginary musical instruments. Existing as diagrams, drawings or written descriptions, these devices never produce a sound. Yet they are no less a part of musical culture for that. Indeed, fictophones represent an essential if hitherto unrecognized domain of musical thought and activity, and it is in order to catalog these conceptual artifacts that we have established the first institution of its kind: the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments.
Illustration of Francis Bacon’s “sound-houses,” from New Atlantis (1627)
July 03, 2013, 9:36am
La fabbrica illuminata (excerpt, 1964)
While most of his colleagues were at least sympathetic with various leftist causes, the Italian composer Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was a devout Communist who believed that art must be of service to social progress. Nono had no compunctions combining the avant-garde compositional techniques of the mid-20th century (integral serialism, indeterminacy, electronic sound production, and tape collage) with explicit political messages. This stance put him in conflict with figures such as John Cage, whose happy-go-lucky embrace of anarchic individualism Nono saw as naive and politically dangerous. His 1964 composition La fabbrica illuminata (The Illuminated [or Englightened] Factory) was one of the most striking manifestations of Nono’s politically committed approach to experimental music. Based on texts by Giuliano Scabia and Cesare Pavese, this piece for soprano and four-channel tape incorporates manipulated sounds from the factory floor and the noise of political demonstrations. Nono intended La fabbrica illuminata as a “sonic diary” to record the inhumane treatment of auto workers in Genoa, Italy. But Nono also wanted to intervene directly in the struggle: he envisioned his music being piped in over loudspeakers during the workers’ protests.
Source: La fabbrica illuminata
June 26, 2013, 2:56pm
Disparate Stairway Radical Other (excerpt, 1995)
American composer Lucia Dlugoszewski (1931-2000) cultivated a distinctive voice amidst the chaotic chorus of avant-garde music in the second half of the 20th century. She studied with Edgard Varèse in the early 1950s, and her music shows his influence, as well as that of New York School composers such as John Cage, who became advocates of her work. Dlugoszewski favored the use of unconventional instruments, such as the “timbre piano” (a systematic expansion of that instrument’s acoustic potential by means of Cagean “preparations” as well as unorthodox methods of exciting the strings) and a series of custom-built devices—some 100 in number—constructed according to her designs. Like many in her milieu she was powerfully affected by Eastern philosophy and its calls to reclaim the immediacy of experience. Through extremely subtle nuances of timbre, provocative silences, and brusque juxtapositions of sonic material, Dlugoszewski sought to circumvent perceptual habits and confront the listener with the immediacy of sound. She writes, “The first concern of all music in one way or another is to shatter the indifference of hearing, the callousness of sensibility, to create that moment of solution we call poetry, our rigidity dissolved when we occur reborn—in a sense, hearing for the first time.”
Source: Disparate Stairway Radical Other
June 21, 2013, 1:57pm
A highly secretive project of Detroit techno musicians James Stinson and Gerald Donald, Drexciya was a concept band based on a constructed Afro-futurist mythology. The duo’s title referred to an imagined underwater civilization inhabited by the descendants of unborn children of African women who were thrown overboard from slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Their music, released primarily on a series of EPs beginning in the early 1990s, explores a shadowy and evocative world of sonic imagery, an alternate reality of techno music in which the genre’s upbeat dancefloor roots are mercilessly deracinated by throbbing waves of dark sonic energy. Drexciya ended with Stinson’s untimely death in 2002, but Donald has continued to produce music under such names as Arpanet and Dopplereffekt.
Source: The Journey Home (1995)
June 12, 2013, 11:04pm
Messe de nostre dame: Kyrie
Guillaume de Machaut
The Messe de Nostre Dame of the great fourteenth-century poet-composer Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) is the earliest musical treatment of the Mass by a single composer. In this first movement, Machaut spins out a vast web of music from just three little lines of text: "Kyrie eleison / Christe elesion / Kyrie eleison." (As the first and simplest unit of the Ordinary Mass, the Kyrie has always provoked the most sublime and inventive approaches among composers who have set it to music.) The labyrinthine polyphonic weft of voices, with its jarring dissonances and microtonal inflections, and the raspy, almost guttural vocal timbre of this performance by the Ensemble Organum, create an effect at once visceral and otherworldly—an atmosphere far removed from the stereotypical images of cherubic sweetness with which we are likely to associate medieval music.
June 03, 2013, 12:25pm
Wire Recorder Piece (1944)
In 1944, Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh attended a zar ceremony, in which music and chanting are used to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick. Because the zar is typically performed exclusively by women, El-Dabh wore women’s headdress in order to enter unnoticed. He also smuggled in a portable wire recorder (a predecessor to the magnetic tape machine) which he had borrowed from the Middle East Radio Station in Cairo. El-Dabh recorded the ceremony and later processed the sounds, filtering out the lower frequencies and adding reverberation by re-recording in a room with movable wall panels. The result was this brief but haunting piece of sonic art, in which ethnographic field recording merges seamlessly with the transformational editing practices of electronic music.
Source: Crossing into the Electric Magnetic (2000)
May 29, 2013, 11:41am
Fewer and fewer black musicians were playing jazz and I could see why, because jazz was becoming the music of the museum. A lot of musicians and critics are at fault for letting it happen. No one wants to be dead before their time, you know, when they’re twenty-one, and that’s what was going to happen to someone who went into jazz. At least that’s the way it looked to me. The only way that wasn’t going to happen was if somehow they got the ear of the young people again, and I didn’t see that happening. I didn’t even go to listen to most jazz groups anymore, because they were only playing the same musical licks that we played way back with Bird, over and over again; that, along with some of the things that Coltrane introduced, and maybe Ornette. It was boring to hear that shit. These musicians had become victims of the critics, most of whom are lazy and don’t want to work too hard to understand contemporary musical expression and language. That’s too much like work for them, so they just put it down every time. Dumb, insensitive critics have destroyed a lot of great music and musicians who just weren’t as strong as I was in having the ability to say, “Fuck y’all.”
From Miles: The Autobiography (London: Picador, 1990), p. 342.
May 23, 2013, 12:41pm
Hans Werner Henze
Gottfried Michael Koenig
Source: Ulrich Dibelius, Moderne Musik 1945-1965 (Munich: R. Piper & Co., 1966)
May 17, 2013, 2:49pm
From the album Chamber Music
In a compositional milieu where so many artists succumb either to the Scylla of late-romantic necrophilia or the Charybdis of bloodless avant-garde epigonism, it is refreshing to discover music that uses the old classical instrumentarium to novel effect. Such is the work of the Italian composer Franco Donatoni (1927-2000).
Like so many of his European contemporaries, Donatoni cut his teeth in the 1950s at the Darmstadt summer courses, a crucible of avant-garde musical thought. Here he was introduced to many of the major figures of the scene, such as Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez, and Cage. Although Donatoni viewed Cage with suspicion, he shared the American’s radical critique of compositional agency. His response to the crisis of ungrounded subjectivity in contemporary music was not to be found in chance procedures, but in a systematic process of recomposition through rules of substitution and permutation derived from the parametric analytical principles of serialism.
Donatoni’s music is generated by the ruthless cannibalization of earlier works, as fragments of scores are subjected to permutational schemes in order to form new material in a manner inspired by the alchemical process of sublimation. (Musicologist David Osmond-Smith’s description of Donatoni’s techniques includes such graphic anatomical metaphors as “cancerous proliferation” and “dismemberment.”) This method could of course be brought to bear on any music, not just Donatoni’s own. For example, his 1967 composition Etwas ruhiger in Ausdruck (1967) is based on a multidimensional analysis of eight bars from Arnold Schoenberg’s Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23, No. 2.
While the transmutation of pre-existing material follows certain strict rules, its subsequent rearrangement into new configurations is done more or less according to taste. Following the moment-to-moment logic of musical transmutation, without a preconceived vision of how the composition is to unfold, Donatoni sought a musical flow that emerged from the very notational labor of composition, from the “juggling” of notes and proportions to which critics might attempt to reduce this eminently writerly form of music. For Donatoni there is no such thing as creation, only transformation: He declares, “I am not an artist but an artisan.”
After a fallow period in the early 1970s, in which he battled a spell of depression aggravated by the deaths of his mother and his old mentor Bruno Maderna, Donatoni returned to composition. Rejecting the conventional model of composing big orchestral pieces that were performed once and then forgotten, he now focused on producing works for soloists and chamber ensembles with whom he had a direct personal connection. His music from the late 1970s on is marked by deft complexity and cerebral playfulness. Algo IV, one of the last works Donatoni wrote before his death in 2000, is derived from the earlier work Algo, a 1977 piece based in turn upon the recomposition of a guitar lick by Django Reinhardt.
May 08, 2013, 2:19pm
From the album Artificial Intelligence (1985)
Italian-born composer-producer Doris Norton is one of the unheralded champions of early electronica. Norton’s music from the 1980s occupies the stylistic intersection of synth-pop, industrial, and techno music.
Long before launching a solo career, Norton was the voice of the Italian progressive rock band Jacula, led by her husband, Antonio Bartoccetti. The group released two albums in 1969 and 1972. Norton’s own work began to appear in the 1980s. Some of her earliest tracks, such as “Eightoeight” and “Underground” (both 1980), with their syncopated drum machines and clockwork sequencer lines, strikingly anticipate what would later be known as techno. (These tracks bear comparison to Charanjit Singh’s legendary 1983 record Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat).
Norton’s mid-decade releases are classic musical documents of the dawn of the PC era. She embraced the personal computer as a musical instrument uniquely capable of realizing her artistic visions:
In the late sixties I had already conceived computers as “personal.” I have always trusted in the benefits of solitude; [being] alone means freedom… What’s better than a “personal” computer for materializing ideas, by oneself? [source]
Albums such as Personal Computer (1984) were sponsored by Apple (and featured the company’s logo prominently on the cover) while Artificial Intelligence (1985) was purportedly created entirely via computer keyboard, whence the MIDI information was fed to a Roland JX-8P synthesizer. Later albums Automatic Feeling (1986) and The Double Side of Science (1990) were underwritten by IBM.
While the beat-oriented style of Norton’s music aligns her with such global fellow-travelers as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk, her championing of the PC as a tool for self-sufficient musical creativity also connects her to more artsy musicians such as Pietro Grossi, Laurie Spiegel, and the League of Automatic Music Composers. Norton’s predilection for the bright, glossy timbres of early digital instruments also recalls Hubert Bognermayr and Harald Zuschrader’s bizarre 1982 one-off Erdenklang.
While her music remains largely out of print and inaccessible, Norton’s early records have recently begun to receive the inevitable rediscovery treatment. Her 1981 album Raptus was re-released in 2011 by Italian label Black Widow Records, and her other albums from the early 80s are likely soon to follow.
May 01, 2013, 7:00am