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Osamu Kitajima: “Tengu (A Long-Nosed Goblin)”

From the album Benzaiten (1974)

This highly grooveable hybrid of progressive rock and traditional Japanese music was the first release by multi-instrumentalist Osamu Kitajima (disregarding his 1971 “homage to British pop-psychedelia” under the pseudonym Justin Heathcliff). After followup albums Masterless Samurai (1980) and Dragon King (1981), Kitajima moved decidedly in the direction of new age music.

The album takes its name from Benzaiten, the Japanese name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati, patroness of knowledge, music, arts, and science. It features a cameo by Haruomi Hosono, who would carry on the torch of Japanese avant-pop in projects such as his exquisitely weird 1978 solo album Cochin Moon and the synthesizer-driven juggernaut Yellow Magic Orchestra, of which he was a founding member.


Played 323 time(s).

February 01, 2013, 2:58pm

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Douglas Leedy: “Silent Night”

From the album A Very Merry Electric Chrismas to You! (1971)

Coming at the tail end of the post-Switched-On Bach ”Moogsploitation” craze of the late 1960s, Douglas Leedy's A Very Merry Electric Christmas to You! is a lovely and musically sensitive synthesis (pun intended) of timeless holiday melodies and the cutting-edge electronic music technology of its time.

Leedy is an American composer, conductor, and musicologist whose slim discography belies his many years of activity in a variety of genres. In the late 1960s he taught at UCLA, where he also established an electronic music studio. Later he abandoned 12-tone equal temperament and pursued a musical style inspired by modal scales, minimalist repetitive patterns, and Carnatic Indian musical traditions. Since 2003, he has published music under the name Bhisma Xenotechnites.

A Very Merry Electric Christmas to You! features mostly “straight” arrangements of Christmas tunes, with some tracks (such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “The First Noel”) showing off Leedy’s not inconsiderable classical chops in florid variations on melodic themes. In his version of “Silent Night,” a gently modulated electronic drone provides a perfectly soporific accompaniment to the lilting melody.

The album was produced at the UCLA electronic music studio and features both Moog and Buchla synthesizers, as well as a mysterious touch-controlled instrument called the “Ognob Generator,” a tiny custom-build device created by Leedy with the assistance of W. R. Biglow, Jr.

Leedy’s two other electronic albums, The Electric Zodiac (1969) and Entropical Paradise (1971) show his more experimental side. Entropical Paradise, for example, is a two-hour work comprising six “sonic environments” created by free-running generative synthesizer patches.

Not surprisingly, A Very Merry Electric Christmas to You! was not the only Moog Christmas venture of the period. The Moog Machine’s Christmas Becomes Electric, a decidedly tame introduction to the synthesizer, actually predated Leedy’s record by two years.

Played 99 time(s).

December 20, 2012, 5:10pm

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Images from Bernhard Leitner’s “Sound:Space” (1978)


SPATIAL GRID  "The spatial grid is a three-dimensional grid of loudspeakers, a neutral frame for creating various spatial statements."

SOUND SWING  “A minimum of four loudspeakers is required for a pendulum-like motion of sound in space. Two speakers mark the upper ends on each side of the pendulum, the other two speakers are placed closely to the left and right of the walking platform. The direction of the swinging motion is thereby always clearly established. The swing is physically and very clearly experienced. The location of the two upper loudspeakers has been empirically determined. The wooden panel is an acoustical resonance link between lower and upper loudspeakers…”

SOUND CHAIR I  “Two loudspeakers are mounted directly on the chair. The sound shifts between these two points. The sound travels along inside the body without ever leaving it. One program for the sound chair is written down as a circular notation: the program can be repeated and experienced over an indefinite period of time. The calming, relaxing, soothing quality of this program is determined by the choice of instruments, speed and frequencies.”

HAND SOUND-OBJECTS  “A loudspeaker is carried in each hand and placed on the body according to the program. Notation and photograph show a cello-tone passing through the body’s center. The sound increases its intensity in the back, jumps at the highest volume to the speaker in front where it fades away. This motion alternates in the two directions.”

VERTICAL SPACE FOR ONE PERSON  “Diameter of both speaker drums: 75 cm. The level of the upper drum is adjustable. The lower the height the clearer is the perception of sound travelling in/through the vertical axis of the body.”

LATERAL SPACE  “The loudspeaker behind the seat and the loudspeakers on both sides are alternately activated, resulting in expanding and contracting motions of sound. The person identifies with the source of sound behind the seat: the spatial expansion originates in the person, the spatial contraction terminates in the person.”

November 29, 2012, 3:33pm

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Petr Kotik: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking 

From the album S.E.M. Ensemble

One of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic exponents of musical minimalism, the Czech composer Petr Kotik has lived in the United States since 1969, when he emigrated at the invitation of Lejaren Hiller. Kotik quickly integrated himself into the American new music scene. Working closely with composers such as Frederic Rzewski and John Cage, he relished the proverbially American spirit of experimentation. “In America, there is a tendency to welcome surprises and unusual ideas with much greater openness to it than in Europe,” he noted. “That could be one of the attributes that separates America from Europe.”

Kotik’s mature style is marked by the polyphonic layering of melodic lines, dissonant yet mellifluous, and characterized by a slow, processional rhythmic pulse. Although clearly influenced by American minimalism, Kotik’s music often has an angular and cerebral tone far removed from the modal sweetness of John Adams or Philip Glass. While those composers were driven by an urge for renewed emotional directness, in Kotik’s hands the stripped-down gestures becomes a vehicle of “dispassionate objectivity,” in the words of Petr Bakla. (In this respect, his work could be compared to that of American composer Tom Johnson.) In addition to composing, Kotik leads the S.E.M. Ensemble, an important contributor to contemporary music whose releases include a one-of-a-kind recording of the complete works of Marcel Duchamp.

The process of chance is an integral part of my method, not something that stands separately. Chance operations I use have a direction and are partially controlled. I then take the result and proceed to work on my own. The way I compose could be called a game. It’s a kind of a dialogue between the results of my method and my reaction to it, intuitively correcting, editing and introducing other elements in a quasi-improvised way. This result can be further processed by the method, which can set off a chain of more intuitive interventions. 


Much of Kotik’s music uses modernist prose as its basis, creating striking parallels between tonal and linguistic patterning. His major work in this vein is the six-hour-long Many Many Women (1976-1978), based on Gertrude Stein's book of the same name. The piece also integrates contrapuntal techniques typical of medieval composers such as Perotin and Machaut

Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, composed shortly thereafter, sets the prose of Buckminster Fuller's magnum opus Synergetics. The oracular proclamations of Fuller’s writing match up perfectly with Kotik’s architectural approach to vocal polyphony. The composer dismisses the notion that music can express or illustrate words, instead arguing that the two are governed by independent forms of structural logic: “For me the text and the music are two different entities.”

Music is expressing itself—music, nothing more and nothing less, just as everything else ultimately expresses itself, whether it is a stone, or a human being or a tree. […] Music invokes a situation that can lead to meditation; a personal, poetic and intellectual meditation. It is a field of sound, which we perceive in a time space. Music is not universal, it is always specific, and the ability to “understand” or navigate in this sound field requires education. A real education, that comes through one’s own initiative. 

Played 179 time(s).

November 09, 2012, 3:11pm

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Bernard Parmegiani: ”Matières induites”

From the album De natura sonorum (1975)

French composer Bernard Parmegiani (1927-) belongs to what could be called the second generation of composers working in the French tradition of musique concrète—the first generation comprising the movement’s founder, Pierre Schaeffer, and his gifted erstwhile pupil, Pierre Henry. After Henry’s acrimonious parting with Schaeffer in 1958, a number of younger composers came to work with Schaeffer at the newly founded Groupe de recherches musicales. This illustrious cadre included among others Iannis XenakisIvo MalecLuc FerrariMireille Chamass-KyrouFrancois Bayle, and Parmegiani.

Bayle and Parmegiani in particular were associated with the emergence of a distinct aesthetic known as musique acousmatique or “acousmatic music.” The term “acousmatic” had been introduced in the 1950s by Pierre Schaeffer to describe the listener’s separation from the acoustic source through the mediation of recording and reproduction technology. (“Acousmatic” derives from the ancient Greek word for listening, from which this blog also takes its name.) It was later extended by Parmegiani and Bayle to encompass a distinctive approach to composition in the electroacoustic medium. Acousmatic music in this sense means music specifically conceived for reproduction via loudspeakers, taking advantage of a situation in which the listener is confronted with an entire world of sounds whose origin could be familiar, ambiguous, or completely unknown. The acousmatic composer seeks to compensate for the lack of visual stimulus by provoking powerful “sound images” (images-de-son) in the listener’s imagination.


Parmegiani’s groundbreaking 1975 composition De natura sonorum (the title is a play on the Roman poet Lucretius' philosophical poem De rerum natura, “On the Nature of Things”) was intended as a fundamental, probing investigation into the essence of sound. The first six movements focus on the relationship between electronic and instrumental sounds, while the second half of the work contrasts electronic and concrete sound sources. While some movements, such as “Géologie sonore” and “Conjugaison du timbre,” dilate on slowly unfolding dronescapes in which gradual shifts in texture constitute the primary musical interest, the dominant mood throughout the work is mercurial and skittish. The frequent juxtaposition of contrasting timbres and sonic envelopes calls to mind Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of Klangfarbenmelodie, a logic of musical organization based primarily on variations  of tone color.

"Matières induites" (Induced Materials) is conceived as a continuous transition between different sonic "states" suggested by a wide palette of sounds including wooden and metal wind chimes, falling rain, and nails, coffee beans, and grains of rice dropped on sheets of glass and cardboard. Each succeeding state is "induced" from the preceding on the basis of certain morphological similarities in sound structure. Parmegiani writes, "Just as molecular effervescence creates transformations of state, in this movement it would appear that the different stages of the sound material are produced from each other, as if by induction. Here one is directly confronted with the theme of metamorphosis. It is an old idea in my work, passing in a systematic and continuous way from one material to another. Does listening to this constant transition from one state to another tell us anything about the nature of sound?" 

Played 185 time(s).

June 05, 2012, 10:26pm

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Laurie Spiegel: “Old Wave”

From the album The Expanding Universe (1980)

I’d been thinking about featuring the music of Laurie Spiegel for some time now, and Geeta Dayal’s recent piece on the surprising appearance of Spiegel’s 1972 composition “Sediment” in the new movie The Hunger Games convinced me that the stars were right for an ultra-rare Acousmata/pop culture tie-in.

Born in Chicago in 1945, Spiegel came of age as a composer in the 1970s, amidst the transition from old-school tape-and-scissors techniques to the digital interface of the computer. As a musical late bloomer whose early influences included shape note singing and the guitar playing of John Fahey, Spiegel felt ill at ease in the insular and often sexist environment she found at Julliard and other academic institutions. Reacting to these unfavorable conditions, she came to view the computer as an ideal medium for independent compositional work.

Spiegel was among the first to envision the computer as a tool of musical democratization, a new kind of folk instrument that allowed for decentralized musical production free from the constraints of economic and institutional forces. (Around the same time, the Italian composer Pietro Grossi and the Bay Area collective The League of Automatic Music Composers were also highlighting the political dimensions of the new creative technologies.)  Speaking at the dawn of the PC era in 1980, Spiegel stated:

Ultimately, these little computers will make it easier to compose, as well as to play music. There are far too few people creating their own music compared to the number of people who really love music. It’s a much worse ratio than amateur painters or writers to consumers of those media, I suspect, and it’s because until now, there has been only a very difficult technique for composing.

Many of Spiegel’s works from the 1970s—including all the pieces on The Expanding Universe—were created using GROOVE (Generating Real-Time Operations on Voltage-Controlled Equipment), a pioneering computer music environment developed by Max Mathews and Richard Moore at Bell Labs in 1968. GROOVE allowed the composer to use a variety of interface devices, such as keyboards, buttons and knobs, and drawing tablets, along with a computer terminal, to shape musical data in real time. (Previously, making music with  a computer generally meant an asynchronous relationship between the composer’s actions and the resulting sounds.) Spiegel used the real-time capacity of GROOVE to create music at once sophisticated and accessible, patterned yet highly differentiated—in her own terms, she sought an aesthetic middle ground between the two poles of serialism and minimalism.

Played 477 time(s).

April 02, 2012, 9:36pm

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Area: “Mela di Odessa”

From the album Crac! (1975)

Active from 1972 to 1983, Area was a pioneering Italian group that creatively synthesized currents of American popular music such as jazz and funk with experimental tendencies in song form and sound production. Led by the Orphic incantations of vocalist Demetrio Stratos, Area featured a rotating cast of musicians anchored by the core group of Giulio Capiozzo (drums), Patrizio Fariselli (keyboards), Ares Tavolazzi (bass and trombone), and Paolo Tofano (guitar).

Crac! is Area’s third album, following Arbeit macht frei (1973) and Caution Radiation Area (1974). Although they disbanded within a few years of Stratos’ untimely death in 1979, the group’s early records earned them a spot on the legendary Nurse with Wound List, a hugely influential catechism of underground music circa 1980.

"Mela di Odessa" (The Apple of Odessa") opens with a noisy burst of chirping electronic tones, atonal guitar noodling, and a raucous drum solo, leading into a driving jazz-rock texture topped by a piercing electric keyboard solo. Stratos’ trademark wordless vocalizations occasionally double the instrumental parts, leading through a frenzied labyrinth of improvised passagework. About halfway through, the mood changes quite suddenly, as the the drums and bass introduce a funky, off-kilter groove. Twittering electronic noise, Stratos’ spoken words, and brassy interjections—including a quotation of "Taps"—bring the track to a highly ambiguous close.

In his liner notes to the 1990 re-release on Cramps Records, Franco Bolelli writes: “To sink one’s teeth into the Area apple is to experience a taste which is neither the penitential taste of the avant-garde nor the tamed taste of the spectacle. Area has proven that the poetic and the experimental is not at all difficult and suffering. Indeed, it can be energetic and contagious.”

Played 219 time(s).

January 25, 2012, 9:39pm

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Louis Andriessen: Excerpt from De Staat (1976)

From the album De Staat

While the musical style broadly known as American minimalism comes in many flavors, from the cinematic ear-candy of Philip Glass to the playful psychedelia of Terry Riley and the symphonic bombast of John Adams, these various manifestations have in common a modal-diatonic approach to pitch organization and a tendency to eschew abrupt transitions in favor of gradually unfolding tone-patterns. American minimalism was intended (and in large part received) as a corrective to the overly “difficult” music of the mid-century avant-garde.

When minimalism made its inevitable appearance on the European continent, it took on a very different tone, one conditioned by the generally darker tendencies of European music in the postwar period. The premiere of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen's De Staat in 1976 signaled a radically new take on the possibilities of musical minimalism.  Jagged, angular, and suffused with lush dissonances that betray the composer’s debt to Igor StravinskyDe Staat pummels the listener with the brusque juxtaposition of highly differentiated textural blocks (Stravinsky again) played at a consistently breakneck pace. 

De Staat is written for an unorthodox ensemble heavily weighted toward winds and brass, plus the distinctive addition of electric and bass guitars. (Beginning in the early 1970s, Andriessen refused to compose for the conventional orchestra, which he saw as a symbol of the conservative musical establishment.) Four female singers intone snippets from Plato’s Republic concerning (ironically) music’s potential to disrupt the social order.



Played 149 time(s).

January 15, 2012, 10:24pm

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Igor Wakhévitch: “Rituel de guerre des esprits de la terre”

From the album Hathor - Lithurgie du souffle pour la résurrection des morts (1973)

At once unique and unclassifiable, the music of Igor Wakhévitch exemplifies the kind of work that tends to fall through the cracks created by our slovenly habits of genre categorization. Born in Provence, France, in 1948, Wakhévitch cut his teeth in the 1960s avant-garde music scene in Paris, studying with such major figures as Pierre Schaeffer and Olivier Messiaen. Over the course of the 1970s, Wakhévitch released six albums exploring an intensely evocative and absolutely distinctive world of sound, in which surrealistic, musique concrète-style sound collages and ethereal choirs mouthing wordless chants share sonic space with minatory synthesizer drones and throbbing, quasi-kosmische sequencer lines.

Wakhévitch’s 1973 album Hathor (subtitled “Liturgy of Breath for the Resurrection of the Dead”) is the nightmarish soundtrack for some imaginary black mass. The dark, ceremonial tenor of the music is nowhere more imposing than in this track, ”Rituel de guerre des esprits de la terre” (“War Ritual of the Earth Spirits”).

Although Wakhévitch’s pedagogical lineage places him squarely in the European post-classical tradition, his work shows an undeniable affinity with the contemporaneous progressive rock currents of the time, down to the album art.  Moments on Hathor such as the penultimate track, “Amenthi,” in particular, recall the psychedelic free-for-all of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. This particular influence was likely channeled through Wakhévitch’s friendship with the American minimalist composer Terry Riley, who was also keen to forge links between the classical/experimental and popular music scenes.

In 1974 Wakhévitch was asked by Salvador Dalí to compose the music for the painter’s “opera-poem” Être Dieu (Being God). The result was a singular work of late-surrealist fusion spanning three LPs. It was re-released on CD in 1992. Wakhévitch’s studio albums from the 1970s received a similar treatment in 1998, being repackaged as a six-CD boxed set (entitled Donc) by the French label Fractal Records.

Played 112 time(s).

December 06, 2011, 5:02pm

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Richard Lerman: Travelon Gamelon, promenade version (1978)

From the album Travelon Gamelon: Music for Bicycles

Richard Lerman (1944-) is an American composer and sound artist best known for his use of piezoelectric microphones to record minute natural sounds such as the falling of raindrops on blades of grass or the march of ants across the desert floor. Beyond his artistic production in this domain, Lerman has worked for decades to popularize field recording by educating people about the technical and aesthetic principles of the practice.

Lerman’s most iconic composition is something quite different: Travelon Gamelon, conceived in the late 1970s, is a clever musicalization of the common bicycle. The work exists in two versions: concert and “promenade.” The concert version calls for three bicycles turned upside down and each “played” by a performer. The piece is carefully written out using a combination of conventional and graphic notation, directing the performer to create sound by plucking and bowing the spokes of the wheel, applying the brakes, and striking the frame. All these sounds are miked and subjected to live electronic modification.

The promenade version, by contrast, is relatively free in structure, the sounds being generated by the impact of the spokes against various inserted materials (similar to the classic playing-card noisemaker familiar from childhood). The rhythmic whirring is captured by tiny homemade pickups, which send it via battery-powered amplifiers to loudspeakers attached to the bicycles’ handlebars.

This recording is an excerpt from a 45-minute performance of the promenade version of Travelon Gamelon, recorded on July 2, 1979, on the occasion of the opening of the Boston Museum of Transportation. The recording, of course, cannot do justice to this perambulatory piece of public art; it provides, at most, what John Cage called a “postcard” rendition of the event itself. Nonetheless, one can get a sense of the spirit of the piece, which has been performed many times all over the world since its premiere.

Travelon Gamelon was first released by the always-adventurous Folkways Records in 1982, and you can download the album and view the liner notes on the label’s website. It was re-released along with other Lerman compositions by Japanese label EM Records in 2006.

Played 130 time(s).

November 16, 2011, 1:27pm

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Music, technology, utopia: The legacy of Pietro Grossi

Pietro Grossi: Excerpt from Create C (1972)

From the album Bit Art (2010)

On the basis of both his musical creations and his visionary perspectives on the fate of art in the digital age, the Italian composer Pietro Grossi (1917-2002) is one of the most important figures in late 20th-century music. Grossi’s career was dedicated to a radical new conception of creativity and artistic production, as both aesthetic and a social phenomena.

Like most electronic and computer music composers of his generation, Grossi began as a classically trained musician. He studied cello and composition, played in the orchestra for many years, and his early compositions from the late 1950s are for conventional ensembles such as the string quartet, albeit in a probing, post-Webernian idiom, as was the style of the time. Some of these pieces employed a pre-compositional approach known as combinatory analysis, which was inspired by Grossi’s reading of Joseph Schillinger's influential text The Mathematical Basis of the Arts.

His first contact with electronic music came in 1961, when he visited the Studio di Fonologia Musicale (Studio of Musical Phonology) in Milan, which was led by Luciano Berio and Bruno Maderna. Here he realized Progretto 2-3, one of his earliest tape pieces, based on slowly changing sonorities formed by superimposed sine waves. Grossi would revisit this concept in an even more fundamental way in his later compositions Battimenti (1965). Another piece from this period, entited PG 4, was an ambient drone work created for a sound installation for an architectural exhibition in Florence.

Grossi founded the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di Firenze in Florence in 1963. It began in his home with a white noise generator and a few oscillators, filters, and tape machines. In 1965 the studio was absorbed by the Florence conservatory, where Grossi began teaching a course in electronic music, the first of its kind in Italy. In 1967, Grossi was given the opportunity to develop a music program for a GE-115 computer, provided by the Italian computer company Olivetti. Grossi programmed a number of pieces, including a fugue from Bach’s Musical Offering and Paganini’s Fifth Caprice. He also created his first original computer compositions, which demonstrated the experimental potential of the computer. All this music was included on a 45-RPM record that was sent as a Christmas present to 20,000 Olivetti customers.

In 1969, Grossi began working with computers on a regular basis at the National University Computation Center (CNUCE) in Pisa. At first the computer was able to output only a monophonic square wave of constant amplitude. Later systems allowed for variation in volume and timbre. The computer stored music as manipulable data which could be affected through a set of commands at the console, such as INVERT (to invert melodic intervals), SCALE (to change tuning), and MODIFY (to make global parametric alterations).

While many composers were drawn to the computer for its ability to perform complex musical instructions with absolute fidelity, Grossi had a fundamentally different conception of the potential of “computer music.” He saw the computer not as a means of precisely realizing the pre-formed music in his mind, but rather of liberating composition from the constraints imposed by human intelligence. Provided by humans with certain basic parameters, the computer can create music of a complexity and richness literally beyond imagination.

Grossi’s music from the early 1970s is to my ears the most exhilarating and original of his work. Pieces such as Monodia (1970) are stunning etudes in synthetic sound, using a single, monophonic sound chip to create skittering blasts of notes, twisted digital distortion, and trompe-l’oreille illusions of polyphony. Create C (1972), presented here, could be humorously described as “Ferneyhough in Super Mario World”: the primal timbres of early computer sound chips are pushed to their limits, creating a music of bewildering complexity and abrasive beauty. For all its intensity, this is still music of breathtaking, childlike directness, far from all pretense or ironic posturing. Grossi’s music not only anticipates but surpasses much of the computer music that would follow it in the 40 years between then and now.

Grossi’s later projects carried his radical aesthetic principles from music into graphic arts. In 1986 he developed “Homeart,” a computer program written in QBasic which created random visual patterns according to basic instructions— a kind of digital interior decoration. He later published a number of unicum books based on the Homeart program. Finally, in 1997, he and Sergio Maltagliati designed an interactive audio-visual composition called NetOper@. (This was a late manifestation of Grossi’s interest in long-distance music-making: in 1970 he established a telephone link between computers in Rimini and Pisa, and in 1974 he organized a “telematic concert” between himself in Pisa and Iannis Xenakis in Paris.  This idea would later be taken up by the American computer music group The Hub in 1985.)


The composer at the console

The emergence of the computer as an instrument of what could be called “computer-aided composition” spelled the end of the division of labor separating the functions of performer, composer, and listener. Accordingly, Grossi envisioned a fundamental shift in the meaning of composition. His class at the Florence Conservatory was open to non-musicians: the computer was to de-specialize musical production, eliminating the long, lonely hours of study required under the old regime. The liberation from the drudgery of instrumental training would free students to become more well-rounded and enlightened members of society.

Grossi encouraged his students to do away with the concept of intellectual property, instead thinking of music as a constantly changing work-in-progress of which individuals are merely the temporary custodians. Existing music was not a sacred and inviolable cultural heritage, but rather a reservoir of material for future productions. This was a kind of “remix” aesthetic avant la lettre, but with an important difference: Grossi’s notion of musical re-invention was based not on recordings, but rather on the greater malleability afforded by musical storage in terms of digital instructions. This allows for more abstract transformations. For example, a given composition, when stored as data in the computer, could be analyzed with regard to pitch content, producing a statistical table of pitch-class frequency that forms the basis for a new composition with a similar tonal “color” to the original. Analogous processes could be undertaken with regard to rhythm, dynamics, and theoretically even timbre.  Grossi writes:

Already twenty-five years ago, I was in close contact with all the researchers involved in electronic music, and we exchanged taped recordings each with a title and an author. And each time I got something, I was very happy to listen to what the other person had done. But I could also get hundreds of other pieces out of that tape by making use of the technology available at the time: variable speed tape recorders, filters, even scissors. Already we saw the prospect of freeing ourselves from the message, which earlier had been rigorously fixed on music paper and performed according to precise rules. Each tape-recorded phonic message became the point of departure for creating many others… From a set of information making up a classical, contemporary, or even extemporary piece created by the computer itself, it is possible to make an infinite series of transformations.

Grossi’s vision of the dissolution of the barriers between listeners, performers and composers was an outgrowth of the utopian thinking of the 1960s, which foresaw technological progress leading to the minimization of labor, freeing individuals for lives devoted to creative pursuits. As he put it, “[The present gives us] the image of a society characterized both by permanent education and research and by a frequent transfer from one activity to another. And in the fullness of time the leisure deriving from increased automation will give man the possibility of cultural enrichment and refinement. Today, practically speaking we have the possibility of solving our problems; the means are there—only the appropriate structures are still missing.”

Such a vision accorded with the idea of “composing” outlined in Jacques Attali's 1977 book Noise. Attali announced the arrival of a new paradigm in the history of music, characterized by the decentralized production of music outside the orbit of economic exchange. For Attali, as for Grossi, the emancipatory and democratic potential of music, aided by the development of technology, presaged a social order of equality and plenitude: Grossi invoked the words of sociologist Renato Famea, who foresaw a utopian anti-economy of “everything for everybody, effortless and valueless.” 

As Grossi foresaw, the development of technology has decentralized and democratized musical creativity. But the old ways die hard. Collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to composition are still the exception, rather than the rule. Popular conceptions—and following them, money and power—are still in the thrall of a conservative mentality that favors marketable products above experimental processes, individual geniuses above creative collectives, and technology as a means of repeating what we know, rather than discovering what we don’t. At a historical moment in which the idea of progress threatens to wither into the private accumulation of consumer gadgets amidst the general destruction of the commons, Grossi’s vision of musical politics is as distant as it is pressingly relevant.


 Still image from Grossi’s Homeart program


Played 229 time(s).

October 23, 2011, 3:49pm

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Alireza Mashayekhi: Chahargah I (1979)

From the album Persian Electronic Music Yesterday and Today, 1966-2006 (2007)

In one of the very first Acousmata posts, back in February 2009, I featured Ata Ebtekar’s “Miniature Tone”—a joyful and clangorous bit of electronic music. Recently I returned to the album where I found that track, which is one of the more creative offerings of Sub Rosa’s Guy-Marc Hinant (and that’s saying something). Featured alongside Ebtekar on this record is the older Iranian composer Alireza Mashayekhi, a fascinating figure who is lamentably unknown in the resiliently Euro- and Americo-centric world of new music. 

Born in Tehran in 1940, Mashayekhi is a perhaps the most prominent Iranian composer in the world. He studied in Tehran, Vienna, and Utrecht before returning to his home city to teach at the University of Tehran in 1970. Since 1995, Mashayekhi has led the Iranian Orchestra for New Music. His prolific musical production includes many works for traditional media such as symphony orchestra, as well as numerous electronic compositions. 

Alireza Mashayekhi

"One of the main features of Persian music, or rather Persian and Islamic art, is unity in multiplicity or coherent collection of seemingly contradictory items. This sacred art contains the means to enable man to see the forms of nature and multiplicity as so many reflections of the Unity which is both the origin and end of the order of multiplicity. It is the bridge from the periphery to the Center, from the relative to the Absolute, from the finite to the Infinite and from multiplicity to Unity. This doctrine of unity is central to the traditional and sacred art, which is also observed in the tradition of Persian music. […] Another aesthetic features of Persian music…is meditated repetition resembling the zekr or repetitive concentrated prayers.” (Hooman Asadi)

Like many composers who came of age in the second half of the 20th century, Mashayekhi upholds an emphatically pluralist aesthetic attitude. Many of his compositions resound with the scales and melodic shapes of Persian traditional music, while other works are composed in the so-called “international style” of mid-century modernism. Yet other pieces are shaped by metaphysical or formal concepts of Persian music, without necessarily bearing a readily audible trace of that influence.

Chahargah I demonstrates the sophistication of Mashayekhi’s fusion of classical and modern elements. The title invokes one of the seven primary scales or dastgah of Persian traditional music, and the distinctive intervallic character of this scale is clearly projected in the music, but the lush dissonances and shimmering electronic timbres that emerge a few minutes into the piece take us in a very different and unexpected direction. 

Played 80 time(s).

August 02, 2011, 7:48pm

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Henri Chopin: Excerpt from “Vibrespace” (1963)

From the album Revue OU (2002)

Henri Chopin"Without this machine, sound poetry would not exist." Thus did the French poet and musician Henri Chopin (1922-2008)—not to be confused with that other Chopin of some musical repute—describe the importance of the tape recorder for his foundational experiments on the borderline between voice and music, first undertaken in the 1950s.

While earlier pioneers of “sound poetry” had explored the artistic possibilities created by breaking down words into their constituent phonemes—the paralinguistic sounds of vowels and consonants—Chopin sought to free poetic practice from its connection to language. Using microphones to capture the sonic minutiae of the human vocal apparatus and tape machines to arrange and alter the resulting sound material, Chopin created a new genre of acoustic art he called the audio-poème. Through the encounter between the primordial musical technology of the voice and modern means of recording and manipulation, we hear the human body as an instrument of unlimited potential—in Chopin’s words, a “sound factory.”

This example of Chopin’s work is taken from a wonderful compilation of recordings originally included with the magazine Revue OU, which Chopin edited from 1964 to 1974. It features performances by sound poetry luminaries such as François Dufrêne, Bob Cobbing, Raoul Hausmann, Brion Gysin, and many more.

More of Chopin’s recordings can be found on UbuWeb.

Played 40 time(s).

July 05, 2011, 8:00am

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Anestis Logothetis: Graphic Scores

From Zeichen als Aggregatzustand der Musik (1974)

July 01, 2011, 8:00am

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Joan La Barbara: “Signing Alphabet” (1977), from Sesame Street, with animation by Steve Finkin

You’ve got to love this fusion of avant-garde audiovisuals and classic kid culture from the golden days of Sesame Street. Vocalist and composer Joan La Barbara (who recently gave a stunning performance of Morton Feldman’s Three Voices at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) creates a beautiful sound-poem out the ABCs, accompanied by cleverly morphing animations teaching the hand-shapes of the American Manual Alphabet

June 12, 2011, 1:25pm

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