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March 14, 1965 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1965-03-14
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By MARK SLOBIN
r1 MOST MUSICIANS and laymen,
sound recorded on magnetic tape is
synonymous with electronic music. How-
ever, unlimited as the tape medium is, it
does not include the entire electronic
field. John Cage, the intrepid pioneer,
wrote "Imaginary Landscape No. 4" back
in 1951 for twelve solo radios. His "Cart-
ridge Music" of 1960 is based on sounds
produced by insertion of objects into
phonograph cartridges connected to am-.
plifiers.
Non-tape electronic music remains a
tremendously fertile, unexplored field.
This article will concentrate on the more
orthodox and widespread manifestations
of current electronic music. The complex,
sometimes revolutionary, and often dis-
turbing aspects of tape music demand d s-
cussion. There are few musicians today
who do not have decided opinions about
aspects of the field.
The material investment in electrnic
music alone is remarkable. The Univer-
sity brought Mario Davidovsky from the
Columbia-Princeton electronic center last
year to set up impressive tape facilities
at the music school. The University is only
one of a long list of institutions which
have sunk large sums of money into in-
vestment of equipment and personnel. In
America, the universities have become
the most numerous of the institutiona.
explorers, along with Bell Labs and RCA.
In Europe and Japan, radio stations pro-
vided the initial impetus for investiga-
tion of the electronic medium, led by
Paris and Cologne in the early 1950's.
The establishment of centers outside of
radio station support in Europe has de-
veloped more recently in places such as
the Siemens factory in Munich.
A development with great potential
for the further growth of electronic music
has been the recent burgeoning of inde-
dependent electronic studios. Single com-
posers or small groups of composers have
begun to band together to share equip-
ment and cost of operation. The Ann
Arbor Cooperative Studio for Electronic
Music was established in 1958, and other
nerve centers like the San Francisco Tape
Music Center have developed as non-in-
stitutional composers gathered.
The realization that cost need not be
prohibitive has been an important dis-
covery of the independent composers. In
an article entitled "An Electronic Music
Studio for the Independent Composer"
(Audio Engineering Society Journal, July
'64), Ann Arbor composer Gordom Mum-
ma points out that the price of a studio
need not exceed the price a professional
pianist or violinist would be willing to
pay for his instrument. Mumma places
the figure at a bare minimum of $700 to
$2000 for a versatile studio. His working
plan for an independent studio includes
the use of many readily available items
from the high-fidelity industry, which
has made small studios feasible.
TN THE ELECTRONIC field today, two
related activities are developing side
by side. On the one hand, there are com-
posers of all types who are interested
primarily in composing pieces through
electronic means. On the other hand,
electronically - minded technicians and
musicians are developing the basic tech-
nology, which is the underlying mate-
rial of electronic music. Interestingly
enough, it has been a number of ex-Ann
Arborites who have been doing signifi-
cant technological work lately.
Page Four

At the University of Illinois, James
Beauchamp has been experimenting with
a harmonic sound generator which can
individually control each fundamental
pitch and its overtones as to several
acoustic factors such as attack and decay.
This device can be operated manually or
through a computer. At Bell Labs, recent
work has concentrated on synthesis of
speech, which has proven to be closely
related to problems of musical sound
synthesis. Harvard electronic technicians
have started work on entirely new
methods of computer sound synthesis. In
Ann Arbor itself, innovations in fre-
quency-modulated sound synthesis are
forthcoming.
Even when the technological experi-
menter and the active composer are one
and the same, the approach to the two
activities is markedly different. Compos-
ers, as in the past, are primarily interest-
ed in performance, and view experiment-
ation as a means to creation of new
works. The San Francisco Tape Music
Center is primarily a performance center.
The Ann Arbor Cooperative Studio was
initially organized to create music for
Milton Cohen's Space Theatre and George
Manupelli's experimental films. In terms
of performance, one of the attractive
features of electronic music is the possi-
bility of instantaneous critical audition of
a work. In America, at least, the com-
poser of a symphony might just as well
resign himself to keeping the work on the
shelf unless he has been specially com-
missioned. The electronic composer need
only flip a switch to find out how suc-
cessfulhhe has been in realizing the sound
world he imagined.
PERFORMANCE OF electronic music
is, of course, the primary method of
attracting a public and forming a select
critical audience. The enormous public
of the mass media has already begun to
be exposed to the electronic medium.
Everyone is familiar with the type of
"spooky music" used as background for
film and televisionshorror and adventure
productions. The spooky stuff was the
pioneer development in a growing use of
electronic sound in the significant mass
medium of public background music. Its
use in the background, as well as in
television and film, remains largely un-
noticed by the general public. The most
publicized recent film with the new sound
was Sartre's "No Exit" which included a
carefully written, specially commissioned
score from two Columbia University pro-
fessors. Cage's prize-winning score for
Herber Matter's "Works of Calder" is also
important. Independent composers have
done many scores for industrial and edu-
cational films.
In the more esoteric fields of experi-
mental dance, theater and film, electronic
music has begun to feel quite at home.
Cohen and Manupelli's Ann Arbor-based
productions are only one manifestation
of a national interest in application of

new sound to dramatic conceptions. The
eagerness with which electronic com-
posers have participated in non-musical
productions is partly due to the intrinsic
performance practice problems of tape
music. Early on in the game, composers
and audiences found that sitting in a
darkened hall was not conducive to good
response when the only visible performer
was a loudspeaker.
In addition, even if the lights were on,
audiences tended to bring a host of an-
ticipations based on traditional instru-
mental concert performances to a novel
medium. As a result, they both listened
for elements in the electronic music
which were clearly not present, and mis-
understood some elements which were
present. The new music still faces the
problem of generating an audience re-
sponse which is based on the new w ays
of listening. One can readily find lisen-
ers who go into a trance, or sit impatient-
ly waiting for "the theme." While most
composers would welcome a wide range of
response to the varied phenomena elec-
tronic music presents, they would perhaps
also welcome a new spectrum of assump-
tions about performance on the part of
audiences.
At present, electronic music has found
many niches in the structure of a total
concert. One rather effective technique
uses tape pieces as preludes and inter-
mezzos interspersed with longer instru-
mental or mixed works. Other concert
situationsrfind a group of short electronic
pieces grouped at the beginning of an
evening's entertainment. The addition of
tape music to art gatherings and informal
or formal evenings of dance and film is
continually expanding.
BEFORE PROCEEDING to a specific
discussion of the operations involved
in composing electronic music, let us out-
line some of the completely new consid-
erations the medium has brought into the
Western musical world.
First, and perhaps most romantic, is
the capacity for creating sounds never
before heard by human beings. This ca-
pacity is available at the flip of a switch
now by any trained worker in the field,
and was practically impossible before the
advent of the electronic era.
Second, the potential of non-pitch-cen-
tered sounds has been enormously ex-
panded. Most of world music involves the
use of specific pitches, or tones with reg-
ular vibration frequencies identifiable by
the ear as pitches. The possibility of an
unlimited variety, number, and combina-
tion of non-pitch-centered sounds was
heretofore technically unfeasible. The use
of these sounds in artistically conceived
structurings as a basis of sound compo-
sition is a contribution of electronic
music.
Third is the infinitesimal control of
pitch-centered sound. The harmonic
sound generator at Illinois described
above is only one of many readily avail-
able and easily operated devices which
allow the composer to manipulate ordi-
nary identifiable tones in unexpected
ways. The timbral possibilities opened up
by technology have been steadily and ef-
fectively explored by composers of elec-
tronic music. One of the most interest-
ing areas of research resulting from
electronic generation of sound has been
the study of the human psycho-Physio-
logical hearing response. Milton Babbitt
of Princeton, working with the Colum-
bia-Princeton sound synthesizer, has been
able to gather a wide variety of infor-

mation about the human perception of
sounds only because of the control of
sounds he was able to attain through
electronics. He eventually hopes to put
his knowledge to use in composing pieces,
Often the results of his research are quite
unpredictable. For example, the human
trill-producing limit is about twenty per
second, but a machine experiment has
shown that above twenty-five times per
second the ear no longer hears a trill
at all, but perceives a new pattern of the
two pitches.
Fourth on a list of innovations brought
about by electronic means is the perform-
ance of compositions by purely mechan-
ized means, with no visible human par-
ticipation. This aspect of the medium was
discussed above.
A fifth possibility raised by electronic
music has been perhaps more upsetting
philosophically than concretely. This is
the possibility of music composed with
no visible human participation. The onset
of the computer era brought the question
of programmed music into the realm of
aesthetics, and some friction has been
generated by the seeming conflict of a
totally mechanical-chance music with
traditional practice. However, almost no
composer seems to have taken up the
idea of letting the machine do all the
work, and it would be hard to point to
a totally mechanized composition. The
problem of controlled random composi-
tion is not specifically one of electronic
music, but falls into general questions of
avant-garde practice, including vocal and
instrumental media.
A sixth and final consideration of in-
novative aspects of the electronic med-
ium is the interesting disappearance of
notation. Whereas twentieth century
composers from conservative to radical
have been discussing the question of
notation with continued vigor for half a
century, the bulk of electronic composers
have quietly let the'question drop. One
major attempt was made by Karlheinz
Stockhausen several years back to create
a notation for an electronic composition.
The complicated, if attractive, color score
that resulted was found to be extraordi-
narily difficult to use as a guide to re-
producing the work the way one would
use a Beethoven score to recreate the
composition. Since that time, many com-
posers have come to the conclusion that
it is much easier to send someone a copy
of a taped piece than work for days pre-
paring an unreliable score. Thus elec-
tronic music is the first example of a
viable world of music which need noc be
written on paper or passed down orally.
The major re-assessment of the re-
lationship of music to noise was predicted
by John Cage as early as 1937. He said:
"I believe that the use of noise to make
music will continue and increase until we
reach a music produced through the aid
of electrical instruments that will make
available for musical purposes any and
all sounds that can be heard." He con-

tinued: "Whereas in the past the point
of disagreement has been between disso-
nance and consonance, it will be, in the
immediate future, between noise and so-
called musical sounds." In the context of
1965, these remarks sound remarkably
prophetic.
It is worthwhile quoting Cage on one
further point: "A single sound by itself
is neither musical nor not musical. It is
simply a sound. And no matter what
kind of a sound it is, it can become musi-
cal by taking its place in a piece of
music." Once again Cage has laid down
the groundwork for the current practice
of a large and diverse body of composers
and musicians.
HAVING made the complete theoretic
circle of the electronic era from Cage
back to Cage, this article concludes with
the most practical of descriptions. This is
a summary of the mundane matter of
handling the equipment today, told as a
step-by-step construction of an electronic
piece by a contemporary composer.
The composition under discussion is a
film score. The composer and filmmaker
agreed on the general character of the
score; the realization of the intention was
left up to the composer. The composition
is an ideal example of electronic practice
here and now, because of its connection
with the non-musical medium of film,
and because.of the materials it uses.
The materials stem from both large
groups of sound source available to the
electronic composer; natural vibrating
objects, from Coke bottles to violins and
the human voice, and electronically gen-
erated sounds. In this particular case,
the juxtaposition of the two sources is
striking. The natural sound used is the
voice of a radio announcer reading a
newscast; the electronic sounds include
both pure wave forms and controlled
noise.
The composer initially envisioned a
work involving two contrasting sound-
types combining to form a fairly well-
articulated unified sonority. The basic
rhythm of speech attracted him because
its patterning is unpredictable, yet famil-
iar in overall variation. The key to the
combination of the speech and electronic
sounds lay in the potential of a little
machine of the gated amplifier type,
which the composer himself designed.
This particular machine's structure in-
volves an input of two different sound
sources. One sound acts as a trigger
mechanism; that is, the second sound
will pass through the amplifier only while
the first sound does. When the first
sound stops, the second sound cannot be
heard. Using this device, the composer
put the tones generated by his sine-wave
oscillator into the amplifier along with
the newscast. Since the newscast was the
trigger sound, the resulting sonority was
a modification of the electronic sound ac-
cording to the pattern of the announcer's
voice, with the words being omitted.
In recording this modified sonority, the
composer used two recorder heads. While
the first picked up the sound, the second
played it back into the system, from
which it was fed directly through the
first recording head. A doubling of son-
ority patterns resulted. We will refer to
this sound as sound A.
The second stage of composition in-
volved the creation of sound B. Sound B
belongs to the same family as sound A.
It was produced by the same gated am-
plifier approach using speech and sound,
but differs from sound A in consisting of

controlled noise bands rather than sine-
wave, pitch-centered sounds. The com-
poser adjusted the gated amplifier to al-
low a little of the speech sound to be-
come recognizable, which added to the
color of sound B's basically neutral noise.
This time the delay recording technique
of two heads was not used.
Sound C completes the piece, and is a
logical extension of the technique used
for the first two sonorities. By switching
the roles of speech and electronic sound
in the gated amplifier, a kind of noised
voice emerged as Sound C.
ONCE THE entire sound material was
completed, the comnoser spent con-
siderable time mixing, blending, and fil-
tering sounds A, B and C to find out just
what their potential was in various
ranges at various frequencies. A number
of machines can be used for these pro-
cesses of experimentation. A very handy
device is the frequency-shifter by which
the speed. and therefore the pitch, as
well as other characteristics of the sound,
can be easily modified. Filters come in
many shapes and forms, and produce in-
numerable variation in sound material
that remains basically unaltered.
There is no set order for the various
manipulations of raw material that the
composer may make. Sounds A and B
were mixed judiciously to form a unified
sonority based essentially on the under-
lying speech pattern. The combined AB
sound was mixed with C in the final
stages of composition.
Manipulations of material can serve
many purposes for the composer. Just
to check on his material, he may want to
see how it reacts to various shifts and
filterings. In another case, he may speed
up the entire sound to fit a specific tim-
ing he needs for the composition. In
this case, mixings of A and B brought
about carefully chosen sequences of
sound patterns the composer wanted.
The sample work presented here is
only a sketch of the operational pro-
cedure followed by the c o m p o s e r.
Hunches, intiution, and a good ear play
vital roles in the composition of electronic
music, as they did in traditional classical
music. The composer often keeps a tape
sketchbook of available sounds he has ex-
perimented with in the past. A backlog
of sound suggests new ideas. The wide
variety of equipment for all stages of
composition entails constant decision-
making all the way through the work's
creation. The composer is always on the
alert for new approaches to his equip-
ment aiming at maximum versatility. He
will create his own hardware if commer-
cial equipment is too expensive, or if he
has a new idea in design. Watching a
composer handle his array of machines
as if he were fingering a keyboard is liv-
ing proof of the distance the fledgling
electronic art has traveled in a surpris-
ingly short span of time.

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINES

SUNDAY, MARCH 14, 1965.

Page Five

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