Part II: "Old (New) Music"

Maurice Wright was born in Virginia and studied music at Duke and Columbia. He has composed for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Emerson String Quartet, the American Brass Quintet and other outstanding ensembles and soloists, and has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He is Laura H. Carnell Professor of Music Composition at Temple University's Boyer College Of Music and Dance.

Electronic Composition was composed in 1972 and 1973 and realized in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center’s studios on West 125th street. The sound sources comprised 6 sine/square wave generators and a noise source, and were modifed by adjustable filters, a metal plate reverberation system, tape splicing and mixing. It won the International Society for Contemporary Music competition in 1976 and was recorded on Columbia Records’ Odyssey label.

The Columbia-Princeton studios were located in a gritty building painted institutional green, with heavy metal mesh over unwashed windows that still were broken at times. Yet this was the ultimate place to compose tape music because there were several well-maintained tape studios adjoining Babbit’s RCA Synthesizer studio, and a thriving program in computer music as well. Electronic Composition is a song of someone happy to have a studio, but also a reaction to cold, late nights on the elevated subway platform at 125th street. The tape was recently restored using SoundHack software on a desktop computer.

 

Born in Ames, Iowa, Charles Dodge studied composition at the University of Iowa and Columbia University in New York. He did further studies and research in computer music at Princeton University, Bell Telephone Laboratories, the University of California, San Diego, and MIT. Dodge inaugurated the graduate study of computer music at Columbia University, where he taught in the music department from 1970-1980. He later directed the Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He now lives in Vermont and teaches at Dartmouth College.

Honored with such awards as the Bearns Prize, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, and two Guggenheim Fellowships, Dodge has received commissions from the Fromm and Koussevitsky Foundations, the Arts Council of Great Britain, Swedish National Radio, Groupe de Musique Experimentale de Bourges, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's New Music Group, and the American Guild of Organists. He is a past president of both the American Composers Alliance and the American Music Center, and is best known for his many electro-acoustic works incorporating speech synthesis, including the groundbreaking Speech Songs. With Thomas A. Jerse, he is author of the leading textbook in the field, Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance.

Dodge Speaks About Speech Songs

The Speech Songs were composed in 1972. Several were presented at New York’s alternative performance space, The Kitchen, and the complete set premiered at Town Hall. Although composers had experimented with synthesizing vocal sounds using statistical measures of vowel formants, Dodge was the first to see the musical potential of the analysis-synthesis technology used by telephone engineers. Invited by Max Mathews, a leading audio researcher at Bell Labs, to use the computing facilities at Bell, Dodge was captivated by the speech sounds emanating from the research lab of Joseph Olive, and learned how to use Olive’s computer software. Dodge recorded his own voice reading the four poems of Mark Strand, then used Olive’s analysis program to extract features of the voice that could be used to recreate the sound of the voice through synthesis. But Dodge altered the analysis to give a musical contour to the pitch of the synthesized voice, to change the speed of the voice, and in some cases to modify the timbre of the voice. Dodge writes: “For 'He Destroyed Her Image,' I was interested in changing the timbre of the voice.  That reversal from looking outside to being inwardly confused in the poem, I tried to depict with the changes of tone quality in the voice, back and forth between an electronic phrase that sounds speech-like (you can understand the words) and an electronic phrase that's less speech-like (where you can't understand the words).  This happens even though the two the two have same pitch pattern."

The Speech Songs were realized on a Honeywell minicomputer at Bell Labs.

Poems from The Sargeantville Notebook by Mark Strand

When I am with you, I am two places at once.
When you are with me, you have just arrived
with a suitcase which you pack
with one hand and unpack with the other.

He destroyed her image and thus she was no longer.
When he saw her in the street
he knew he’d seen her before,
but couldn’t place himself.

A man sitting in the cafeteria
had one enormous ear
and one tiny one.
Which was fake?

The days are ahead
1,926346 to 1,926345.
Later the nights will catch up.

 

Milton Babbitt was born in 1916 in Philadelphia and studied composition privately with Roger Sessions. He earned degrees from New York and Princeton Universities and has been awarded honorary degrees from Middlebury College, Swarthmore College, New York University, the New England Conservatory, University of Glasgow, and Northwestern University. He taught at Princeton and The Juilliard School. The compositional and intellectual wisdom of Babbitt has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians. A broad array of distinguished musical achievements in the dodecaphonic system and important writings on the subject have generated increased understanding and integration of serialist language into the eclectic musical styles of the late 20th century. Babbitt is also renowned for his great talent and instinct for jazz and his astonishing command of American popular music. His All Set, for jazz ensemble, reveals an extraordinary compositional flexibility, uniquely American and vintage Babbitt.

An extensive catalogue of works for multiple combinations of instruments and voice along with his pioneering achievements in synthesized sound have made Babbitt one of the most celebrated of 20th-century composers. He is a founder and member of the Committee of Direction for the Electronic Music Center of Columbia-Princeton Universities and a member of the Editorial Board of Perspectives of New Music. The recipient of numerous honors, commissions, and awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize Citation for his "life's work as a distinguished and seminal American composer," Babbitt is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

"If these are variations for an occasion, they are also only occasionally variations of the same degree of variational explictness, induced by the same modes of musical mutation, although the procession from the local detail to the total composition eventually clearly discloses a distinct articulation of the one-movement work into three manifestly and mutual 'parallel' sections (each itself variationally bifurcated): 'parallel' presentations of the same complete succession of twelve-tone aggregates, identical to within the traditional means of transpositional, registral, contour, timbral, and temporal variation in their non-traditional, uniquely electronic extensions." So writes the composer of Occasional Variations–and listening to Babbitt's music requires the same effort as reading his prose. It's not that he spouts incomprehensible pretentious jargon–far from it–but what he has to say needs careful and concentrated attention to yield up its secrets. http://www.paristransatlantic.com/magazine/monthly2003/11nov_text.html

The Occasional Variations were realized using the RCA synthesizer, the only instrument of its kind: a paper tape programmed, digitally controlled analog synthesizer.

 

Mario Davidovsky was born in 1934 in Médanos, Buenos Aires. He began his musical studies of the age of seven, continued his education at the Collegium Musicium and graduated from the Bartolomé Mitre School in Buenos Aires in 1952. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and letters, director of the Koussevitsky Foundation at the Library of Congress, director of the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, director of C.R.I. and fofunder and vice president fo the Robert Miller Fund for Music. Among his many honors and awards was the Pulitzer Prize for music, awarded in 1971 for Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sound.

His student Eric Chasalow writes: “When Davidovsky came to the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1960, he became a central part of a community of composers seeking new expressive means and willing to use their highly developed musicianship as the point of departure. His development at that time of a new mode of phrase articulation, which builds upon his history of successful instrumental writing, can be followed through a series of evermore masterful pieces for tape, Electronic Study I, II, and III (1960, 1962, 1964). In these pieces, Davidovsky finds ways of making every aspect of each sound count. When first confronted with electronic sounds, Davidovsky heard, not something exciting and new, but something very crude, especially when compared to the highly refined, two hundred plus year old tradition of western instruments that was already in his ear.

To begin to approach the sensitivity of traditional instruments, Davidovsky spent countless hours listening to each sound. He painstakingly constructed phrases made up mostly of short articulated events, accepting nothing that did not have a convincing dramatic shape. If this was all he had done, however, the music would have been no more than a kind of synthesized traditional music––a pale imitation, for example, of music for solo violin. Instead, he invented ways to use aspects of each sound that, in older music, had been less prominent in shaping musical ideas. The envelop (attack, sustain, and decay) characteristics of each sound became especially useful. A phrase could now open up or find closure not just through a series of hierarchically related pitches, but also through a succession of different attacks, from very hard and abrupt to ones so gradual and soft that notes gently appear out of silence. Of course, traditional instruments also have a range of articulations, but these are usually only a detail of the musical surface, lending a general character to a passage of music. https://www.bu.edu/agni/miscellany/print/1999/50-chasalow.html

 

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