Imagination and Exploitation:

Some History of Digital Technology in My Music-Making

Dennis Báthory-Kitsz

April 29, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz

I envy Eric Lyon at the cusp of compositional inventiveness and supportive technology. Some of us are on the backside of both, wondering what we still have to say as composers ... and invited to lecture on our work of 30 years' past.

The technology he has at hand is native to his experience and yours, full in its power and, like him and you, youthful enough to grow toward unimagined ability to render imagination into listenable form. Maybe we can still fool him. But not today.

I. Jump Back

Let me take you back to 1969, the year I first created electronic music. Try to change your perspective from what you know, from what is your modern birthright. There were no integrated circuits. No hand calculators. There were no portable phones. Touch-tone dialing was new. 800 numbers were new. There we no personal computers. Richard Nixon had just become president. The Camaro was hot. Barbie was 10 years old. The cassette was the new recording technology. The 727 was the airliner. The Concorde was test-flown. There was a moon landing based on sheer determination. There was no PDA, VCR, CD, UPC, DVD, NPR, nor CNN. There was only one Ma Bell. There was no Internet--save for four nodes connected at year's end at UCLA, Stanford, and Utah. Reel-to-reel was high tech. The latest video technology was Sony's U-Matic. Floppy disks were two years old--and 8 inches in diameter. There was a Soviet Union, two Germanies, two Yemens, two Vietnams, a Czechoslovakia, a Yugoslavia, and an apartheid-afflicted South Africa, but no Macedonia or Namibia or Qatar or Vanuatu or Kazakhstan or Latvia or Sri Lanka or some 55 other nations. The U.S. was deeply involved in a war in far-away Vietnam, and there was a massacre in the hamlet of My Lai. There was no Aswan Dam, no space station, no space shuttle, no Toronto Blue Jays, no digital signal processors, no test-tube babies, no home satellite dishes. 150 modular Moog Synthesizers, bristling patch cords, had been sold. There were Mellotrons and Theremins, but there wouldn't be a Macintosh for 15 years. The Brady Bunch premiered. There was no hip-hop, new age, trance, house. ambient, electronica, techno. Minimalism was new (and downtown). The Beatles stopped performing. A rock music festival happened at Woodstock. Karlheinz Stockhausen was 40, Zbigniew Karkowski was 11, Eric Lyon was 7, LL Cool J was a suckling, and Marilyn Manson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Gwen Stefani were newborns.

In such a technologically debilitated state, how did we imagine what we did? What we could do? When technology came along, how did we invent what to do with it? In what ways did we exploit it? How did with infuse it with meaning? How did we do anything remotely interesting when the meaning of cut and paste was literal? (Meaning was everywhere then. Sincerity preceded irony in the musical discourse. Too much sincerity may have given rise to irony.)

Given those days and those tools, how would you work? What would you imagine?

II. Gradual Oncoming

The oncoming of computer technology was actually quite gradual. A few--those in labs and in experimental academia--had access to big iron, and a budget of time to use it. (Access did not make their work easier, merely both dissimilar and immersive enough that their process of discovery followed a different path.)

For the others, particularly independent composers, it was a slow process of building into technology and recognizing possibilities from it.

So composers using technology were either clustered in schools or labs, or scattered to the winds. Among the scattered, I was then living in a tenement in Trenton, New Jersey, finishing my stay at the musically uninformed Rutgers University while slipping into classes at Princeton University disguised as a student. I listened to recordings and radio--when public radio played new music, and wasn't part of the Klassical Klearinghouse hegemony of National Public Radio.

Imagination was sometimes all that was at hand. When I composed the Composition for Tape & Soloists in 1969, it was entirely done on paper, including a description and timed score for the multitrack electronic part. (It would wait 16 years to be realized and premiered.)

This was still the analog era. From discarded televisions and tape recorders, I built small modules--a euphemism for a rat's nest of wires and clips--for making tones and filtering them, switched on and off in clattering polyphony by knots of relays triggered by a 'keyboard' made from radio knobs and cut strips of tin cans.

Transformation of recorded sounds was achieved by varying speeds, echo was produced by sending the tape monitor's output to the input, filtering done by using different microphones and passive analog filters, reverb done with tubes and springs, and other effects accomplished by playing backwards, cutting, splicing, trimming, fading, crossfading, distorting, interrupting, flipping, and deliberately damaging the tape, and swirling records by hand on a turntable.

This method of working was dramatic but tedious, and inherently problematic because it was both irreversible and non-replicable. Oscillators wandered, filter settings were forever different, knobs were imprecise, and triggering by tin can strips was at best temporally unreliable. Tape loops were not supposed to phase-shift like Steve Reich's but did so anyway. And "Undo" was not a characteristic of the tape splicer.

Short experiments such as the Construction in Glass required hours of attention and hundreds of splices to achieve an ultimately unsatisfactory result. I intended to create a soft ringing sound by clipping the attacks from bells and splicing the tails together in a horizontal cloud cluster. Instead, I found I had created the same invariable bell sounds, but with softer attack.

By 1972, I was up against the wall of limitations. Construction "on nix rest... in China" for trombones and tape, heard in a Dartmouth classroom for the first time in 2002 and publicly premiered in Amsterdam a year ago, was a massive collage of multitracked samples that seemed out of control. It probably was out of control, if only because I wanted more control of the events at a detailed level and couldn't get it.

"At the detailed level." Now there's an important bit. It accompanies "reproducibility" on the Richter scale of compositional desires of the compulsive post-Webern modernists of the 1970s. That would have been me. I was a composer in my own mind, and used to the idea that performing musicians could give me an infinitely detailed and shaded expressive character and just as infinitely a level of control as I bent them to my will. So I was wrong. But it was in my imagination, and part of why I scored and created electronic music. Post-Webern modernism remained my aesthetic.

Until, that is, I discovered the heartbeat.

III. The Heartbeat

The heartbeat is the trigger, the regularity of simple-minded electronic sound technology. It is the oscillator turned down below audibility until it becomes the pulse. Never mind that Stockhausen had already done in during my own childhood.

Pulse was already there in my life. I was part of the first rock'n'roll generation, and the beat was systemic if suppressed. As a Serious Composer, I wanted to push pulsing aside along with its association to simple-minded ballads, backseats, and booty-shaking. I adored the clash. The pulse was an irritant--but there it was, now sounding and blinking on my 1973 Ionic Performer synthesizer.

And I was seduced, ballad, backseat, and booty. For the next two years, I created gently pulsing soundscapes and set pieces, including the sweet if overlong Development of the Consciousness of Space in a Child, the saccharine Five Daydreams, the surly Bomber, and the evocative, 90-minute Somnambula for soprano and alto recorders and multichannel tape. All were guided by that gentle blinking oscillator trigger--even if I had to cover up the light for the premiere performance of Somnambula in the deep-dark New Jersey State Museum Planetarium. In full costume on a hot day, I dragged the synth (powered by motorcycle batteries) across the Pepsico sculpture garden in Invocation, Dance and Lament for Twandano as dancer Reuben James Christman Edinger cavorted in the trees. I accompanied raving poets and sweating dancers, and engaged in concert battles with other synths.

By this time I had collected some inexpensive integrated circuit gates, flip-flops, latches, and multivibrators. I could latch signals into place, divide the synthesizer's oscillators into sub-octaves or multiply them with pulse chains. At low speeds, digital logic was both easy and foolproof, and my sonic toybox proliferated.

But more important (and, alas, an early example of vaporware), to be offered for the Ionic Performer synthesizer was a sequencer--a combination trigger pulse box and recordable digital memory system.

Recordable digital memory. I was already familiar with the kind of record-once digital memory present in brush sequencers. We used these desk-sized sequencers in the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium to build sky shows. The events needed to create a show--star and planet projectors, sky motion motors, comets, sunrises and sunsets, fades, sound clips and effects--were drawn up using storyboards, and a sequence of specific events was created. It looked like a typical theatrical lighting/sound/effects plan today, with one difference: Using paper tape with sprocketed edges, events were punched in place by hand, and the tape threaded onto a metal drum that was moved by a stepper relay. Metal brushes--one brush per punch hole row--came into contact with the drum as the tape was rolled through a step at a time.

This was all about events, where the signal transformation was still handled in the analog domain. And, as the paper tape was stepped ahead as needed, the heartbeat was irregular.

The paper tape was soon replaced by a digital gate system that I designed, where telephone touch tones recorded on tape or played in real time could sequence shows by triggering gates, latches, and transistor switches. Three digits and the pound sign commanded each event. The receiving device decoded the tones and flipped digital gates and latches in response. It was an improvement over paper tape because an audio cassette could be reused many times, and even dubbed over to a new tape, using live commands and the pause controls to rework a show.

But the Ionic Sequencer was a new breed of digital device. I saw the prototype. Its memory could be recorded in real time or step time, saved, and re-loaded from tape. It could be played. It was capable of experiment, of undoing, of reworking from the same material or new material. I was ready, and in expectation created a series of pieces for a dancer covered in sensors and tethered to an interface that would feed signals to the sequencer and control sound in real time.

Alas, the Ionic Sequencer never came to be, and died with Ionic Industries over a quarter-century ago. And with it went the three Network C/R pieces.

IV. Gradus ad Shacknassum

By mid-decade, new devices had found their way into the technological news. With the combination of integrated circuit gates, a matrix of diodes, and peripheral circuitry and switches, not only could a sequence of events be created, it could accept information in binary form and follow decision trees decisions based on events, do simple math, and produce results.

These new devices--microprocessors on single boards--also found their way to some composers. David Behrmann was working with a small board called the KIM-1, a computer with the 6502 microprocessor that would later appear in the Apple.

I wasn't ready for computer programming, but in 1977 Radio Shack created the TRS-80, fondly remembered as the first nationally-marketed microcomputer (before the Apple traveled east from its California garage) with the Z-80 processor. (I added a dozen computers to the studio over the following five years, including a KIM-1.)

But the erstwhile TRS-80 worked with me for 15 years, with its first public appearance in the 1978 Washington Project for the Arts production, Rando's Poetic License.

And here is the long route to imagination. In Rando, the computer was not simply relegated to sound triggering. I had written a program called jophxo, which generated a kind of convincing existential poetry from a vocabulary database. The audience contributed vocabulary, and the microcomputer began generating the poetry, displayed on television screens scattered throughout the audience. The audience was to whisper the texts back, which were then picked up by microphones, mixed with sounds developed on the Ionic synth and sequenced by the computer, improvisations added, and--in another strange twist--a local AM radio was placed next to the monitor to pick up the Radio Frequency Interference (the spray of RFI that later gave microcomputers a bad name and prompted the FCC to set regulations for their RF output) and its sound added to the mix. It was enthralling, even if a bit of a sonic mess.

Over 1,100 jophxo poems were created, and numerous found their way into songs and concert pieces. Here are seven that appeared in A Time Machine, an acoustic work for chamber ensemble and dancer, with computer menus for eleven of the 33 sections:

A vigor topples any abstract rest amidst a dawn.

Above the wisdom questions warily its noiseless birth.

A cradle. 
Magically some soul this crisis ... 
For its wistful beginning.

Your grand wretch or henchmen soils or cries; but the garden! 
Yes! within the garland.

Covers by the smiling cavern? water cuddles and to a magic? 
Because celebrates to the odd jewel a dry evergreen ... 
Grass my soft spear-
Haven a mountain.

A flower like yonder concupiscence awfully forgives and 
That hearth promotes his extensively supple ilk into the 
Again elegiac audible groin.

The pleasure of her diminutive side once more enfolds 
Regretfully as creates: 
Yes! a dreaded scream or the tranquil devolved 
Venom by what askance smiling favor; as your occurrence each 
Elusively delicate joke dies the quality,
Each smiling identity to the 
Inner knowledge, but mythical change every near core vanishes 
Inspirationally elemental drug to a near winter-
The aside enchanted expert 
One redolent coin goes no weakness through his forbidden 
Broken supplemental sphere. 
Hoary acquiescence her never precise 
Countenance cries or neglects and howls eventually as touches icily 
As well as reaches out the magical mother of a dubious expanse.

Sadly, the jophxo poetry seems to have been usurped by spam text generators. Here's a spam that came in last month:

A hairy soda got an idea.
The green book prepare for fight.
His brothers smart ram is on fire or maybe his brothers round mp3 player falls.
Any given hairy baby arrives at the place that mine beautiful eraser prepare for fight.
Any given green clock stands-still.
Her odd shaped bicycle walks.
A given odd shaped little caw smells.
The red soda run.
Whose fancy magazine stares and perhaps any given red ram stands-still.
Whose little ipaq smells.
Whose white tv fidgeting.
Our children silver forg spit.
Mine smart boat fidgeting.
His green noisy round-shaped eraser stands-still.
A given green car is thinking.
Our round spoon is thinking.
His odd shaped smart computer is angry.
A given white hairy soda stinks and his smart laptop falls.
Her daughters odd shaped mouse smells at the place that his brothers soft sofa smells.
Our children golden slopy shining smart soda adheres.
Our round underwares stares.
A soft table got an idea however, her noisy bottle smells.
Whose shining expensive kitchen stares and perhaps a round-shaped well-crafted purple omprella stands-still.

So far I'm sure you haven't detected much of the kind of computer work you have probably come to associate with computer-sourced music--no synthesis, no sampling, no digital manipulations. And in fact that's true. I was involved in making music, not specifically being a computer musician, and that meant acoustic composition as well as building unique instruments--acoustic and electronic. Satisfying the requirements of compositions required the creation of more than 30 unique instruments from 1968-1994.

What had intrigued me was the sheer replicability of events using a computer, and their malleability by the change of a line of code. It found expression in an unusual performance-event-slash-computer-game, Simul-80. Taking a reduced instruction set, I created a game in which every player acted as a portion of the microprocessor, clock, and memory. The idea was to set in motion a simple problem--say, the multiplication of two numbers--and see if, following the detailed actions of a microcomputer system, a correct result would ensue. It worked, even if it often did devolve into turmoil and laughter.

In 1981, a more interesting computer arrived for high-speed computations such as real-time music, the 6809-based Tandy Color Computer. With it I wrote Quaver, a fully contrapuntal four-voice sound program. Better than the computer games it was, but at 1.8 MHz, what was the point? It was a toy, if a clever one.

So by the 1980s, I had become disenchanted with computer music as a whole. The excitement seemed gone as the avant-garde faded into history as again only universities and pop stars could afford big iron such as $50,000 Synclavier installations. And the consumer digital technology--at least that within my economic reach--was insufficient.

Instead, I continued to use the computer as a controller. A series of performances, including Not Vermont Hardware (for computer-driven synth, typewriters, spoken and sung texts, and banana peels) and Bugs (for computer-driven synth, voices, sax and percussion), used the computer to create complex control patterns and random sound sweeps, clouds and clusters that first fascinated and then confounded and annoyed the audience. It was the height of the poisoned Tylenol scare; one audience member walked out in disgust, loudly proclaiming he'd rather take Tylenol than listen to any more of the music. These events become collective known as the "Tylenol Concerts."

Other interfaces followed to perform sit-up-and-beg tricks using the computer.

By then it was all very Cagean, and showing the very rough edges of my disaffection with computers as musicians.

In 15 years I'd followed digital technology from simple gates, diode matrices, ROMs and CPUs through its flowering as a consumer device, and still it wasn't much of an amanuensis. There was also a strong taste of mythology that was beginning to sour.

V. Aside: The Myth of Replicability

You may wonder why, despite all these sonic experiments, I brought little more than paper to show you.

It's because there's a souring myth that digital technology makes it possible to recreate or rebuild a musical composition flawlessly.

That's a myth--or worse, a lie. The truth is learned when it's too late. Parts or all of many of my major pieces will never be heard again--or even for the first time now: The Twandano piece, for synth; the three versions of Network C/R, never achieved. For computers, there are Rando's Poetic License; Not Vermont Hardware; Wedding Music; Bugs; Nighthawk; Echo; In Bocca al Lupo; A Happy Birthday Event; both Conceptual Church Hymns; and Wolf5. And there is RatGeyser, which depends on the slowly disappearing MalletKat.

Most of these are middle-era works, and the reason they have faded is because the hardware and software have become obsolete ... not just old, but the hardware deceased and the software erased from battery-backup RAM with dead batteries, or fading from EPROMs with their limited life.

There's no manuscript from which to revive a performance. There is storage of some of it in magnetic form, slowly self-erasing, but ultimately the music is in the technology, and flawlessly replicable--until the technology is gone. And the music and its documents vanish.

VI. Interactivity and Live Performance

If my feelings about computers as musicians were beginning to turn vinegary, my ideas about using their strengths had not.

One of those computer strengths was the ability to receive and process information quickly. With careful attention to the programming, computers could emulate natural events or create new 'natures' or environments for sound and action. The emulation of natural events in the form of a psychologist had been around since the days of Lisa, the computer shrink. That was an illusion.

What interested me was a path taken by the aforementioned David Behrmann, where his tiny KIM-1 could track incoming sonic events and provide responses to them.

For a series of interactive installations beginning with Nighthawk in 1985, I studied the reactions of animals to the invasion of their spaces. Some reacted with silence (particularly insects), some with aggression. For both Nighthawk (an installation) and Echo (a performance piece), I emulated the insects, so that the computer-generated chirps and clicks diminished in strength in response to the character of the space-invasion. Slow? Fast? Long? Short?

Nighthawk was installed in a library art center. It was stupid; each night, when the power was switched off, it forgot how people moved in the space, and was an audio tabula rasa the next morning.

Echo's computers were "played" by a mirrored coat. It was actually more complex, in that the action of the mirrors effected more than a simple quieting of the sounds. But still, it had no intelligence, adjusted slowly, and forgot its reactions by the next performance. Its accompanying acoustic instruments--the Infernal Machine, the Windharp, the Monofilament, and small hand instruments--along with the Bleebler, an analog-digital light-driven hybrid, gave it a peculiar feel of historical nexus, where silicon technology was joining humanity in its walk into the future. (Many years later, Thomas Georges will make that same point in Digital Soul.)

Over the following months, I developed algorithms that could change behavior over time, and inexpensive hardware had been manufactured that could remember data (this was before economical hard drives were available, so it was all done in bootstrap ROMs and battery-backup RAMs.) The result was In Bocca al Lupo, installed at Montana's Yellowstone Art Center in collaboration with sculptor Fernanda D'Agostino. This was an artificial culture invented by sculptor D'Agostino and for which I developed an artificial lexicon of sound and sonic ritual and language. The 'smart' programming was unconventional in that it modified itself as it learned. And over the installation's five weeks, it never forget when the power was switched off; even during the night, the system knew when to get quiet or constant.

Infrared output and sensor arrays were connected to a set of five computers with data-gathering boards, sound-generating software, and hardware controllers (for tape loops), managed by a critical algorithm with an ability to learn the use of the space, save that knowledge, and adapt by the second.

Multiple speakers were embedded in walls and sculptures. Visitors' movement through the space was detected by sensors, and the computers determined their location, direction of movement, and motion quality. The immediate data was compared with recent and historical data on the room's use.

Warning-like sounds grew louder or changed character; steadier sounds quieted as insects or frogs might do when disturbed; other sounds moved away from approaching visitors so they always appeared to sound from the distance. These electronic sounds were mixed with prerecorded chantlike or percussionlike natural and electronic sounds (on the tape loops) to provide a constant aural nest and cultural immersion.

During the five-week installation, the computer system learned how the space was used. Rarely visited areas (such as corners) became more aggressive in their (re)actions, frequently used areas (such as the single entry door) became uninterested in nearby motion and made little change.

Bocca was rudimentary 'intelligence'--little more than building a tiny, intertwined database (almost too small to call it that) and having the program modify itself (a Bad Thing in computerdom) not because it was truly intelligent, but because there wasn't enough memory or processor speed to save and search huge arrays of information.

A later and richer development of this was Travelers Rest in 1991, but it was sited outside and soon vandalized. Microphones were not used in Bocca because of the likelihood of sensory feedback oscillation, which would happen in a real culture but much more slowly; on the other hand, mics were used in Travelers Rest because it was outside and the sound output--speakers buried in the ground--was more localized.

But I moved away from the aesthetic of interactivity after Travelers Rest. The vandalism contributed to it, and I take such events to be heralds. I'd never had an installation destroyed before, so I decided to take it as a lesson or a guide--or an inspiration.

For a decade, I made no more interactive installations.

VII. Subversiveness of Art

By the early 1990s, computers had again caught up to many composers' ideas. The influence of pop music studios had made a body of professional software available for the first time at reasonable cost. Every tool in my analog studio was available in digital form or in emulation, and retro sounds and tools were suffusing the marketplace. In addition to a whole body of digital signal processing to work with the sound itself, algorithms, multiple tunings and microtonalities, libraries of realized ideas in the form of small programs and modules for software like Max and AudioMulch, there were the support materials--scoring programs such as Finale and Sibelius, Internet communication and publishing tools, and libraries of samples for the creation of demonstration recordings of acoustic music. For noise artists, there are noise tools; for loopers, loop tools. There are fractal tools and image-to-pitch tools and resynthesis tools and for the hard-core computer musician, programming tools and languages.

Indeed, the glass may be too full and spilling over. The rendering of an idea is so straightforward that we are living in the days of Photoshop Music, the Muzak of the digital generation that often sounds like a paint-by-number audio canvas. It is a sound-by-number approach in some hands. How many composers can toss off soundscapes by the yard, and infect them with beat, beat, beat, beat, beat, beat? How many others can set granulators in motion, plug together sound sources, and grind out the noise? How many can effortlessly infuse the chill room? In the process, how many believe volume can substitute for vitality? Automation for creativity? Silicon for carbon? Software for meatware?

One of the characteristics of a musical era in identity crisis is its enthusiasm for the retrospective, for remaking the work of others, and for using existing material in whole cloth but recast as a gimmick. Tod Machover, who continues to explore digital and hyper musical toys at the MIT Media Lab, recently called "circuit bending"--ripping apart musical toys and forcing them to create new sounds--subversive.

What is subversive? Is this a new idea with creative potential, or merely the affliction of a lack of ideas? Today there's toy hacking, Furby hacking, Aibo hacking. And 20 years ago when first digital talking toys arrived, like Teddy Ruxpin, was there Ruxpin hacking? No, because there was yet groundbreaking work in progress in place of boredom, confusion, identity crisis, Photoshop Music and, perhaps, and the excess of irony. Quoted in the New York Times, circuit bender Thomas Uliasz defends the practice by saying, "I'm not going to get the same sounds out of [my] synthesizer." If he can't, he's not trying, he's not thinking, or his imagination's dead. If he can, he's fallen victim to gimmickry and cheap marketing.

I don't mean that to sound disgruntled or Puritan. I'm thrilled at the great flood of new sonic creations, because there are more gems to find in the sludge. But when I see bad video pasted onto worse music, or beat chains aimlessly set in motion, or diluted processes squeezing out plasticky sonic carpets, or artists simply being lazy, I crave that certain rigor encouraged by the fundamentals of craft.

Great dance, great music, and great baseball all arise from the fundamentals of craft. While playing with a Furby is delectable entertainment and part of the tradition the Dadaists--fine craftspeople all--left behind several generations ago, it has been done. And the circuit benders know it has been done. This is an inversion of the exploitation of tools where none existed, to become the facile exploitation of tools because they already exist.

Here's an example: turntabling and scratching. Voilà! The accident of discovery led to the creation of a new artform from existing tools or toys, but not in a retrospective way. At the outset of this talk, I mentioned Construction "on nix rest... in China," from 1972. This was a piece that used turntabling and samples, but it was not a turntable piece any more than what is called "electronic music" today outside the academy bears any relationship to what inventors of electronic music were doing for its first half-century. The Wikipedia entry on electronic music includes 64 genres, only one of which--musique concrète--the classical electronicists might recognize. Unlike the idle circuit benders, turntabling/scratching is a musical performance art that owes little to its predecessors and has consistently broken new artistic ground.

So if there's anything I can leave you with today, it would be to do what has not been done, whether it involves passionate dedication and serious observation and research, or playing with toys or circuits or dirt. My caution comes from, if nothing else, envy of being your age with your environment of technological privilege, a privilege that I cannot imagine squandering to trivia, gimmickry, or kitsch.

VIII. Integrated, and Not Worth Talking About, Thanks

Eric Lyon asked me to make a historical presentation, and perhaps conclude with how I use computers today. I have not introduced you to the past decade of my work if only because in all likelihood I use computers the way you do or the way Eric does--even if our aesthetics are different.

Which brings me instead to the integration of tools and the movement away from the heartbeat.

A few weeks ago, I had a difficult online discussion with an instrumental teacher who wanted to demonstrate the unmusicality of digital recording, and asked me for a diagram of the stairsteps. No amount of explanation, illustration or convincing would shake the conviction that there were stairsteps standing in the way of notes being heard. No matter that oversampling well out of the range of analog harmonics was now de rigueur, no matter that the so-called stairsteps were irregular, no matter that digital technology had moved to a point where it resembled not so much steps as the digitalesque interplay of quantum motion itself--it must be bad because of the teacher's conviction that the outdated model represented the reason notes were "missing". It couldn't be due to age and deteriorating hearing, a misremembering of the original playing itself, or a philosophical predisposition to object to digital "unnaturalness"--no, it must be an artifact of all those stairsteps.

And that set me to thinking. Digital signal processing has moved into speeds so fast that, although a stable clock is still essential to perform accurate sampling and produce the lowest jitter noise, DSP is, for the practical purposes of its use by musicians, clock-free.

Combined with that, the near-total dominance of digital technologies--from the laundry through the automobile and back to the studio--and their biological successors (just appearing in bio-digital displays) have made irrelevant the concept of computer music as a world apart. The invisible analog-digital melding makes it all computer music.

Postscript--April 30, 2004

The question of subversion came up during the lecture, and I improvised an observation that subversion within a field and within the general culture are quite distinct kinds of subversion. Within a field, subversion can be nearly total--as it was when the first minimalist notes were heard. At that moment, Modernism was dead. A few knew it, and as the subversion continued, the collapse was total. Outside the field, in the mainstream culture, subversion may have no apparent effect, or at least a small one. In this case, Modernism had little importance in the general culture, so the subversion was itself insignificant--despite the later influence of musical Minimalism within the film culture.

So the significance of subversion in the form of "circuit benders" vs. turntablists and scratch artists are also different. In the former case, there is nearly no actual subversion inside or outside the field; in the latter case, pop and nonpop were subverted to the point of musical revolution. A new artform arose from it.


Contents of the CD

  1. Composition for Tape & Soloists, 1969. 1985 premiere performance, Montpelier, Vermont. (Il Gruppo Nuke Jitters). 15:28
  2. Construction in Glass, 1970. 0:20
  3. Construction "on nix rest... in china", 1972. 2003 premiere performance, Amsterdam. (Barton Workshop). 11:47 Note: Performance recording distorted; studio recording in preparation.
  4. Development of the Consciousness of Space in a Child, 1974. Movement #1 excerpt. 2:09
  5. Five Daydreams, 1974. Movement #5. 4:41
  6. Bomber, 1974. 9:22
  7. Rando's Poetic License, 1978, excerpt. 1978 premiere & only performance, Washington D.C. (Dashuki Music Theatre). 0:58
  8. Not Vermont Hardware, 1978, excerpt. 1978 premiere & only performance, Montpelier, Vermont (Il Gruppo Nuke Jitters). 3:06
  9. Bugs, 1982, excerpt. 1982 premiere & only performance, Roxbury, Vermont. (Il Gruppo Nuke Jitters). 14:53
  10. In Bocca al Lupo, 1986, excerpt after 5 weeks. Only installation, Billings, Montana. 1:51
  11. RatGeyser, 2001. 2002 studio performance. (Michael Manion). 7:39

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