Category: Articles

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center Vivian Perlis, Director, Oral History of American Music, Yale University

Vivian Perlis
photo by NewMusicBox

While working with Aaron Copland’s papers that were filed in the basement of his house in Peekskill, New York, I came upon six assignment books for Rubin Goldmark, the celebrated composition teacher in Manhattan. Copland was astonished to see things he had not looked at for over sixty years. “Holy Moses! ” he exclaimed, “I kept everything!” (He actually used expressions like this, as well as “gee whiz” and “golly.”) As we turned the pages of one workbook labeled “Juvenilia,” Copland gleefully read the instructions from Goldmark: “No parallel fifths! No fourths! No octaves!” In response to my comment about how far he had strayed from these exercises, Aaron said: “I had to learn it somewhere, and this was as good as it got in those days.” No anger, no criticism, no impatience-only amusement at being labeled “the young modernist” among Goldmark’s students. Copland’s wit and good humor were constant and delightful, making it a great pleasure indeed to know or work with him.

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center

Personal Anecdotes About the Founders of the American Music Center
Samuel Adler Samuel Adler
Composer; Professor Emeritus, Eastman School of Music; Professor of Composition, The Juilliard School
“…I handed Hanson’s letter to Copland who opened it immediately. His face brightened, and yet there were tears in his eyes as he read the letter…”
John Duffy John Duffy
Composer; Founder and Former Executive Director of Meet The Composer
“The AMC was a rich haven for me during my student days. How glad I was to be there…”
Sylvia Goldstein Sylvia Goldstein
Former Senior Vice-President, Boosey & Hawkes
“While working to find a place for his own music in the repertoire, Aaron Copland always had time for others…”
Patrick Hardish Patrick Hardish
Composer; Co-Director, Composers Concordance
“Otto Luening was a great mentor and influence as well as being a close personal friend…”
Vivian Perlis Vivian Perlis
Director, Oral History of American Music, Yale University
“As we turned the pages of one workbook labeled “Juvenilia,” Copland gleefully read the instructions from Goldmark: ‘No parallel fifths! No fourths! No octaves!’…”

The 60th Anniversary of the American Music Center

Frank J. Oteri
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

November is an important month here at the American Music Center. Sixty years ago this month, the dreams of Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Otto Luening, Quincy Porter, Marion Bauer and Harrison Kerr became a reality and the American Music Center was born.

To celebrate the occasion, we have brought on a new webmaster, Eugene Takahashi, who is in the process of completely redesigning the site. We have veered from our usual interview format for In The First Person and instead have conducted a “virtual séance” with the founders of the Center. Old interviews, articles, lectures, and personal correspondence housed in archives around the country form the basis of this experimental undertaking – a seeming conversation between our six founders, all quoted from their own words, explaining the reasons why the Center was formed and offering unique perspectives about the state of music in this country which remain amazingly timely in November 1999.

To complement our focus on the founding of the American Music Center, we have asked John Duffy, Samuel Adler, Patrick Hardish, Sylvia Goldstein and Vivian Perlis to share personal anecdotes about their encounters with the Center’s founders, and we ask you to share your views about the role that the Center should have in the future. We’ve also invited Karissa Krenz to describe what other American organizations are doing for new music in a hyper-history of music service organizations.

Our News this month also seems to have an historical bent with important rediscoveries of Morton Feldman, Ben Weber, and Serge Rachmaninoff, whom we often forget was an American composer! In the month of our 60th anniversary, there are recordings of music by more than 60 American composers featured in our SoundTracks each including a RealAudio sample, and more than 60 new concerts have been added to our concert listings in Hear&Now.

Our rich musical heritage offers many insights into the paths we should follow for the future – as composers, performers, presenters, administrators, music critics, and audience members. I arrived at the American Music Center one year ago this month and am honored to be part of its ongoing tradition.

What role, if any, do you think technology will play in the composition and performance of your music in the next 25 years?

Morton Subotnick Morton Subotnick
“More and more I am ONLY using a computer…”
William Duckworth William Duckworth
“…some of us are already beginning to develop new virtual instruments and to conceive of ways to facilitate live performances on line…”
Pamela Z Pamela Z
“Each time I have introduced a new tool into my arsenal, it has resulted in new ideas and added new colors to my palate…”
Paul Lansky Paul Lansky
“Very little I’ve done would have been possible without the radically different perspectives and working methods offered by computing technology…”

Technology and the Future of Music

Frank J. Oteri
Frank J. Oteri
Photo by Melissa Richard

Anyone pursuing music, either as a composer, a performer or a listener, cannot escape technology. Virtually all of today’s popular music uses electronic instruments. Almost every singing voice is enhanced by a microphone, if not more elaborate devices. Many concert halls have begun to employ electrical sonic enhancements of some sort. Most of the music we’re exposed to nowadays reaches us through radio or recordings, both products of 20th century technology. And, of course, anybody reading NewMusicBox is interfacing with music in ways that would have not been possible without the technological advances of the past few years.

So how will the most recent cutting-edge technologies effect the way we experience music tomorrow? Will listening be the same experience in another 20 years?

We’ve asked Tod Machover to serve as the Guest Editor of this issue which explores the impact of technology on the future of music. Tod juggles an international career as a composer of music employing forward-looking technologies with running the Hyperinstruments/Opera-of-the-Future group at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge MA. Joe Paradiso, his colleague at MIT, has provided us with a complex web of information in his hyperhistory of electronic music interfaces. We’ve asked some of today’s leading exponents of electronic music — Morton Subotnick, William Duckworth, Pamela Z, and Paul Lansky -– to predict how technology will affect the composition and performance of their music in the next 25 years. And Tod and I like to find out what you think about some of the strange new instruments that are being developed at MIT, which include a fabric ball and a musical denim jacket!

On other fronts, this month’s SoundTracks allows you to “technologically” discover 24 new CDs of American music, only 2 of which feature electronic music, per se. And Hear&Now is chocked full of good old-fashioned concert listings. Most of this month’s news items are not technology-related, although we’re happy to report that BMI has announced a licensing agreement with one of the leading sellers of downloadable music on the Internet.


Frank J. Oteri
Frank J. Oteri


Into a New Century with Music and Technology

Tod Machover
Tod Machover

It would be hard to overestimate the impact that new technologies – first mechanical, then electric, finally computational – have had on music over the past hundred years. From player pianos to victrolas to radios to theremins to tape recorders to oscillators and filters to synthesizers to computers to samplers to MIDI to MAX to MP3 — there has been an incredibly rapid succession of revolutions in instrumentation, performance, and musical thought. Many of these new technologies have been embraced and absorbed quickly and effortlessly by musicians, but others have been ignored or even spurned by the classical and new music establishments, and this trend seems to be growing. These days, it is somewhat more likely to find music technology innovations coming from the entertainment industry, rather than from the conservatories or concert halls, a situation which has changed drastically since, say, the 1950’s, when visionaries like Cage, Babbitt, Stockhausen, and Xenakis set the international musical agenda with their radical electrified soundscapes.

In fact, the technologies themselves have never grown faster, and it is more important than ever to make sure that expression stays ahead of technical constraint or imperative. And the potential of emerging technologies is enormous. Some of this potential is in enhanced sonic resources or hyper-performance capabilities for professional musicians. Some is in the active engagement of the general public — young and old — in musical experiences. Some is through new models of music distribution. Some is in the creation of new forms of media opera that will approach Wagner’s ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk. Some is through designing “interactive musical accompaniments” to everyday life, realizing Glenn Gould’s 1967 vision of an invigorated “elevator music” that would literally elevate music — through subliminal ear training – to replace words as our currency of emotional exchange.

In this issue of NewMusicBox, we have tried to examine some of the most exciting applications and implications of music technology, exploring both precedents and possibilities. Now is an ideal time for the most imaginative musical minds – and most innovative performing, presenting and training institutions – to creatively engage in using and shaping new media technologies. If we don’t, we risk having a major chapter of music’s future shaped for us.

American Innovations in Electronic Musical Instruments

Joseph A. Paradiso
photo by Rich Fletcher

The desire for musical expression runs deeply across human culture; although specific styles can vary, music is generally considered a universal language. It is tempting to surmise that one of the earliest applications of human toolmaking, after hunting, shelter, defense, and general survival, was probably to create expressive sound, developing into what we know and love as music. As toolmaking evolved into technology over the last centuries, inventors and musicians have been driven to apply new concepts and ideas into improving musical instruments or creating entirely new means of controlling and generating musical sounds. The classic acoustic instruments, such as the strings, horns, woodwinds, and percussion of the modern orchestra and others of the non-western world have been with us for centuries, thus have settled into what many think of being a near-optimal design, only slowly yielding to gradual change and improvements. For hundreds of years, the detailed construction of prized acoustic instruments has remained a mysterious art, and only recently have their structural, acoustic, and material properties been understood in enough detail for new contenders to emerge.

Electronic music, in contrast, has no such legacy. The field has only existed for under a century, giving electronic instruments far less time to mature. Even more significantly, technology is developing so quickly that new sound synthesis methods and capabilities rapidly augment and displace those of only a few years before. The design of appropriate musical interfaces is therefore in a continual state of revolution, always driven by new methods of sound generation that enable (and occasionally require) expression and control over new degrees of freedom.

Although many crucial innovations (and several of the most vital innovators, studios, and composers) in electronic music have hailed from Europe and other parts of the world, North America has held a key position in pioneering the development of electronic instruments and musical interfaces. Technology enables new modes of musical expression, and as America has captured many of the major milestones in electronics and engineering throughout the last century, their musical applications found fertile ground here.

This century has witnessed the development of electronic musical instruments, from their inception as an outgrowth of telegraph and radio through the modern musical applications of computers, which are beginning to alter the conceptions of musician, audience, and performance. Although the distinctions between them are starting to evaporate, electronic sound generators can be broadly classed into two types: music synthesizers, which directly generate their timbre via an algorithm or set of hardware or software rules, and samplers or wavetable synthesizers, which play back and process waveforms stored in some kind of memory. With the notable exception of the theremin (the most famous non-contact controller), all of the earliest electronic musical instruments were primarily controlled by a keyboard, frequently the standard 12-tone (chromatic) layout we know from the acoustic piano.

Although interesting experiments with alternative controllers have been sprinkled throughout the history of electronic music, most current electronic instruments remain keyboard-dominated. As it allows essentially any interface to be used with any synthesis device, the MIDI Standard has encouraged other types of musical controllers to be recently developed, as sketched below.

Drum interfaces, which give percussionists access to the world of electronic sound, are related to keyboards, in that they essentially measure contact and impact velocity. Stringed instruments are highly expressive and complex acoustic devices that have followed a long and difficult path into the world of electronic music controllers. The popularity of the guitar in modern music has given it considerable priority for being assimilated into the world of the synthesizer, and a look at the history of the guitar controller aptly reflects the evolution of signal-processing technology. Of course, electric guitars were primarily responsible for ushering in the multiplicity of effects devices and audio processors that delightfully twisted and warped the sound of many an electrified instrument over the last decades, opening new worlds of expression long before digital synthesizers and MIDI appeared. Orchestral stringed instruments, such as the violin and cello, have not been spared from electronic assimilation either, although capturing prompt and precise musical gesture on these instruments is still technically challenging. Wind interfaces, being monophonic by nature, have been around since the days of the analog synthesizer, but now find fresh applications in driving expressive, multi-parameter digital synthesis schemes based on physical models.

Different kinds of abstract gesture interfaces have likewise been developed for both high-level conducting and intimate performance. These include Batons and hand-held trackers, non-contact interfaces that trace the body through the air, sensors that measure other activity in “smart rooms” or other responsive environments, and interfaces that are worn in active clothing. Such gesture interfaces are generally completely abstracted from any kind of direct sound generation, hence all musical response must come through a mapping algorithm programmed into a computer that assigns sonic events to perceived motion or detected physical events.

The electronic music field is extremely broad, and designers of all sorts, from basement hackers through university researchers and engineers at large electronics and music companies, have built all kinds of innovative and fascinating devices for generating and interacting with electronic music. Thus, at the outset, I admit that it’s not possible to give justice to all of the worthwhile accomplishments in this area within the confines of a single article, and apologize for those that are missing.


What role, if any, do you think technology will play in the composition and performance of your music in the next 25 years? Morton Subotnick

Photo courtesy Morton Subotnick

The speed of information access and the amount and low cost of memory will make MIDI output devices unnecessary in the performance of my music. More and more I am ONLY using a computer. I think we will see a major evolution in the recorded media. It will change to DVD with surround sound and interactive information access. My dream has always been that the recording media will become a new chamber art and have dedicated a great deal of my creative time to this end. Now I believe it is not only possible but, even, probable.

What role, if any, do you think technology will play in the composition and performance of your music in the next 25 years? Pamela Z

Pamela Z
Photo by Lori Eanes

Technology (whether “high” or “low”) has always had an effect on my work, and I have no reason to believe that will change in the next 25 years. I think that all artists are to some extent influenced by the tools they use to make their art. In my case, those tools have included digital processors, Macintosh computers, software, samplers, a wearable MIDI controller, and (perhaps the most technically sophisticated of all) the human voice. Each time I have introduced a new tool into my arsenal, it has resulted in new ideas and added new colors to my palate. Recent forays into composing for ensembles using conventional acoustic instruments have sent me off in new directions, and my current attempts to create performance works that use MAX MSP software have initiated new ideas as well. For the past sixteen or so years, I have been creating a body of electroacoustic work. Not only do these works require the combination of electronics and voice (and/or other acoustic instruments) but the works would have never developed in the same way had I been using a different set of tools.

What role, if any, do you think technology will play in the composition and performance of your music in the next 25 years? Paul Lansky

Paul Lansky
Photo courtesy New Albion

I’d like to reply by first rephrasing the question: how do you think your music will change as a result of technology?

I haven’t the faintest idea.

All I know is that technology has already had, and will continue to have a radical effect on the music I write and the processes I use to write it. Very little I’ve done would have been possible without the radically different perspectives and working methods offered by computing technology.

But just as we no longer notice that the bends, bobs and weaves of some electric guitar playing are the result of a technology that allows the use of a lighter gauge string, for example, or that the construction of the modern flute was facilitated by the industrial revolution, I would hope that the music I write will ultimately hide the technology used to create it and that its technological underpinnings will consequently be uninteresting. I hope that new technologies will continue to influence the music I write, but I will do my best to write music which succeeds in hiding them, or at least making them worthy of a footnote at best. My feeling is that music succeeds only when it transcends its machinery.

Describe your best and worst memories of premiere performances

John Corigliano John Corigliano
“The best premiere I can remember is that of my Clarinet Concerto with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and Stanley Drucker as the soloist…”
Tim Page Tim Page
“…I’d choose the first performance of the orchestral version of Reich’s Tehillim in 1981 as the “worst” premiere.”
Laurel Ann Maurer Laurel Ann Maurer
“I premiered [Meyer Kupferman’s] work “Chaconne Sonata” in April 1994 at Weill Recital Hall and we received rave reviews.”
David Del Tredici David Del Tredici
“…I felt as though I had just farted in church and then had to bow in recognition.”