EASL_Vol1 The Electronic Arts Of Sound And Light
Volume 1 of Music for the Book
Ronald A. Pellegrino

Please note that links to music samples are to be found below at the end of the composer's note for each track.

If you do not have a good quality satellite sound system connected to the audio output of your computer, as the composer I would prefer that you NOT download the sound samples associated with each of my tracks. My pieces are like my spirit children and I don't want them to be treated badly by inadequate transducers. It's already bad enough that the sound samples are compressed versions (a current internet requirement) of what you would hear from the CDs which are in themselves digitized (distorted) versions of the analog sounds as I heard them originally. To navigate those shoals I test and adjust all my sound samples on 7 different audio systems and 3 different computers in my personal studios and scores of both systems out in the world. In a nutshell, what I've found is that all built-in computer sound systems STINK and should never be used for music. If you are more than half-serious about music, connect at least a good audio system to your computer. The better the audio system, the richer and deeper your musical experience, and the closer to hearing the music as the composer did.

Furthermore, please remember that the sound samples are just samples--not highlights, not the pieces, just out of context highly compressed excerpts that hang together in ways that give a sense of what one might expect to hear from various tracks. It's important to get beyond confusing the samples for the pieces. If you are at all interested in the quality of music, listening to a CD via a good audio system gets your ears reasonably close to the original music. In any case, avoid settling for dumbed down audio. The difference between even a decent satellite audio system hanging on the end of a computer and what you would hear from good standalone audio system is like the difference between night and day. Often I hear from young people who've grown up with buds in the ears that they doubt they could hear the difference between mediocre and good audio. My response to them is that now is a good time to educate your ear so you can have a lifelong deeper appreciation of the power and beauty of sound to affect your soul. Much is lost when music is considered no more than a commodity to be squeezed into smaller and smaller storage spaces. Go for the systems that can handle bigger files; they tell better stories.

Composer's Notes for Volume 1 of Music for the Book

1. 1750 Arch Street Duet, Ron Pellegrino and Gordon Mumma (1976) -- In the 1970s Berkeley's 1750 Arch Street was one of the top intimate concert venues in the San Francisco Bay Area. I arranged a date for us to make conversational music with our electronic rigs. This recording is an excerpt of one of our sets. The opening statement is mine, Gordon responds, and then we compose a soundscape in collaboration. I always found playing with Gordon a welcome challenge because along with his experimental history, he composed in real time with a classical temperament. Sample link.

2. Score to Video Slices (1975) -- For years this music was used in my performances as a score to a 16 mm film I did in collaboration with a number of artists at Project Artaud in San Francisco. We did the original video (soon after converted to film for performance reasons) with the Templeton Video Synthesizer, an instrument that had been one of the mainstays of video setup at The National Center for Experiments in Television located at KQED in San Francisco. Like so much of what I have done over the years the music grew out of a compositional study focused on discovering the nature of a particular electronic system's voice. The study or the inquiry or composition can be summed up as answers to a set of fundamental questions such as: What do you want to say? Are you dramatic, lyrical, or both? Do you want to play? What's your approach to talking, singing, and dancing? Can you become a window to another world? Sample link.

3. Score to Too (1971) -- Too was the first of the five films in my Lissajous Lives Film Series. The film Too created with music synthesizer driven oscillographics represents the beginning of my documented visual music work which eventually led to recorded videos and laser animations. The music began as a study focused on using multiphonics to ornament in an organic fashion a freely composed lush melody (from the first hearing I was a Jimi Hendrix fan). I was working on this study and building my filmmaking techniques during the same time period so there were many natural correspondences in the ways I was shaping time in both the music and the film. Sample link.

4. Listen Duet, Ron Pellegrino and Howard Moscovitz (1974) -- Playing duets with Howard was always a special treat. He had BIG EARS; you can hear his deep listening through the quality of his playing. Just before he decided to leave the professional music world and instead to pursue electrical engineering, we met to play a number of times, mostly in his Oakland, CA studio. What I like most about our duets is that they carry the sense of an harmonious approach to creating a purely electronic soundspace collaboratively. We recorded at each of over a half dozen meetings and in studying those tapes I have not heard anything that sounds as if it were born of competition; that's very rare. It's also clear from the music that we both held the electron in high regard. When I was working with Howard he had an MFA from Mills College but his sights were set on Masters in Electrical Engineering from UC-Berkeley. After a long career at Bell Laboratories he's back to making electronic music. Sample link.

5. Phoenix Rising Duet, Ron Pellegrino and Sal Martirano (1973) -- The music is a recording of a live performance Salvatore Martirano and I did at the University of Illinois Phoenix '73 Festival of New Music in Champaign-Urbana in the spring of 1973. Sal, a giant of a musician, performed on his own one-of-a-kind hybrid synthesizer creation, the SalMar Construction, and I played a just-configured portable road show set of synthesizers that included an ARP 2600, two Synthi AKSs, and a collection of Buchla 200 Series modules (I cross-patched all my synthesizers to behave like a single complex instrument). For the performance we used a double quadraphonic sound setup -- Sal had his quad system and I had mine -- so the sounds were walking, wending, and winging all through the space. Recording the event was just an afterthought made for our personal archival purposes (those were the days when we basked in the ephemeral) but today I am thankful that there is a record of our play. This recording begins with mostly Sal splashing sound in quad space and then leads to one of my ecstatic electronic seal songs surfing on his waves. We did several public performances during the Phoenix '73 Festival but we also spent days and nights just exploring and playing in one amazing sound world after another (and archiving periodically). This is bad-boy music. Crank the sound level up as high as you can take. Sample link.

The SalMar Construction, Salvatore Martirano's "home built" synthesizer.

6. Metabiosis V (1972)-- The music on the CD amounts to a relatively brief sample of what happened over the course of several days of the installed environment. Though brief this example conveys a good sense of the mood of the event.

Metabiosis V
A light, sound, and audience environment (1972)
Ron Pellegrino, composer

Metabiosis V is an example of a very early yet completely algorithmic composition. During the late 60s-early 70s I thought of what I was doing as integrated multimedia systems design or interactive environmental design. As you can see, Metabiosis V is what would be called an algorithmic composition or an installation today.

What follows is a description of the context and process of Metabiosis V. It was taken from my book The Electronic Arts of Sound and Light, published in 1983 by Van Nostrand Reinhold. It's out of print but you should find it in most university libraries. Check it out if you're interested in what performance multimedia was like in the 70s and how it set the stage for today's desktop multimedia scene.

The composition is a performance ritual with no beginning, no middle, no end, and no particular duration other than the length of time an individual wants to spend with it; the audience enters and exits at will and its movement determines the phrasing of the music.

Beginning in the late 1960s, various lines of my personal research began to come together in environmental designs that embodied systems of simulated intelligence. The compositions incorporated sensors and transfer functions that interacted with the external environment in ways analogous to living systems. Inspired by the observation that the greatest number and variety of life-promoting forces are always found at the intersections of matrices -- the meeting of land and water, weather fronts, multiple subcultures living in proximity -- I began work on the Metabiosis Series. The term metabiosis refers to a mode of living in which one organism is dependent on another for the preparation of an environment in which it can live.

The forms of the Metabiosis Series were based on the fundamental principle of the living process, i.e., continual movement created by differences in potential. Healthy natural systems tend to gravitate toward a condition of ideal disorder, a condition that absorbs order from the environment as order-inducing influences of the environment become available in sufficient strength. In such systems absolute equilibrium leads to a condition of absolute repose -- death or nothingness. In contrast, life is marked by exchange, communication, response, selection, assimilation, and change.

Metabiosis V was a collaborative work. It was installed in the Fairchild Chapel on the Oberlin College campus in Oberlin, Ohio. The installation ran for two days. The figure above illustrates the connections between light, sound, and audience-induced airflow.

A dark, warm chapel on a cold snowy night in mid-November Ohio. Someone opens the door and warm air rushes out into the night drawing in cold air behind it, creating air currents that spin the large suspended plexiglass lenses shaped by the hands of sculptor Toby Raetze.

High-intensity light flows through the aperture of a small wooden box designed by Raetze to cool an 850-watt bulb quietly, soundlessly, by having hot air exit through a light-tight port on the box top, thereby drawing cool air in its wake across the surface of the hot bulb. (No noisy fans.) The light strikes the lenses. A small percentage of it becomes images reflected by the lenses' surfaces onto the side and back walls of the chapel; the images are subjected to the warping effects of traveling along the varying contours of the rectangular space. A large percentage of the light passes through the lenses and is refracted into ever-changing forms on the front wall.

Distributed along 140 degrees of the front wall are six photoresistors (the light sensing part of the interface), each in circuit with a power supply that provides voltage to be varied according to the intensity of the light striking the photoresistor. These voltages travel by cable to the back of the chapel, where they are fed into the remainder of the interface constructed by engineer Robert Faud to communicate from the light forms to the collection of synthesizers which includes a Moog III, a Buchla Electric Music Box, an ARP 2600, and two Putney VCS-3s. The six channels of the interface produce dynamic scalable voltages that can be applied to any voltage controlled sound variable and/or can be used to produce command pulses by adjusting the threshold levels of trigger circuits reading the voltages. The pulses are used to initiate, change the order, or terminate single events or chains of events; they are also used to change the state and position of pulse driven functions. The circuits or patches on the synthesizers are composed to respond to the translated light information in the domains of frequency, timbre, amplitude, ring, and location modulation, as well as to mix events and control their relative durations.

The phrasing of Metabiosis V is directly influenced by audience flow. The mood of the environment ranges from meditative to frenetic; the greater the audience flow, the more agitated the state of the environment. An often recurring macro-phrase structure surfaces during the two-day installation. It begins with a 5 to 10 minute random entrance of the audience that excites the air currents, driving the lenses to produce light images of a frenzied nature, which in turn trigger and create highly complex sound events. A time of complicated sustained activity follows the seating of the audience; then the macro-phrase gradually evolves to quieter levels, though often given a brief activity boost by a random entrance or exit of an audience member. After a period of a half to three quarters of an hour, the macrophrase winds down to a level at which the light images change almost imperceptibly, and the only sounds in the space are soft low-frequency thumpings accompanied by nearly inaudible wavetrains coursing through their assigned quad-location paths. Following a meditative period, the length depending upon the disposition of the audience, a new cycle begins, initiated by the changing audience composition. Sample link.

7. The Real* Electric Symphony at Old First Church in San Francisco (1975) -- Joining me for this performance were some heavy-weight electronic music practitioners, namely Gordon Mumma, Olly Wilson, and Howard Moscovitz. At the time of this performance Gordon (an electronic music pioneer) was on the faculty of UC-Santa Cruz, Olly (prize-winning electronic music composer) was on the faculty of UC-Berkeley, and Howard (already in his youth a notable electronic music instrument designer) was heading for a lifetime career at Bell Labs designing DSPs that would make their way into all sorts of electronic systems. My "virtual group", The Real* Electric Symphony, was in the 70s what today would be called a "media band" or more precisely, a performance-multimedia band. It was a "virtual group " in the sense that I engaged specific performers for specific gigs from an extensive collection of performance artists with the majority living in the San Francisco Bay Area and others spread across the USA and Europe. In other words, the composition of the R*ES changed according to the requirements and location of the gig; the size of the group ranged from three to as many as thirty performers and in age from 18 to 83 years.

In this example of our work it should be easy enough to hear how intensely this group is involved in creating emergent music -- listening to each other; choosing when and how to enter, where to locate their contribution (foreground, middle-ground, background), and when and how to exit the virtual soundspace. Remember that we are not playing from a score; instead the music is an exercise completely given over to musically responsible freedom. Now I know from many positive experiences that given the right combination of performance artists there is no musical experience more satisfying and inspiring than being a member of real time creative group that somehow balances being harmonious with being surprising, and, again in retrospect, this feels like one of those high times. Bearing in mind that this is the end of a 45-minute set, it seems the baby you hear (commenting on being there) just before the applause begins shares my appraisal. Sample link.

It's just as beautiful inside as it is outside.

8. Shimmer (1973) -- This piece evolved from a series of studies I began in 1967 during my early days of working with music synthesizers. Initially I used a frequency counter to set the pitches for extended chord complexes based on repeating and stacking all the intervals from minor 2nds to major 7ths. From the beginning I experimented with octave displacement, voicing, spectral combinations, durations, and other variables. In the process of tuning the chords I quickly learned that there was a serious disparity between what the book based on the math tells you is supposed to be the correct frequency, and what your ear tells you is actually the correct frequency if you want it to sound "in tune". In a nutshell, the ear is a non-linear transducer and it's a psychophysical fact that one's perception of pitch is influenced by spectrum, amplitude, duration, pitch combinations, and whether it is in the middle of your hearing range or at the extremes. The upshot is that the most efficient way for me to tune chord complexes was to rely on my ear, and to use the frequency counter only to establish the earliest reference pitch. On the surface this piece uses all 12 tones of the equal tempered chromatic scale stacked into perfect fourths but the fact is that I am not using equal temperament because I'm tuning the chord complex by ear. One of the advantages of the analog synthesizer is that oscillator frequencies are infinitely adjustable, so it becomes not only possible but desirable to compensate for the non-linearity of the human hearing system and in the process create chord clusters that are full, rich, and sweet.

I used this music in a number of different pieces. In 1972 it was employed as the score to Paths, the second film in my Lissajous Lives Film Series. Paths is a apt title because in addition to the tuning game, I was playing with the notion of having each pitch define its own path in quad space. Then in 1973 the same system generated this version principally because I committed to collaborating on a large otherworldly multimedia piece with Toby Raetze, an Oberlin College light sculptor, and Brenda Way, a choreographer and director of the Oberlin Dance Collective (a group that, after the westward migration, has been a fixture in the San Francisco dance world for decades). The title Shimmer on a large multimedia piece made more intuitive sense given that context.

At the time I composed this piece the collection of instruments in the main electronic music studio at Oberlin seemed like a multitude of Christmas mornings rolled into one. For a period one of my favorite games was to put every function of every synthesizer to work together simultaneously, in other words, to regard the entire studio as an integrated whole similar to an orchestra. That done would facilitate integrating composer, performer, and conductor. Yes, it was loads of fun. Sample link.

The Oberlin Conseratory main Electronic Music Studio in 1973.

9. Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags (1974) -- This is an excerpt from a day-long realtime composition event in Finney Chapel that functioned as the culmination of my first semester electronic music composition class at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. There are number of facets to this project. In one sense this is music emerging from an experimental social system (one of the algorithms) in which any one person could be performing with any other person or persons in a duet, trio, quartet, quintet, or sextet at the throw of a die. In preparation the composers were asked to design instruments (patches or circuits) for every synthesizer in the main electronic music studio with the intent of performing them in a real time event at the end of the semester. Throughout the semester we spent our meetings discussing design principles, listening to and discussing the playing of individuals, and exploring random combinations of performers and instruments as rehearsals for the final event. Great care was taken to avoid any filtering by style or personal voice. The Oberlin music community has a phenomenal history of performances; in all musical styles, bar none, the performance standards are exceptionally high. The average age of this group of performers was less than 20 but, as you can hear from the humor and the creative twists, the musicianship is at the top professional level. Two of this group were integral players in The Real* Electric Symphony, James Gillerman in the San Francisco Bay Area and Frankie Mann on tour in Europe. Sample link.

10. Wavesong (1982) -- This music is an example of a very private and personal algorithmic sound environment I lived with for weeks in my home studio at Oberlin in 1974/75. I rented a sensational studio apartment from Oberlin College my last year in residence there. It had a huge great room with high ceilings, a fireplace, and floor to ceiling windows both on the side that bordered the campus and the side that looked out on a lush back yard. My road synthesizer system occupied some of that space and often filled it with Wavesongs generated by algorithms I was exploring based on my studies of cymatics, studies that included the beautiful work of Swiss physicist Hans Jenny. Mostly this environmental design mused with a mind of its own. But occasionally I would sit in the middle of my synthesizers and steer the sounds in a special direction. This is a record of just one of those trips; performances of the algorithm generated a set of pieces. In 1977 I programmed a realization of Wavesong on a solo concert in Rio de Janeiro and invited composer/pianist Jocy de Oliveira (who set up the gig) to play the piano along with my synthesizer work. She recorded our performance and loved the piece so much she made it her own, programming it New York City and beyond using my performance in Rio as the synthesizer part; she also put it on vinyl along with some her pieces. When I was programming it in the mid 1970s the title was unique; today I notice it's an exceedingly popular title. The same holds true for the interest in Cymatics. As Martha would say, those are good things. Sample link.

11. EnufZEnuf (1977), Rigor Mortis Rescue Squad -- This is a recording of just a few minutes from the end of three-hour dance gig we did at choreographer/dancer Margaret Fisher's Cat's Paw Palace for the Performing Arts, by far the best new performance arts venue in the East Bay. The Rigor Mortis Rescue Squad was comprised of five musicians, three from The Future Primitive Art Ensemble of San Francisco (Charles Moselle, David Simons, and William Brown) and two from The Real* Electric Symphony (James Gillerman and myself). We billed the event not as a concert but as a dance, and that attracted the most beautiful collection of young Bay Area dancers you could possibly imagine. (Except for the musicians, not a male in sight.) As you can hear from the sounds and the singing in tongues, the dancers had no qualms about expressing their feelings and joining us in the music making. That's Charlie making the "EnufZEnuf" announcement. The dancers did not want the night to end but we musicians had been playing mostly high energy music for three hours with just a few short breaks and we were definitely ready for some Hun's wonton and noodle soup. Sample link.

To view selected sections of Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies, Part 1: The Book, click on one of the following:
Chapter 1, Emergent Music
Chapter 15, Visual Music Flavors

Information on Part 2: The DVDs.

Click here to buy this CD or other parts of Pellegrino's projects.


©1996-2010 Ron Pellegrino and Electronic Arts Productions. All rights reserved.