EMNVMCD2ProgramNotes

CD 2 - Italian-American Electronic Music Dramas
Part Three: The CDs
Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies
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.


Making Music With Friends

My first music partner was my music teacher’s dog, a red Irish setter who loved Italian arias. As a nine year old when I was a beginning student in old Pete Nicolai’s teaching studio having clarinet lessons, the dog would lie quietly just outside the studio door waiting for me to get through my technical exercises and move on to what he considered real music—melodies from arias of Italian operas that filled so many pages of my music text, The Arban Method (a classic text for trumpeters (Pete was an old country Italian trumpeter as well as the conductor of the Kenosha Civic Band, the only source of classical music (transcribed) when I was growing up in Kenosha)). Whenever I played a melody in a way the Irish setter found moving he would sing (howl?) along with my playing and that always sent chills up my spine. According to Mr. Nicolai, his dog was an accomplished music critic singing only when the melody was played correctly and with feeling.

It was much later when I started working with analog electronic instruments that I realized how indebted I was to Pete’s dog for my musical outlook. He naturally and freely shaped sound according to how he felt in response to what moved him; and that I learned over the years, without equal, is the best approach to composing music that communicates directly to the living spirit, human and otherwise. My animal inspired sounds and expressions are easy enough to hear on my duets with Sal, perhaps easiest on Track 1 - Phoenix Rising. Sal’s huge and highly imaginative sonic palette is more classically electronic than mine which tends to employ more electronically generated vocal, animal, monster, and toy sounds.

While I was still in grade school, Pete Nicolai introduced me to another of his young clarinet students, Bucky Asboth. Although unstated I now believe Pete’s purpose was for us to challenge each other technically; he encouraged us to spend many hours of many days playing duets that greatly extended our technical and sight-reading prowess. Rather than running around nonstop like wild horses in the style of early 1950s preteens, we both sat in front of a music stand in Bucky’s house with our clarinets playing nonstop and flipping pages from beginning to end of duet collections that taxed our musical abilities. Pete died a few years after those duet sessions with Bucky but I still have him to thank for getting me started on the path to making music with good friends.

I found that playing with bands and orchestras was a pleasure and even exciting at times, but it was no match for the beautiful transparency and purity of duets and small ensemble playing. The larger the group, the blurrier the sonic outcome regardless of much preparation is involved; painting a pretty face on it, psycho-acousticians call the phenomenon the chorus effect, and electronic instruments that mimic that effect are standard today.

During junior high school I discovered the fake book and it quickly became one of my music bibles. It was a seemingly endless source of simply notated melodies and chord symbols, the principal source used by local musicians for playing dances, weddings, parties, and bars. The beauty of the fake book is that it’s loaded with tunes from the Great American Songbook, the best American songs from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of those songs became jazz standards because they were melodic gems supported by subtle harmonic structures, both of which invited extension and development by creative minds. Those songs have endured for so many decades because they’re beautiful when stated simply by young musicians and sublime when spun into fine sonic fabrics by mature imaginative musicians.

Early in my high school years I began organizing small bands to explore the potential of fake books on levels that were appropriate for me and young musician pals. We also explored whatever was playing over the radio at that time; during the 1955-1958 period rock & roll was coming on strong so we jumped at the opportunity to thump on percussion and honk on alto and tenor saxes at high school dances. Once word of our play got out in Kenosha, it became easy to book gigs for dances, parties, and eventually weddings and bars. I experimented with various combinations of musicians, some my age and some over twice my age. By my junior year I repeatedly hired a vibraphonist named Darryl Behrmann; he became my favorite music making partner in high school. Darryl had an open expressive range and fine-tuned sensitivity well beyond his high school age, and a great ear and sense of rhythm to boot. Plus he could switch and play lead or support roles with no more than a nod. For several years Darryl and I were the only constants in my bands; we went through quite a few drummers, string bassists, guitarists, and brass and woodwind players but in the end it was our duets that made the band work. When the take from the gig allowed, any other players were hired as icing of one sort or another.

During my undergraduate years at the Lawrence Conservatory I continued forming ever-changing bands of musicians for the same sorts of gigs I played in high school. The main difference was that the college musicians all tended to be multi-instrumentalists, so our play was technically more multidimensional than my earlier bands but I didn’t find a partner as compatible as Darryl. My college music pals were less free in their playing than were my high school pals so almost all my free playing during those days was solo. I believe that tighter attitude toward music making comes from being serious students of the history and literature of music. It’s the sort of educational approach that stiffens rather than flexes one’s musical spine. That prevailing attitude is why it’s so difficult to find inspired free players in the academic world and that’s what made connecting with Sal Martirano, a professor as well a composer, performer, and instrument builder, such a rare and powerful experience.

During my graduate years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison I did virtually no free playing until I began exploring the Moog synthesizer during my dissertation year. Instead the focus was on clearing that long seemingly never ending stream of obstacles that finally led to a Ph.D. People played my compositions but those experiences were not nearly as deep or as intense as making music with a good duet partner. Nevertheless, the upside of those graduate school years was that I began connecting with artists in other media—principally dance, film, and video, and those experiences did much to set the stage for the rest of my musical life. In fact, Parts One, Two, and Three of the Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies project function as a log of the consequences of the experiences I describe in the the first part of this essay.


CD 2 of EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES is called Italian-American Electronic Music Dramas because it features the music synthesizer duets of myself and Sal Martirano (no surprise, a couple of Italian-Americans); the duets are filled with sort of dramatic music that can be expected from the play of boys basking in being bad. The tracks were recorded at three separate times and places—in 1973 during a live performance at the University of Illinois Phoenix ’73 Festival of New Music, in 1974 during evenings of play in Sal’s university studio, and in 1975 at Sal’s personal facility located on his property.

We did several public performances during the Phoenix '73 Festival but we also spent a number of days and nights just exploring and playing in one amazing sound world after another (and archiving periodically). Those ’73 sessions set the stage for our meetings in 1974 and 1975 when I was periodically driving back and forth between San Francisco and Oberlin.

On all the tracks, Sal, a giant of a musician and electronic music pioneer, 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 boxed collection of Buchla 200 Series modules, (I cross-patched all my synthesizers to behave like a single complex instrument in many ways similar conceptually to the SalMar Construction).


Composer's Notes


Notes for Tracks 1, 2, 3, and 4:

CD 2 of EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES is called Italian-American Electronic Music Dramas because it features the music synthesizer duets of Ron Pellegrino and Sal Martirano (no surprise, two Italian-Americans); the duets are filled with the sort of dramatic music that can be expected from the play of boys basking in being bad. The tracks were recorded at three separate times and places—in 1973 during a live performance at the University of Illinois Phoenix ’73 Festival of New Music, in 1974 during evenings of play in Sal’s University of Illinois studio, and in 1975 at Sal’s personal facility located on his property.

We did several public performances during the Phoenix '73 Festival but we also spent a number of days and nights just exploring and playing in one amazing sound world after another (and archiving periodically). Those ’73 sessions set the stage for our meetings in 1974 and 1975 when I was periodically driving back and forth between a home in the San Francisco Bay Area and a faculty gig at Oberlin.

On all the tracks, Sal, a giant of a musician and electronic music pioneer, 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 boxed collection of Buchla 200 Series modules, (I cross-patched all my synthesizers to behave like a single complex instrument in many ways similar conceptually to the SalMar Construction).

Pellegrino's road set


The track titles are mine. They reflect my memory of the psychological range we explored in our play, a world in which there were no musical restrictions. Sal was 13 years my senior but he was one of those people with a twinkle in his eye like a grade school kid at recess. In addition to being a very serious classical composer and jazz pianist, he loved the world of wild sound and the freedom it engendered. We never exchanged words about what we were about to do in our sessions—no explicit plans; rather it was the actual sounds of our instruments that were the only form of communication for our duets.

Sometimes Sal led, sometimes I did. Because his hybrid instrument required a certain amount of programming (an occasional built-in time lag) I remember that when it was my turn to follow, I often adapted my sounds to fit Sal’s world. I was not absolutely sure I needed to do that but it felt right at the time. Making such adjustments was a new synthesizer experience for me and I enjoyed it immensely because it was a real time test of adaptability, at that time a test best suited to analog synthesizers. We let the flow and the shape of our music decide how long we would explore compositional notions; there never seemed to be any doubt that we would end up on the same page. Both Sal and I were serious composers steeped in the classical tradition so if you listen closely to all four tracks you will hear every last formal and structural element that has come down to us through the ages of musical development; of course it was our unstated intention to create a few new elements of our own. You can be the judge of that.

I’ve championed Sal’s musical work since our first meeting in 1969 at a composer’s gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From the outset it was clear that he was the complete musician who balanced intelligence, vision, and a work ethic with a dramatic passion about free play, a rare combination. During my tenure at the Oberlin Conservatory I was part of group of composers who organized the New Directions Concert Series, a series that featured leading American new music composers; and of course in the early 1970s Sal was invited to make a show of his SalMar Construction. In 1977/78 I had a one year visiting professorship at Miami University and once again I hosted Sal as the featured composer on our new music festival. In addition to our 1973-75 recording sessions, throughout the 1970s we shared and performed on the same stages including the University of South Florida, University of Illinois, University of Tampa, Miami University, and UC-Berkeley. That sort of activity ended in the early 1980s when I eased out of the full time academic world to focus on solo performances on the road and the composition of media bands with local artists that I met and organized into performance groups for my gigs on the road. I made a lot of performance pals on the road but after all these years Sal remains my favorite; from the first four tracks on this CD it should be easy to hear why.

Track 1 - Phoenix Rising (1973) 3:48. Audio sample

Track 2 - Free Electrons (1974) 10:36. Audio sample

Track 3 - Brotherly Breezing (1975) 11:15. Audio sample

Track 4 - Boys Being Bad (1975) 7:47. Audio sample


Track 5 - Markings for Dena Madole (1968/69) 25:55 was composed in 1968/69 during the first year of a faculty gig at The Ohio State University where I was directing the electronic music studio and an experimental music group, teaching composition, and collaborating on integrated arts projects with other arts faculty (computer graphics pioneer Charles Csuri, extraordinary dancers and choreographers, other musicians, filmmakers, light artists, theatre artists, etc.) as well as graduate students from departments all over the campus in an integrated media context replicated many years later in the institutionalized form of MIT's Media Lab. The OSU grass roots version of integrated media in the late 60s/early 70s predated MIT's version (the Media Lab) by 17 years, although if you believe MIT's promotional literature they would have you to believe that they discovered what's called multimedia all by themselves in 1985.

When I arrived at OSU in the fall of 1968 I discovered I had inherited a room full of analog electronic gear that seemed begged, borrowed, or stolen—all the makings of a "classical" electronic music studio which meant it originally came from physics labs, radio stations, and surplus electronics warehouses—gear definitely not originally designed to make music. It was the sort of electronic music facility commonly found in European radio stations in the late 40s through the early 60s, a facility populated by electronic gear such as function generators, switches, filters, tape recorders, oscilloscopes, and patch bays. And to put it simply, that room full of gear at OSU showed no organizing principle beyond proximity, and that didn't make much sense either. The first job I gave myself was to find a suitable space for the equipment and to tie it together into a functioning system capable of making music and teaching electronic composition. I had just spent a year working with the latest Moog synthesizer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison so I had to work through a bit of culture shock before I could appreciate the potential of a “classical” studio for making one think differently.

Nevertheless, what I loved about that studio was that it was compositionally biased toward sculpting the flow of electrons rather than electronically simulating acoustic instruments. My approach to working in that environment was first to design instruments that behaved like conversational electronic creatures and then second to figure out how to play with those creatures and to organize them into a band for my music. Listening to this piece in 2010 I’m struck by how European the music sounds, although it does have a bit of an American accent.

Dena Madole, a striking figure critically acclaimed for her beauty and grace, was an Erick Hawkins Dance Company principal dancer in New York City during the 1960s. In 1968 she commissioned Markings when she decided to embark on a solo career. The first performances were programmed on an NYU dance festival in the spring of 1969. For years following those performances she featured the piece on her cross-country tours. Originally the score included a live timpani part (played by a great timpanist in New York City) but when I learned that Dena intended to tour nationally with the piece I redid that part electronically and that version is what you hear on this track. The vocalist for this performance is Ann Chase, a lucky find on the OSU campus because 40 years later I can not imagine anyone doing a better realization. Audio sample

Track 6 - Great Wails for Herbert Blau (1972) 13.59 was composed in the spring of 1972 when Blau, an experimental theatre director and theorist,was composed in the spring of 1972 when Blau, an experimental theatre director and theorist, asked me to compose music for a Vietnam antiwar protest media event that he was organizing at Oberlin College. I was slow to warm to the idea because a few years earlier (1970) I left Ohio State where I found it difficult to function given the 5,000 national guard troops on campus, the helicopters hovering over the Oval, and daily experiences of moving through check points all over campus—all difficulties inspired by local Vietnam protests. (That was the year of the Kent State spring shooting.) I moved to Oberlin partly because it felt like an island of sanity and balance, a great escape for someone with my perspective on the arts. Nevertheless I composed the piece and in the process all I could feel was sorrow—consequently the Great Wails.

The plan was to compose this piece in real time so I configured the entire main studio of the Oberlin Electronic Music Facility (see below) into one large extended music synthesizer, an early form of the orchestral designs I pursued with greater and greater intensity through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The thinking, though not hybrid, is related to what went into designing the SalMar Construction in the sense of distributing the functionality via constructing subsystem sets for control, generation, modification, processing, and distribution. Comparatively an important difference is that the SalMar is a general purpose instrument whereas my large designs usually targeted a single composition. To create another composition I simply (or not so simply) reconfigured the entire studio to meet the requirements of the new piece. The key to making such complex instruments function musically is to design multiple addressable subsystems that can be combined into pyramids that are musically combinable and performable from the tops of the pyramids. Parallel computing is a digital translation of this analog design principle.

The outdoor media event was scheduled for late April on Oberlin's Tappan Square, perfect timing for the arrival of storms blowing in off Lake Erie. So it was not much of a surprise when an energetic spring windstorm graced our performance and blew my wails every which way. It also created havoc with Blau's beautiful giant masks but it all seemed made to order to delight the international media crowd in attendance. Too bad this audio track does not carry the wind's wacky way of generating location modulation. I miss it but I knew at the time that it was a once in a lifetime happening. I hope your imagination will fill in what's missing in the way of wind blown sounds. Audio sample

The Oberlin main studio in the early 70s



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


Information on Part 2: The DVDs.


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