CD 1 Program Notes CD 1 - Audience Favorites
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.


CD 1 - Audience Favorites is composed of a never-before-now-published collection of 12 pieces that have been field tested in hundreds of concerts and radio and television broadcasts in North America, South America and Europe. Of the numerous pieces showcased in those events, this collection emerges as audience favorites. That anyone actually likes my music is always a pleasant surprise because my compositions tend to be personal studies that take the forms of answers to questions I pose to myself about instruments, mechanical or organic systems, feelings of the moment, dream states, or future projections. I never compose pieces for audiences but I always expect to test them on audiences, to test whether my answers to my questions have forms that communicate beyond my own circumscribed world. Of course I’m pleased when they do communicate, but I’m just as pleased when they don’t because that always stimulates a why search. Why was I moved and they weren’t? Will more of them eventually be moved? What was I thinking musically that they couldn’t follow? Does it make any difference? Should I make adjustments? And if so, what sorts of adjustments? Why are some people always irritated by challenges of any kind, particularly in the arts? And so on with the whys.

Unlike most composers, until the past few years, I never felt compelled to publish my work in any of the traditional recorded forms—scores, vinyl, tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc. There were a number of reasons for my position. One was that I made a living doing live performances and I wanted to present only my latest work without feeling pressured to include pieces people knew from recordings. Another was connected with the physical, almost mystical notion of experiencing sound, once excited, being free to move in a variety of ways—to bounce off some obstacles in directions determined by the angle of incidence, to induce some obstacles to resonate and to produce their own sounds thus adding their signature to the mix, to curve around some obstacles, to be absorbed more or less by some obstacles, to fall on the ears of fellow performers to influence what sounds came out of them, and to be there in person to sense their music as well as the feedback from the audience. I am as intrigued with and excited about performance spaces as I am the art processes and people who fill those spaces. So, for the most part, beginning in the late 1960s I chose as a composer to continue my history as a performer and to integrate that history with all that I discover about composition in a lifetime of studying all facets of music and closely related in the dynamic arts, science, and affordable emerging technology.

Since my teen years I’ve been a student of the music of the spheres and that means I hear it, see it, and sense it everywhere in everything all the time so there’s nothing that moves or can move that doesn’t interest me as a composer. For decades in my private thinking the enterprise has boiled down to what I prefer to think of as generic composition, but I seldom use that expression in public; in our consumer oriented culture “generic” is a devalued term, a term most people think means common rather than fundamental or generalized. Mathematicians, computer programmers, and philosophers will have no problem with the expression but their combined numbers are dwarfed by that of consumers so I take this opportunity to slip my view into a paragraph that I’m certain will escape the masses.

Despite numerous celebrations of free playing alone and with friends beginning in my early teens, the light went bright when, as a graduate student in 1966 in a class studying 20th century experimental composition with Hilmar Luckhardt at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we were assigned to compose pieces for ourselves and to follow that up in the next class with performing them for our classmates. That approach to unfiltered, undiluted, problem solving musical expression felt perfect to me even though the outcome was required to be notated; with certain restrictions I was simply notating my train of thought focused on a particular composition issue. Although for a few years after that experience I continued composing in the traditional way, I was actually in the process of phasing out of that mode and into what I eventually called real time composition, where there is no separation between composition and performance. Of course that line of thinking requires being there and being involved with it while it’s happening. Micro-management does not apply here. Letting go, being in a “zone”, and functioning with presence of mind are not mutually exclusive.

I’ve always chafed at the idea of being pigeonholed because it felt like my freedom was being curtailed by an external source’s expectations. In my view it’s not a composer’s responsibility to please or satisfy an audience or to solicit their approval. Rather it’s a composer’s job to create sound and light worlds that extend and challenge the imagination of the audience to perceive much as the composer does. When that happens the composer functions as a guide into barely charted sound and light worlds, the outer regions of imagination. When identified with a single piece or period, a composer becomes locked-in—locked into the knowable past and locked out of the unknowable future. We are not machines. We’re human. We’re best when we evolve and the best way to evolve is predicated on being intimately involved.

My music is designed to work on numerous levels simultaneously. That’s a conscious decision because I personally enjoy music with multiple dimensions and, as a nod to the diversity of my audiences, I like the idea of providing multiple handles—lyrical melodies, body rhythms, counterpoint, extended spectral development, surprises, drama, monsters, and angels. Even with musical roots deeply embedded in Italian opera, popular classical transcriptions for wind band, the Great American Songbook, the known history of western classical vocal and instrumental music, and the experimental tradition in the arts in general, my work relies on releasing the past, leaping into the abyss, and flying along in the real time composition mode focused on the edge of time as it slices into the future. Typically that edge is articulated by accessible melodic structures that are followed as well as preceded by their wakes (via temporal stage-setting wrap-arounds), thereby creating heterophonic play environments. But in a nutshell, creating all sorts of play environments is the key to my history as a composer. Those environments range from solo flights in the dead of night to public celebrations that involve many hundreds of people. That a set of pieces with enough general appeal to be called audience favorites could emerge from such an attitude as mine is a good argument for the existence of divine intervention.

Composer's Notes for CD 1 - Audience Favorites

Track 1, Cloud 7 (1987), has the qualities of a fanfare/overture so it makes a good lead track on a CD; the listener can use it to set levels that should be fine for the rest of the CD. For years in the late 80s/early 90s I used this piece in my presentations to ease the audience into my sound world. When I hear this piece again decades after I completed it, I'm reminded of the wind band music I composed in my early to mid twenties. In my teens and early 20s my main large music vehicle was wind bands and I was on the receiving end of plenty of thrilling moments propelled by the music's earthy energy. Early in my life I thought it might be a good idea to make a career of composing for wind bands. But discovering synthesizers in 1967 changed my life; I immediately realized that they were the composer/performer instruments of the future, particularly for those of us who wanted maximum freedom in our creative lives. This piece was born during a period when one of my major compositional concerns was designing synthesizer orchestras that I could conduct (play) in real time. Sample link

Track 2, Alpha Strings (1985), reflects my love of string quartets and string orchestras. It was composed using the alphaSyntauri synthesizer, the first truly affordable digital synthesizer that I could see placing into my personal studio as well university facilities. The alphaSyntauri had good traction during the late 70s and early 80s just before MIDI swept through the electronic music world in 1983. This music is characteristic of my early 80s pieces that emerged from my re-examination of tonal structures, music that breathes, and melodic structures that spin out in not so predictable ways. This piece is less about electrons than it is about good old fashion musical values. Sample link

Track 3, Milwaukee River (1967), is a remix of the original score. When I was completing my graduate studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968 I was commissioned by some folks from the UW TV department to compose music for what was probably one of the earliest environmental consciousness-raising pieces in the movement.  I believe the title for their piece was "This Is The Milwaukee River".  They were trying to draw attention to the sad state of the river and to motivate people to start making improvements. I know that the video was broadcast nationally (was it called Education Television (ETV) at that time?) because friends from around the country contacted me after they saw the video and my name in the credits.  I was very busy at that time finishing a dissertation and making preparations to move to a new teaching position so I just took the money and ran.

At the time I composed this music I was obsessed with the notion of tone painting, the idea that sound could color and suggest a scene of any sort from lyrical to dramatic extremes. For as long as I can remember I felt that was true intuitively. When as part of my graduate studies I took seminars and wrote papers focused on the music of William Byrd, Richard Wagner, and Arnold Schoenberg I learned through theoretical analysis and extensive listening that there is a long historical tradition and a wealth of tried and true techniques for tone painting. My first choice for a doctoral dissertation was tone painting in the music Arnold Schoenberg; he was a master. But instead a Moog synthesizer appeared on campus at UW-Madison and my musical life took a new direction.

However tone painting was still very much a part of what I did then and what I do now. My vision for that music was taking a trip down the Milwaukee River and listening to what the beings that lived in, on, around, and off the river had to say musically about what was happening at that time to the quality of the river and its environment.  So the music is conversational in nature with multiple voices having their say; it's definitely dramatic. For me this sort of tone painting was an early version of my cyberspirit explorations. Sample link

Track 4, Score to Too (1971). Too was the first of five films in my Lissajous Lives Film Series. All the films were created with music synthesizer-driven oscillographic imagery recorded with a 16 mm film camera and then organized and composed into set pieces and dynamic graphic scores for interpreters. Too represents the beginning of my documented visual music work, work which eventually led to recorded and real time performance videographics and laser animations (available on Part Two: The DVDs of my latest project). The music began as a study exploring the use multiphonics to ornament in an organic fashion a freely composed lush melody (I was a Jimi Hendrix fan from the first time I heard him mainly because he was a master of this process). 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

Track 5 , Laser Seraphim - Slow (1987), is from a set of pieces (Slow, Fast, and Sweet) I composed in 1987 to use with my live performances of music synthesizer-driven laser animations. The DX7 is used for the melodic material which has a very long tether (a bit like a kite in March winds) as it floats with great freedom over the top of ostinati often with unusual meters such as 11, 13, and 15. Late in the 60s I was pleased to run across the notions of a "band in a box" and "music minus one". One of the advantages of working in a fleshed-out electronic music studio is that the composer can create variations of those notions that lead to the design of soundscapes that can be perfectly tuned personal play fields. This piece is an example of my playing in such a field. Sample link

Track 6, Laser Seraphim - Fast (1987). In my public presentations of laser animations this piece usually followed Laser Seraphim - Slow. The two pieces were invitations for my cyberspirit pals to come play with me in public; if the conditions were right, they did. But, as might be expected, most just the sensitives in the audience picked up on it. The laser animation designs that I've used since 1975 actually have their roots in the work I did in oscillographics beginning in 1967. The oscillographic work led to the Lissajous Lives series of films I did in the early to mid 70s and, except for music composition and physics class demonstrations, pretty much ended when I assembled the laser system in 1975.
When I designed a portable laser animation/projection system for research and road shows I found myself building my performance instrument designs on the foundation of the knowledge and experience acquired through my eight years of previous work with music synthesizer-driven oscillographics; however there are major differences between the two visual worlds they create because the oscilloscope is electrostatic (virtually without a signature) and the laser animator is electromechanical (marked by a unique signature). In terms of expense and tedium there was a significant level of resistance built into creating oscillographic films whereas the live nature and instant feedback of the laser animator invited extended play and experimentation. In the final analysis there wasn't much of contest between oscillographic films and laser animations, so the laser system quickly took over my visual music research and composition work with Lissajous figures although the oscilloscope still figured prominently in my electronic music, computer music, and psychophysics teaching.

Along with a strong predilection for real time composition I also found myself in the mid 70s being influenced by what I was discovering about the classical Indian compositional approach based on the notion of ragas — the idea that, over a period of many years, a musician evolves to higher levels by studying, refining, and mastering collections of melodies, rhythms, scales, and inflections so as to be prepared to use them compositionally on the fly according to the requirements of the moment including the place, the nature of the audience, the occasion, the time of the day and year, etc. What I discovered was that the classical Indian approach was one and the same as what I had intuitively been developing since my early teens and that all the traditional education required of my academic degrees in music had not undermined that perspective one iota.

The raga approach to composition was a perfect fit for my work with laser animation. Over the decades I've performed the laser system in ensemble with other musicians, other light artists, and dancers. But since 1985 the majority of my laser performances have been with my own music and this is where the Laser Seraphim set of pieces comes into play in my public events. The title includes the word seraphim because I've often had the sense that cyberspirits, sometimes angelic, come to play through the medium of complex interactive electronic sets of wavetrains. My laser ragas are designed to create openings for the seraphim to enter and play. The openings are complex finely tuned music synthesizer designs that generate stereo wavetrains with just the right balance of ebb and flow involving frequency ratios, frequency modulation, amplitude modulation, waveshape modulation, ring modulation, phase modulation, and signal mix.

The music emerges from my experiments with synthesizer orchestra design and the idea of melodically floating around in a sonic playfield (definitely one of my favorite musical amusements). I've used this music so often with a particular set of laser images that hearing the music always brings the images to my mind's eye. Sample link

Track 7, Glasssongs (1983), is modeled on the sound of a huge glass harmonica, a sound that carries a powerful and inescapable suggestion of controlled audio feedback. In some listeners the quality of that sound creates a certain level of tension born of the expectation that the audio feedback just might get out of control as it often does at public amplified events. This piece also generates seductive laser and oscillographic animations; I used it for years in my public demonstrations of the fundamentals of visual music. You can experience it directly if you split the audio outputs using one stereo set for audio and the other for an XY deflection system, either a laser animator or an oscilloscope. This piece is one of my earliest for generating sound and light forms simultaneously from the same waveset. Sample link

Track 8, Cynthia's Dream Straight (1981), is the unprocessed voice of Cynthia Fanning recorded in Texas Tech University's electronic music studio. Cynthia, an advanced multitalented student musician, and I collaborated on a theater piece (late 1980/ early 1981) for an annual contemporary music festival while I was on the faculty of Texas Tech. Recounting some of her dreams was one of the composition exercises I gave her as preparation our performance; this dream was a keeper. Cynthia's spoken delivery of her dream is a musical piece in its own right. In fact her delivery is so visually musical I often used this recording as an example of one of the flavors of visual music. Plus I often did laser animations to it on my road shows. In particular for a better appreciation of this CD, first hearing the delivery of her dream straight should help to make the evolved form on the following track easier to comprehend. Sample link

Track 9, Cynthia's Dream Evolved (1990), is a set of three variations generated by a Fairlight Voicetracker translating Cynthia's voice into MIDI information that conducted a specially designed synthesizer orchestra to accompany her heterophonically. Cynthia was one of a group of outstanding musicians in my music composition class at Texas Tech (I taught electronic music and real time composition and directed the Leading Edge Music Series there from 1978-81). Our collaboration involved a performance piece based on the idea of musically dramatizing the inflected meanings of a group of words listed under "unconformity" in Roget's Thesaurus of Words and Phrases. This recording was made as part of a set of loosening up studies for the purpose of discovering and developing the tools for her part in our performance piece. The recitation of her dream just emerged during the exploratory process; it wasn't scripted and it wasn't planned.

In 1987 I began exploring the Fairlight Voicetracker, a special purpose computer that converts acoustic information (sound) into MIDI (music synthesizer control information). One of the areas I explored for several years focused on examining the musical nature of various people's voices. What I discovered was that individuals have their own particular tonal centers, strong tendencies toward particular scale formations (usually not traditional scales), definite tempo and rhythmic predilections, characteristic melodic structures and ornaments, implied harmonic progressions (via arpeggiation), and spectral weightings; and the balance of that entire list of musical variables is subject to change according to the time of the day, their moods, their health, their environment, the context, etc. Such findings didn't really come as a surprise to me because many of us musicians know those facts intuitively; nevertheless the Fairlight Voicetracker is a great tool for musically clarifying those issues for those with ears to hear.

Every single note you hear is taken from Cynthia's voice which is recorded on one track of a multitrack tape recorder. Her recorded voice is connected to the Fairlight Voicetracker which, according to pitch, loudness, and tone color, converts the voice into MIDI signals that are recorded by a computer program called a sequencer. I used the computer program to process the MIDI signals in numerous ways—octave displacement, time displacement, frequency and amplitude screening, etc. Along with Cynthia's voice on the tape recorder there was a synchronization track that kept the computer and Cynthia's recorded voice moving along in sync. The MIDI signals coming out of the computer were used to control and conduct an orchestra of music synthesizers specially programmed to work with Cynthia's voice. If you listen closely you'll hear, that although some sounds might hit a bit before or a bit after Cynthia's words and be higher or lower in pitch than Cynthia, every single note comes from her voice in heterophonic streaming clouds and tightly scattered points. Also notice that when her voice is removed from the mix, the musical shapes from the synthesizers point directly to the nuances of Cynthia's voice. Sample link

Track 10, Cymatic Sail (1982), emerges from my early 1980s thoughts about Cymatic Music. During this period my cymatic experiments on the formative effects of sound on matter and spirit also led to an article in 1982 in Leonardo, the Journal of The International Society For The Arts, Science, and Technology. Since the publication of that article interest by artists in cymatics has grown exponentially and even in 2010 the article continues to be cited in academic papers, theses, and dissertations around the globe. Hearing this piece always shoots me back to my first dream studio on Kelly Lane in Petaluma, California. This is summer music made to float out of my studio windows into my garden and connect me with the world beyond. It's also celebratory music; I had just finished my work on my second book, The Electronic Arts of Sound and Light, a four-year project covering my research from 1967-1981. Sample link

Track 11, Soft Candy (1989), is another example of my love for ostinati, especially those with odd meters; this one is 13. It was composed in 1988 in an Electronic Arts Productions studio configured to behave like an orchestra or a media band. Since the late 1960s, one of my MOs as a composer/performer has been to collect electronic instruments born of different persuasions and to configure them into harmonious systems that make good learning and playing fields. As a composer, rather than forcing musical issues, I normally begin the compositional process experimentally searching for voices by coaxing my instruments to speak for themselves and to show me musical paths for exploration and study.

Like many of my other compositions this piece began as an etude, a study of tonal and temporal shapes. It began to take its current form as I designed a metric sound world for the voices and then studied and played with the possibilities of a 13 beat metric pattern divided into various sets of 2s, 3s, 5s, and 7s. For days on end I played with the system design (orchestra or media band) tweaking, fine tuning, and massaging its musical variables while at the same time building the conceptual and physical technique to discover as well as to come to performance terms (build a technique) with the overall voice of the system. After a certain period of unfettered study I began to focus on a more defined set of musical materials. Based on those materials I alternated playing and recording with listening, analysis, and more compositionally oriented study. After days of this sort of activity, I reached the time when successive cycles began to take a very similar overall musical shape; then I started recording seriously and making multiple takes. Based on my intuition, the final piece was chosen from the best of those takes. This compositional process is one of the areas of my research in real time composition . This piece has been programmed many times as a stand-alone sound piece, a score to a number of my videos, and a dance score as part of my residencies. Sample link

Track 12, S&H Explorations (1972), features Lawrence McDonald on clarinet, one of a group of collaborators during my years on the faculty of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. The piece was composed for Larry; he joined me for the first and many other performances of it while I was on the Oberlin faculty. The clarinet part is traditionally notated but the ARP 2600 part uses custom graphic notation which means the sonic result from the 2600 is somewhat different with each performance. I sketched the 2600 part because I intended to perform it myself wherever it was programmed; graphic notation gave me license to experiment with the synthesizer shapes in performance. I have sweet memories of playing this piece coast to coast with some of the best clarinetists in the USA including new music pioneers and principals of major orchestras. The clarinet part actually sounds more difficult than it is to play (though it's certainly challenging enough even for the best clarinetists). That's because, after seriously studying the clarinet from age 9 to 28 and performing many solo virtuoso pieces in my late teens and early 20s, I had intimate knowledge of what sounded difficult but was actually relatively easy to play on the clarinet. I put that knowledge to work on this piece.

The title is based on my musical explorations of the sample and hold (S&H) unit on the ARP 2600 (at that time a new addition to one of the Oberlin Conservatory electronic music studios). Functionally the S&H unit takes a sample of the voltage at its input, holds the voltage level for a specified length of time, and makes it available at its output; the duration of the sample is controlled by a variable clock pulse which is also available as timing signal. For my own amusement and edification I played every sort of musical game I could imagine with the unit including converting clarinet loudness (amplitude) to voltage that I applied as an input to the S&H unit so I could take its output and apply it as a control voltage on a resonating low pass filter that operated directly on a mix of the straight clarinet sound and a soft drone; that's what creates the pitched percussion you hear along with the clarinet.

This piece was composed during a transitional period when I was still notating music in the traditional way (the clarinet part is completely written in traditional notation) while in the same period I was composing a series of films (the Lissajous Lives film series) to be used as dynamic graphic scores (a visual music flavor), experimenting with synthesizer instrument designs that would simultaneously generate the music and the imagery, doing experimental video work in San Francisco, designing interactive music/light/air currents/audience movement multimedia environments that ran for days in chapels, doing live synthesizer performances of my graphically notated pieces at Oberlin and on the road, collaborating with Oberlin performance artists in designing an InterArts Program, directing Oberlin's Electronic Music Studios, and teaching electronic composition and theory classes. Given that overflowing plate I did everything quickly in those days and this piece was no exception; I finished it in less than a week as the 1972 new year was dawning.

This was one of the last pieces I notated traditionally. Although I took great pains to notate as precisely as possible what I wanted the clarinet to do musically, ultimately I had to sing it to even the best performers to get what I wanted. This was a "money piece" for me, a piece that generated gigs because I composed it so I was the only person who could play the ARP 2600 part which was notated in a type of ARP 2600 specific tablature. So if someone wanted to perform it they had to hire me to play the synthesizer part; of course this meant that the exercise of quality control was built into the piece. The upshot is that I performed the piece with top professional clarinetists in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cleveland, Dallas, etc. and the situation was always the same—despite the precisely notated clarinet part I always had to sing the music to them for them to get it right. During this period I seriously began to doubt the efficacy of traditional notation to suggest much beyond gross mechanics (this realization was surfacing and clarifying after 23 years of studying, performing, and composing with traditional music notation and earning a BM, MM, and PhD in music composition and theory) so I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the notion of designing real time composition systems for both solo and group settings. During this period I also committed to the idea of visual music in which the notation (the imagery) emerges directly from the same source as the sonic music (flip sides of the same coin; music for the eye and ear emerging from one and the same energy train).

When I listen to this piece 38 years after I composed and performed it, it sounds to me like classical European music with an American twist. I attribute that to the traditional notation of the clarinet part and the fact that it’s being performed by two Oberlin Conservatory faculty members in 1972. Of course I have no way of knowing how others will hear it in the 21st century. 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.