CD3Program NotesC

CD 3 - San Francisco 70s Free Music Scene
Part 3: 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.

Introduction: San Francisco 70s Free Music Scene

In the 1970s when most SF Bay Area free music artists said San Francisco, they were referring to the entire San Francisco Bay Area from Petaluma at the top to San Jose at the bottom, not just the northern tip of the South Bay peninsula (the city of San Francisco), although there was plenty of action there too. In fact when referring to the 70s San Francisco Free Music Scene it makes sense to extend 25 miles north of Petaluma to include what was happening between it and Santa Rosa at the top of the SF Bay. Tony De Anna and Richard Waters (of Waterphone fame) of Sebastopol and Will Johnson of CalState-Sonoma were outstanding exponents of free music in the 70s and for decades beyond; plus the home base of The Real* Electric Symphony was actually in Petaluma though the group worked the entire Bay Area. A telling example, Part Two: The DVDs of Emergent Music And Visual Music includes the free sonic and visual music of North Bay artists playing at a daylong Santa Rosa Hewlett-Packard recording session.

Tracks 1, 2, and 8 on this particular CD feature free music from a weekend gathering in Petaluma at the Kelly Lane Studios of Electronic Arts Productions, a gathering that included members of a number of groups based and performing in the City of San Francisco; represented were people from The Future Primitive Art Ensemble of San Francisco, UBU, Pangaea, Continuum, and The Real* Electric Symphony.

It also makes sense to extend south of San Jose to include the action in Santa Cruz where folks like Jaron Lanier (of virtual reality fame) and his pals were playing free music on the streets. In San Jose, Allen Strange, his wife Pat, and his students at CalState-San Jose also played the free music game especially as part of Berkeley synthesizer designer Don Buchla’s Electronic Weasel Ensemble.

The San Francisco Free Music Scene did not simply emerge, it positively erupted during the 1970s. The eruption had very little to do with the powerful and world famous professional and academic establishments where people were doing the same things they would do anywhere in the Western world—pursuing normal art and academic materialistic objectives. For priming the Free Music pump considerable credit needs to be given to the inspiring work of the resident and visiting artists of the Center For World Music during its 1973-74 tenure at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. The Center had an outstanding educational program during the day and presented frequent evening concerts with very low ($2-$3) ticket prices so just about any musician could afford to be inspired by hearing the greatest musicians in the world including world class artists such as Ali Akbar Khan, Zakir Hussain, and Ravi Shankar to name just a few.

In the beautiful sounding intimate setting of St. John's, a building designed by Julia Morgan. one could hear composers and performers from South India, North India, West Africa, Java, Bali, Sudan, Japan, China, Korea as well as the USA and Europe. The sound in St. John's was all the more beautiful because this period was just before many great musicians were seduced by the idea of striving for rock star status thus felt compelled to "reinforce" (over-amplify to the point of distortion) their sound. With sound reinforcement the net effect was that music traditions born of acoustic settings were dumbed down to the point that even live music sounded like a canned recording.

Hearing inspiring nonwestern music in a natural acoustic setting is a sure fire way of deprogramming western ears and liberating them to explore the full range of possible sounds and sound structures. During that period I lived in Berkeley walking distance from St. John’s and during the many nights I spent in that heavenly environment I always had plenty of company. “Those of us fortunate to have been there under that roof at that one brief moment in time have been forever blessed by some of the most extraordinary art and artists the world has ever known...”

SF Bay Area Free Music artists during that period tended to be young dreamers magnetically attracted to the Bay Area by its overall environment—a combination of the majestic topography, Mediterranean weather, the richness and depth of its multicultural scene, and the very obvious brain and visionary power of potential collaborators populating the entire Bay Area. Notably those are the same factors that led to the emergence of Silicon Valley. In fact, a good number of people I knew in the 70s Free Music Movement moved back and forth between the worlds of Silicon Valley and that of the free music artist, sometimes over a weekend and sometimes over months on end. The Movement had an underground quality despite being widespread and supported by those in the know. The Bay Area music critics (mostly academic historical musicologist wannabes) were absolutely clueless; whenever they did review an event it was typically inane, usually completely ignorant of the essence of the music. Even people like Charles Amirkanian, an impresario and KPFA radio host who fancied himself an experimental music composer, did not wake up to free music for decades after the bloom. My weekly two hour radio show on KPFA (1975-77) was the only media venue for the Free Music Movement and on it I showcased individuals, groups, and coming events.

Free Music is unfettered by notational practices unless, like abstract visual music scores based on moving light or body forms, the practices encourage free association and creative mingling. Instead, it is music that has its roots in the deepest recesses of the human history of music making where the musically inclined join forces to converse and celebrate with each other using the sounds of their time, and that includes whatever sounds were carried over from previous times. There is a visceral quality to free music that goes beyond the bounds of traditional music based on notated scores, the sort of music which tends to be far more rational than emotional. The bounds of free music are drawn by the limitations of the practitioners whether they be technical or conceptual, not by academic or institutional strictures.

Although it informs free music, jazz for the most part is not free music; much of jazz, despite a variety of dialects, is based on the classical form of theme and variations. The variations can go far afield but they are still variations and extensions of fixed melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic structures. The fact that jazz is based on a classical form is one of the reasons why in the 80s and 90s it was embraced as the savior of numerous academic music departments. Furthermore creating a place for it attracted enough student bodies to save the jobs of many entrenched out-of-touch college music faculty. Moreover, willy nilly mostly mindless improvisation, jazz or not, where the conversation is more like pre-talk baby babble is a form of free music that occupies the lowest rung. It may be a place to begin but it is not a place to dwell for long.

Free Music does not come from a single locus; it comes from all places and all times. It connects with the western experimental music scene but it is strongly influenced by the music of other cultures especially the compositional principles of North Indian music, such as ragas, and of African music born of the spinning out of simultaneous complex interacting patterns. Free Music is also intensely conversational in nature. On the tracks of this CD it’s easy enough to hear the influences of multiple musics including world folk, classical, jazz, and Klezmer. In fact it was in Berkeley in 1975 that street musicians jump-started the worldwide Klezmer revival. Plus, New Age Music and World Music were offshoots of the Free Music Movement and, once more, that’s easy to hear when listening to the tracks on this CD.

70s Free Music practitioners explored every possible music venue from the top to the bottom of the San Francisco Bay including the streets, art museums, science museums, the steps of the SF Opera House on opening night, galleries, plazas, cultural centers, gathering spaces of corporate giants, parks, academic institutions large and small, dance halls, radio, television, churches, recording studios, theaters—you name it, we played there. Joining me on various tracks of this CD are Charles Moselle, David Simons, Howard Moscovitz, Gordon Mumma, Olly Wilson, and James Gillerman.

Composer's Notes for CD 3 - San Francisco 70s Free Music Scene

Track 1 - Light Feet (1978) 6:14

This is one of three tracks (also Tracks 2 and 8) recorded during a weekend gathering in Petaluma at the Kelly Lane Studios of Electronic Arts Productions. That gathering included musicians from a number of groups based and performing in the City of San Francisco; represented were people from The Future Primitive Art Ensemble of San Francisco, UBU, Pangea, Continuum, and The Real* Electric Symphony. Commonly in San Francisco during the mid 70s I set up Real* Electric Symphony gigs that included other performance groups and The Future Primitive Art Ensemble of San Francisco was invited often. Leading that group were two extraordinary free music practitioners—David Simons on percussion and Charles Moselle on reeds, percussion, and musical toys. They are key players on Tracks 1, 2, and 8 of this CD.

Light Feet is drum circle music. Undoubtedly drum circles are one of music's most ancient settings and they remain with us today as important as ever. When I lived in Berkeley in the mid 70s one of my daily rituals was a long hike up into the Berkeley Hills and then down to Sproul Plaza on the UC campus where one would always find a drum circle either around the fountain or down in the lower section of the plaza. There were some regulars but the personnel would always change from day to day as well as over the course of the day. At the very least those drum circles were entertaining; at their best the music was downright inspiring often attracting energetic dancers out of the ether to form a whirling outer circle. A few weeks before writing this note in early 2010 I was walking into a meadow at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and there they were—a drum circle surrounded by a dancing circle.

What you hear on this track, in addition to percussion and toys, are other instruments making brief sounds to rally and cheer on the drummers. The reverberation is completely acoustic; it's simply the sound of the room. Someone (no credit to me) had the foresight to invite to the party a KPFA audio engineer with a good ear; after a few days he left us with a passel of fine recordings. Sound Sample

Track 2 - Saturday Sunrise (1978) 12:47

This is another recording from the weekend gathering in Petaluma; see the note on Track 1 for particulars. It happened first thing Saturday morning; you can hear the texture getting more complex as more players were waking and joining the ritual—we were all doing our best to help the sun rise and to stretch ourselves into its light. A kitchen was located just off the studio; if you listen carefully your can hear breakfast being prepared in the background.

Quite a few players brought clarinets to the party and they became the preferred instrument for this ritual. It's common for woodwind players to include long (duration) tones in their studies and usually the long tones are played at the beginning of a solo practice session because the exercise helps to focus the mind of the player to get as close as possible to becoming one with the sound of the instrument. I studied clarinet seriously for 19 years and playing long tones always put me in a meditative state of mind—it's just a form of slow, long, and deep breathing that manifests as sound. The usual shape of long tones is from very soft, to very full, then back to very soft, so it's a wonderful opportunity to teach the ear to become sensitive to the spectral changes associated with amplitude changes as well as any deviations of either that will occur with the slightest natural discontinuities (we are not perfect breathing machines).

Playing long tones in concert with others naturally results in drones of one sort or another. It's a great feeling. It's like curling up in a shared sound womb that seemingly occupies infinite space. As you hear from Charlie Moselle on this track, at some point the musical texture created by multiple deep breathers tends to lift one into song. Sound Sample

Track 3 - East Bay Hills 1974 9:02

Howard Moscovitz and I met often in 1974 to play duets. Musically we were simpatico so getting together was always a special treat. Howard has BIG EARS; you can hear the depth of his listening through the quality of his playing. Our sessions were mostly in his Oakland, CA studio just before he decided to leave the professional music world and instead to pursue electrical engineering. What I like most about our duets is that they carry the sense of an harmonious approach to creating collaboratively a highly electronic yet classically informed soundspace. We recorded over the course of 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 listening to the music now that we both held the classical electronic sound in high regard despite working with modern synthesizers—I with my touring set and Howard on Moog and his home-built gear. Emphasizing the "electronic" of electronic music harkens back to the 40s, 50s, and 60s before modern synthesizers pushed electronic music thinking more toward the modeling of acoustic sounds. When I was working with Howard, he had an MFA from Mills College but his sights were set on a Masters in Electrical Engineering from UC-Berkeley. Now after a long career at Bell Laboratories he's back to making electronic music. Sound Sample

Track 4 - Ephemeral Forms: Mother Musing’s Flight Patterns (1976) 13:29

The title for this track was used by The Real* Electric Symphony for numerous concerts partly to draw attention to the real time compositional process we always employed. I first used the title in a presentation I prepared for Intermuse, a five-day Festival of New Music/Media hosted by Larry Austin at the University for South Florida in 1975. It has for decades been one of my favorite titles because it encapsulates my personal take on the ultimate source and gestation of all music not born of formula. Chapter 7 of my book, Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies is based on principles inspired by the title.

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 and the available resources; the size of the group ranged in number from three to as many as thirty performers and in age from 18 to 83 years.

This track was recorded at the UC-Berkeley Museum of Art in connection with a SF Bay Area New Music West Festival. For the gig the R*ES did four sets, two each on two successive evenings. The UC-Berkeley Museum is a cavernous space so the quality of its natural reverberation is easy enough to hear on this track because the recording was made with open air microphones. The musicians set up on the floor, the light artists projected onto huge sculptural scrims stretched above the musicians, and the capacity audience was strung along the ramps from the lowest to the highest floor. It's worth noting that audiences in 1976 made little discernible noise during a performance; as measured by their quality of attention you can sense from this recording that respect for music performance was so much finer than what can be expected today even in the best venues. Why that's true is a book in itself.

Joining me for these Real* Electric Symphony performances were Gordon Mumma on electronics and saw, Olly Wilson on synthesizer, and James Gillerman on synthesizer and trumpet. Sound Sample

Track 5 - Charlie’s Affirmation (1977) 3:12

Blowing thoughts from his point of view, this track features Charlie Moselle in a pensive moment at a Rigor Mortis Rescue Squad dance gig at choreographer/dancer Margaret Fisher's Cat's Paw Palace for the Performing Arts in Berkeley, by far the best new performance arts venue in the East Bay in the 70s. The rest of the Squad offered up a few supportive sonic murmurs in the background but this was Charlie's moment to shine, and you can hear that he did that exceedingly well. Sound Sample

Track 6 - Rigor Mortis Dance Frenzy (1977) 3:31

The Rigor Mortis Rescue Squad was composed 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 this 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 that night.)

Track 5, Charlie's Affirmation happened in the middle of the gig and actually functioned as an interlude that was followed by the Frenzy. During the Frenzy dancers seemed to be flying all over the floor with a few of the devil-driven zeroing in on the Squad with hairy flashes. There was no way to determine whether they were meant as rewards or goads to crank up the Frenzy even further. Sound Sample

Track 7 - Through The Arch (1976) 6:32

This track is an excerpt from a duet performance with Gordon Mumma at 1750 Arch Street, in the 1970s SF Bay Area music scene one of the top intimate concert venues for the full stylistic range of music performances. I arranged a date for us to make conversational music with our electronic rigs. The opening statement is mine, Gordon responds, and then we compose a soundscape in collaboration. I always found playing with Gordon a welcome experience because he beautifully balanced his experimental music history with a classical temperament when composing in real time. Plus he played with a powerful dramatic flair. Sound Sample

Track 8 - Vapor Trails (1978) 4:07

This is more music recorded during the weekend gathering in Petaluma at the Kelly Lane Studios of Electronic Arts Productions; see the notes on Tracks 1 and 2 for players and background details.

This track was recorded just as the sun was about to set and we were gathering again to begin an evening session. Through a large window in the studio one could see that the sky was already showing colors in the streaks left by aircraft going to and from the San Francisco and Oakland airports. The aircraft were neither visible nor audible but their vapor trails strung out in both North/South directions revealed their presence in the sky. It was a perfect serendipitous visual music correspondence for the sonic music that was emerging at the beginning of our session. Sound Sample

Track 9 - Friends Frolic And Baby Bubbles (1975) 13:24

This is the second excerpt from an event presented by The Real* Electric Symphony at Old First Church in San Francisco; the first excerpt appears on Volume 1 of Music for the Book. 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, resources, and location of the gig; the size of the group ranged in number 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 closely 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 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 manages to balance being harmonious with being surprising.

Bear in mind that this is the end of the second set; it seems the baby you hear bubbling over the final cadence shares my feelings about the music that evening. One can be certain that a very young child does not hear music clouded by a load of preconceptions. More likely it hears music with the freshest and clearest of ears and that makes the child an ideal critic of heartfelt music especially compared to all those academic musicologist wannabes posing as intellectual media movers. The fact that this particular child, after listening to a set of over 40 minutes of free wild music, would see fit to cheerfully comment in bubbling pretalk over the end of the final cadence (and notice, not in the gap between the end of performance and the applause), is by far one of the finest compliments creative musicians can expect. It's as if the child wanted to play with us and waited for and found some sound space to join the band and express with the sweetest of sounds its own feelings about the evening's play. In retrospect I'm exceedingly grateful to its parents for not trying to squelch its natural expressions. Sound Sample

Old First is just as beautiful inside as it is outside.

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.

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