CD 4 - Sonic Dreams: Folk Music For The Millennium
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.


One of the many gifts from the dream world is its function as a portal to what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, the realm where, in archetypal forms, all that was ever experienced and all that might ever be experienced reside and connect in spirit and idea. In archetypal terms and forms, the collective unconscious is a world where we, via dreaming, can explore and tap into the complete past and at least the near future of human thought and feeling. It makes sense to include the near future because it's in large part the result of the past acting through the present. Being sensitive to and being able to steer the potential inherent in those time streams is what separates the artist from the academic; the artist being prescient and the academic, derivative. Real time composition, at the root of every track on this CD, is by its nature an exercise in prescience.

Daydreams and night-dreams are the two major dream categories that most people experience more or less; both categories have numerous flavors or sub-categories. I'm presenting my recorded experiences on this CD as examples, when working in the real time compositional mode, of one composer's daydreams guided by special kinds of consciousness that serve as launchpads for shaping the riches of the collective unconscious that are most meaningful for the individual explorer. Our language has a plethora of words that flit around the notion of those special kinds of consciousness—words like museful, contemplative, reverie, pensive, and meditative all suggest an intuitive rather than strictly rational emphasis on the creative process. All those words also suggest flavors of those special kinds of consciousness.

CD 4 - Sonic Dreams includes pieces that mirror my earliest teen experiences with free play in making music (Tracks 8. 9, 14, and 15). Some of the pieces were conceived as dancing partners for my real time music synthesizer-driven laser animations (Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7,10, and 11). My performance MO for the laser dance pieces was to put a variable number of them together into suites based on the particulars of the presentation context I might expect for a gig. I purposely kept that music accessible so as to allow the audiences some perceptual slack in order that they might better manage multimedia input, the combination of the music, laser animations, video and film projections, sometimes one of more dancers, sometimes poets or actors, and the various connections in the resulting mix. Despite my efforts to make that work accessible, the perceptual demands were sometimes too much for some in the audiences, particularly the old school music and art critics. A typical response from those who found the visual music mix too challenging was something like " Well, what am I supposed to be paying attention to? You performing? The music? The laser animations? The video or film projections? The dancers?" I never was surprised by such reactions because although from the late 1960s my public performances were weighty displays of multitasking on my part, relative public comfort with perceptual multitasking did not reach a critical mass until the 21st century and even so the facility for multitasking tends to drop off with age; so during the 70s through the 90s there were always some folks who couldn't rise to the perceptual challenge of media polyphony and I simply accepted that as the price of presenting my work in public.

In keeping with the idea of creating accessible music, the music on this CD is sometimes tonal and sometimes modal, both of which evolved naturally over the millennia based on solid psychoacoustic principles such as the physical nature of sound and our systems for making sound, presenting it., and perceiving it. Tonal systems have dominated western music at least since the 16th century and the history of modal systems extends all the way back to pre-Pythagorean times (500 and more years before Christ). In one way or another I've been playing games with tonality and modality all my musical life apart from periods in my adult life when I temporarily shelved them to explore the world of pure sound with music making partners like Sal Martirano, Gordon Mumma, Howard Moscovitz, Frankie Mann, and others. (Hear CDs 2 and 3 of this project.)

When working with tonality and modality one of my favorite games is exploring pivot points or planes for slipping in and out of systems with strong tonal centers (that game could be considered a key principle of chromaticism, a tendency that's been with us since the 16th century and found full flower in the late 19th/early 20th centuries). In a nutshell the notion of the pivot point or plane is based on the inherent structural ambiguity of tones, intervals, and chords. For example, given the right context, the tone "C" could be a tonal center, or it could be a leading tone to "D-flat", or it could be the dominant of "F", or it could be a lowered submediant of "E" with a type of leading tone tendency that drops down to "B", and with great pleasure I could go on and on and on and on because I love that game. I'll pass on explaining pivot planes in any sort of detail except to say that they are also based on the principles of ambiguity and context but their theory and practice get exceedingly complex very quickly because the relationship units involve two, three, four, or more tones sounding simultaneously. If you want to know more about pivot tones and planes, take classes in traditional music theory or jazz improvisation. Listeners with educated ears will hear on this CD mainly the phrygian, dorian, and aeolian modes because I personally prefer the distribution of their tendency tones relative to a major scale (Ionian mode) and the fact that all their fundamental triads are minor (involving a lowered mediant). Exploring pivot points or planes requires developing and exploiting sensitivity for the psychoacoustically natural tendencies born of musical context for tones, intervals, and chords. My preference is to exploit the tendencies to create just momentary drifts and diversions rather than longer and more complete modulations.

What I find strange about the above paragraphs (I'm certain you will too) is that I'm making the case for this music's accessibility by talking about fairly esoteric theoretical complexities. Let me clarify that by saying it's the surface of the music that I work to make accessible; the more complex the sublayers the more I enjoy the process. Nevertheless, rest assured that the intuitive functions of perceiving music have been culturally programmed into our beings and the rational functions only serve to ground the intuitive functions. When listening to music most of us prefer to fly rather than remaining in contact with the ground. But some of us (especially composers) enjoy launching ourselves by springing off the multilayered ground and leaving it behind even though as we fly we're carrying the experience of its existence, a type of conceptual ground. That sort of freedom should be the purpose for studying music composition, instead of just rummaging around in dead or overused materials to become papered.

Every piece on Sonic Dreams: Folk Music for the Millennium results from a single live performance pass; in other words, there is no multi-tracking involved in their production. Most of the pieces are from the 1980s when I was often on the road for residencies, lecture-demonstrations, and concert presentations. There was a crescendo of touring activity just before and just after the release of my second book, The Electronic Arts Of Sound And Light, in 1983. The sound and light language I used in the 1980s was geared to my sense that most of the people in my audiences would probably hear and see my work only a single time (due to my experimental business strategy that called for no publicly available recordings until the time was right (now)); consequently the slightly more esoteric pieces from that period remained under wraps in my studios only to emerge in my projects of 2009 and beyond, such as this CD.

Partly I achieved increased accessibility by consciously shaping my music with natural feelings modeled on the play of oceans, lakes, rivers, rain, snow, wind, creature calls, sunrises and sunsets, and all manner of natural phenomena that I could perceive with the same sensory systems we all possess even though every system has been tempered differently due to one's experiences and inherited gifts. If I could feel it I figured anyone who wanted to could also feel it. What appeals to me about the notion of such modeling is that since a model is more of an abstraction that an actuality, the model provides openings to accommodate an individual composer's variables. Exploiting those openings helps to give the product of the model a personal signature.

Many of my gigs in the 80s were associated with universities but also included on my schedule were cultural centers, museums, libraries, galleries, and radio and television shows so it made sense to reign in edgy public displays; I worked to discover verbal, musical, and visual languages that people who were educated and open to new experiences could readily understand. So, actually beginning in the 1970s, I took the tack of composing a stream of accessible pieces I thought of as "folk music for the millennium". After I used that expression in a 1977 interview with a music critic in Berkeley, it appeared as the heading for his review of a festival I had just produced. As I'm writing this in 2010 the folk music to which I was referring in 1977 has become ubiquitous—as you listen to the pieces on this CD think of how many echoes of them you've heard recently in new scores for film and television and over the radio and the internet. In fact today it's a global folk music and that's because, since its birth in the 1960s, the field of electronic music instruments has grown by leaps and bounds and spread to every nook and cranny on the globe. The esoterically inclined remain in the usual small numbers and even smaller circles but regular folks have, over the past few decades, taken up electronic instruments the way people took up the guitar in the 1950s and 60s. And it’s worth noting that there were some composition professors in the early days who thought synthesizers might be nothing more than a fad. So much for authorities.

All of the above is said not as an apology by rather as an explanation for the simplicity (with Tracks 2 and 5 as notable exceptions) of the music on this CD relative to the other music in Part Three: The CDs of Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies. From the music on this CD it should be readily apparent that I love making this folk-oriented music as much as my more abstract systems-based excursions. Because the folk current is more weighted toward the heart than toward the head it feels as though the daydream state out of which it emerges provides entry into a world of imagination far richer than what can be reached by the path of rational formulas. It also feels more connected with the evolutionary history that makes us human yet connects us with other life forms.

Playing with sound for my own amusement has often served as a springboard for pieces that were never intended; it's more like the pieces gradually suggested themselves as I was playing with their materials. The process is closely related to my experience of petting animals who position themselves in ways that suggest where and how they would like to be petted thus creating petting sessions that lead to variations and developments along with their attendant openings, transitions, and closings (musical terms all composers know well). The pleasure is always the greatest when their petting suggestions lead us to harmonious places; so experience dictates that harmony always becomes an object (with more or less weight) in the play. Harmonious play is the common ground for music, performance art, and petting your favorite creatures.

Playing the "what if" game is a good technique for discovering compositional playgrounds. All it takes is being open to suggestions offered by materials with strong inclinations as to how they might prefer being shaped. For example, "what if" I put myself as a composer in the middle of a huge glass harmonica and with it sculpt sounds that carry the psychological power of audio feedback (for good reason there's natural fear of positive feedback loops—left ungoverned, they will explode)? (Hear Track 5, alphaGlasssongs.) "What if" I were to compose music for the dance of mating whales? (Track 9, Loving Leviathans) "What if" l were able to design and play in real time a string orchestra? (Track 10, alphaSunset) "What if" I were able to translate faithfully the melodies and chord changes of songs from the Great American Songbook such as Fascinating Rhythm and Stella By Starlight and come up with pieces that sound neither derivative nor jazz-like but spring more from the notion of "seed and bloom" rather than "theme and variation? (Track 2, FascinBloom and Track 6, StellaBloom). "What if" I could design a system that when I played it would give me the feeling of conducting a Balinese Gamelan. (Track 7, alphaSpring) "What if" I could discover swirling liquid sounds that could become more or less viscous according to how I initiated them and what context I gave them? (Track 14, Cymatics Sails Again) "What if" I put together a band of students and faculty that opens my Texas experimental music shows and plays only in the real time mode? (Track 12, Lubbock's Dorian Rain)

One might ask what if the "what if" game doesn't lead to much of value? So what? Who realistically expects to find gold in every pan? I like to think of the "what if" game as planting and caring for a fruit tree which may take a number of seasons to bear fruit. The true benefit of playing the "what if" game comes from exercising one's creative urge in ways that integrate it with the fabric of one's life so that the urge involves an always available team player that encourages one to engage life as infinite potential rather than just mechanically determined events.

Any composer who enjoys playing the "what if" game will likely create a huge collection of pieces, not all of which bear repetition especially in public. As personal study pieces most of them will probably have some value, but the issue of concert appropriateness (I organize my CDs and DVDs as concerts) is another matter entirely. My solution to that problem is that 1) as soon as I'm no longer moved by a piece or 2) with subsequent hearings I don't discover anything new in it, I just throw it out. So I first test it on myself and then normally the following tests are on visitors to my studios. If a piece passes those tests I'll give it field tests by programming it on public concerts. If it works in one of my concert contexts, it'll become part of the concert rotation. Even if it's part of the concert rotation but eventually fails tests 1) and 2), out it goes to make room for another piece because, for dreamers, there's no such thing as writer's block—the collective unconscious is infinite in its potential and always welcomes dreamers.

Composer's notes - Sonic Dreams: Folk Music For The Millennium

Track 1 - Opening (1984) 1:22

This is an example of a piece used as the "Opening" (of the curtain) for suites I assembled as music that would sound with the performances of my real time laser animations. Beginning in 1975 I added music synthesizer-driven laser animations to all my shows including concerts and lecture-demonstrations. I composed fairly short pieces (three to six minutes) with a wide expressive range that I could configure in various sequences into suites that might run from 20 to 30 minutes. I set that time range limit so I could also accommodate my films, videos, and collaborations I might do with resident performance artists; my concerts normally included two 40 minutes sets with a 10 minute intermission although, depending upon the circumstances, I sometimes did a straight 80 minute show.

In addition to opening pieces for the suites I also used "Closing" pieces (Track 11) and transitional pieces such as Track 3 - alphaPoints and Track 4 - Crossing. I seldom did laser animations with these short pieces; they mostly functioned structurally by easing audiences in and out of suites and sometimes internally providing a brief rest for their eyes.

On this CD there are a number of pieces characteristic of what I might use as what I considered modules (short pieces) for the suites; examples are Track 5 - alphaGlassongs, Track 8 - Sonoma Summer, Track 10 - alphaSunset, Track 13 - Wavesong, and Track 14 - Cymatics Sails Again. Since 1975 I have used over two dozen pieces as modules for the suites. To be included in the suites such pieces had to function well as dancing partners with my laser animations. Sound sample.

Track 2 - FascinBloom (1990) 2:05

This track, based on Fascinating Rhythm, and Track 6 - StellaBloom, based on Stella By Starlight, were composed during the same period. Since my early teens I've been a fan of fake books especially those that focus on The Great American Songbook. Those were songs my bands played on dance, party, and club gigs throughout my high school and college years. After a brief hiatus from fake books during my graduate study years, when instead I often amused myself realizing figured bass charts, I returned to them because I missed the melodies and the challenge of voicing and extending chord changes on the fly even though my piano playing is not what anyone would call virtuosic. All my life I have marveled at how classic song charts made up of no more than a melody and chord symbols can carry an emotional impact reflective of the tenor of their time. Along those lines the songs written just before, during, and just after the Second World War remain heartfelt treasures beyond compare. All my life and even today one of my favorite musical experiences is sitting at a good acoustic piano and being flooded by acoustic vibrations from songs of The Great American Songbook.

In stark contrast to the aesthetic position articulated above, one based on the heart, this track and Track 6 - StellaBloom are definitely products of a combination of the head and what digital technology makes possible. In both pieces I made a concerted effort to translate faithfully the original melodies and chord changes. But I also worked to create pieces that sound neither derivative nor jazz-like but spring more from the notion of "seed and bloom" rather than "theme and variation. Even for sophisticated listeners these pieces need to be experienced a number of times over the course of several days before they will begin to make sense. They are not your standard folk fare, not nearly as accessible as all the other pieces on this CD. Sound sample.

Track 3 - alphaPoints (1985) 1:39

For this piece the instrument I used was an alphaSyntauri synthesizer, the very first affordable digital system; it ruled the roost until MIDI came on the scene in 1983. alphaSyntauri systems I installed at universities and in artist studios at that time all required an Apple II+ or Apple IIe to function as the vehicle driven by the alphaSyntauri software and keyboard. Under the hood in the Apple's expansion slots were Mountain Computer Music System cards used for generating the sounds. Partly because those cards embodied an 8-bit system the sounds tended to be sweet and gentle rather than aggressive and powerful like many of the 12 and 16-bit MIDI synthesizers soon to follow. From the beginning I sensed that it was a niche instrument with a short commercial life, but bear in mind that it was first on the accessible and affordable digital scene, so musicians from top professionals to beginners all were more than happy to work with it. It still occupies a special place in the digital sound world because no other instrument sounds quite like it.

For the most part this piece is an exercise in simplicity. The focus is on exploring a mix of traditional simultaneities and more experimental audio pointillism (achieved by sound separation (frequency and timbre) and octave displacement). I have a special fondness for this piece because while creating it I was transported back to my graduate school days when I took seminars with master musicians such a Rudolf Kolisch and René Leibowitz where among other things we engaged in highly detailed analyses of the music of Webern, Berg, and Schoenberg. If you can imagine substituting a tone row for my modal melody, my connection with the musical thinking of those composers will be more readily apparent.

Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 4 - Crossing (1984) 3:57

See the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 5 - alphaGlasssongs (1983) 4:42

This piece is modeled on a huge glass harmonica making sounds that create the suggestion of controlled audio feedback; the quality of that sound generates a certain level of tension in most listeners, tension born of the expectation that the audio feedback just might get out of control as it often does at public amplified events. Especially in my studio tests with visitors I've witnessed that the sounds carry the psychophysical power of uncontrolled audio feedback; there's a natural fear that positive feedback loops, if left ungoverned, will explode or at least damage hearing.

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 laser light forms simultaneously from the same waveset. Related experiments in the early 70s led to a series of my 16 mm films called The Lissajous Lives Film Series.

Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 6 - StellaBloom (1990) 3:21

See note on Track 2. Sound sample.

Track 7 - alphaSpring (1984) 3:14

This piece was composed on the alphaSyntauri synthesizer while I was working one morning in the main Kelly Lane studio. I was enveloped by the sweet scent of my garden and the soft air of a beautiful Spring day in Petaluma. That morning I woke up with the sound of the Balinese Gamelan on my mind. Earlier that morning one of my dreams took me back to the concerts I attended in Berkeley at the Center For World Music during the mid 1970s where I had my first experiences with the Balinese Gamelan; the musical impressions they made on me are indelible.

What impressed me most about the Balinese Gamelan was the refined nature of the tone quality and tuning of their chimes, gongs, metallophones, and drums. So the entire session that morning was driven by one of my "what if" games, in this case "what if" I could design such a refined system that when I played it would give me the feeling of conducting a Balinese Gamelan. The alphaSyntauri was a perfect fit for the notion because it allowed for each tone (instrument) to be tuned in terms of frequency and timbre; plus the alphaSyntauri's inherent sound is sweet and gentle like the Gamelan. Of course I was not attempting to create an absolutely precise replica of the Gamelan. Instead, like all my other "what if" games, the goal was to create a launching pad for exploring whatever musical material might emerge from the process of engaging in the "what if" challenge.

Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 8 - Sonoma Summer (1982) 6:37

During the summer of 1982 after my second book, The Electronic Arts of Sound and Light, was, carrying five years of work, finally in the last stages of the publishing process, after I just parted from the full-time academic world by leaving a tenured gig at Texas Tech University, and after I'd completed most of the work on my main Kelly Lane studio, I was more than ready for musical play. Unless it's a special time I seldom make music in the mornings; normally I reserve that time for stretching, meditating, leisurely breakfasts, visits to my plants, and reading. But this was a special time; I felt as though I were embarking on a new phase in my life and, in retrospect, it was a new phase that had taken ten years of dues paying to initiate.

This piece was composed during the morning hours of a typically foggy early summer day in Petaluma, a small town in southern Sonoma County. There's a channel that runs from the Pacific Ocean to the top of San Francisco Bay, where Petaluma is located. When it heats up in the interior California valleys, the Pacific fog is drawn into the SF Bay through the various channels; and adjacent towns are enveloped in the fog. The fog usually dissipates late morning/early afternoon and the physical nature of its dissipation process always has a deep psychological effect on the inhabitants. It's as if the elements are teasing the earth with aperiodic sun showers, very brief at the beginning and then longer and longer until all the fog is completely gone and the California sun reigns supreme.

I'm playing an ARP 2600 analog synthesizer that's patched through my then just acquired analog tape decks to leave sonic trails that wrap around in time so as to meet you coming, one of my favorite Karmic compression musical metaphors. The way it works in making music is that what you just played is fed back to you so as you move through time you must contend with the music you made in the very recent past. The real time composition exercise is to balance unfolding free play with the anticipation of future possibilities so what you do now is appropriate for being shaped harmoniously in that future and at the same is appropriate for supporting structural flexibility in that future (continually maintaining freedom of choice). Sound sample.

Track 9 - Loving Leviathans (1988) 2:51

A few days after I saw a video piece on mating whales I found myself playing with sounds that seemed perfect for composing music for their mating dance. How such leviathans can be so graceful in the pursuit of perpetuating their kind is a testament to the quality of their spirit and intelligence as well as nature's gifts for creating forms so beautifully adapted to their environment. This piece was the result of pure free play. Sound sample.

Track 10 - alphaSunset (1984) 3:02

This music reflects my love of string quartets and string orchestras; for over a decade I made a major investment in buying the best seats to experience the music of world class string quartets in Herbst Theatre in San Francisco and Hearst Hall at UC-Berkeley—those performances provided many of the best moments of my musical life.

This piece was composed using the alphaSyntauri synthesizer, the first truly affordable digital synthesizer that I could see placing into my personal studio as well a number of artist and 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.

Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 11 - Closing (1984) 1:12

See the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 12 - Lubbock's Dorian Rain (1981) 9:59

I did a stint on the Texas Tech University faculty (1978-1981). Founding and directing the Leading Edge Music Series (LEMS) there was my most important project and an integral part of my gig teaching music composition. LEMS guests included Jerry Hunt, Phill Niblock, Joan Tower and the Da Capo Chamber Players, Karl Berger, Pauline Oliveros, and many other American leading experimentalists drawn from coast to coast and north to south. The object of the series was to import visionaries to inspire students working with me to open their minds to their own creative potential. To make such a thing happen in Lubbock, the "hub of the high plains" as well as solidly in the bible belt, I worked to get the support of the university, and city, state, and federal agencies; so to plug into the local community I made a point of placing many of the guests on local radio and TV programs as well as presenting free public concerts. I also worked to ensure that all the students had close contact with the guests.

A key facet of the LEMS was The Real Time Electric Theater Band (RTETB) which included the participation of everyone studying music with me at TTU as well as faculty musicians capable and willing to make free music. In multiple configurations the RTETB opened for visiting artists presenting concerts as part of the LEMS. I made it one of my teaching responsibilities at TTU to involve students and faculty in the real time composition process. Opening for visiting artists on the LEMS was a great vehicle for showcasing the process and the people involved in it. In addition the object of the real time exercise was to underscore the fact, by turning it into personal experience, that anyone who intends to live their life with creative intelligence needs to practice both being in tune and composing on the fly. Such practice is a powerful antidote to the unending efforts of social mechanics and technocrats to gear up the populace for lockstep living, a way of living that promotes conformity that facilitates manipulation by those in power.

This version of the RTETB features the playing of two faculty, myself on Synthi AKS and David Payne on tuba, plus four graduate students. Because TTU had a Ph.D. in Fine Arts Program they attracted some outstanding graduate student musicians. During my years there I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Matalie Wham, the pianist on this piece, in a wide variety of performance contexts. Her free playing was always at the highest level. Somehow she manages to gently but firmly pull the other players along and keep them together. She has a deep feeling for free music knowing when to enter and exit, how to respond to tempo fluctuations, and what sort of material is appropriate for the moment; plus she has a sense of voicing that makes a piano sound resonant with crystal clarity. Listen for her piano work.
Sound sample.

Track 13 - Wavesong (1982) 5:56

This piece is one of a number of works that emerged from 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 during the last year of my faculty 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 northern Ohio back yard. My then recently configured 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 particular 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 one direction or another. This is a record of just one of those trips. In 1977 I programmed a realization of Wavesong on a solo concert in Rio de Janeiro and invited 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 in New York City and beyond using my performance in Rio de Janeiro as the synthesizer part; she also put it on vinyl along with some her own pieces. When I was programming it in the mid 1970s the title was unique; today I notice from an internet search that it's an exceedingly popular title. The same holds true for the current interest in Cymatics and the use of the expression "visual music". As Martha would say, those are good things.
Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 14 - Cymatics Sails Again (1982) 5:31

Cymatics Sails Again was composed in the summer of 1982 (still in the pre-MIDI era) with an analog ARP 2600 keyboard synthesizer as the main controller. It was one of set of related pieces based on my performance systems that had evolved to be conceptually similar to Indian ragas—collections of musical materials such as melodies, rhythms, scales, inflections, ornaments, etc. that are used compositionally according to time, place, and feeling. I developed these materials over the years so I could call them up at will during live performances as well as for the shear pleasure of engaging in the process. The process flowered in 1973 when I configured a personal portable synthesizer system for live performances on the road. From 1967 to 1973 I'd always used synthesizers from shared institutional facilities; I designed those facilities with classes, students, and other faculty in mind. Once I had a personal system my approach to making music was freed up considerably because that system had only to serve my musical needs and not those of others as well. Actually living with the synthesizers also meant I could design instruments (performance systems) from a completely personal perspective and hone those instruments over a long period of time to be idiomatically in tune with whatever my perspective was at the time.

So, for nine years leading up to 1982 I'd been sculpting sets of personal performance systems in my studios and my live performances. The summer of 1982 felt like the first truly free summer of my then 42 year old life and I celebrated that freedom with many hours of playing and recording in a newly configured dream studio with antique French windows looking out on my fruit trees and vegetable garden, the products of another of my passions. Even in this short excerpt it's easy to hear in the music that feeling of the celebration of freedom.

When I started working with synthesizers in 1967 I very quickly began to think of them as wave instruments because fundamentally that's exactly what they are—instruments for generating, processing, shaping, and mixing electrical waves that can be transduced to sound and/or light or actual material forms. One of the drivers for this piece was my penchant for finding swirling liquid sounds that could become more or less viscous according to how I initiated them and what context I gave them. It was in 1975 when I was introduced to Swiss physicist Hans Jenny's photographs in his seminal books on Cymatics that I first saw sound actually driving and giving form to viscous matter. When I studied the videotapes of his work I understood more deeply the viscous nature of sound. Schooled Western musicians are programmed to think of musical sounds as being, for the most part, precisely set frequencies such as those of keyboard instruments. Yes it's true that we use ornaments, vibrato, portamento, and other fluctuations of and between frequencies but according to most theorists those devices are more color than essence. Once the notion was planted I developed a special affinity for viscous sounds and the powerful effects they had on feeling.

The term cymatics is derived from the Greek word kyma which means wave. The field of cymatics is the study of the structure and dynamics of waves and vibrations, the fundamental materials of music and of all life forms. Complex sets of interacting waves create what are known as dynamical systems. Scientists and mathematicians often use the expression dynamical system to refer to weather systems but it's just as appropriate for certain kinds of music and animated imagery. In fact, many of my instrument designs for both sound and light are modeled on the processes inherent in dynamical systems. In my 20s and 30s I spent many hours sailing (mainly playing with the wind) as well as tossing a Frisbee into the wind so it would boomerang back to me (more wind play)—thus the title, Cymatics Sails Again. Sound Surfing works too but that might be a bit too California for some even though that's a good description of the musical process.

Also, see the note for Track 1. Sound sample.

Track 15 - Rocking Duck Blue (1989) 11:53

This is the first time I've released this piece in any form. Just after creating it I remember thinking it was too personal to use in public, so it sat on a shelf for 21 years. It's late night music and seems to be immersed in a sea of sorrow. Why the sorrow I have no idea. Today I remember the late 80s as being one of the best periods in my life—loads of gigs on the road, fully fleshed-out studios, high productivity wherever I turned my attention, some wonderful young composers connected with my university teaching, a lush garden in one of the most beautiful areas of the world (southern Sonoma County), etc. Because it's one of my favorite music environments it could be that one late night I simply drifted back into the realm of therapeutic music making, a realm I've visited periodically since my pre-teens when I was playing clarinet. In my adult life the piano is my main vehicle for exploring that realm and those sessions usually occur during rainy days, late nights, and life transitions (always seeking new intellectual and cultural stimulation I still tend to leap into the abyss every 3-5 years and that results in plenty of transitions of all sorts).

Contemplative bordering on sadness is fine but this piece seems to cross the line into melancholy. Historically that's not an uncommon state of being for many composers but it's normally not the side I choose to share with the music public. Nevertheless, here it is and I've made my peace with it, although it took over two decades to do it.

Remember that this is real time composition so you hear the flow just as it happened during that late night session in my main Kelly Lane studio. What captures my attention from today's perspective is that I used thunderous curses at the end to break the melancholic spell. I've always been a advocate of channeling anger in productive ways and the final few minutes of the piece are a good example of that in a musical context. Sound sample.

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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