CD 6 - University Playgrounds
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

CD 6 - University Playgrounds is a celebration of what's possible in the experimental arts in the context of the university world. It represents a sample of seven productions taken from many hundreds of events I've produced at universities as a faculty and guest composer/performer in the USA and abroad. The tracks include recordings of events at the University of California, Berkeley; Texas Tech University; The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Wisconsin-Madison; The Ohio State University; Miami University; and Oberlin College.

Even though dyed-in-the-wool academics would assume a quizzical look when in response to their question about the nature my activities I would tell them that one of my "specialities" was an experimental approach to emerging technology in the arts, I easily made an academic career in that field out of exercising the operative word in the expression academic freedom, that word being freedom. Just as in the real world, the experimental arts in the academic world is a fringe game with never ending tests of the resolve of the experimental artist.

Nevertheless there are always enough administrative types with an appreciation of intellectual color and spice that are willing to support the farther reaches of the art imagination especially if the end product will reflect well on the quality and breadth of their institution. Most students are ready to join the game at the drop of a hat. Given half a chance faculty and staff collaborators will come pouring out of the closets. In the performance arts, behind the masks of many functioning standard academics, are creative souls ready and willing to risk playing freely so as to recreate the feelings and memories of their youth again. Enough of them know that when stuck in standard classroom teaching someone just in their 30s will gain decades of psychological wear in a few years and risk losing their original reasons for being unless they open themselves to opportunities for new challenges.

The Western world in the modern day continues to make monumental human and financial investments in universities of all sorts and sizes. Universities are where our culture focuses our resources for current visions of higher education. Philosophically what all those universities have in common is their dedication to both programmed and free play—physical play, mental play, and spiritual play. Despite the pressure from administrative and faculty bureaucrats and technocrats to conform to the established standards (which tend to be fixed and mediocre) there are always untethered souls who intuitively understand the higher purposes of the university and still possess the child's sense of wonder, joy, and play at whatever opens windows to light and fresh air. The untethered souls understand that their roles are to keep that aesthetic position alive and flourishing in the face of ever greater pressure to turn the university into a collection of technical schools that caters only to big businesses and the cogs it requires for its maintenance and growth.

Attending a university continues to be a special privilege at a special time in life - typically during the full bloom of youth. It's a special privilege because of what all the investments taken together have wrought—the grounds, the buildings, the general and special purpose spaces, the resources, and the people who bring it all to life including one's peers as well as the employed staff. People attend universities with the expectation that they will have opportunities to participate in once in a lifetime experiences. This is especially true of anything connected with the arts, particularly the experimental arts.

Throughout my undergraduate and early graduate years I gradually fell in love with the fundamental idea of the university, where the past, present, and future of all positively biased human endeavors come together in one place populated by inquiring and creative minds. Just as important to me was the visionary notion that all humanity would benefit from the continued cultivation of such a place, a place that's also dedicated to generating, regenerating, and passing along to future generations what are viewed as the elements and values of higher education. For years after that realization my personal idea of the perfect living environment was a large university in a small town.

So for close to a decade and half I searched for such an environment by joining faculties at five different high ranking universities and contracting for visiting artist gigs at scores of others all over the USA and on international performance tours. In the search process I discovered that the San Francisco Bay Area was, in fact, the ultimate university, the actual but unanticipated target of my search. It has three academic pillars in UC Berkeley, Stanford, and UC Santa Cruz plus numerous excellent CalState Universities, private colleges, and community colleges; but the truly exciting action in the 1970s was to be found in what might be considered the SF Bay Area underground— intimate connections between Silicon Valley and emerging technology in the arts, research spaces such as The National Center For Experiments in Television in San Francisco, artist communities such as Project Artaud, Ylem, and the North Bay Multimedia Association, radio stations such as KPFA and KQED, science museums such as the Exploratorium, public performance spaces created by individual artists such 1750 Arch Street and Cat's Paw Palace For The Performing Arts, wandering seminal projects that would blow through the area for a year or so such as The Center For World Music, music synthesizer creators such as Serge Tcherepnin and Don Buchla, the streets where music movements could be created or reborn such as the Klezmer revival, and performance groups that precipitated from the emerging tech and free music environment such as The Real* Electric Symphony and The Future Primitive Art Ensemble of San Francisco.

My search for the small town in the midst of that ultimate university took five years during which I lived in the Oakland Hills and Berkeley in the East Bay and then Novato in Marin County before I settled in Petaluma in the North Bay. With a history that stretched back to the earliest days of the development of the SF Bay Area, Petaluma was a sweet picturesque small town that even hollywood filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola couldn't resist. I also loved the fact that Harry Partch, a major force in 20th century experimental music, once lived and worked there and wrote a piece called "And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma".

By the time I reached my early 40s it became clear to me that I needed to invent a different sort of life to keep the creative juices flowing that fueled my experimental approach to life and the arts. After over a decade beginning in my late 20s of intellectually and practically juggling variables and scenarios in search of a solution, I decided to approach my life as an experimental music composition. What I had learned from my self-guided studies was that one has to go in to oneself to find directions and answers; the question and the answers simply can't come from the outside because it's impossible for anyone or any system to know what's right for you if you haven't decided on that for yourself. That position is consistent with an experimental approach; you have to run the experiment first before you can evaluate the result and decide what's next. That means you can't be following anyone else's playbook. If your attempts succeed, fine. If they don't succeed, fine too. Failed experiments alway suggest adjustments or adaptations that help you keep running the experiments until you discover what it is you need to know. And if you learn after considerable effort and numerous trials that the experiment you've been running is a dead end, it just needs to be junked. Was it a waste of your life because it now needs to be junked? Certainly not! Experiments, regardless of their results, are always excellent learning vehicles. In fact, if you can find the appropriate attitude, experiments become your lifelong best teachers.

In the university world it's not unusual for experimental composers to be the only one of their kind in a department or school of music. When that happens they need 1) to reach out and collaborate with other like-minded souls in other departments or the community at large and 2) function as a magnet to attract students who are ready and willing to spread their wings in solo and group flight. However, serendipitously when there is a confluence of positive forces, multiple composers, usually younger ones, with powerful experimental urges may find themselves working in the same environment; such a situation is rare but it happens.

I've experienced that twice in my life. One time was on the faculty at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music where there were eight hyperactive composers with five of them (the younger ones) driven by experimental urges. To multiply what was already an exponential activity curve, as one aspect of our New Direction Series, we invited six or more leading edge composers for campus visits spread out over the year to join us for several days during which we publicly featured their musical thinking and plugged them into the world we were creating in our experimental community. The second time was in the San Francisco Bay Area beyond the confines of its academic institutions where there were scores of experimental composers exploring and inventing every imaginable approach to music. For most people that creative environment was so rich that it tended to be overwhelming, so many high potential artists with creative tendencies eventually lost their edge by retreating behind closed doors rather than engaging in what inevitably was a highly competitive world in terms of performance venues, community acknowledgement, and media attention. The SF Bay Area has a long history of attracting creative minds just out of college so many of its neighborhoods feel like free-wheeling urban graduate school enclaves with artists calling all of their own shots. Anyone who could handle the nonstop pressure of such an environment was in for an extremely exciting time. It's no surprise that the average stay for artists of all types exploring the SF Bay Area scene is less than two years, similar to the time it takes to get an MFA. As the ultimate university for experimental artists the SF Bay Area presents the ultimate graduate school experience but it does not result in a paper diploma. One simply walks away changed for the better.

Though rare, it sometimes happens at major universities that mature composers with long experimental histories will find themselves in the company of kindred souls. As expected such conditions create an inspired environment for those near and far. Locals get to actually live and work in the glow and outsiders do what they can to make such an environment a destination, even if it's only for a short time. During the early 1970s it was the good fortune of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana to be blessed with a set of composers that made it the most powerful new music magnet in the USA. As one of that set, Salvatore Martirano's electronic music experiments (Track 3) remain at the top of the chart even today in 2010. Another of that set was Edwin London, a composer who excelled at gathering and focusing the finest musicians wherever he picked up a baton; that talent led to the founding of his vocal group, The Ineluctable Modality, at the University of Illinois as well as the Cleveland Chamber Symphony when he chaired the music department at Cleveland State University. Both of London's groups specialized in presenting the highest quality new music premieres. To London and Martirano add Herbert Brün, a composer who was already exploring the world of computer generated algorithmic and visual music composition in the 1960s; and through his dialectical challenges attracted a group of devotees still going strong in 2010, years after his death. And then there was Ben Johnston a composer who, inspired in the 1960s by the work of University of Illinois visiting composer Harry Partch, made a career of applying just intonation to traditional music instruments. There was no equal anywhere in the world to that group of experimental university composers working at the same institution in the 1970s. Their individual experimental worlds intersected in ways that created the ultimate mature university composer's playground. During their reign, over a half dozen times, I was one of those composers who made their playground my destination and when I left it took with me indelible memories.



Composer's Notes


1. University of California, Berkeley (1976) 6:53

The title for the piece on this track is Ephemeral Forms: Mother Musing’s Flight Patterns. The title was used by my "virtual group", The Real* Electric Symphony, for numerous concerts specifically to draw attention to the essence of 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 2009 book, Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies, is an exposition of the principles that inspired that title.

The Real* Electric Symphony was in the 1970s 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 sound and light 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 as well as the available resources; over the years 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 month long SF Bay Area New Music West Festival. For this gig the R*ES did four sets, two each on two successive evenings; this track is an excerpt from the second set of the first evening. The UC-Berkeley Museum is a cavernous resonant space and the musicians all took pleasure in getting it to ring; 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 bottom floor of the museum. Onto huge sculptural scrims stretched above the musicians, the light artists projected imagery developed at the National Center For Experiments in Television in San Francisco and in previous sound and light installations around the USA. It's worth noting that the capacity audience, which was strung along the ramps from the lowest to the highest floor, made little discernible noise during our performance. As measured by the quality of audience attention you can sense from this recording that respect for music performance was so much finer in 1976 than what can be expected today even in the best venues. Why that's true is a book in itself.

The composer/performers 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. It's clear from this track that our musical inclinations were strongly influenced by the San Francisco Bay sonic environment including the fog horns and sea creatures, both swimmers and flyers. For R*ES gigs I only hired musicians who excelled at the conversational style of engaging in real time composition. Even during this relatively short excerpt our musical conversations can be heard ranging through the ethereal, the lyrical, the industrial, the electronic, the dramatic, and all the way out to the monstrous (one of Mumma's favorite haunts). Sound Sample


2. Texas Tech University (1980) 3:50

The piece, entitled Bellows, was created for the final event of a residency, an evening concert, featuring the music of Pauline Oliveros who had been with us for several days as a guest on the Leading Edge Music Series (LEMS). The LEMS is one of the projects I founded and directed from 1978-1981 while on the faculty of Texas Tech University (TTU). The LEMS was an artist series devoted to showcasing leading American experimental music and media artists at TTU in Lubbock, Texas (the Hub of the High Plains). The Real Time Electric Theater Band (another of my projects) included everyone (in various configurations) studying music with me at TTU. As a vehicle for providing performance opportunities, the Band opened for the visiting artists presenting concerts as part of the LEMS. One of the facets of my teaching at TTU was 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 exploring its potential. With as many as seven LEMS visiting artist events per year, a judicious scheduling of their visits spread over the academic year generated an ongoing creative environment for TTU students and faculty to participate in the real time composition process.

Bellows features TTU faculty member David Payne on tuba along with a set of handbell choirs I'm conducting. David's tuba playing is moving to say the least. Over the years it's been a great privilege to work with musicians like David who represent that relatively small number of university music faculty who remain open to an experimental approach to the creative process and are not just slaves to what they are or have been told to do by notation or their tradition-bound teachers. Our handbell music is somewhat related to "change ringing" in the sense that there is no attempt to produce a conventional melody with the bells. Instead the handbell players were organized into choirs of based on frequency ranges, harmonies, and cluster clouds. This is a variation of a process I used in 1969 at The Ohio State University when I turned a freshmen music theory class into a chorus of whistlers that I conducted in concert to accompany graphic artist Bruce Papier's beautiful visual projections of organically animated crystals.

I conducted the handbell choirs in the same way I would play a music synthesizer, so in a sense Bellows is a duet between David and myself. In fact, as the conductor I mostly followed what I anticipated David might do musically based on a few of our previous exploratory sessions. (Strange sentence regarding time because I'm looking to the future for what the present will be and I know that it's highly probable that much of it will be based on what has transpired (the past). That's a good description (prescription?) for the process of real time composition. But the fact is that anyone who lives their life with creative intelligence does that much of the time, and that happens despite the best efforts of social mechanics and technocrats to gear down the populace for lockstep living. (In a nutshell, that's the real time composition message—a musical exercise in living a life that's both in tune and freely composed with a positive bias.) Sound Sample


3. The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (1973) 3:46

Phoenix Rising
is the title of the piece. In early 1973 I was a guest composer at the University of Illinois Phoenix ’73 Festival of New Music where I appeared several times in duet concerts with Sal Martirano, U of I professor of music composition. Phoenix Rising is an excerpt from one of our duet concerts.

Sal, a giant of a musician and electronic music pioneer, performed on his own one-of-a-kind hybrid synthesizer creation, the SalMar Construction, and I played a just-configured portable road show set of synthesizers that included an ARP 2600, two Synthi AKSs, and a boxed collection of Buchla 200 Series modules, (I cross-patched all my synthesizers to behave like a single complex system in many ways similar conceptually to the SalMar Construction).

Phoenix Rising is a good example of the dramatic end of the range we explored in our play; we created a sound world in which there were no musical restrictions so it was not unusual for us to shift in an instant from lyrical to dramatic. Sal was 13 years my senior but he was one of those people with a twinkle in his eye like a grade school kid at recess. In addition to being a very serious classical composer and jazz pianist, he loved the world of wild sound and the freedom it engendered just as much as I did. We never exchanged words about what we were about to do in our sessions—no explicit plans; rather it was the actual sounds of our instruments that were the only form of communication in our duets that might suggest where we were headed.

Sometimes Sal led, sometimes I did. Because his hybrid instrument required a certain amount of programming (an occasional built-in time lag) I remember that when it was my turn to follow, I often adapted my sounds to fit Sal’s world. I was never absolutely sure I needed to do that but it felt right at the time. Making such adjustments was a new synthesizer experience for me and I enjoyed it immensely because it was a real time test of adaptability, at that time a test best suited to analog synthesizers. We let the flow and the shape of our music decide how long we would explore compositional notions; there never seemed to be any doubt that we would end up on the same page. Both Sal and I were serious composers steeped in the classical tradition so if you listen closely, even in this short excerpt you will hear many formal and structural elements that have come down to us through the ages of musical development; of course it was our unstated intention to create a few new elements of our own.

I’ve championed Sal’s musical work since our first meeting in 1969 at a composer’s gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From the outset it was clear that he was the complete musician who balanced intelligence, talent, vision, and a work ethic with a deeply held passion for free play, a rare combination. During my tenure at the Oberlin Conservatory I was part of group of composers who organized the New Directions Concert Series, a series that featured leading American new music composers; and of course in the early 1970s Sal was invited to make a show of his SalMar Construction. In 1977/78 I had a one year visiting professorship at Miami University and once again I hosted Sal as the featured composer on our new music festival. In addition to our 1973-75 recording sessions, throughout the 1970s we shared and performed on the same stages including the University of South Florida, University of Illinois, University of Tampa, Miami University, and UC-Berkeley. That sort of activity ended for me in the early 1980s when I eased out of the full-time academic world to focus on solo performances on the road and the composition of media bands using local artists that I met and organized into performance groups for my gigs on the road. I made a lot of performance pals on the road, but after all these years Sal remains my favorite. (CD 2 of EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES features four of our music synthesizer duets recorded over a three year period (1973-1975). It's called Italian-American Electronic Music Dramas because it features our more dramatic moments and, of course, with names like Pellegrino and Martirano it should come as no surprise that the music is the work of two Italian-Americans.) Sound Sample


Pellegrino's road set




4. University of Wisconsin-Madison (1967) 4:51

The version of Milwaukee River included on this CD is a remix of the original score. I remixed it so the piece would stand on its own rather than just being a collection of musical episodes intended, as originally composed, to be folded into a video piece. When I was completing my graduate studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1968 I was commissioned by some video producers 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 the original video piece was "This Is The Milwaukee River".  The TV folks were working to draw attention to the sad state of the Milwaukee river and to motivate Wisconsin citizens to start making improvements. I know 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 broadcast video and my name in the credits.  I was busy at that time finishing a dissertation and making preparations to move to a new teaching position so I just finished my the music, took the money, and moved on to my other projects.

At the time I composed this music I was obsessed with the notion of tone painting, the idea that sound could color and suggest the particulars of a visual scene of any sort from lyrical to dramatic extremes. For as long as I can remember I felt intuitively that the principles of tone painting were true. 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 extensive theoretical analysis and listening that there is a long history 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 modern master. But at the beginning of my dissertation year a Moog synthesizer appeared on campus at UW-Madison and that took my musical life in 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 this music was taking a canoe trip down the Milwaukee River and stopping periodically to listen 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 spirit voices having their say; it's definitely dramatic. For me this sort of tone painting was an early version of my cyberspirit explorations. Sound Sample


5. The Ohio State University (1970) 5:37

Mutatis Mutandis is the title of the performance. During my second and last year on the Ohio State University faculty (1969/70) Herbert Brün arrived for a one year gig as a distinguished visiting professor. Because of his socratic style and his dedication to technology in the arts we connected immediately. Very few academic composers are blessed with strong philosophical inclinations so, given my own history of philosophical studies, it was a rare pleasure to find the company of another composer who not only shared my interests in philosophy but also practiced them on a daily basis. We had numerous stimulating discussions and also collaborated on a number of public events, including one that produced the music on this CD.

My visual music explorations started in earnest in 1967 when my best teacher was an oscilloscope connected to the outputs of every transfer function on a Moog synthesizer. Via my experiments I integrated the images my eyes were seeing on the oscilloscope screen with the sounds my ears were picking up from the speakers. The object of this early visual music exercise was to learn all the ins and outs of the Moog synthesizer, but the process set the stage for decades of visual music work in films, laser projections, videography, and computer animations. Brün explored a different visual music tack. He had the good fortune to be on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, in the 1960s one of a handful of computer music centers in the world. One of Brün's compositional games was to experiment with computer algorithms that could generate both still images as well as the sounds for his music compositions. To stimulate the creative thinking of my composition students I used a number of Brün's computer still images as graphic scores to be realized musically in public concerts. The track on this CD is taken from one of those performances.

I involved my entire composition class in the brainstorming process that led to the performance; but the group actually realizing the score in concert only included some of the more advanced musicians.

The New Music Group:
piano - David Gunn
flute - Janice Mitchell
clarinet - Helen Myers
Moog synthesizer - Ron Pellegrino

One of my instructions to the students was to choose one from a set of graphic scores titled Mutatis Mutandis: Compositions for Interpreters (1968) by Herbert Brün.

Since this was a new undertaking for all the students, I did some pre-filtering by selecting pieces that were strongly suggestive of time, direction, virtual space, and other musical variables. Based on our discussions of how best to proceed with the eye to ear translation the students made the final choice of which graphic to use as a score.



from the original program notes by composer Herbert Brün...

"A FORTRAN program written by the composer and run on the IBM 7094 computer generates instructions for the CALCOMP PLOTTER to draw various set of figures.

The program simulates a process by which different shapes, each created independently and randomly somewhere on the page, suggest the seemingly uninterrupted chain of transformations connecting them. The result is a set of continuities which, apparently causing the shapes, really are caused by the shapes.

The graphic displays turn into "scores" as soon as an interpreter translates their structural characteristics into the instructional code of another medium (music, movement, esthetic contemplation, speech, etc.) and following his translation recreates the simulated process by analogy."



from the original program notes on the interpretation process by Helen Myers...

"In rehearsal the performers discussed the distinguishable properties of the patterns, shapes, and textures of the score, and how an analogy to those properties could be created with sound. We agreed that the sine wave function was the dominant image, both structuring the composition and providing a framework for mutations of the individual figures. Our interpretation makes use of the sine wave function as a controlling agent for various musical parameters including tempo, frequency, duration, and intensity. All attempted realizations were tape recorded and analyzed to aid in identifying those musical ideas which corresponded most effectively to the visual structures." Sound Sample


6. Miami University 18:17

From 1968 to 1977 at The Ohio State University, Oberlin College, and Miami University I composed a set of conceptually related pieces, The Metabiosis Series, based on integrated multimedia systems designs or what might also be considered interactive environmental systems designs. Those designs embodied electronic and mechanical systems of real or simulated intelligence. Formally they were combinations of algorithmic systems and open systems that responded to both internal and external stimuli. The stimuli included light changes, air currents, audience movement, histories and preferences of performers, films, video projections, animated laser projections, dancers, sonic expressions, time variables, frequency variables, intensity variables, electronic transfer functions, and whatever else came to mind when I was creating a specific piece.

The Metabiosis Series was inspired by the observation that the greatest number and variety of life-promoting forces are always found at the intersections of multidimensional matrices—the meeting of land and water, weather fronts, multiple subcultures living and working in close proximity, and the meeting of the earth and the sky. The term metabiosis refers to a mode of living in which one organism is dependent on another for the preparation of an environment in which it can live. From my perspective that "one organism" becomes multiple organisms, all of which share equally critical dependencies. That "one organism" is a matrix that shares the field with other matrices to create a macro-matrix bubbling with life; that bubbling macro-matrix becomes the piece.

The compositional forms of The Metabiosis Series were based on fundamental principles of the living process—continual movement created by differences in potential and by adaptation guided by what works best (requiring tuning and harmony) now and in the near term. Healthy natural systems tend to gravitate toward a condition of ideal disorder, a condition that absorbs order from the environment as order-inducing influences of the environment, generated by necessity or preference, become available in sufficient strength. In such systems absolute equilibrium leads to a condition of absolute repose—death or nothingness. In contrast, life is marked by exchange, communication, response, adaptation, selection, assimilation, and change.

This track is an excerpt taken from the final 18 minutes of Metabiosis VI, an environment that was specifically composed for the Miami University music community as one facet of a three-day Current Music Festival I directed and produced in 1977. Metabiosis VI was one part of that focused effort to produce a once-in-a-lifetime experience with and for the Miami University community and the citizens of Southwest Ohio. My intention was to create an opportunity for them to participate in and witness events that exemplified the positive use of technology in society and the value of balancing freedom and responsibility in the creative process. Although most of the MU community were novices they quickly became comfortable with the notion of the event when it was presented as a playground where they could join a group to play but still be themselves artistically.

The event was presented in Hall Auditorium, the main performance space on the MU campus. It played to a packed house in 1977 Oxford, Ohio, a neck of the woods not exactly known as a nexus for experimental music events. But it was a wonderful audience; when listening to the track, note the quality of attention in the silences and the soft sections. There are no coughs, no shuffling feet, no fidgeting with paper programs, or any other typical audience noises indicative of wandering attention. Any audience noise would be easy to hear because this track was recorded with stereo microphones hanging over the main floor from the center of the balcony, generally a bad approach for a decent recording but perfect for the piece considering that the forces involved well over 100 performers—the MU Choraliers under the direction of Christian Yoder; the MU Percussion Ensemble under the direction of William Albin; the MU New Music Ensemble under the direction of Winford Cummings; the MU Dance Repertory Group; the SalMar Construction with dozens of poly-planar speakers distributed in the space (Sal Martirano was guest composer for the Festival); my road synthesizer synthesizer set plus the huge Moog that was resident in the MU Electronic Music Studio, all routed through a quadraphonic set of massive speakers; film, video, slide, and laser projectors and screens; plus a full crew from WMUB, the campus radio station, producing a live broadcast of the event.

I took the opportunity of this event to explore formally as a composer what has fascinated me since my earliest days in large ensemble playing, namely the warm-up period. Especially with large university ensembles, the period before the concert begins is loaded with somewhat muted dramatic musical interest because the musicians are moving in the transition from being themselves to becoming members of a performance group.

There is so much to be learned from paying attention to the music theater of the warm-up period. For example, how individual musicians warm up is indicative of how they relate to their instrument as well as to their view of their own place in the musical organism. Some warm up idiomatically with licks that flow naturally from the design of the instrument. Others flip pages to sections that still require further practice attention. Always a few noodle seemingly mindlessly. And then there are those that rise above the complex texture to draw attention to their technical prowess or even to blow a joke to a friend in the group or out in the audience. Occasionally an obviously creative type will use the sonic context as a platform to think musically out loud as if being involved in the process of real time composition. Adding the sounds and movements of the audience getting settled in their seats to the action of the musicians on stage makes for a rich and colorful human tapestry that connects us with the long stream of gathering rituals that extend to the birth of human culture. I personally find that connection with our prehistory just as fascinating as the vitality of the here and now.

To capture the character of the warm-up period in a piece of over 40 minutes, I combined the structural elements of open form, sketches, and completely notated sections along with verbal instructions for free playing that encouraged people to be harmonious with what others were doing as well as to come to the fore and take the lead when they thought it was timely. To prepare the performers I did what I could to soften the standard academic mind set toward music all the while realizing I was producing this event in the context of a standard university environment. So, to keep everyone positively biased, rather than barking orders, I offered suggestions. A few of the suggestions for the free play sections were as follows: with your instrument harmoniously communicate with your fellow performers or with your friends in the audience; pretend you're just a kid that came in off the street to join in the merriment; use the opportunity to be uninhibited; and, when appropriate, think along the lines of organized mad house.

I neither sketched nor invited bugle calls but the trumpeter you hear blowing them always attracted some followers and, in the final seconds of the event, his playing functioned as a call to harmony and a signal that a cymbal crash was near, always a good way to get the attention of large numbers so everyone would take the final breath together. In the last minute or so you can sense people joining the gathering harmonic focus and building a sound consensus with perfect tuning as the goal. The conductors were monitoring the buildup momentum and preparing the musical pressure for that final concerted breath. But it was the unscored bugle call that alerted everyone to the final cymbal crash. That's real time.

That was the last event of my Metabiosis Series and a fond goodbye to Ohio. It was back to the San Francisco Bay and then out to Texas for a few years after that final Ohio experience. Sound Sample


7. Oberlin College (1974) 27:40

Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags,
the piece on this track, was a day-long real time composition event in Finney Chapel on the Oberlin College campus; it functioned as the culmination of my first semester electronic music composition class at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. There are number of facets to this project. In one sense this is music emerging from an experimental social system (a social algorithm) in which any one person could be performing with any other person or combinations of people in duets, trios, quartets, quintets, or sextets at the throw of a die. The synthesizers and instrument designs were also selected by the throw of a die.

In preparation for the event the composers were asked to design instruments (patches or circuits) for every synthesizer in the main electronic music studio with the intent of performing them in a real time event at the end of the semester. Throughout the semester we spent our meetings discussing instrument design principles, listening to and discussing the playing of individuals, and exploring random combinations of performers and instruments as rehearsals for the final event. Great care was taken to avoid any filtering by style or personal voice. The Oberlin music community has a phenomenal history of performances; in all musical styles, bar none, the performance standards are exceptionally high. The average age of this particular group of performers was less than 20 but, as you can hear from the humor and creative twists, their musicianship was already at a high professional level. Two of this group were selected to be integral players in The Real* Electric Symphony—James Gillerman in San Francisco Bay Area gigs and Frankie Mann on tour in Europe.

For the event we constructed a performance platform in the middle of Finney Chapel and on that platform we integrated and arranged in a circle looking inward (for improved visual communication), all the instruments from Oberlin's Electronic Music Studios (see the photo below). We also set up a double quadraphonic speaker system, one just beyond the circle of synthesizers on the platform and the other in the corners of the chapel.

Oberlin's main Electronic Music Studio in 1974


College professors and public school music teachers and their students from a 50 mile radius drifted in an out of the event all day long. WOBC, the Oberlin College and community FM radio station, broadcast the event. In the late afternoon, as I took a walk through the village of Oberlin, I heard the WOBC broadcast of Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags coming out of open windows of houses along the way; that got the smiles rolling. After the event as I was walking back to the Conservatory someone from the WOBC staff called out to stop me so he could pass along a tape recording of the last half hour of the event. This track is an excerpt from that gift recording.

What happened from moment to moment in Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags was stochastically driven; in other words it was a combination of cards and dice driving random controls on which synthesizer would be active (large studio Moog, Buchla Box of 200 Series modules, ARP 2600, either of two Synthi AKS synths, the mixing board), plus which individuals would be active performers, and finally what of their prepared materials would be heard. Even the performers' materials themselves were stochastic in nature (instrument designs/synthesizer patches). As a guiding principle for the day's event I asked the musicians to bear uppermost in mind that this event was to be a display of musical intelligence based on our months of preparation. What you hear in this 28 minute excerpt is taken from the end of a 7 hour day of fairly serious performance work when the players were more than likely half punch drunk from the efforts of a long day. Everyone, whether or not they were actively playing, gathered in Finney Chapel for the end of performance,\; the audience had thinned considerably given it was close to dinner time on campus.

Early on during the event someone (could have been a sophomore) introduced the little "ebird/donkey" motive and quickly it became the day's inside joke as well as an integral musical element in the structure of the performance. Remember that this event happened in the milieu of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music where classical theory and analysis is one of the pillars of the program for all music students. Music Conservatories everywhere expect that every classically programmed composer, inclined toward the fringe or not, will be steeped in motivic exposition and development.

Thankfully there were players involved who had the good musical sense to develop the acoustic space to surround and support the motivic crazies. They supported the motive obsessed by stringing out bass lines, trailing pads, growling their disapproval of their colleagues musical positions, spinning out purely electric threads, offering up the occasional insistent pulsings, carrying on midrange melodic conversations, airing some call and response exchanges, tossing out earfuls of assorted rips and zippers, commenting on the proceedings with musical moans and groans, and sailing around freely over the top of those working the background and the middleground.

This excerpt is an illustration of high level conversational music. Near the end of the excerpt my mock of the ebird/donkey motive was only good for a quick laugh followed by a musical mockback before the classicists returned to work mining the motive. That a punctuation mark, a final statement of the motive, triggered even more laughs at the end of a 7 hour performance is a testament to both the literal and symbolic power of music and to musicians capable of tuning into that power. Simply put: it was good clean fun and a rare learning opportunity to boot. Sound Sample




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


Information on Part 2: The DVDs.


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