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Eight Lectures on Experimental Music – Ed. Alvin Lucier | Full Stop
Music Lucier explains in detail how each piece is made, unlocking secrets of the composers' style and technique. The book as a whole charts the progress of American experimental music from the s to the present, covering such topics as indeterminacy, electronics, and minimalism, as well as radical innovations in music for the piano, string quartet, and opera. Clear, approachable and lively, Music is Lucier's indispensable guide to late 20th-century composition. One of the techniques in the Milan studio was to record a library of sounds by mixing several sources — chords of oscillator tones, ring modulated sound complexes, strands of reverberated white noise — then hang the tapes up on the wall, marking each one so you'd know what was on it.
The Fulbright office in Rome got me permission to work there for two weeks in I was anxious to explore the new medium. My mind was a blank, which was wonderful because I could let everything just come in. There was a library of all the tape pieces composed by visiting composers. I listened to them all. One was a short work composed by Belgian composer Henri Pousseur. It was called Scambi That's Italian for "exchanges. There are two very different types of material: one, extremely short bursts of sound, heard as single events and in longer trains you can imagine how many splices it takes to make a four- or five-second group ; the other, longer and more continuous strands, which swoop and undulate.
This can be accomplished by manually varying the speed of the recorder, slowing it down and speeding it up, or shifting the regions of filtering. From time to time the material is colored by reverberation. The work consists of sixteen sequences of different lengths that may be interchanged in an almost infinite number of ways.
Pousseur himself made several versions of the piece. So did his friend Berio. Because each section may be juxtaposed with any other, there can be no obvious climaxes or points of hierarchical importance. Instead, one hears an unending redistribution of material that may have local high points. The form is open. Pousseur realized that a fixed work on tape may be deadly and he strove to give it life. There was much talk in those days about additive and subtractive synthesis. If you had enough sine-wave oscillators you could eventually produce white noise.
Conversely, white noise, which consisted of all frequencies randomly mixed together, could be filtered down to one sine-wave tone. This was a theoretical notion, as far as I could see; I'd never heard it done in real life. But there was a lot of talk about this, as if this dichotomy could give a theoretical basis to this new medium. One day as I was working, Marino Zuccheri, the engineer, remarked that John Cage had been there a couple of years earlier, in I thought, "Oh, no! Cage arrived, he simply sat down and proceeded to draw all the equipment in the studio, every dial, every knob, even the brand names of the components.
He had studied architecture in Paris and was a fine draftsman. Cage explained that prehistoric people, when they were afraid of some wild animal, would draw a picture of it to get over their fear. It's a marvelous idea, whether it's true or not. After Zuccheri described all the components of the studio, Cage asked him if he had a portable tape recorder.
Zuccheri said yes and agreed to meet Cage the next day. Instead of making a piece using all the fancy equipment and electronically generated sounds in the studio, Cage preferred to go outside and record some city sounds. They spent days recording animals in the zoo, machines, people on trams, all sorts of environmental sounds. He and Zuccheri brought those sounds on tape back into the studio. Cage arranged the sounds, as well as some others, into six classes, including city and country sounds, instrumental and electronic sounds, wind sounds singing , and very quiet ones needing amplification.
Cage spent the next couple of months splicing tape. To help him decide how to assemble the material, he resorted to chance procedures. He made a "score" consisting of transparent sheets with dots, drawings of curved lines, a graph with a hundred horizontal and twenty vertical units and a sheet with a straight line. Randomly superimposing the sheets, and connecting points in the graph to those outside it, would give him readings to determine musical parameters such as frequency, timbre, duration, and loudness.
I think he took sounds at random, not knowing what exactly was on each piece of tape. What impresses one was his doggedness in splicing thousands of scraps of tape over such a long period of time. Even though the determinations were generated by chance procedures, the manual work was exact and not subject to chance at all.
He called the piece Fontana Mix, named after the woman who owned the pensione he was staying at while working in Milan.
Around this time Cage composed an aria for Cathy Berberian, an American opera singer who was living in Milan. She was married to Berio at the time. Do you know what an aria is? It's a solo number in an opera. The action stops and the singer has an opportunity to sing for an extended time, usually something of an expressive nature. In provincial opera houses in Italy, it's typical for the audience to wait for the arias — the high emotional points — not paying much attention to the other parts of the opera. Do you know Casey Stengel's famous phrase, "It's not over 'til the fat lady sings"?
Well, that refers to the final aria a soprano might sing at the end of an opera. The work may be sung in whole or in any part, by a voice of any range, alone or with Fontana Mix or with any parts of the Concert for Piano and Orchestra another of Cage's works. There are squiggly lines in eight colors, representing various singing styles, including jazz dark blue , folk green , Marlene Dietrich purple , and coloratura yellow.
There are words or parts of words underneath the squiggles in several languages, including Armenian, Russian, Italian, French, and English. It's clear that Aria was tailor-made for Ms. She was Armenian-American and had studied opera. There are also black squares that indicate noises that the performer may choose for herself. She chose foot stomps, finger snaps, tongue clicks, expressions of sexual pleasure, etc.
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There is no time, no meter, no notes, no rhythm. The singer is free to determine all aspects of the performance not specifically notated. For this recording the two works were simply mixed together. No attempt was made to synchronize the tapes and yet in a strange way they seem to go together.
Together, Aria with Fontana Mix is one of the most shocking recorded works I know. I love to start the year with it. It sounds wonderful. This is his brilliant and lucid account of the experimental strand of late twentieth-century contemporary music, by one of its great visionaries. Written in Lucier's characteristically laconic, deadpan style, Music mixes biography, history, anecdote, and musicology to offer a personal account of experimental musical practice and analyses of many of its key works.
It is tremendously valuable for its first-hand, insider's view of the field and for Lucier's intelligent and engaging examinations of musical works.
ISBN 13: 9780819572974
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