Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pauline Oliveros (1932)

(Huston, May 30th, 1932)

Pauline Oliveros was born in Texas surrounded by natural environment's sounds; when listening to the radio, she loved the static whistle emitted by the device while changing station. Her mother and grandmother were piano teachers; in 1942 they offered her an accordion, that will follow her all her life, and a hunting horn.In 1953 she gets her first tape recorder and composes some tracks with it:

“I would record acoustic sounds using cardboard tubes as filters. I’d put a microphone at one end of a cardboard tube and a sound source at the other. I used different sized tubes to get different filter characteristics. Sometimes I’d clamp a sound source to the wall so the wall would act as a resonator and then record it at 3 1/2 or 7 1/2 inches per second and use the hand winding to vary the speed. I used a bathtub as a reverberation chamber”

At the end of the Fifties she moves from Houston to San Francisco where she enrolls in State University. In California she meets Terry Riley and Loren Rush, fellows at Berkeley, with whom she realizes some improvising sessions. San Francisco's atmosphere in the Sixties really was electric: with Morton Subotnik, Ramon Sender and Riley she organizes "Sonics", a series of concerts based on improvisation held in the conservatory's garret. In 1962 the group changes location: the San Francisco Tape Center opens its doors and Pauline will direct it from 1966 to 1967. The Tape Center, at the beginning equipped with modest tools (tape recorders and a tape-loop and delay system prototype created by Pauline), soon becomes the meeting point for all artists and technicians interested in electronic music's expression. Here, Don Buchla will develop his Buchla Box.
Considered one of the pioneers of tape delay and sequencer, Pauline always aimed her research to the possibility of being in contact with the sound, move it and control it live. Performance, audience and environment involvement are a part of Pauline's musical research.
In the Eighties she creates her instrument, the EIS (Expanded Instrument System) and realizes numerous drone experiments: at New York's Guggenheim Museum she places 100 singers on the museum's internal spiral giving them very little instructions on how they should sing. The architecture of the building influenced the performance. In 1982 she hires a philharmonic orchestra (23 elements) and voices: she reaches the rhythmic and minimalist result popularized by Philip Glass and Steve Reich. In 1988, equipped with trombone, didjeridoo, accordion, shells, voices and steel pieces she spends five hours in a huge dismissed and buried cistern with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotist. In Fort Worden's Cistern Chapel, with it's 45 seconds of reverberation, the legendary Deep Listening Band is born: their subterranean soundscapes are truly influenced by spaces. From these experiences the Deep Listening is born: this is a new musical theory, developed by Pauline Oliveiros in the Nineties and contemplating the integration of environmental sounds in the musical performance. The main objective of Deep Listening is to listen to the sound as it is, nothing more and nothing less. Deep Listening and Sonic Meditation (already famous in the Seventies) owe a lot to Zen philosophy: when perceived and perceiver are separated, the ego goes on in its differentiating role forbidding to full perception's creativity to emerge. The non-differentiation principle, already used by Cage, influences Oliveros' performances and attempts to break the distinction between perceived and perceiver. The merged interpretation of the two subjects-objects will generate harmony and creativity.
A key concept of Pauline Oliveros' mentality is the idea of creativity as necessary and fundamental for human dignity. Help others to be creative is one of the fundamental roles of the artist: aiming to help young artists she creates the Pauline Oiveiros Foundation.
Through the years she taught in several american universities (today she is a researcher and professor at Mills College), wrote numerous books on sound perception and on her artistic theories. She ceaselessly realizes concerts and performs.

"I have listened to many refrigerators. There is often a flickering between the sixth and seventh harmonic. Once, while in the process of drinking ouzo ... a refrigerator sent its harmonics out to surround my head with circles, ellipses and figure-eights". Pauline Oliveros

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Linda Fisher & Judy Borsher: M.M.P.M.C.

Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company: Linda Fisher & Judy Borsher

Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece was founded between 1968 and 1969 by David Borden, back from Berlin's Hochschule für Musik. Thank to the 1967 friendship between Borden and Bob Moog, Mother Mallard made history being the first ensemble composed exclusively by synthesizers, all provided by Moog himself (three modular moogs and two mini moogs, among them one is today preserved at the Audities Foundation at the Chinook Keyboard Centre of Calgary, Canada). Steve Drews and Linda Fisher joined David between 1965 and 1967. Linda brought the only polyphonic instrument to the group, an RMI electric piano.
Linda's approach to synthesizer was quite peculiar: an instrument that could be used by anyone that was capable of using it. A neutral instrument.

“The synthesizer clearly came out of a male-dominated technology. But it’s a tool, like anything... There was a flexibility to it, I think, that would lend itself to anyone coming at it with any kind of approach."

Absorbed in counterculture, Linda perceived differently musician's attitudes towards electronic music:

“Male musicians would come to your concert and they wanted to blow their mind doing something new with technology while the women musicians tended to see the technology as a leaping off point and not as an end in itself."

The trio started out playing minimal music compositions from John Cage, Steve Reich, Philip Glass but in the summer of 1970 they own an original repertoire of more than one hour realized with moogs. It goes without saying that Moog Company hired the MMPMC for demonstrations and concerts.
The work for their first album started in 1970 and released in 1973 for Earthquake Records, a label founded by Borden with Judy Borsher's help, the latter he met in 1972 when he was a student at Cornell University. In 1973 Borden was asked to compose The Exorcist's soundtrack: even if Billy Friedkin used less than a minute of what the trio produced, this moment will represent a breaking point for MMPMC. The band started to become more famous an offers start to rise: they are requested in Hollywood and Europe. David had no intention of moving to California. Steve on the other hand didn't want to leave for Europe and Linda understands that it's time for them to take separate paths. During summer 1975 Judy, that knew all the repertoire, associated with David and Chip Smith (former guitarist for Chuck Barry), replacing Steve that left to pus his photographer career. "Like a Duck to Water", the second album, was realized in 1976. The new line up toured America with Judy's van from 1975 to 1978 when David left the band to spend more time with his family.

At the beginning of the 80's Linda Fisher teated "Analog Synthesis" for two years at Vassar College and remarked the difficulty to involve girls in the class. “They were usually very shy, didn’t want to speak up because they felt that they couldn’t compete with this guys with racks of synths in their homes and, you know, the men knew all the terminology. Those that persist, persist differently, and they persist for different reasons, because of really what the equipment can do for them, not just because it’s a cool thing.”

(Translation: Matteo Salval)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Suzanne Ciani (1946)

Suzanne Ciani (Boston, July 4th, 1946)

Boston suburbs, 1952. Suzanne Ciani's mother brings home a collection of classical music records: Bach, Mozart and Beethoven affect Suzanne so much that she decides to take on piano. During an excursion to the MIT organized by Wellesley College where she was studying composition, a professor shows her his attempts to produce the sound of violin with the use of computer. The bit emitted from the steel box made her understand that even machines can make music. After her graduation, Suzanne moves to Berkeley, an universe wrapped in counterculture:

“I found myself in the middle of complete revolution. You know, so I’m in the music building playing Chopin, a rock come through the window-literally- and suddenly life was never the same. The whole hippie thing.... I mean, I never wore shoes, hair down to my waist, we ate soybeans and brown rice, I hitchhiked to school. It was very counterculture”

Suzanne discovered that at Mills College she could find a pair of synthesizers, one of which was a Buchla, not used very often: she could spend a lot of hours practicing electronica. In the same years thanks to Harol Paris she gets the first job in Don Buchla's shop, an business that would take interest into cutting-edge matters. She starts welding synthesizers for Buchla, the only way she could afford her modular instrumentation. Buchla 200 will be the instrument that will be with “the woman who could make any sound” for several years.

In 1974 she moves to New York where she knocks at Philippe Glass' Soho Recording Studio's door offering to teach him Buchla's applications. He kindly refused. She creates then her own company, Ciani/Musica, specialized in music and sound effects for video games and advertising: themes for ads like American Express, General Electric, Atari, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola (remember the sound of the can opening?) are then created. Her home in New York has no furniture: just a brand sparkling new Buchla in the middle of the room.
In order to promote new musical typologies, she establishes the Electronic Center for New Music which will fail very soon because of the lack of confidence investors had toward synthesizers. She produces by herself her first album, Seven Waves, that reaches number one on Japan's charts. Her second album, The Velocity of Love, will be published under RCA label in 1986.
In 1987 she signs a contract with Private Music, with whom she will publish Neverland that will get a Grammy nomination the next year.
After a trip to Italy in 1989 Suzanne realizes a new album with some instrumental tracks. She will get another Grammy Nomination for this.
In 1994 she sets up the Seventh Wave with whom she publishes the album Dream Suite. On top of various discographic productions, Suzanne Ciani collaborated to the composition of sound tracks like Joel Schumacher's The Incredible Shrinking Woman.

“Men always had something to prove.... the guys could tell you where to EQ the foot or the snare, or where to boost the mid-range for the trumpet –you know they had all the answers” Suzanne Ciani

(Translation: Matteo Salval)

Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001)

Delia Ann Derbyshire (May 5th, 1937- June 3rd, 2001)
Born in Coventry in 1937, Delia's first approach to abstract sound was the one generated by air raid sirens when the Luftwaffe was dropping bombs during a long 1940's night. This occasion, remembered as one of the most tragic during WWII, remained one of the first tokens of electronic music.

Delia's interests in sound's theory and perception, in the use of purely electronic sources was probably the result of her studies in mathematic and music at Cambridge. According to Delia, sound perception can dominate over any mathematical theory, but the knowledge of this one can break mathematical rules themselves.

After unsuccessfully applying for a job at Decca studios, that at the time did not include women in their staff, she found an occupation at Boosey & Hawkes, music editors, and ended at the "Radiophonic Workshop". BBC's workshop initially was a department working for Radio Dramas and when Delia joined it, for her high musical experience, R.W. was entering it's golden age. After composing numerous themes and sound effects under the "Radiophonic Workshop" signature, Ron Grainer's Doctor Who's theme (1963) gave her renown. Doctor Who's opening theme was one of the first opening theme produced with electronic means; Delia used oscillator, loop and reverse, a job that took her entire nights over weeks. After recording the single notes from electronic sources, the tape was cut and patiently rejoined. This is how Delia remembers the making of the longest tape ever seen at the Radiophonic Workshop:

“It went out through the double doors and then through the next pair; just opposite the ladies toilet and reception. The longest corridor in London, with the longest tape loop!”

In the 60's she starts to work with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Roberto Gerhard, Iann Christou and she becomes Luciano Berios' assistant at the Darlington Summer School. She got involved with the first electronic events in the United Kingdom at the Watermill Theatre, the Nr Newbury, Chalk Farm Roundhouse [with Paul McCartney] and the Royal Festival Hall. Without any doubt Delia was becoming one of the most interesting protagonist of experimental and psychedelic music: she creates the music theme for Yoko Ono's "Wrapping Event", she works with Guy Woolfend and between 1966 and 1967 she creates the Unit Delta Plus with Brian Hogson and Peter Zinovieff in order to promote electronic music outside radio and television scenes. The three of them exhibited at the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave where the Beatles (paul and Ringo) played Sound of Light, a legendary concert of pre-recorded electronic music. Always with Brian Hogson and with David Vorhaus too, she realized as White Noise "An Electric Storm" (1968). Thank to Petre Zinovieff's studio she met Stockhausen, Pink Floyd and Brian Jones; Barry Miles, Paul McCartney biographer, tells about a never occurred collaboration between Delia and the Beatles for "Yesterday"'s creation. From 1947 she stopped music composing, up until the 90's when she starts to work with Peter Kember to a new album that will n ever be published. Her works for the radio and television in the sixties and the seventies will be used for over thirty years. As of today Delia Derbyshire had been referred to, interviewed and covered by musicians like Sonic Boom, Alphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers.

“I just have a passion to make abstract sounds. A deep-rooted physical passion.” Delia Derbyshire

(Translation: Matteo Salval)

Clara Rockmore (1911-1998)

Clara Rockmore
(Vilnius, March 3rd, 1911 – New York, May 10th, 1998)
The theremin, known at its beginnings as "heterophone", takes the name from its inventor, Lev (Leon) Theremin. Created in 1919 in Russia, it is considered one of the most difficult instruments to play; it does not have real tactile clues, no chords or keypads. Only the eyes, the hearing and a conscious interaction of the hands with the magnetic field can modify the waves generated by the two oscillators crating an unmistakable sound. For a full control of the theremin, a serious knowledge of musical theory, an absolute pitch, a thousand of hours spent exercising and executive precision are needed. All qualities that Clara Reisenberg had.
At only five years old Clara made history as the youngest student of Saint Petersburg conservatory. She studied violin mentored by Leopold Aure, because of bone problems and malnutrition Clara had to suddenly quit her instrument. From then on the door of electronic music would open wide to her.
Mrs Rockmore never denied her past as a violinist, and Leon Theremin violoncellist's past might not be a coincidence as well.
Clara's intention was to give dignity to an instrument that was used generally for special effect's creation; the belief that a proper music could be created with a modern instrument made her refuse the well paid contract for the creation of "Spellbound" effects.

“Bach couldn't write for the theremin when he was alive, but there is no reason why I can't play Bach on the theremin today.”

The same vision will bring Wendy Carlos with her Switched on Bach to contaminate with electronica pop music's world.
Clara's extraordinary talent was well supported by Theremin, eminent professor and faithful friend in America, where Clara played many times and lived until her death.

“This is a very favorite subject of mine. At this stage of my life, I am not that concerned with my career, because I've had it all, - eight suitcases of reviews. I don't need critical acclaim now. But I won't live forever. The world of electronic music is just at the beginning. It's growing and growing and growing. It is criminal not to know its beginnings. This time is much different than that time when I first played. Then I was accepted in spite of the instrument, because of my musicianship. Now I think the theremin should be accepted because of the interest in electronic musical instruments and what is possible electronically. And I want to stress that this is a very space-conscious time.” Clara Rockmore

(Translation: Matteo Salval)