|An interview with Pauline Oliveros
ALAN BAKER: One of the things, because of your focus on sound and the act of listening, that I'm curious about is what sounds and music were around you growing up?
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Oh, well that's a good question. When people ask me what is my influence, what are my influences, the first two that I mention are Geia, meaning "the earth" and my mother. Now the earth sounds that I experienced in my childhood were really dense and beautiful canopies of sound that came from all of the insects, birds and animals around. I lived in Houston, Texas. I was born in 1932 and grew up at a time when humans had less impact on the environment than they do today. I mean, now the frogs are leaving and vanishing. The frogs in my childhood could be heard loud and clear. Then of course, now so much is paved over with asphalt and cement that the cicadas are trapped and can't get out. But you can still hear wonderful stereophonic cicada sounds in Houston as you walk or drive down the street. And all of those sounds were very important to me in childhood. My mother and my grandmother were both piano teachers, so I heard piano music being played in the house from early morning until early evening as they practiced and gave their lessons. We had a phonograph, a wind up Victrola, on which I used to play records. I listened to them and loved it when the phonograph ran down so the music would start to droop; that was fun. I used to listen to my grandfather's crystal radio, and I loved the static that came out of it. It was so hard to tune to stations on that radio. Same thing with my father's short wave radio, I loved the whistles and pops and things that were in between the stations. Radio was a very, very prevalent influence in my childhood, and I loved the sounds made by the foley people, the sound effects for different radio programs. So those were the different sound influences on my childhood. Then of course, I went to all kinds of musical events. In Houston there was a lot happening in the musical scene. There was the symphony orchestra, musicals, recitals, and so on. So it was very rich, as far as my memory can tell you.
So from your earliest recollections, you were as interested in the things around the sound in foreground, as you were in the actual content?
That's right. I was interested in the context or the field of sound as well as focusing on music or a sequence of sounds.
When you first started structuring that into compositions, when you first started writing music, what else was going on musically? If you could kind of set the scene as to what the environment was that you were creating in…
Well, I engaged in musical activity from as far back as I can remember. When I went to kindergarten, there was a kindergarten band-- The Tiny Tots Band-- I loved to play in that. The only bad part about that was that I'd always go for the drum in the cabinet, and the teacher would always take it away from me and give it to a boy and give me a kazoo or something. I played in the junior high school band; I was an accordion player. Since I was a kind of outsider instrumentalist, the band director gave me a tuba and a book and sent me off into a room to learn the instrument, which I did. And I played it in the junior high school band. And when I got to high school, the tuba section was already occupied by 12 sousaphone players, so the band director gave me a French horn and a book and a room to go practice in until I could play it. So I continued with my horn playing, which allowed me to take part in ensembles in college as well. But my accordion… I loved to play the pieces I had learned in band or orchestra on the accordion. And eventually, as an accordionist, I would fill in for any instrumentalists who may have been missing from the string section. For example, in college, this was post-war time and the orchestra was just building up again. So I played my accordion in unlikely groupings, sometimes I'd play string quartets with three other accordion players. I also played my French horn in a jazz band in college, so there were lots of these kinds of reversals available for this outsider kind of musician.
So you had an unconventional instrument and you played it in unconventional settings-
And I played a conventional instrument in unconventional settings.
What led you to the accordion in the first place?
My mother brought one home in the early forties, because as a teacher she wanted to increase her earning power, and accordion was very, very popular in the forties. As soon as she got it in the house, I became fascinated with it. I obviously wanted to learn to play it, and that's what happened. I was nine years old, and I've playing it ever since.
To kind of step out of this timeline that we're on here, you grew up in Texas and spent time on both the West coast and the East coast. Is there anything to be said about the West coast / East coast debate, rather, the argument that location can be reflected in the music created in different environments?
Well, possibly so. In New York-- now I'm going to talk about experimental music or new music, music that the general public receives slowly-- there was the New York school, which was run by composers like John Cage, Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and David Tudor. The music that they made possibly reflected their environment. But you see, the New York school was really led by a person who'd been in California for a very long time-- that was John Cage. So the whole debate is really sort of silly. I would say that John Cage had spent as much time in California as he had in New York by the time that his influence began to rise on the East coast. I lived in California from 1952 to 1981, twenty-nine years. I think there is, of course, a very large difference in the two landscapes. The West coast has more space, so to speak; longer distances between cities. The East coast is more compacted and of course more influenced by traditional values than the West coast. So it's on the West coast I think, that the initial ideas get started and then float to the East coast. The so-called California slow music meditative music, for example, kind of arrived to the East coast through Terry Riley and La Monte Young when they came over from California. Now there's the twelve-toners such as Milton Babbitt, who brought his ideas back to the West coast, but then Arnold Schoenbeg was of course based in Los Angeles. So, again, I think the arguments are pretty silly. Ideas float and they move back and forth all over the world in the community of people who are interested in making new music.
Especially in this time of easy travel and recorded…
Yes, I've seen that happen in my fifty years of concentration in the field; I've had exposure to so many kinds of music. Today it's a completely different situation than it was in the fifties when I arrived in San Francisco. One of the major sources of my education was at Radio KPFA, Pacifica Foundation station in Berkeley. And it was there on that station that you could listen to world music. You could listen to Henry Cowell, you could listen to Charles Amirkhanian with his morning show; every morning for many, many years, there would be new music on the radio. So I was able to hear new developments from Europe, from the East coast and so on, on that radio station. I don't know how I could have gotten my exposure to new music in that time without that station. It was a very important aspect of my training, and it was also very supportive of my work over many, many years. A lot of my work was introduced to the public through that station.
Let's talk a little bit about… or maybe you can just tell me about your arrival in California and what eventually led you to electronics.
Well, I arrived in California in 1952. I had my accordion and $300. I supported myself with a day job for about 9 months, and then I began to get a string of accordion students. I went back to school at San Francisco State where I met Terry Riley, Lauren Rush and Stuart Dempster. We've been friends since then, and still work together in one way or another. When I arrived there I didn't know anyone, and I had to make my own way. I began to play my accordion at casual engagements, and so on. Eventually, through going to school at San Francisco State College, I met Robert Erickson who became my mentor and teacher for 6 or 7 years. I met, as I said before, my friends, and I became connected with a kind of group of people who were interested in new music. This eventually led to the founding of the San Francisco Tape Music Center with Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, which was transferred after several years to Mills College and became the Center for Contemporary Music. It is still there as that today. So that's a brief nutshell history of my arrival in San Francisco.
Talk about how your composing changed as you started working with tape. What did tape mean to you?
Oh that's right, I didn't answer that for you, did I? I began… probably it was 1959. Well, first let me say this: I worked with a wire recorder in the forties. I was not making music, but I was recording myself and recording things off the radio and then transcribing them into notation. Then in 1953, I got a tape recorder for the first time. That was when tape recorders became available on the home market. And I began to record noises from my apartment window. I recorded a lot of different kinds of things, and then in 1959 I got started making a tape piece. This first tape piece was called "Time Perspectives", and it was composed of four channels, using two stereo machines. We premiered that piece at the San Francisco Conservatory in a program called "Sonics". This was together with Ramon Sender, and we had formed a co-operative studio, which then became the San Francisco Tape Music Center. So it was really through owning a tape recorder and then beginning to work with it creatively, recording sounds… well, recording them at 7.5 and dropping them to 3.75 or vice versa, that I got started working seriously with tape. With the tape recorder that I had, it was possible to record by hand winding the tape in record mode, to get a variable speed that I could use to do some interesting things. I used to amplify small objects on an apple box or on the wall, and I used the bathtub for reverberation and cardboard tubes as filters. I'd put microphones in the tube and then record sounds through the tube. So those were some of the early things that I did. This piece that I did, "Time Perspectives" is being, or it may have already been, released on Sub Rosa. It's in a stereo mix down, so it doesn't really accurately reflect how it was done, but it's all there.
Oh great. So this was clearly not just you writing the same music for a different set of instruments and forces?
No, not in that regard. I wrote a lot of pieces after 1951. From 1951, all the way through the 60s, 70s, I wrote a lot using conventional notation. If you look in my book Software for People, there's an article called "Meditation, Mandala, Music" and in that article, I trace the dissolution of the use of conventional notation and into the kinds of notations that I use today. Sometimes I don't use any notation because it's instantaneous music coming from Deep Listening.
I have a couple of scores that I grabbed off of your Web site that I'd like to talk about later. But while we're on the topic of tape and new instruments, did the tape composition lead directly to electronics and synthesizers?
My interest was always in live performance, and I started to find out ways to use tape recorders and perform live with them. That was achieved by making a tape delay system, which later became what I call the expanded instrument system. That's what I'm using today with a computer interface to a sound system. I made all of the sounds with my accordion, but they're processed through the expanded instrument system. So I made a delay system using a supply reel and a take up reel on a second tape machine. I had it thread through both recording heads, and play back heads, and then patch in a variety of configurations to get different delayed sounds. I began to use oscillators; this is what my electronic music was. I used oscillators tuned to high frequencies above hearing that would produce difference tones-- the difference between any two frequencies would be audible in this system. I used only, in the first pieces, 2 or 3 oscillators to start with, but the beat frequencies or difference tones and the bias frequencies of the tape recorders, the tape heads themselves, were generated between those oscillators. So I created a system that was quite unstable, but very interesting, and I could use it to create a vast variety of sounds. Later, I was at the University of Toronto for a summer with a bank of twelve oscillators that I could key or turn on from a keyboard and then play with the dials. I made "One of Four" there, which is a kind of classic electronic piece using that method.
Was that a Don Buchla machine?
No, no, no, not at all. This was a classical electronic music studio, so to speak. This was before synthesizers existed that I made this music. As a matter of fact, when Don Buchla was demonstrating his first Buchla box in the One Hundred series in 1965, at the Tape Music Center in San Francisco, I was upstairs making "Bye, Bye Butterfly," which is another kind of classic electronic music piece of mine from the '60s. I used Don's synthesizer for the first time in 1966 when I became the Director of the Mills Tape Music Center, which then became the Center for Contemporary Music. So I made quite a few pieces this first summer that I was there, or the first semester that I was there. I was there for one year, after which I was hired at the University of California San Diego to set up an electronic music program for the graduate students. I stayed at UCSD for 14 years.
Two of the pieces that you wrote, the "Alien Bog/Beautiful Soup" CD that's out on Pogus, that's really great.
Thank you. "Alien Bog" I made at Mills in 1967, in the summer. This was the summer before I left for UCSD. The studio window opened out onto the pond right there on the campus--beautiful pond, it's still there, and it had a lots of interesting sounds coming out of it. I would listen to those sounds as I was making my music, and I made a whole series of pieces that had the word "bog" in the title. "Alien Bog" was the one that got on the Pogus CD, and I guess I felt that the sounds in "Alien Bog" were alien to the pond. That's how the title came about. I used the same delay system that I'm still using now for "Alien Bog" with the Buchla box at the same time.
Has that delay system gone through a number of…?
Many, many permutations and evolutions. With a simple notion of feedback--feedback is really an essential part of electronic music, especially for me-you can make a sound and then process it and have it come back again. I think of the delay system as a time machine, because first you have to be present to make a sound and play it. Then it's recorded and played back in the future, so that what the future is essentially dealing with is really the past. So it sort of expands your sense of time.
Hearing you talk about creating and essentially performing the music, and hearing some of the techniques you use live-it sounds like a very physical process, rather than the 'cool remove' of some of today's electronic music. Does that concern you?
That's true, I'm very interested in the physicality of making music. I was trained as a performer all my life, and I like to be in physical contact with the sound. Having this expanded instrument system allows me to perform the music and maintain that physical contact with the sound. I've made in the '60's, of course, tape pieces; pieces that were recorded on tape, like "One of Four" for example, which is fairly well known amongst people who are familiar with new music. I performed that piece in the studio in real time. In the studio at the University of Toronto there was a four-channel system. As I played this piece, it was in four-channel and I was in the middle of it, but the documentation of the performance was stereo. Incidentally, there was no mixer so I was just patching signals. The truth of that piece is that no one could hear it now the way I heard it as I performed it. I think there was one other person present when I made that piece. And that piece has what we refer to as a 'screamer' in it-- there's an incredible melody that comes out. I remember when it happened, and it was very surprising and wonderful. I was laughing as it happened. All of that is kind of the history of the piece, but those tracks, those two extra tracks of the four-channel system were virtual, and they don't exist except in the mix that resulted in the recording of the recording in the second machine.
Do you perform that piece anymore?
No, that piece was spontaneous.
Once and that was it, huh?
It was once in a lifetime that piece.
Those kind of improvisations that you were doing and still do, in the 50s…I think I heard that you went into the studio at KPFA with Terry Riley and did some improv.
It was Terry Riley and Lauren Rush. Lauren was a program assistant at KPFA so we could go into the recording studio and make a recording. That wasn't so easy to do; we were lucky to be with Lauren; we had a way of getting inside. Terry had to make a 5-minute film soundtrack and didn't have time to write, so we went in and sat down together and recorded several 5-minute tracks for Terry to choose from. Once we had done that, we realized that improvisation was something we could do. We didn't have to be jazz musicians; we could be musicians coming from concert or art music traditions and improvise too. So we would meet fairly often in the studio there and record improvisations.
Had the free jazz movement even really..?
Yeah, well, Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman were doing their thing in the 50s about that time as well; moving away from traditional jazz, yes.
So let's jump forward to the '70s or right around 1970 and have you tell us a little bit about the sonic meditations and how you got there and what that meant to your composition.
Well, when I started my work at UCSD, I established the electronic music program. UCSD Music Department was very invested in composers, so there were maybe half a dozen composers there at the time: Robert Erickson, Will Odgen, Roger Reynolds, and so on. There was a lot of activity around new music because the department was established on that basis of having composers very active in the program. The courses that they taught were not just theory without any practical uses. That was fine; the department was very active, and the music was on the trajectory of complexity, which has probably reached a peak in Western art music. What happened to me was I was alarmed, as many were of course, with the Vietnam War. I began to seek some ways of working with sound so that I could discover more inner peace amidst the violence and unrest of the time. That was one part of it. The other part of it was a course that we had for the general student called "The Nature of Music". Instead of just playing records during class, we had the students engage in making music. They would make tape pieces, and they would make graphic scores and play them with them with whatever instruments they could find. I wanted to compose some vocal music with them so that they could do this without having to read music, because many of them were not readers-- music readers. So I composed my first sonic mediation for that purpose right around 1969. It was called "Teach Yourself to Fly", and was very much focused around the observance of breath. You had to make your breathing audible and then allow the vocal chords to vibrate, so that you weren't trying to become a singer, or place a sound, rather, you simply observed how your vocal chords worked. This produced a texture of sound that really sounded kind of like airplane engines. So I called it "Teach Yourself to Fly", and I practiced it first with a group of women that I was working with and then with a very large class of mine. It was pretty amazing. I was also interested in the nature and structure of the human consciousness and was studying and doing some research on attention patterns, and I made a lot of discoveries. I used these studies to construct different meditations based on an understanding of how one directs one's attention. That's how the sonic meditations came into place. I did a research project at the Center for Music Experiment at UCSD. I saw 20 people a day 4 hours a day for 9 weeks, and we worked on a variety of disciplines, learning different body techniques. I had a sense kinetic awareness, and we worked with our dreams, and with different martial arts like Tai Chi and so on, and we did the sonic meditations. At the end of the nine weeks we did a presentation of our work, and I then left on a tour and went to the East coast to present some of my sonic meditations. I would arrive on the stage with nothing and ask the audience to do the sonic meditation, which was outrageous, but it was what I was interested in doing at the time and in fact I'm still interested in it now.
How did audiences react to that and what results did you get?
Well I got a lot of good results. I think that the pieces worked. People would give me different kinds of reports and of course there were people that would have none of it because it was too unusual. But eventually I did a lot of audience participation pieces and I still do. I still do that.
So the sonic meditations, did they lead to the Deep Listening work, were they concurrent with that?
It's just a continuous evolution. First there was sonic meditation, and then in 1991 I started retreats-- Deep Listening retreats--in New Mexico in the Sangre de Christo Mountains. It was a one-week retreat to explore forms of listening and sounding. That's still continued now; we had our 12th annual retreat this summer, it's moved to upstate New York now at Big Indian. I have a 3-year certificate program, and I have about 20 people who have qualified now to teach a Deep Listening workshop. Many of these people are teachers and are teaching from K-12 to university and bringing and integrating these ideas into their work.
For listeners who are unfamiliar with your work with Stuart Dempster, let's explain the concept of Deep Listening and really what you're trying to achieve and what you want the participant to experience.
Well in general there are two forms of listening: focused listening and open, global, and receptive listening. This is also true of eyesight, you can focus on something for detail and you can have a peripheral vision of the field. Then, you can also defocus your eyes so that you take in more of the 180° that you can see, and thus you become quite sensitive to motion. The same applies to hearing. You can in a way defocus your ears so you're taking in all of the sounds around you, inside of you, in your memory or imagination all at once. The best image or metaphor I can give for it is a tapestry of sound: threads of sound that come and go and some that stay. Trying to expand oneself to include more and more of the field, I call inclusive listening. And then when something attracts your attention to focus in on, that's exclusive listening. You can do both at once, actually. I have a lot of exercises and pieces that try to expose these different forms. And this is what we do in the Deep Listening retreat. Deep Listening is a process. I guess the best definition I could give is listening to everything all the time and reminding yourself when you're not listening. You also have to understand that there's a difference between hearing and listening. In hearing, the ears take in all the sound waves and particles and deliver them to the audio cortex where the listening takes place. We cannot turn off our ears--the ears are always taking in sound information--but we can turn off our listening. I feel that listening is the basis of creativity and culture. How you're listening, is how you develop a culture and how a community of people listens, is what creates their culture. So that's the theory in kind of a nutshell.
And it sounds like people with open ears are open to so much more; it really is a direct connection.
It's a direct connection to everything that there is, is my conviction.
Does this relate to Cage's work and writings in the 50s and his infamous "4 minutes, 33 seconds"?
It was August 19th, 1952 when "4 minutes, 33 seconds" was premiered at the Maverick Music Hall in Woodstock. David Tudor, who was the premier pianist in the world at that time--he could play all of the most difficult music that there was, including all of Stockhausen and Boulez and so on--was working very closely with John Cage, and he did the premier of "4 minutes, 33 seconds." It was of course greeted with sneers and unrest at the Maverick Music Hall. People were obviously focused on the framework of what a typical concert was supposed to be like, and here was David sitting at the piano with a stopwatch and to indicate the different movements of this "4 minutes, 33 seconds." He opened the piano lid for 30 seconds, which was the first movement, then closed it and opened it again-- not the piano, but the keyboard, the lid for the keyboard. The second movement was 2:23 and again, the last movement was 1:53. In those 4 minutes and 33 seconds, one could hear the most beautiful sounds coming from the outside, because it was summer, and it was a beautiful time for frogs, tree frogs and so on. So that if you were listening, there was something to hear. However, it was presented and taken up as 'the silent piece', which of course it was. Cage had been inspired by Robert Rauschenberg's white canvases. He had been thinking about this so-called 'silent' piece for a long time. I think that was probably one of the most influential pieces of John Cage's, and it's a direct link between his study of Buddhism and music and the understanding that you really can't have sound without silence or vice versa. Cage really liberated the notion of what could serve as musical material; the silent piece, I think, is very important and I respect it greatly. As a matter of fact, the Deep Listening Band did a trope on "4 minutes, 33 seconds" at Mills College in September 1996, which resulted in a recording, which is called "Nonstop Flight." It's on Music and Arts. Our trope was that we expanded the time of 4 minutes and 33 seconds to 4 hours and 33 minutes. We had a group of 27 people participating. There were three ensembles, the Deep Listening Band plus the Able/Steinberg/Winnant Trio at Mills and the Hub, which was a computer network group. Then there were 12 soloists and an ensemble of musicians wandering around the hall. We used the time structure of "4 minutes, 33 seconds." We began the piece with a traditional performance of 4 minutes, 33, and then continued for the 30 minutes. Then, the next performance of 4 minutes, 33 seconds occurred at the start the second movement and on to the third movement and then finally at the end. So that was the time structure, and it was optional for any performer or any group to perform 4 minutes, 33 seconds at any time during the 4 hours and 33 minutes. It was a wonderful time structure, and as I said, resulted in a really interesting recording, which had to be of course, edited down to 70 minutes I believe.
Recording technologies being what they are, we're getting to the point where we might be able to have the multi-hour performances that would retain the integrity of some of these larger scale works.
Right. Especially with at least 5.1 surround sound and the ability to store a large amount on the media disk.
I see that on your Web site a DVD is listed. What are the contents of that?
Starkland commissioned 13 composers. These commissions were specifically for the DVD/Audio format with the possibility of having six or seven slides on the disc. That DVD came out in January of 2000. It's called "Immersion." Each piece on there is one that we worked one way or another, by hook or crook, to come out with 5.1 surround sound. I worked on mine while I was in Atlanta and we sort of gerry-rigged a 5.1 system and we used an editing program called "Samplitude", which had 5.1 editing which was really nice. You could draw the pathway of the sound, and the sound would go where you drew. My piece on there is called "Sayonara Serenade." I took electronic sounds from one of my 60's pieces that had never been released and fashioned it into a 5-minute piece, because that was our time limit. I made it a 5.1 piece.
One topic that I wanted to make sure we had a chance to talk about-- you've been fairly active on feminist issues, and you wrote an editorial to The New York Times once called "Don't Call Them Lady Composers" I believe was the name. Tell us about when you wrote that and why.
That must have been around 1969. The New York Times contacted me and wanted to know if I wanted to write about anything. They didn't give me a subject. I said, "Sure!" And then I came up with "And Don't Call Them Lady Composers." Part of that was that I had been to New York several times by that year and Morton Feldman wanted to introduce me to composers at Max Polakov's house-- they used to gather there and hang out. So I went to a gathering, and Morty introduced me as "the world's most famous lady composer." I had to take exception to that. I told Morty that was not exactly how I wanted to be introduced, because it marginalized me immediately. I just wanted to be introduced as a composer. I think that experience and probably many other experiences of the sort that caused me to use that title and to start to point out how imbalanced everything was and how hard it was for women to be taken seriously as creators of music.
How do you feel, we're specifically talking about composers but in general as well, how do you feel that we've progressed in the years since you wrote that article for women's issues?
Well of course there's been an opening and there are a lot more women present in the field then ever were before. However, the musical establishment has not noticed that. If you pick up any newspaper you'll see the orchestra programs or different recitals or chorus pieces, whatever you want to look at, and you won't see women represented in these traditional musical organizations. They're still sticking to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms so to speak. It's only an occasional thing that happens. That isn't right. The only way to change this is to undergo a complete change of consciousness throughout the musical field. Most especially, I would say, private music teachers hold a great power in this change of consciousness. They could begin to teach children music that's written by women as well as men as well as composers of all colors. This could happen, and it would instigate a great change to introduce diversity into their teaching methods. Every teacher or professional musician should be introducing repertoire by women and, again, by diverse populations. This grassroots initiative would make a huge difference so that everyone would then take part in making conscious change, a conscious effort to integrate all that has been excluded from the Western establishment of traditional music.
I think some of the embattled position, or at least the feeling by orchestras that they're retrenching into the classics and kind of making that problem worse might be working against them, actually, in the long run.
I think that's probably so. I mean if they haven't noticed, there's a huge worldwide movement of music. There's more interest in music today then there ever was at any time. These are young people-- twenty-somethings, well actually teenagers, and thirty-somethings-- who are making electronic music, jungle, dub, etc. This youth culture is experiencing all of the different kinds of music, and taking it, and using it as a way of transformation and creativity. It's very, very exciting.
But they're ignoring all those rules!
Yes, of course! That's part of an innovative society. Our society, our American society is innovative technologically. Why shouldn't it be reflected in the arts?
Do you think there is such a thing as American music? What makes it American if so?
Certainly from Charles Ives through the present, there are musical characteristics that can be considered to have an American flavor. This probably comes from taking in the music of different communities, such as Charles Ives' music did, and popular music. There's a great kind of integration that's taken place and the most basic influence on American music is jazz and blues and the way that African Americans began to introduce Africanisms into dance music. All that has come through most all of American music and also some European music. Of course Europeans love jazz. I think that's the basic root of American music that comes through Africa actually.
Lou Harrison, when I asked him what was a maverick composer, he phrased it as an outsider. Do you consider yourself a 'maverick'? What is a 'maverick'?
Well, a maverick is usually one that is out of control maybe, out of the mainstream, generally speaking, trying new things. A fish swimming in the opposite direction of the school is probably a good metaphor. I've noticed at different times in my life where the fish started swimming with me; that has happened a little bit more I would say, but I do change my direction from time to time. I had a 40-year retrospective in San Francisco May 31-June 2. So it was three days, and 26 pieces were performed. There was a 40-piece orchestra that was gathered together. Friends of mine organized this retrospective; it was my 70th birthday. I gave the title for the retrospective, it was called "Sounding the Margins: the 40-year Retrospective." So I guess I do feel like I'm still in the margin. Sometimes the margin is wide, and sometimes it gets a little narrow.
I've got that program here, and it was quite an amazing collection of performances-- that was great!
And they were good! By and large, most of the performances were really very high level. I have the recordings and we're going to release it as soon as we can get the money together. It'll be called "Sounding the Margins: As it was."
I think we probably need to wrap up. I did want to ask you, we talked a little bit about John Cage and Terry Riley, maybe I could ask you to tell us a little about Morton Subotnick. What's he like as a person, what was it like working with him as you were both exploring a medium that really was important to your careers?
Well, Mort was wonderful. We met about 1955 or 6 when he'd come back to San Francisco. He was teaching at Mills College. He was playing the clarinet; he was a really marvelous clarinet player. One of my first real encounters with Morton was when played the clarinet in a trio of mine for clarinet, horn and bassoon. We played that in a studio concert at KPFA, and Mort actually conducted the trio with his clarinet. It was very neat. Later he was making his electronic music, his tape music; this was before the Buchla synthesizer came around. Mort had a lot of input into how that synthesizer would be organized, as did Ramon Sender. I maybe said a few things; I was not as interested in it as he and Ramon were. Because they were cutting and splicing tape, they were really looking in the direction of having a musical instrument that could eliminate some of the tedium of making tape music. Mort was very active in the music scene. He played a lot of new music. He was teaching composition and probably theory at Mills, and then he and Ramon did the work of getting a non-profit status for the San Francisco Tape Music Center so they're named as the founders of it, although I was involved in it as well. Mort was also very supportive of my work; I appreciated that. He would often throw me a composition gig or something to help me out because at that particular time I was unemployed, except for my freelance work. I actually played 150 performances of the "Caucasian Chalk Circle" with my accordion that Mort had written the music for. I played that in San Francisco, and then I played it at Lincoln Center as well before I went to the University of Toronto summer course.
And he's one who seems to, by the time the rest of us have figured out what the use is for what he's working on, he's off exploring something else.
This is true, exactly that. He figured out that he should make his music for records like "Silver Apples of the Moon" and "The Wild Bull" and so on. These were specifically directed to the vinyl record of the time because he saw that as his venue-- the record. While other people were maybe not thinking, he was thinking. He was a thinker.
Thank you for your time, I think you're doing very important work so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
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