Copyright © 1988 Folke Rabe and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.
Public reproduction - wholly or in part - without the written consent of the copyright owner prohibited.
Folke Rabe: From Hopefulness to What? Program 3/5, manuscript.
Premier broadcast: 24th February 1988, Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Channel 2. Light adaptation 2006 for the Internet publication.
Sound effect: San Francisco cable car, recorded at the platform. Somewhat loud at times, drowning the voice. Outdoors acoustics.
San Francisco is a very special city, and certainly very un-American. It is beautiful where it lies on an elevated peninsula with the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco Bay on the other. The city terrain is dramatic with about twenty hills, some of which are extremely steep. Therefore you have the famous cable cars, which are pulled by a wire lowered into a crack in the street. They are a main tourist attraction, and that's probably the reason why some are still in use. We're riding one of them right now.
The dominating housing in San Francisco consists of Victorian two-story buildings in wooden paneling, erected after the great earthquake of 1906. They are painted in mild pastel colors, contributing to the light, shimmering character that the city has, seen from a distance. Down in the central parts there is a large area, which constitutes Chinatown, with Chinese signs and architectural details. It is the largest Chinese settlement outside of Asia, and the presence of this Chinatown and all the communication westward, across the Pacific, has, by and large, contributed to the light oriental touch of San Francisco.
The city has long attracted artists and people with an aesthetical disposition. It was, for instance, the center of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. In the joint between the 50s and the 60s it also became a haven for a musical blossoming; one of those cultural swarmings which occurs at times, somewhere, when like-minded, talented people happen to meet, the environment is stimulating and the timing right.
Those who met were composers like Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley, whom we have presented in the preceding programs in this series, as well as Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, Stuart Dempster and a few more. The common denominator is Robert Erickson, who was an unusually inspiring teacher to most of them, and we will introduce him in the next program, in a week.
At first some of them founded a group called Sonics, in connection with the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco, but it became necessary for them to create their own platform. They found it in a house on Divisadero Street near the Haight-Ashbury district, which, by the way, would become the center for another kind of swarming during the Flower Power summer of 1967.
In that house Dancers' Workshop occupied the bottom floor. They were a dance-theater group under the leadership of Ann Halprin, and they also gave courses. They were very progressively inclined, worked a lot with improvisation and multi-media. Some of their performances didn't resemble dance very much. Several of the young composers in the Sonics group had periodically collaborated with Dancers' Workshop, so it was natural to move in into the two vacant stories above them.
One floor up there was a rather spacious hall with a high ceiling, where they could give concerts and other performances. On the top floor there were a few rooms that they equipped for studio purposes. That was it. San Francisco Tape Music Center could be founded.
San Francisco Tape Music Center: Demo tape, 1'05
Those who founded San Francisco Tape Music Center were the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, whom we will present tonight. Not only those two worked there. All the others also did, of course: Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley and etcetera, but also foreign guests, for example from Sweden, like Arne Mellnäs, Jan Bark and I.
As far as possible the Center functioned on an idealistic basis with support from donors and foundations according to American tradition. However, to some a measure they earned some extra income from commercial jingles for radio stations, and it was for attracting attention to this they had made the demo tape that we just heard a sample from.
The studio had pretty primitive equipment. I think there were five studio tape recorders, a few tone generators, filters and other stuff that partly was home made. In the midst of this equipment you saw the biggest investment, a Chamberlin. It's a keyboard instrument with a grand repertoire of instrumental sounds, pre-recorded on cassette tapes. It also has a number of accompaniment and fill-in-templates plus some sound effects pre-recorded.
You could describe the Chamberlin as a kind of analog preliminary stage of our digital sampling synthesizers, but it was, most probably, constructed with classy bars in mind, enabling the pianist to sound like a whole orchestra, sometimes surprising the people present with comical sound effects.
The Chamberlin was a real find for the Tape Center in San Francisco, and a source of many possibilities. We just heard it on a demo tape, and it is obvious in several compositions done in the studio in the middle of the 1960s, for example this one:
Morton Subotnick: U.C.L.A. /from tape/; faded after circa 2'40
This was a composition by Morton Subotnick from 1964 or possibly -65. You could read the title of the piece on the college sweaters worldwide a couple of years ago. Morton Subotnick is well known in the USA these days, but that was not the cause of the piece getting onto college sweaters. The title was, simply, U.C.L.A. - University of California at Los Angeles - since it was premiered at a concert on the famous campus in Los Angeles, which, by the way, is Morton's hometown.
When he came to San Francisco at the end of the 1950s, he had become interested in music theater and multi media, and done a couple of works on a rather grand scale with actors, mimes, instruments, taped music and light. He was studying with Darius Milhaud at the time. I think he is the only one around the Tape Music Center who did not study with Robert Erickson.
A few years into the 60s Morton composed music for instrumentalists and tapes, where plain gestures like looking to the right or the left or up in the ceiling were included in the score like instructions for the musicians. It rendered the music a kind of unassuming mime dimension, which I believe were both comical and effective.
Morton tried out and mixed modes of expression in an inhibited and good-humored way, in accordance with the spirit of the times. Signals came from Canada and the information theorist Marshall McLuhan. His studies of the differences between the older, mechanical media and the new, electric manifestations, and his categorization of the mass media into hot and cool sub-divisions set its mark on the culture debate during the 1960s.
Morton says that sections of McLuhan's text were circulated amongst the young composers towards the end of the 50s, before they had been published. It sounded almost like some subterranean, forbidden kind of literature And, sure, McLuhan was controversial.
Interview with Morton Subotnick, 1985, via telephone:: "We grew up under the sign of McLuhan.....kind of bombardment of mediums." 0'50
At The San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s there was a composer and engineer by the name of Donald Buchla. With him, Morton Subotnick developed an electronic modular system that became one of the first mass-produced synthesizer constructions. The first model was called The Buchla Box. This was almost in synch with the emergence on the East Cost of Robert Moog's similar modular synthesizer. All the years since, Morton has composed his electro-acoustic music with Buchla equipment (but I can let you in on that he's been seen around Yamaha gear lately )
In 1967 Morton made the first of a series of electro-acoustic compositions intended directly for the LP media; Silver Apples of the Moon. By that time he'd moved to New York, where he, in addition to composing, pursued tuition, becoming the musical director of a big theater and musical head of The Electric Circus, all simultaneously. The Electric Circus was a psychedelic multi media hall, where fantastic, illusionist plays were performed, and I suspect that the somewhat populist character of Silver Apples of the Moon has its explanation in the Circus.
ENTRY 5, RECORD:
Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon, part II, the culmination. 1'00
After New York Morton Subotnick moved back to California for a position as teacher of composition at California Institute of the Arts, an excellent theater and music school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, which we owe to Donald Duck. It is part of Walt Disney's legacy. Morton still upholds a position there, even though he lives in New Mexico, far away, and though he often travels between missions in and outside of North America. /Note 2006: Morton Subotnick is now back in New York again./
Yes, that is correctly understood. Morton Subotnick is extremely industrious, and probably one of the most successful amongst composers of his generation. In spite of this, he is disarmingly relaxed and jocular when you meet him, and he doesn't seem to be in any hurry.
We have crossed paths a few times during the past years. It has happened in somewhat rowdy environments like restaurants and bars, and it always proved impossible to tape an interview in a calmer spot, because Morton always had some commitment that he had to address a little later, or was headed for a plane. It therefore became necessary to make a phone interview with Morton in a hotel room in Los Angeles while I sat with the New York correspondent of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation.
During the 1970s Morton changed his compositional course. The medium wasn't too important anymore. Instead he worked with the content, the under-lying ideas. He developed his own metaphysical metaphors; for example the butterfly and the beast. There are a row of butterfly compositions wherein characteristic properties of the butterfly have inspired the contour of the music, like, for instance, the three stages of evolution: the larva, the chrysalis (which constitutes something enclosed, a secret development in secrecy), and - finally - the imago stage; the incredibly beautiful butterfly - or another trisection of the complete butterfly: wing - body - wing.
Interview with Morton Subotnick, 1985, via telephone:: "The subject-matter began to make sense in some way. There is a great faith..." 1'00
Morton tries to express himself with the highest possible precision in his music nowadays, even conveying a story, as far as that is possible without a text, in contrast to the 1960s - the age of hope and trust - when you threw all the components up in the air to find out what patterns occurred when they fell to the ground, when you played with the parts until some kind of rhyme and reason emerged
Lately Morton thinks that he in a way has returned to his point of departure. Right now he's working with rather big musical drama projects, which he also did in the 50s.
ENTRY 7, RECORD:
Morton Subotnick: from Jacob's Room, 3'30
This was the final culmination of Jacob's Room, a taste of Morton Subotnick's late musical drama. The voice was Joan LaBarbara's (Mrs. Subotnick), Erika Duke played the cello, while Morton and a computer steered the electroacoustic sounds.
Now we shall direct our attention to the other Tape center pioneer. He's not at all as well-known, but his fate is all the more strange.
When I arrived at The San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1965 I recall getting quite captured by Morton's colleague Ramon Sender. His eyes revealed intensity, and he demonstrated a practical dexterity that impressed. He was a man with an exciting potential, and he was a pronounced fixer.
Once - one hour before he was going to give a concert - we stopped by at his house. He was going in for a quick shower and slammed the car door behind him, with the keys still in the ignition. This didn't bother him the least. He calmly stepped in, took his shower and then appeared with a piece of steel wire, pried open the lock and drove down to the Tape Center and the concert.
I also saw him build a simple but practical level indicator, which printed the dynamic profile of his electronic pieces on a slip of paper, which he could attach to the score. This was very useful for synchronizing live musicians with tape.
In a work called Desert Ambulance he used another method. He had the pre-recorded music, which he had produced with the aid of the Chamberlin, on one of the two tracks on a twin-track stereo tape.
Ramon Sender: Desert Ambulance, the tape part from the beginning, fades out after 0'35
That track was run through the speakers on the platform. The other track was heard only through the headphones that the soloist wore. The soloist was Pauline Oliveros with her accordion. She was, incidentally, completely dressed in white where she stood on stage, since the projection of pictures by the Tape Center's in-house artist Tony Martin constitute an important part of this composition.
With the aid of these two tape tracks, Ramon Sender could easily give Pauline instructions and keep her synchronous with the taped music, the way he had planned it. This is how the instruction track begins:
Ramon Sender: Desert Ambulance, the instruction part from the beginning, fading out after 0'55.
FR: It may sound strange, but the fact is that just the tone of this instruction track was sensational to experience at this time; the middle of the 1960s - but then you have to try to imagine the prevalent attitude in Europe in those days.
At that time, composers didn't even address themselves by their first name. In presentations or score indications the called themselves the composer or much rather Der Komponist, since German was the language of preference. The instruction jargon was borrowed from bureaucratic, or perhaps rather military language; thus being as depersonalized as possible. It felt like a pretty desperate strife for reliability.
When you, with those experiences in mind, get to hear performance practice instructions that start with OK, Pauline, you jump!
* * * * *
Towards the end of this program, we will hear Desert Ambulance in its entirety, I do promise, but before that we shall look more closely at Ramon Sender's fate. It is interesting, because it really is dramatic and completely different from the development that the other Tape Center comrades went through.
He was born in Madrid, but came to the USA early, since his father and general Franco couldn't agree on what should be written in Spain after the civil war. His father was a writer. Ramon came to San Francisco from New York, taking lessons with Robert Erickson, and, as stated, participated in founding the Tape Center.
He likes to combine live musicians with music on tape and projections by Tony Martin, who is a very imaginative visual and light artist. In those days he enjoyed working with live projections and used a machine that functioned in a way similar to one of those overhead transparency projectors. On top of the projection surface he had bowls with colored or bubbling liquids, into which he could lower pictures or objects, which then were projected.
In the Garden for example, was a kind of Paradise scene with hinted green vegetation and small animals, and with a male clarinet soloist and a female viola player together with the tape sounds. Richard was a gradual disintegration of a fragment from Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, as a medallion - which could remind one of Wagner - slowly, slowly emerged out of a brown haze.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: I wanted to do a sort of populist music....which the electronic aspect allowed me to do." 0'18
In those days, Ramon Sender wanted to make some kind of populist music within an avant-garde framework; easily accessible, while he also wanted to investigate a new sound world with the aid of electronics.
The middle of the 60s also was the start of the psychedelic period in San Francisco. Many people smoked marijuana, and LSD was just being circulated. Simultaneously, Ramon began growing weary of the concert form. He wanted to give the music a more ritual function. It was a time of seeking.
Someone got the idea to arrange a Trips' Festival - a three day psychedelic fair, 1966 - and asked if the Tape Center wanted to join in. Ramon enrolled. It was the beginning of what was to develop into the Flower Power summer the following year. The pressure was intense, and Ramon felt like he was riding a wild stallion.
When the festival was over the arrangers showed a profit of $16.000. None of them had ever seen that kind of money. Ramon withdrew his share and went into the desert, literally, with 50 LSD pills to cleanse his soul, as he had it.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: "We made something like 16.000 dollars .research into altered states of consciousness." 0'45
After six weeks in the desert he realized that he had to move out into the country to meditate and investigate new states of consciousness. A pal had a farm in the countryside, and there he lost his mind - in a state of happiness - ; just let it lie there to compost amongst the apple trees in the orchard.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: And---I would say. at that point .I was reading very heavily into Hindu philosophy." 0'28
He lead a very primitive life, meditated, strolled the redwood forests singing and read a lot; Hindu philosophy.
A growing number of people moved onto the farm. It became a collective. The Flower Power summer drawing close, pressure increased, and finally 150 people lived on the farm. The neighbors began to question what was going on, and were chocked at seeing people wander around naked. It was made clear that they weren't welcome. The police raided the premises, albeit softly. Remember, it was the beautiful summer of 1967, preceding the time of the big Vietnam demonstrations.
The collective viewed itself a religious group, a tribe, but lacked traditions, ceremonies and songs, which grow within a tribe over long periods of hundreds of years. As a composer, Ramon felt privileged in this situation. He could compose songs and rhymes and ceremonies for his own tribe.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: So anyway, here I was finally: I found myself.... into the avant-garde life style. he-he. 1'13
One of the chanting songs that Ramon composed at this time now lives its own life and is said to be used in rites at other places far and wide in the USA. Nobody knows that he made it. It's a part of contemporary folklore, and that feels fine, says Ramon. Through this he had taken the step out of the avant-garde music into an avant-garde lifestyle instead.
But this step took its toll. The folks in the environment came down harder on Ramon and his friends, fearing them because they were different. The collective - the tribe - had to move from farm to farm, as the persecution continued. Neighbors and the police came in armed groups, and it was obvious that their agenda was to crush the deviants.
It was then that Ramon started to write. These experiences - negative and positive - had to be brought to other people's attention. The result was a booklet and some other things. In the beginning of the 1970s Ramon wrote a book - Being of the Sun - where he sums up his experiences from an alternate lifestyle. It contains advice and exercises in various fields; practical and spiritual: meditation, cultivation of plants, how you can build musical instruments and tune them - even a section on how to tune a rapids.
There are many songs in this book too. While flipping through it, Ramon found a song to sing midday, with the sun in zenith.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: "Here is a noon chant .depending on the cycles of the moon or whatever you want to do." 0'37
These songs are simple that anyone should be able to sing them. They're available in both common and simplified notation, and they can be transposed and re-made, for example in regard to the motions of the Moon.
Gradually, Ramon began returning to the common, approved society. As he looks back now to this period, he sees that he did leave music to lead another kind of life, but never in his life has he played so much as when he was considered having left the music.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: "And there were lots of music .for hours. Just hours of these things." 0'20
He played the accordion hour in and hour out. At times he wandered the sidewalks as a clown. That started by chance when the village school was having a Christmas market. He dressed up, strung the accordion and a little tootle to himself and realized after a while that he could get practice and routine, have fun and also get paid to play a fool in public.
Interview with Ramon Sender, 1985, San Francisco: : "I was dressed as a clown .I highly recommend it-hehehehe-it's an experience everyone should try." 1'20
Ramon thinks that the sidewalk is a great place for testing a performance. You get an instant response. If it doesn't work folks just slip by, and if it works you get money. The poor people - Afro-American and immigrants - are usually the generous ones.
The role of the clown is an intriguing one too. It is one of the few remaining shaman or medicine man functions in our culture. Ramon warmly recommends street clowning. It's something we all should try.
Ramon Sender is back in San Francisco now, since a few years. Since the mid-70s he regards himself primarily as a writer. He writes profusely and has completed several novels, but finds it hard to get them published. He says that his father was silenced as a writer in Spain for 35 years, so he shouldn't complain after just 12.
Recently I heard that Ramon now has began working with computers and music, and that he has founded something that he calls Good Sound Foundation with Pauline Oliveros and some other old friends, so he may be on his way back to composing again, but it's a peculiar excursion - 20 years long - that he has made, in the midst of life.
Now lets listen to his masterwork from his early composing period, if we may say so: Desert Ambulance from 1964 for tape and accordion soloist, which I described a little before. We'll have to try to make do without Tony Martin's projections.
Ramon has assured me that the title Desert Ambulance simply is a combination of words that might conjure up a suggestive vision. The title has no deeper significance. Anyhow, I think it fits excellently, for example with the melancholically bouncing introduction.
Pauline is the soloist on accordion, the tape is composed using the ancient sampling synthesizer Chamberlin, and the recording was executed at The San Francisco Tape Music Center in its heydays. It's a copy of a copy of a copy and so forth, but I still hope you will accept the sound quality: 16 minutes and 5 seconds trip with Ramon Sender's Desert Ambulance.
ENTRY 17, TAPE:
Ramon Sender: Desert Ambulance, 16'05''
- THE END -
English translation: Ingvar Loco Nordin