This article is by Nicolas Collins, the current editor of the Leonardo Music Journal, is a fantastic overview of many of the main movements in music technology over the last 100+ years. Read the article in its entirety, then comment below by 3pm Wednesday, March 27th.
I’m anticipating that some of you never will have heard of some of the people/terms Collins references. For some quick helps, I’m just going to post links to wikis, though of course it’s much better to really get to know them (and you will eventually in music history classes): Tin Pan Alley; Phil Spector; Anton Webern (you can hear one of his string quartets here); Glenn Gould; IRCAM; Alvin Lucier (Collins took composition lessons from him).
Here’s a Youtube link to the first part of a video documentary of Glenn Gould, if you’re interested.
The topic this time around: physical performance with electronic music. Prior to recorded music, in order to hear a composition that was considered extremely difficult to execute, a virtuoso with extensive training could attempt to pull off a mistake-free performance, and one would flock to a concert hall to hear/watch the drama unfold. Once recordings started to change the way music was consumed, a flawless performance could be captured and then played over and over again faithfully (not taking into account the warping of the medium over time, such as a vinyl record not staying perfectly flat, or a magnetic tape not corrupting). In fact one famous pianist named Glenn Gould believed that recordings spelled the twilight of the concert era. No one would go to concerts anymore, he thought, if you can just hear a perfect recording in the comfort of your own living room. (We’ll look at his thoughts and predictions from 1966 in a future assignment.)
As you know, Glenn Gould was wrong: we still do live music, even with electronic instruments. But in some cases, what exactly is live vs. prefabricated can be rather ambiguous, and there is quite a spectrum of options. One the one hand, you could have a fixed piece for playback where a computer executes rhythms impossible for a human to execute physically (e.g. bpm = 470, or computer music by Milton Babbitt). On the other hand, consider a completely improvised electric guitar solo by Jimi Hendrix, where the aesthetic is deeply tied to impulse and the moment. Between these two extremes, there are all kinds of interesting scenarios. (Lip syncing…?)
Have you ever gone to a concert where live electronics are happening, and you wondered what the performer was actually doing? Watch this video of electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick to see what I mean. Morton is the guy with the white beard on the left.
Were you able to see times where his movement corresponded to a change in the sound? It’s subtle, but if you missed it, you’re not alone.
A lot of types of electronic music have been problematic in terms of performance. If so much is automated, precomposed, and done ‘under the hood’, what room is left for physical execution in the moment? Various approaches have been adopted to deal with this dilemma.
How do these videos relate to what Ostertag is saying? More importantly, how do these artists make a connection between physical gesture and sound? Or is what they are doing simply dramatizing basic gestures? Post your comments by 3pm Wednesday, February 6th. (Remember, poor spelling, punctuation, and grammar adversely affect your grade)
The laptop ensemble Experimental performs ‘Cop de Cap’ at the 2010 Stanford Laptop Orchestra Spring Concert:
For the interested student, there is an excellent Leonardo Music Journal issue entitled ‘Why Live? Performance in the Age of Digital Reproduction.’ You can read an excellent introduction by Editor Nicolas Collins here, but as a Moorpark Student you can also access the entire journal online via jSTOR, available through the library resources link when you log in to the MyVCCCD portal.