Experimental Music Studio Interview

Nolan Vallier
Graduate Assistant for Sousa Archives, PhD student in Musicology

Scott W. Schwartz
Archivist for Music and Fine Arts and Director
Sousa Archives and Center for American Music

I’ve been a little behind posting track of the day because the holidays snuck up on me and in part because I’ve been trying to put together this interview post in a way that was informative, interesting, and as accurate as could be. I sat down with Nolan Vallier and Scott Schwartz of the Sousa Music Archives at the University of Illinois to discuss a recent exhibit they had put together documenting the development of the Experimental Music Studio at the University of Illinois.

Throughout the interview, we discussed the EMS’ role in the development of experimental music in the United States during the middle of the 20th century. We also discussed some of the challenges of telling a story like this within the context of an exhibit. Throughout I have attempted to assemble recordings or relevant information about the composers and compositions discussed. The Sousa Archives are currently displaying an exhibit on Partch as well as displaying a working replica of the Harmonic Tone Generator which is a real treat to play, so if you have the time I suggest you check them out. More info can be found here.

I began the interview by asking how the EMS first developed by making use of the ILLIAC I which was completed in 1952 and represents the first computing device constructed and controlled entirely by the University. It is this computer which serves as the foundation for the establishment of the EMS, which came as the University of Illinois prepared to unveil the ILLIAC I’s successor, ILLIAC II:


Nolan: It’s sometime I think it’s like 1958 that it’s happening that they switch to Illiac II, sometime right around then. And, they are communicating with Illiac I via the MusicWriter

OB: Yeah, there’s a picture of Hillen, Hilling? I can’t remember his name.

N: Hiller, Lejaren Hiller. Who was actually a professor of chemistry before part of the School of Music and was an amateur composer.

OB: Was it just a hobby thing?

N: Yeah it was a hobby and he proposed it to the University because they were transitioning from the Illiac I to the Illiac II. He could use the Illiac I to compose music and because of that they established the Experimental Music Studio on campus to make use of that computer in a given space. So they had access to it and they could work with it in some ways, communicate with it in some ways via the Music Writer for a brief time. They could also use punch cards, so since it was a series of binary code signals you had to have the punch cards to communicate with the computer. So he was working with various engineers to figure out how exactly to do that.

Memory Drum from Illiac IImage Source:Wikipedia

OB: How to punch the cards?

N: Yeah. So he has a grad student that I mention in the exhibit, I’m blanking on his name. Isaacson, maybe?

OB: Yeah I remember there is some mention of an Isaacson who was involved writing a lot of the programs that would execute the score.

N: I think largely Hiller relied on his grad students to do this sort work for him.

OB: As per usual, I guess.

N: I mean you can sort of tell with the Harmonic Tone Generator that that was the case because Beauchamp was one of his grad students as well and did quite a lot of the engineering side of the thing.

OB: Because initially the goal was to generate scores using the Illiac I.

Scott: That was one of the dreams. You have to remember–well, Christ you guys are too damn young–you write a score, you put it in vellum, you screw up, you have to cut out the piece of vellum and notate it. That’s how you printed it. The idea that computers can then notate music so that not only can I compose on the thing but output it. For many of us it avoided the painful effort of writing out parts, which got to be tiresome.

OB: And time consuming, I would imagine.

N: Which was part of the goal with the Music Writer was that you can input a given part or score and the computer would put out an individual part-

S: -a finished score.

N: Right. A finished score of the whole thing.

OB: And it would track things that you had entered previously. That was the idea?

S: In many respects it’s not unlike what we have, Finale and Sibelius. But I can say during the 70s and very early 80s at MSU it was like “Jesus, what can we do with a computer?” Vellum got to be expensive, so when you screwed up, do you print and scratch off on the printed piece that you have output? Do you go to the trouble of producing a corrected piece of vellum? Or, worse yet, you slice out a piece-

OB: And tape it?

S: Yeah, tape it. Which would hold up for about 10, 12 (depending on how many you were cranking out) sets. At which point it would fall apart.

OB: Then you’d have to do everything over again.

S: That’s it.

OB: So it was more about an efficiency for composing. Were there elements of composing that were possible besides the time consuming things using the Music Writer?

S: You have to remember, and I was just mentioning this yesterday to another student, the fact that the individual was always in charge, controlling the compositional process. Now we introduce a vehicle to take on that role. We talked about Mozart and you know he writes what we would refer to as probably the earliest aleatoric work: you know, shake the dice, see where the sections fall together. Now we have a computer that’s beginning to control the variables.
And for the Illiac Suite, it’s really a walk-through, well not a complete walk-through, of compositional history. In essence you begin to see he’s composing with certain structures in place to show the evolution of composition and the last movement is composition has now moved to the computer.

This is an example of Mozart’s use of a popular musical dice game, which involved throwing dice which corresponded to a particular key. Using the number rolled, players would identify a phrase from a paper chart and play the short string. In many ways this anticipates works such as Terry Riley’s In C by at least a few hundred years!

OB:Because it kinds of gets more dissonant. Well closer to other 20th century music, by the end.

N: It’s totally stochastic by the end of the movement.

S: Absolutely.

N: So we’re using probability formulas and what not to choose for the composer. So via these mathematical formations that we can plug into the computer as a code it can make decisions that the composer would normally make. That’s what you see especially in Cage’s Harpsichord and with his work with Hiller.

OB: That’s another thing I was interested in because he’s such a big name, I was interested to hear about his involvement. Because the element of randomness is very important to his work as well.

S: Absolutely.

OB: So I would imagine that there would have been a convergence of interest between Hiller and Cage.

S: I always find it intriguing, we talk about a sense of randomness, leaving it up to chance. But they have to program the computer with variables so in essense

N: It’s very highly controlled.

S: Yeah

Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts is a good example of his “gamut technique”

N: Even with his early, what we call his gamut technique where he’s choosing between pages and pages and pages of pre-composed material, small cells of material that he then applies chance to. There’s a series of letters between Cage and, what’s his name, Babbitt? Is it Milton Babbitt?

S: Yes [laughs]

N: Where Babbitt suggests “our processes are almost exactly the same.” What’s going on? What’s the difference here? And the difference is instead of taking those cells and then going “Okay now let me apply some randomness to it” we’re taking those cells and going “okay now let me fit this into a serial structure”

So both of them who are, in the 1950s, talking about this separation between serialism and aleatoric composers, who are going down the path of Cage, they’re really very similar in process. In how they’re actually composing. And both sort of camps are very interested in the role computers can play in structuring these things. The guy that’s the head of IRCAM for a while, also starts for a while, it’s not Babbit-

S:No it wasn’t Babbitt. What’s his name? Boulez! Pierre Boulez is very interested in total serialism. He forms a very similar sort of thing over in Paris as what Cage was interested in, for a brief while. Even though Hiller is the one who forms it at the University of Illinois, both camps are very interested in how computers can play a role.

Pierre Boulez at IRCAM Image Source: AP

OB: How would you characterize the different approach to using computers? At what point do they kind of diverge?

S: It’s largely the programming languages. They’re inventing programming languages as they go along. And the French are taking one tact and the composers in America are taking several different approaches. And you have to realize that the programming is tied to whatever system is running the program. And those change. The folks at Princeton are running one system, folks at IRCAM are running a different system.

Going back to Jim [Beauchamp] and the development of the Harmonic Tone Generator. A chunk of that develops through his work with the federal government in developing, I want to say guidance systems but that’s not completely correct. In essence system that I guess one could use could war and taking that technology and bringing it back. Quite frankly that’s the hook that really enables him to fit well with what Hiller is trying to begin to push in.

OB: So is that the moment when you get into sort of computer generated sound as opposed to generated scores? When the Harmonic Tone Generator is developed?

S: Well, you have to step away when you think of computer generated sound you have to first deal with it without the computer. The simple voltage controls, those are not computer-based. While the harmonic tone generator two uses a computer to make the hardware all work, the gist of it was how do we control those voltages-

OB: -actual circuits.

S: Exactly, so we’re really starting there. So the question is how do we create, call it synthetic sound. Can we make something sound like the trumpet? That’s basically where Jim starts. Can I take an electronic sounds and replicate the sound of a cornet? More importantly a coronet by Distin as opposed to Kahn. And he’s using very scientific mathematical equations for the harmonic spectrum to line up, which is turning the natural into an electronic phenomenon.

N: I’m trying to think with your separation that you’re thinking about with computer control.

OB: That’s probably due to my lack of knowledge.

N: Well, I think that software development and music software is taking place a little bit after this, more towards the 1960s, really into the 1970s and 1980s, and that sort of thing I mean is happening across the US but is also happening in Paris. Here in early 1960s, late 1950s they’re more worried about trying to create-

OB: -to replicate natural sounds in an electronic form?

N: But we’re also pushing the boundaries in some ways by utilizing the processes that computers can do to create new scores and to do certain things to push the envelope.

OB: Well and when you listen to it you can kind of hear the sounds very similar to recorded instruments but that element of the computer generating scores, it sounds very random but if you just listen to the sounds they sound like non-electronic instruments.

Excerpt from the score of Stockhausen’s piece Kontakte. The use of tapes and other techniques required that Stockhausen pioneer means of representing these instruments in a musical score. Image source: La Scena Musicale

S: We need to step back a moment on the generation of scores. Stockhausen has a whole approach that is all graphic for the most part. Michael Manion, who worked in, call it a club, the Stockhausen club, til he got his ass thrown out. [He] worked with very specific placement of pitches and so forth on a page. And it was largely coming from his graphics work. Think like a typesetter. If we set that aside for a moment and we just look at the computer generation without the notation piece of the puzzle. The rock and rollers were quite frankly a whole lot further ahead of the serious composers because they’re applying the electronic technologies to rock programs in ways that the public is really juiced on. I think the straight guys start to see “they’re ahead of us. how dare the untrained wash be in front of us.” I love to think of electronic music in the 20th century is no different than the development of valves in the 16th century.

OB: Could you expand on that a little bit?

S: The analogy is very simple. Composer has a set of instruments they’re working with. This is old school stuff, they’re looking for something new. So someone comes up with a new instrument that no one has written for. Now they start writing for the instrument, it catches on, lots of people pick it up and suddenly that becomes the new instrument for the solo act.

OB: I see.

S: We’re always looking for new stuff-

N: -new technology. Double core strings for instance in the piano, reinforced soundboards so you can play with a louder dynamic range. Those sorts of things. As soon as they develop something like that it gives composers a wider range of things to work with.

S: And also players. Quite frankly sometimes I think it’s the players. I mean, Weidinger and the keyed bugle. Prior to that, you know everything was stuck with crooks and you played kind of a boring thing as a brass player. Now you can play chromatic stuff. You can compete with violins. Suddenly “Hey I’m an equal! I’m no longer a backup guy to this small ensemble.”

We find that now. I just heard an electronic saxophone. Someone was using it for jazz band. I thought “very cool, an electronic saxophone, what the hell is that all about?” Of course my silly thought is “Okay you have to get your reed wet and if it’s an electronic saxophone you’d have your hair curling!”

N: There’s all sorts of classically-oriented pieces that have turned electronic, or turned towards electronic since then. The symphony, for instance. A number of recent works have done this.

S: You’ve got switched on Bach.

N: There’s a piece called Mothership, I’m forgetting the name of the composer, that uses turntables. Then there’s another a series of composers who are using video game controllers.

OB: Different performance methods.

N: Right, I mean it’s a new set of tools. Hiller was one of those who was exploring that set. Now that the Illiac is available how can we use it to make music.

OB: Do you get the sense in putting this together that it was difficult to convince the University to use this resource in that way? Because I could see why some administrators might feel like “oh there’s other uses it could be better suited for.”

S: Both [Hiller and Isaacson] were largely in the Engineering and Science field so their foot was already in the door. They had access to it.

OB: But for things like Chemistry.

S: Right, number crunching. In essence the Illiac Suite is nothing more than a set of number crunching programs to produce what we finally think of as a kind of quartet. For the most part I find the scientists, if you’ve got a new idea that hasn’t been tested, they say “yeah sure, I think it’ll work. Let’s see what happens.” They’re far more willing than if you go to the School of Music and say “can I bring a computer in here and do something?”

OB: So maybe it was because he was coming at it from sort of a different perspective that it was easier to get access to it.

S: Well he wasn’t officially part of the School of Music. Was it Chemistry?

N: Yeah, chemistry. And Isaacson was in Engineering. And Beauchamp came for Electrical Engineering. So the initial core of the Experimental Music Studio was hard sciences. It’s not until a few years later, after they get their big grant from Magnavox, that they start bringing in composers that are strictly music-based.

S: [Salvatore] Martirano comes here not for the electronic. He’s brought here largely for his what we think of as “analog” composition but he’s intrigued by the concept of the aleatoric performance.

N: Same thing with Gaburo. I mean they bring him in just as a composer and his early works are strictly for what we would consider normal instruments. Non-electronic. And as soon as he joins the department he finds the Experimental Music Studio and the core of composers that he is working with on a regular, everyday basis.

OB: It starts to infuse his work a little more. That’s kind of the interesting thing from the Electronic Music Record. There’s a blend of things that are composed using tapes or like tapes and percussion instruments so did you get the sense that the people working in the Experimental Music Studio that they had different sort of artistic aims?

S: Well you’ve got the Festival of Contemporary Arts which really takes off. And the early programs are, I would say, fairly traditional-

N: -and somewhat conservative in taste actually. Other than bringing in the occasional, like, Soulima Stravinski or early Partch, the Bewitched performance, other than that it’s fairly straightforward.

OB: And when you say straightforward, how do you mean?

S: Well, traditional string quartets or choir. Even jazz is sort of off in the periphery.

N: Part of it is it’s the Festival of Contemporary Arts and the word contemporary for them means a different thing than what it means to us. Contemporary was just “of the time” so composers that currently working. This is a new work, but it’s not experimental which is a separate sort of category we see today. The Festival of Contemporary Arts doesn’t quite shift to that side of things until a little bit later. It really is when it starts to fizzle down and become the computer music festival or whatever it’s called after that.

S: I think it’s largely growing out of what was at the time a need. Lots of warhorses being performed by the ensembles and everything becomes stale. We’re hearing the same stuff over and over, now let’s look at new works.

OB: Trying to find new people-

S: -or new pieces. In essence, what is going on now as opposed to what was going on 200 years ago. So from that point of view it really gets to the core of what I think what I think has always made the Experimental Music Studio so unique. The push for creativity regardless of the medium you work within. If people were working only on vocalisms or microtonals, the digital realm, they’re pushing in all of those directions. I was looking last night at a concert the number of faculty in the school of music. You’ve got a small woodwinds, small brass, and I get to the composition faculty and it’s nearly a full columns of composers. I was taken aback. “You gotta be kidding me. We have more composition teachers than basically the entire brass and woodwinds studio put together,” which suggests that that compositional aspect is absolutely crucial. And some of those composers are associated with the School of Music but their primary position isn’t within the School of Music. Following that same tradition of bringing people from the outside.

N: I was just talking to a couple of my composer friends and what’s happening today is very similar to what was happening then where you’ve got some composers here that are still pushing the boundaries, trying new things, developing experimental sorts of ideas. But then you also have composers that, I mean they just had a symposium a week ago about composing for TV commercials so you’ve got some people within that sort of framework. Composing for the bands, the jazz band for example. Even as the School of Music developed, we’ve had performers and composers and you get that sort of hybrid faculty member. It’s sort of like this golden moment where you get someone like Morgan Powell, who’s a great jazz trombonist, great leader for the jazz bands but he’s also a composer and he’s got that in with the composition department as well. So there’s this cool back and forth happening within the school of music here at Illinois since the Experimental Music Studio.

Released in 1967 by Heliodor, this record documents some of the earliest work from the Experimental Music Studio. Image Source: Discogs

OB: When the Experimental Music Studio was developed, and I’m thinking about the time where the compositions that are recorded and released on those records, was it fairly collaborative in the sense the people who were involved in it were all sort of influencing each other? Because I could imagine if people are brought in and they have come with specific ideas so they might be more inclined to pursue what they already had in mind.

S: People come here with background in a particular areas and they intersect with people here. Martirano is a good example, Gaburo as well. I think Partch as a general rule came here and stayed a very tight path and when it wasn’t being met to the degree it had hoped in terms of a permanent position, he leaves. Then Gaburo leaves and institutes an experimental studio was it in Iowa?

N: Yep, well Gaburo was in California for a bit and then he went to Iowa. I don’t think he was associated with the school there. I don’t think he had a full-time position. I think he just sort of worked with the department. He works sort of jointly between the school of music and the art school as well, because a lot of Gaburo’s pieces and a lot of what Gaburo was about was publishing works for those composers who were fitting in between the categories.

OB: In between art and music?

N: Right-

S: -falling in the cracks. They can’t get published in either medium so now we’ve got a special medium that accommodates that.

N: He gives up composition almost totally in the mid-1980s and instead focuses on publishing. I mean that’s just one story. Cage was only here for a short time. Partch was only here for a short time and I think for both of them they had their own sort of pathways that they had already formed. Certainly things were collaborative I would say and yes there were some composers that had a very strict idea of what they wanted to do. Just as one of the first albums that we displayed you can see everybody’s performing on each others’ works. Everybody’s working within the same sort of parameters. They’re collaborating back and forth with one another.

S: However, when we interviewed Jim Beauchamp about a year and a half ago, as with all dynamic personalities there were time when the space became more explosive, and new things came from that. I think it’s the nature of bringing a lot of creative people together and you find synergies that work well and some that start to work out well and blow up. I think that’s the nature of creativity as a whole. [Soulima] Stravinsky  comes here with a focus basically on conducting and orchestral performance and his piano works and eventually that kind of disappears. Also his womanizing didn’t help.

OB: There’s another picture where they showed a performance that took place, I don’t know if the location was specified, I want to say it was in 1970 at the Round House or something like that. I would imagine the Illiac II was probably not the most portable machine.

S: Well it wouldn’t have been portable at all- [laughs]

N: -it’s just the TTL boards, bits and pieces of it.

OB: What were peoples’ views about public public performance? I mean they gave performances but I’m interested how those came about?

S: Well the Round House concerts, as I understand them, were call that way because of the shape of the house they held them in. It became a freeform performance, that’s probably a better way to describe it. Where people would be invited to do concerts.

N: Weren’t they rather exclusive too, though? Like you said you had to be invited, you had to come. If you were “in the know”-

S: -and the people who played in those concerts were well aware of each other. I don’t think Sal [Martirano] would have said no to somebody if that person’s performance style was somewhat contrary to his, recognizing the fact at least the guys got along well. It was a very dynamic space. Concerts would go on for very long periods of time.

N: You might think about it as a just of friends getting together and performing. Bring your instruments, let’s play, you know.

OB: I could see that’s where the worlds of art and the worlds of music might come together when you get into performance art coming around at a similar time period.

N: There’s a slight difference with that. I would say the round house were almost strictly musical in nature-

S: -as opposed to the happenings.

N: That’s more associated with Cage. There’s various groups across the country that are doing similar sorts of things.

OB: Angus MacLise was doing some stuff with the Theater of Eternal Music.

N: Yep, and the Fluxus Community up in New York and we’ve got in the 70s there’s a computer music studio at the San Francisco Tape Music Center that they’re doing similar sorts of things. Terry Riley and La Monte Young are briefly associated with that.

OB: La Monte Young, that’s the name I was thinking of, not Angus MacLise.

N: Anna Halperin, she’s out there. Pauline Oliveros is doing Walkthroughs the city. Gaburo might be one of the few people that I know of here that was doing that type of stuff-

OB: -closer to performance art maybe than performing music specifically?

N: I will say that a number of people from the time period were interested in graphic notation.

OB: That’s another thing I found very striking in the exhibit was the two examples of the scores, maybe that’s not the right term, but it’s interesting because they do not look very similar to what you might expect a score to look like.

N: Right and that was something that was pervasive across the country from that time period. As soon as people start pushing the envelope with the aleatory. How do we now write this? That were going to allow ten seconds to pass rather than a strict beat structure. And so because people are changing their practices in composition, you have to change the notation to reflect that. I think this is happening all across the country. That might be a convergence between art and music that you’re looking for, but strict art performance sort of things I’d say Gaburo is one of the few people into that here.

OB: It was more musically focused.

N: Although did Powell have similar things? And Martirano does have L’s GA.

S. -yes, and Underworld. They’re theatrical productions. And we keep missing Cutler. He was very much the visual graphic person. Filming it, photographic it and he’s pushing it in an entirely different direction than many others. Taking the element that anything can be performance, it opens up the horizon. I remember my first composition teacher when he made a sound and said “I want you to do a theme and variation on this sound” I remember sitting in class thinking “Oh god, how do I notate that? How do I reproduce it?.” It forces us to think on the other side. I don’t think anything we produced came close, but it made us think.

So this is what we have here. We have opened up Pandora’s box and allowed people to freely try things out. That’s not to say that we didn’t on occasion have situations arise where the audience responds in a less than collegial way. What was it the one concert that, was it Gaburo? Someone started throwing chairs onto the stage and making quite a row which we would never see today. I would really love somebody to, you know, take a chair and throw it at Krannert Hall [laughs].

OB: You read those stories about classical music riots and you can’t hardly imagine them occurring today.

N: There were some, just as you said Scott, pretty dynamic personalities here. Especially in the 1960s and 1950s. Anger issues-

S: [laughs]-yeah, to express themselves in very physical ways.

N: Or in other ways. I mean when Cage was here there was, you know, all sorts of other happenings were happening.

S: Some chemical, that’s the nature of the time. In some respects we seem to have become quite uptight. But now the federal government has made it impossible for us to be looser.

OB: Well you’re spending taxpayer money! [laughs]

S: But the Experimental Music Studio is still thriving, still producing great stuff.

OB: So it is still active?

N: Yep, and they still have the Martirano award that they do every fall. So there’s an endowment, a small monetary award, that they offer. Anybody can submit a composition, but they preference that are sort of pushing the boundaries much like Martirano was doing when he was here. In some ways that’s furthering compositional practice that was founded here at the University of Illinois.

OB: Given that it was one of the first recognized Experimental Music Studios-

S: -particularly for electronic music. I would back up, for electronic music, yes. There were other experimental-like studios going on but in a much more traditional ways. Our hook is really the electronic.

OB: So what you say it’s main legacy of its founding at the University? I mean it’s still around today so it’s obviously not all that abstract a question, but given that it was one of the first did it have a big impact on other people doing similar work at the time?

N: I think so. In terms of the unwritten history of who and what types of composers are getting hired at institutions and universities. Going back to the Festival of Contemporary Arts. The idea of being contemporary was “of the time,” what people are composing at the time. And you get people like Cage right around that same time who are having really difficult times finding stable work because they’re so out there.

OB: Not a lot of popular demand, probably.

N: Right, there’s not a lot of popular demand. There’s something hilarious that I read last year. It was in I think 1956, right before Cage gave his lecture on Silence in Darmstadt. I think he was making something like $2,000 a year or something, which was well below the average at the time. So he was making like a fourth of the average salary and living on pennies. So a lot of composers were going to Europe to find work. Germany in particular after WWII becomes this hub because they have the radio stations. All of a sudden you have this exploration and real push towards experimental composition because they have all this electronic equipment and they have the money. In some ways I wonder how much this University forming something, having the money, having the equipment, was very similar in nature to what was happening in Germany.

It’s really after the 1960s and 1970s that institutions and universities start putting money behind something like this. We can have experimental composers gain academic positions within the university.

S: I do need to caution. When Hiller starts the Experimental Music Studio, that studio for the first couple years until that one grant, they were piecemealing stuff together.

OB: Most of the stuff they were building themselves it sounds like.

N: Or borrowing.

S: I mean, the Experimental Music Studio was the first academic institution to set this up. Germany, clearly they have a commercial resource that’s already funding it. In some respects, that’s what distinguishes us. And I think it all came about largely because Hiller creates this, what we think of as a traditional string quartet, using a computer where no one has done that before.

OB: Sort of like a proof of concept.

S: Well yes, but literally pushes in a whole different area. Suddenly they take off and the school sees there’s some advantage to this. Of course they didn’t put a whole crapload of money into it. Hence why Hiller eventually goes to Buffalo, another great institution.

N: University of Buffalo in experimental music was, especially in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, one of the places to be. So there’s certain hubs for experimental music that start to form. Buffalo is one, Illinois is one, Michigan to some extent.

OB: All around that same time period?

N: Yeah. But there’s other institutions that favor other types of compositional practices that are also experimental but in a different vein.

OB: Not quite so electronically-focused?

N: Right, so you get places like Mills College and New York School for Social Research that start focusing on different things. The University of Illinois is more apt to do electronic music, [other institutions] are more apt to do some other equally experimental things.

S: The emphasis is on the experimental, not the electronic. And that is what makes the Experimental Music Studio so encompassing. Everyone can be connected to it in some capacity even if they’re not completely devoted to the electronic aspect.

OB: Widened its scope a bit.

S: I’d like to see more Partch-like stuff. More cool new instruments being developed, test-driven.

A small sample of the innovative instruments developed by Harry Partch.

N: Partch did a couple of pretty awesome grants to do his research.

S: There’s the one, you were saying the other day, the only reason he got it was because the director was out and the assistant gave him the money. And the director was irritated that the crazy guy got the money. [laughs] So there’s hope for us.

OB: Were there other things you wanted to include that you didn’t have the space or capability to use?

N: There are other things that I would’ve liked to include. There’s some really great posters for Harpsichord and that sort of concert ephemera is really nice to have. There’s a really great concert poster for Martirano-

S: -that was for Underworld, wasn’t it?

N: Yeah, I think for Underworld. Those are rather large and so just with the space requirements we wouldn’t be able to frame it. But they’re beautiful objects.

OB: Are they here in the Sousa Archives?

N: We have some here. The posters for Harpsichord are actually over at the Krannert Art Museum. There’s a couple of t-shirts there as well.

S: We have one of the happening t-shirts here. We also have the Doyle Moore stuff.  He did a lot of the graphics work. You have more stuff than you have space to put it up and the hardest put is deciding what don’t you put in.

N: In order to tell a story like this you have to get multiple perspectives. So to focus on, say Martirano, you’re not getting the story you would get if you didn’t have the Gaburo item in there. To try to give voice to as much as we can. Talking about experimental music, one of the great posters from the Cage one that I really wanted to get in there was this picture of Cage smiling with this oversized head and small body and he’s got this ax and there’s this three headed dragon of Beethoven, Bach, and Schumann and he’s cutting off the heads of this dragon, which says quite a lot in that one image. But does it really say much about the Experimental Music Studio when he was not here for very long? To mention him is good-

OB: -Just because he’s a very well-known figure

N: And you’re gonna draw in the Art History major, the theater major, because they all talk about Cage. For that, I think we need something but not many things.

OB: You don’t want to overstate the importance of somebody who wasn’t here for that long.

S: It’s all just getting them to crack the door open. “Oh, I had not idea Cage was here. I just read about him.”

OB: I can attest to that. It was certainly my reaction. I didn’t know that until I saw the exhibit.

S: Well then good. It’s the same here. How can I get you engaged with the objects here?

OB: Yeah it’s cool, I like seeing these old phonographs.

S: All playable, quite frankly they’re just paperweights until they’re played.

OB: You have a lot of wax cylinders and stuff?

S: Yeah we only play beaters. Anything we play is really disposable stuff but it gives you the opportunity to hear and watch the mechanism work. Somebody’s got limited time and they’re in a rush to go through we’ll play one of these and suddenly they’re no longer in a rush. At that point it’s like fishing and we’re just reeling ’em in and suddenly they stay for two or three hours and try not to get a parking ticket.

OB: I mean the records definitely caught my eye. I’ve got a couple records from the Princeton Music Studio and I would look out for this stuff at my old job buying records and I saw “Computer Music” and thought “oh, cool!”

S: Those covers are great and it was fortuitous because the only one we had was the computer one and the cover was absolute hell. I had scanned it and cleaned it up and we were gonna print it and suddenly we get this call “I’ve got this stuff, do you want it?” and I said “Are you kidding me? Send it over!”

OB: Any plans for exhibits in the near future?

S: Well we need to talk about American Music month and where we’re gonna do next year. We’re looking at Fillmore as a possible theme and Paul Bierly’s book Hallelujah Trombone. We’ve got a great trombone collection and I’d really like to do some work with it. Get the trombone studio maybe doing a concert. I try not to do American Music Month things that look at anniversaries, although we fall into that trap. It won’t be experimental music. Although it’s ironic, we’ve had more people come by to talk about Partch. I’ve had people now ask for Chris’ Partch concert. Two of them were there and wanted a copy and one he had to miss it. I’m thinking “You gotta be kidding me. People are asking for a Partch concert.” It’s very cool. From my point of view the audience was small but it had the desired effect.

OB: Even if you look at experimental music now I feel like the concerts aren’t always well-attended but all the people there are pretty excited to be there.

N: I think that’s across the board and across time. [laughs]

2 thoughts on “Experimental Music Studio Interview

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