Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (@ Pratt)


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Guest presentation to class at Pratt, Feb 25 2013

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Archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (@ Pratt)

  1. 1. Archives of the Columbia-PrincetonElectronic Music Center (CPEMC) Nick Patterson Columbia University
  2. 2. Some History• Composers Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening• Both working at Columbia and Barnard during the mid-1940s• Interests in electronic music via the tape recorder began in early 1950s
  3. 3. Some History• Music Dept. acquires an Ampex 400 reel-to-reel tape recorder in ca. 1951, and WKCR gets Magnachord recorder• Ussachevsky and Luening both begin experimenting with musical applications of tape recorder
  4. 4. Early tape recorder experiments• Experiments involved manipulating pitch,speed, and tape direction of recorded material on tape, and using tape echo• Engineer Peter Mauzey assisted in getting these effects• Here is an example of early experiments by Ussachevsky for “Sonic Countours”
  5. 5. Vladimir Ussachevsky
  6. 6. Otto Luening
  7. 7. “The tape recorder was put in my charge, and one day I suddenly realized that it could be treated as an instrument of sound transformation.” - Ussachevsky
  8. 8. Some More History…• During the 1950s, Luening and Ussachevsky continue to develop the musical use of the tape recorder,• In 1952, Ussachevsky presents “experiments” at a concert at Columbia, and at a concert at MoMA, the “first public concert of tape recorder music in the United States” (Luening)
  9. 9. Some More History…• During the 1950s, Luening and Ussachevsky continue developing works incorporating tape recorder, such as the “Rhapsodic Variations” for tape recorder and orchestra (1954), premiered by the Louisville Symphony Orchestra• Unusual in that they collaborated as joint composers
  10. 10. Birth of the CPEMC• After a decade of experimentation with electronics, in various locations at Columbia, a plan was proposed for a center for electronic music• Funding was obtained from the Rockefeller Foundation, for a joint center with Princeton, and the CPEMC was established in 1959, in Prentis Hall on W.125th St.
  11. 11. Formal incorporation• In 1959, the CPEMC was formally incorporated, assisted by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.• Ussachevsky’s notes indicate a grant of $175,000.• Ussachevsky, Luening, Babbitt, and Sessions (all composers)formed the Committee of Direction (Ussachevsky as chair).
  12. 12. In notes, Ussachevsky described the Center’s aims:“… a certain amount of research in sound synthesis and some analytical studies will proceed, parallel to the composers’ creative work.” He goes on to mention work in musical acoustics, and supplementing studies in psychology, psychoacoustics, speech and electrical engineering
  13. 13. The RCA MKII Synthesizer• This “state-of-the-art”, room-sized synthesizer was the second model built by RCA, based on work by H.F. Olson and Herbert Belar (the earlier model was at Princeton)• It formed the centerpiece of the newly- established Center
  14. 14. The RCA MKII Synthesizer• Olson and Belar’s 1955 paper in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, v.27, no.3 provided an interesting engineer’s perspective on sound:
  15. 15. “The tones produced by bells… glockenspiel, and xylophone are objectionable for two fundamental reasons: first, because the strike tones are disagreeable and, second, because the overtones are not harmonics” or…“… the bow scratch which has always been objectionable in the violin…” or…“The objectionable noise of the hammer striking the string together with mechanical rattle of the piano does not exist in the tones produced by the electronic system.”
  16. 16. The RCA MKII SynthesizerBabbitt, Peter Mauzey (engineer), and Ussachevsky
  17. 17. The RCA MKII Synthesizer Note the keypads for punching the paper rolls which drove the synthesizer
  18. 18. The RCA MarkII promised new levels of control…
  19. 19. … but, “any sound that may be imaginedby the human mind” for RCA apparently meant this:
  20. 20. … Milton Babbitt, however, had other ideas… such as “Philomel” (1964):
  21. 21. … He could do this, because he’s a card-carrying member of the Audio Engineering Society…
  22. 22. The RCA MKII Synthesizer wasused mostly by Babbitt but alsoby composer Charles Wuorinen, for his 1970 Pulitzer-prize winning composition “Time’s Encomium”
  23. 23. Some other notable pieces realized at the Center (but not using the RCA MarkII) included:• Mario Davidovksy’s “Synchronisms No.5” (1969)• Charles Dodge’s “Earth’s Magnetic Field” (1970)• (an early example of computer music)
  24. 24. Some later milestones• Renamed Columbia UniversityElectronic Music Center in 1980 (MarioDavidovsky, director)• Renamed Columbia UniversityComputer Music Center in 1994 (BradGarton, director)• Center is still active and well-representedin the New York and international musicscenes
  25. 25. So… didn’t you mention some archives?
  26. 26. Indeed!
  27. 27. The Archives contain:• 4,859 reel-to-reel tapes (ca. 55% 10” and 45% 7” reels)• 700 recordings in other formats (DATs, phonorecords, CDs, etc.)• ca. 72 linear feet of printed documents, manuscripts, and ephemera• I conducted a rough survey and inventory to obtain the best estimate I could, within time constraints
  28. 28. The content?• Full works by composers working at the Center from 1950s to present• Work tapes (source material, manipulated recordings, loops, etc.)• Some music manuscripts of full scores, and sketches and work notes• Technical documentation relating to the RCA MKII and other studio equipment• Photos, slides, and ephemera
  29. 29. Some examples45rpm disc of filter experiments …
  30. 30. Some examplesNo shortage of tape reels…
  31. 31. Some examplesMany have condition issues…
  32. 32. Some examples... to put it mildly
  33. 33. Some examplesTape parts to published works…
  34. 34. Some examplesWorking tapes used in composition…
  35. 35. Some examples Tape loops …
  36. 36. Some examplesTape splicing equipment …
  37. 37. Some examplesPunched paper rolls for the RCA Mark II
  38. 38. Some examplesNote the keyboard on left, for punched paper rolls
  39. 39. Some examples“Sexual Symbolism of the American Automobile (45rpm disc)
  40. 40. Some examplesFrench disc of “musique concrete” (1959)
  41. 41. Some examplesSome just plain weird stuff…
  42. 42. Some examples… and some outright mysteries
  43. 43. Some examples… and another mystery
  44. 44. But wait, there’s more…• Recordings of the New York Composers’ Forum concerts, from ca. 1951 through the late 1970’s• These continue the Composers’ Forum concerts begun under the WPA Federal Music Project in the 1930s, by Ashley Pettis, which went on hiatus during WWII, but was revived by Columbia and the NYPL in ca. 1947
  45. 45. Composers’ Forum concerts (1951 – ca. 1975)• One interesting feature, present in the original series, is the inclusion of question and answer sessions with the featured composers• Virgil Thomson served as moderator for several of these• NYPL has program notes for many of the concerts …• … but I believe Columbia has the only copies of the original reels
  46. 46. Composers’ Forum concerts (1951 – ca. 1975)• Several of the works preserved are not found in WorldCat, including for example works by under-represented female composers of that period, such as Julia Perry and Marion Bauer• Here’s an excerpt from Marion Bauer’s “4 Moods for piano”
  47. 47. Here’s one example of a reel, which contains a discussion by composers Luigi Dallapiccola and Chou Wen Chung, from 1957
  48. 48. Composers’ Forum concerts• Some audio examples:• Composer Ilhan Usmanbash and moderator Virgil Thomson
  49. 49. Composers’ Forum concerts• Some audio examples:• Richard Maxfield, “Piano Concert for David Tudor”
  50. 50. Composers’ Forum concerts• Some audio examples:• Richard Maxfield, “Piano Concert for David Tudor” – Discussion period (Jack Beeson, moderator)
  51. 51. Composers’ Forum concerts• Some audio examples:• Joan Tower, “Opa Eboni”
  52. 52. Composers’ Forum concerts• Some audio examples:• Joan Tower, “Opa Eboni” – Discussion period – Harvey Sollberger, moderator
  53. 53. Composers’ Forum concerts• Composers Forum content identified as a finite area, on which to start preservation (funding + practical constraints)• 30 concert dates initially selected for digitization• Grants from ARSC and NY State
  54. 54. Composers’ Forum concerts• Phase I: 30 concerts digitized (by George Blood Audio)• Cataloged and made available in our OPAC (CLIO)• Full-quality audio files installed on 5 local workstations in Music & Arts Library
  55. 55. Composers’ Forum concerts• Phase II: remainder of concerts digitized• awaiting cataloging• we continue to look for a streaming solution• barriers are internal tech issues and resources• researchers already using materials
  56. 56. What’s happening with the archives?• Storage in the poorly controlled environment has taken its toll• The collection has now been deeded to the Libraries• Physical transfer to Offsite storage• Preservation and re-formatting urgently needed• Grants to pay for this all (Grammy? Other?)• Continue to seek streaming access (but very likely limited to Columbia)
  57. 57. Summary The archives of the Center is an important collection of materials which provide insight into the development of tape, electronic, and computer music in the United States and internationally; it documents the work of severalimportant composers, and contains many unique original recordings, including the New York Composers’ Forum concerts from ca. 1951-late 1970’s
  58. 58. Summary The Composers’ Forum recordings featurequestion & answer sessions with the composers, some moderated by Virgil Thomson and other noted composers. Some of the performers are also notable. Even with very limited access and lack of arrangement, this collection has already been visited by researchers, and improved access and preservation would no doubt attract the interest of future researchers.
  59. 59. Thank You!Questions? Nick PattersonColumbia University