Institute for Studies In American Music
Inside This Issue:
Inside This Issue
Women in Electronic Music
CD review by
Photo by Joel Chadabe
New World Records has begun to fulfill its promise to re-release the entire Composers Recordings (CRI) catalogue with the production of CD reissues of earlier phonograph recordings. Notable in the group is New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media: Women in Electronic Music – 1977 (New World Records 80653-2), first issued on Thomas Buckner’s 1750 Arch label. The original release featured Charles Amirkhanian’s selections of electro-acoustic works by seven women who were, or would become, prominent composers of their day. Although the 1977 album title did not refer to gender, the project sought to raise the visibility of women in classical music. The composers selected were Johanna M. Beyer, Annea Lockwood, Pauline Oliveros, Laurie Spiegel, Megan Roberts, Ruth Anderson, and the soon-to-be well-known Laurie Anderson.
As with many technological developments from the beginning of the twentieth century that came to fruition after World War II, the ideas of early electro-acoustic composers outpaced the readily available technology. For example, Johanna M. Beyer’s 1939 Music of the Spheres, which opens the CD, allowed violins to be substituted for the three electronic instruments specified in her original score. The first performance of Music of the Spheres as conceived by Beyer was produced and recorded in 1977 specifically for this album. After a lion’s roar and triangle duet opening, the piece unfolds with one of the electronic instruments performing an ostinato figure that gradually accelerates and then decelerates while the other two electronic instruments present a two-voice contrapuntal melody, punctuated throughout by occasional triangle attacks.
The repetitive motorized sounds that open Annea Lockwood’s World Rhythms are jolting after the serenity of Beyer’s work. A composition exploring the polyrhythms of nature, a series of initial water sounds precedes an overlapping succession of recordings of pulsars, earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, rivers, peepers, fire, storms, waves, and breathing. Recordings of nature and the shared journey are important elements in Lockwood’s work, and would be displayed again on a larger scale in her well-known A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982) and the recently completed epic A Sound Map of the Danube.
Butterfly opens with a primary texture of electronic combination tones
processed through tape delay feedback loops.
Halfway through, a recording of Madame Butterfly is introduced and
processed in a similar fashion (a precursor to the digital sampling and
looping we take for granted in music today).
Oliveros explained that she simply wanted to include an LP recording
in her new composition, and her choice of the Madame Butterfly disc was completely random. This chance selection, however, can also be
heard as a metaphorical goodbye to Pauline Oliveros, the orchestral French
horn player from
Appalachian Grove I, inspired by mountain fiddle music, is an up-tempo, computer-generated composition by the highly inventive and under-recognized composer Laurie Spiegel. Produced at Bell Labs in 1974 using Max Mathews’s GROOVE programming system, Spiegel says the piece was “composed in reaction to an overdose of heavy, sad, introspective contemporary music.” Spiegel’s simple computer-generated timbres result in the discrete, fast-moving dots of sound that dominate the composition. The pointillistic opening leads to a passage of sustained sounds that then return to the initial texture. A broader selection of Spiegel’s musical experiments from this period can be heard on her EMF recording Obsolete Systems.
The two Laurie
Anderson pieces that close the CD, New
York Social Life and Time to Go,
gave the world its first exposure to the experimental composer/performance
artist who would soon achieve mainstream success with the rise of Oh, Superman on the British pop
charts. New York Social Life follows
With this release, New World Records is proving a worthy caretaker of the extensive and historically important CRI catalogue while continuing its mission to anthologize American contemporary music.
Copyright © 2005 Institute for Studies in
American Music, Conservatory of Music,