The Electronic Arts of Sound and Light by Ronald Pellegrino (c) 1983 by Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc. ISBN 0-442-26499-2 excerpts


p. ix - Prologue

Ephemeral Forms: Mother Musing's Flight Patterns is the title of a long series of music and performance events produced by the author and associates under the banner of The Real* Electric Symphony. Since 1973 the majority of the events have been produced in the San Francisco Bay Area; others have been presented throughout the USA, in Rio de Janeiro, and on tour in Europe during 1977 for international festivals in Munich and Bourges and a series in Paris.

The Real* Electric Symphony (R*ES) is a changing international group of composer/performers concerned with the integration of sound, light, movement, and environmental design. The range of instrumentation includes: wave synthesizers of sound, video, and lasers; traditional and recently invented acoustic instruments; microcomputers; film, slide, video, and laser projection systems; light sculptures; dancers and theatrical elements. The composer/performers range in age from 18 to 83 years and represent the gamut of professional artistic and academic career evolution.

The artists in the R*ES are involved in an art and social process called "real-time composition." The process calls for specially designed and always different composition/performance formats based on the nature of the performance space and the number and specialties of the participants. In designing events, great care is taken to elicit and support each artist's particular perspective so that every event is unique and has a far-ranging and kaleidoscopic character. The R*ES performs in museums, colleges, community art centers, artist's studios, concert halls, outdoor plazas, and on radio and television. One of their primary concerns is to make their work available to the general public in as many forms as possible.

p. xii -Prologue

Imagine discovering an instrument that is modeled on the flow of life; that can serve as a direct extension, radiator, and articulator of a composer's view; that embodies the collected thoughts of visionaries in the science and the arts; that invites the composer to enter into a circuit with activity and meditation; that beams energy to the composer's center, which transforms and reflects it into unique and ephemeral forms analogous to that center's perspective, biases, inclinations, and tendencies. Imagine that instrument. It is an electronic wave instrument, a synthesizer by whatever name it is called -- Sal-Mar, Buchla, Synthi, Pinzarrone, Beck, Moog, Sekon, Tcherepnin -- they all produce electric waves that offer a synthesis of perspectives, a virtual history of science and art to the real-time composer/performer who needs to continue the song and dance.

Chapter 1, A Brief History

p. 4 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

In contrast to acoustic instruments, electronic instruments, when not required to simulate acoustic instruments, have relatively few historical liabilities but many benefits, all the benefits of an unknown but certainly large number of centuries in which humanity has expressed its feelings and conceptions in terms of a language composed of the most significant and expressive sound forms of its age. Electronic instruments speak the language of the twentieth century, the language of efficient multidimensional energy transfer systems for the communication of ideas. Instantaneous feedback, global networks, integration, systems design, interactive waveform transformations, synergy, and intelligent machines are all facets of the space-age language for extending the range of human capabilities in every imaginable direction and in some directions beyond imagination.

pp. 10, 11 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

... Important principles explored during the early twentieth century remain with us today -- the distribution of structural weight through many compositional elements, asymmetrical and aperiodic forms, the expansion of dissonance, continuous variation, and vertical structures that result entirely from two or more horizontal structures and their simultaneities.

p. 14 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

At the end of the 1950s inquisitive composers seeking instruction and access to electronic equipment in North America had very few choices...In a matter of a few years composers began banding together in collectives to pool technical, conceptual, equipment, and performance resources. Because access to tools was limited, identifiable schools of electronic music developed around the various centers of activity. The aesthetic positions of the schools reflected geographic idiosyncrasies, the nature and extent of institutional support, and the personal predilections of the individuals involved.

Early in the 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area, synergic connections among composers Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Robert Erickson, and Ramon Sender resulted in the San Francisco Tape Music Center. The presence in that group of electronics designer Donald Buchla served as a catalytic agent for the emergence of one of the first electronic music synthesizers that was inexpensive, relatively portable, and, most important, designed with the musician in mind....

The synthesizers built by Buchla and Moog had a number of characteristics in common. They were designed to work according to the principles of electronic waveform transformations related to the analogous dynamic states of sound waves; they were designed primarily for the composition and performance of music; and they were designed to be foolproof so as to encourage musicians entirely without experience in electronics to explore the synthesizer's potential without the need for a technical assistant (a necessity in the European radio studio and most other classical studios where some instruments were electrically incompatible simply because they were not originally designed to work with each other.)

The advent of the synthesizer signaled an acceleration in the evolutionary spiral of electronic music and the electronic arts in general. After more than a half century of prophetic utterances by composers such as Schoenberg, Varese, Busoni, Cage, and others, a powerful new artistic tool was made available to whomever was willing to explore its potential and realize its implications. Buchla, Moog, and their associates broke the ground, fertilized the soil, and planted the seeds for the new breed of artist/engineer that is an integral part of the present electronics/space-age art and music scene.

p. 15 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

... The group phenomenon glorified the fruits of collaboration, positive feedback, synergy, real-time composition, transparency, spontaneity, celebration of the moment, formative flux, social interaction, meditation, ritualistic gestures, coincidence, ecstasy, and freedom from convention.

p. 19 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

Multimedia, intermedia, or mixed media performances occurred with increasing frequency from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Composers, engineers, performers, choreographers, filmmakers, theatrical people, and light artists collaborated to produce colorful and exciting public events. The collaborations resulted in perspective exchanges, cross-fertilizations that inspired artists of a particular specialty to explore related fields, and, in some cases, to attempt to integrate essential aspects of those fields into higher-level art and sound forms.

Emerging from the San Francisco Bay Area scene early in the 1960s, USCO "the Us Company", presented multimedia environments across the United States in galleries, churches, schools, museums, and public spaces. USCO mixed films, tapes, acoustic sound, slides, and other light forms in events exploiting the overwhelming effects of sensory overload, an aesthetic posture in step with the accelerating use of drugs.

USCO regarded electronic technology as a means of assembling people in a global network, a sophisticated extended tribe. Their ideal was to live, work, and create together in a communal framework. By the mid-1960s USCO had moved to Garnersville, New York where they set up a permanent environment in an abandoned church. ...

p. 20 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

When Cross, Tudor, and physicist/sculptor Carson Jeffries joined forces in the San Francisco Bay Area to develop a laser display instrument for EAT, the most advanced x-y large-scale image projection system began taking form. EAT had been commissioned by Pepsi-Cola to provide the system for its pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka as one facet of an art and technology environment. Cross, Tudor, and Jeffries collected electronic and electro-optical instruments from manufacturers, had some equipment made to their specifications, designed and constructed the mounting for the laser and associated equipment, and built the electronic control panels themselves.

Their projection system for Expo '70 included a krypton-ion laser, which generated an essentially white light beam that could be color tuned by a wave-length selector or split by a prism into numerous colored beams. ...

p. 22 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

There were a small number of mavericks who kept the electronic music design scene alive and well in the underground and who occasionally erupted through the solidifying commercial surface with brilliant innovations. Donald Buchla of Berkeley, California methodically probed the imaginations of some of the finest composer/performers in the field. Buchla's instruments incorporate extremely elegant technical solutions to the compositional problems articulated by his associates. Buchla's instruments also represented the highest level of functional density available in commercial electronic music systems.

From the mid-1970s onwards Scott Wedge of E-mu Systems in Santa Clara, California was instrumental in designing and constructing a small number of large studio electronic music systems that were characterized not only by high functional density but by extremely efficient combinations of functions. ...

p. 38 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

... The function of the oscillator is to generate a variety of stable waveforms to serve as the raw material, the proteins of the electronic art's symbolic life forms. Life forms are by nature in a constant state of flux, interacting with their environment through communication chains that range from short and simple to long and complex. The signs of life grow out of the principles of change, variation, modulation, inflection, transformation, and non periodicity; the design of the synthesizer lays the foundation for the embodiment of those principles by providing interfaces that function as flexible, variable, and communicative control channels and by providing generators of non periodic signals.

Interfaces make available connections between the synthesizer and the composer/performer; by way of those connections one is able to modify waveform variables to create significant sound and light forms. As with any instrument in the arts, the nature and expressive power of those modifications depend upon the technical facility and the rapport with mind/feeling/hand/instrument/ear/eye that one discovers and cultivates. ...

pp. 42, 43 - Chapter 1, A Brief History

The message of modern physics is that everything is in motion at the microstructural level. Objects are viewed as interacting events and process, sets of dynamic relationships that create forms of an ephemeral nature. Formative flux is the essential nature of the effects of vibration. All that is knowable is created and sustained by waves and their interactions. Even with the most responsive machines and the most accurate measuring instruments, it is not possible to control and predict the subtler behavioral levels of complex dynamic vibratory systems. Complex wave phenomena defy definition. The effect of definition would be to disconnect the integrative forces that produce the closely knit unified structure recognized as living form. Electronic instruments in the arts represent the most advanced available tools for experiencing and exploring the edifying nature of waves.

Magnificent tools for exploring vibrational phenomena through empirical and systematic research are the electronic wave instruments in their multifarious forms -- electronic music synthesizers, oscilloscopes, video processors, X-Y laser scanning systems, computers, and emerging technology on the horizon. The power of these tools lies in their capabilities to amplify the wave processes and to make them visible and audible. They are accurate, flexible, and responsive over a wide range of wave variables. They can be easily coupled to provide simultaneous aural and visual feedback. Vibrational modes that cannot be calculated or can only be approximately calculated can be made accessible to direct experience and observation by these instruments. Numerous types of controllers and interfaces provide the means for exploring uncharted expressive fields.

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