CD 4 - Sonic Dreams: Folk Music For The Millennium
Part 3: The CDs
Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies
Ronald A. Pellegrino

Please note that as of 10/25/10 this and the other 7 CD pages on my site will include one sound sample and its associated program note, all the track titles for the particular CD, and an excerpt from the essay associated with the CD desciption found in my latest book, Realizing Electronic Dreams: A Composer's Notes and Themes. The new book includes complete essays for each CD plus detailed program notes for every track on every CD as well as numerous related photographs and illustrations.

If you do not have a good quality satellite sound system connected to the audio output of your computer, as the composer I would prefer that you NOT download the sound samples associated with each of my tracks. My pieces are like my spirit children and I don't want them to be treated badly by inadequate transducers. It's already bad enough that the sound samples are compressed versions (a current internet requirement) of what you would hear from the CDs which are in themselves digitized (distorted) versions of the analog sounds as I heard them originally. To navigate those shoals I test and adjust all my sound samples on 7 different audio systems and 3 different computers in my personal studios and scores of both systems out in the world. In a nutshell, what I've found is that all built-in computer sound systems STINK and should never be used for music. If you are more than half-serious about music, connect at least a good audio system to your computer. The better the audio system, the richer and deeper your musical experience, and the closer to hearing the music as the composer did.

Furthermore, please remember that the sound samples are just samples--not highlights, not the pieces, just out of context highly compressed excerpts that hang together in ways that give a sense of what one might expect to hear from various tracks. It's important to get beyond confusing the samples for the pieces. If you are at all interested in the quality of music, listening to a CD via a good audio system gets your ears reasonably close to the original music. In any case, avoid settling for dumbed down audio. The difference between even a decent satellite audio system hanging on the end of a computer and what you would hear from good standalone audio system is like the difference between night and day. Often I hear from young people who've grown up with buds in the ears that they doubt they could hear the difference between mediocre and good audio. My response to them is that now is a good time to educate your ear so you can have a lifelong deeper appreciation of the power and beauty of sound to affect your soul. Much is lost when music is considered no more than a commodity to be squeezed into smaller and smaller storage spaces. Go for the systems that can handle bigger files; they tell better stories.


CD 4 - Sonic Dreams:
Folk Music For The Millennium

Excerpt from associated essay, Gifts From The Dream World

"One of many gifts from the dream world is its function as a portal to what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious, the realm where, in archetypal forms, all that ever was experienced and all that might ever be experienced reside and connect in spirit and idea. In archetypal terms and forms, the collective unconscious is a world where we, via dreaming, can explore and tap into the complete past and at least the near future of human thought and feeling. It makes sense to include the near future because in large part it's the result of the past acting through the present. Being sensitive to and being able to steer the potential inherent in those time streams is what separates the artist from the academic; the artist being prescient and the academic, derivative. Real time composition, at the root of every track on this CD, is by its nature an exercise in prescience...

...Playing with sound for my own amusement has often served as a springboard for pieces that were never intended; it's more like the pieces gradually suggested themselves as I was playing with their materials. The process is closely related to my experience of petting animals who position themselves in ways that suggest where and how they would like to be petted thus creating petting sessions that lead to variations and developments along with their attendant openings, transitions, and closings (musical terms all composers know well as do cats and dogs, our favorite petting targets). The pleasure is always the greatest when their petting suggestions lead us to harmonious places; so experience dictates that harmony always becomes an object (with more or less weight) in the play. Harmonious play is the common ground for music, performance art, and petting your favorite creatures.

Playing the "what if" game is also a good technique for discovering compositional playgrounds. All it takes is being open to suggestions offered by materials with strong inclinations as to how they might prefer being shaped. For example, "what if" I put myself as a composer in the middle of a huge glass harmonica and with it sculpt sounds that carry the psychological power of audio feedback (for good reason there's natural fear of positive feedback loops—left ungoverned, they will explode)? (Hear Track 5, alphaGlasssongs.) "What if" I were to compose music for the dance of mating whales? (Track 9, Loving Leviathans.) "What if" l were able to design and play in real time a string orchestra? (Track 10, alphaSunset.) "What if" I were able to translate faithfully the melodies and chord changes of songs from the Great American Songbook such as Fascinating Rhythm and Stella By Starlight and come up with pieces that sound neither derivative nor jazz-like but spring more from the notion of "seed and bloom" rather than "theme and variation? (Track 2, FascinBloom and Track 6, StellaBloom.) "What if" I could design a system that when I played it would give me the feeling of conducting a Balinese Gamelan. (Track 7, alphaSpring.) "What if" I could discover swirling liquid sounds that could become more or less viscous according to how I initiated them and what context I gave them? (Track 14, Cymatics Sails Again.) "What if" I put together a band of students and faculty that opens my Lubbock, Texas experimental music shows and plays only in the real time mode? (Track 12, Lubbock's Dorian Rain.)

One might ask, what if the "what if" game doesn't lead to much of value? So what? Who realistically expects to find gold in every pan? I like to think of the "what if" game as similar to planting and caring for a fruit tree which may take a number of seasons to bear fruit. The true benefit of playing the "what if" game comes from exercising one's creative urge in ways that integrate it with the fabric of one's life so that the urge involves an always available team player that encourages one to engage life as infinite potential rather than just a long stream of mechanically determined events.

Any composer who enjoys playing the "what if" game will likely create a huge collection of pieces, not all of which bear repetition especially in public. As personal study pieces for self examination most of them will probably have some value, but the issue of concert appropriateness (I organize my CDs and DVDs as concerts) is another matter entirely. My solution to that problem is that 1) as soon as I'm no longer moved by a piece or 2) with subsequent hearings I don't discover anything new in it, I just throw it out. So I first test it on myself, and then normally the following tests are on visitors to my studios. If a piece passes those tests I'll give it field tests by programming it on public concerts. If it works in one of my concert contexts, it'll become part of the concert rotation. Even if it's part of the concert rotation but eventually fails tests 1) and 2), out it goes to make room for another piece because, for dreamers, there's no such thing as writer's block—the collective unconscious is infinite in its potential and always welcomes dreamers…"

Track Titles for CD 4 - Sonic Dreams: Folk Music For The Millennium
plus program note and sound sample for Track 14

Track 1 - Opening (1984)
Track 2 - FascinBloom (1990)
Track 3 - alphaPoints (1985)
Track 4 - Crossing (1984)
Track 5 - alphaGlasssongs (1983)
Track 6 - StellaBloom (1990)
Track 7 - alphaSpring (1984)
Track 8 - Sonoma Summer (1982)
Track 9 - Loving Leviathans (1988)
Track 10 - alphaSunset (1984)
Track 11 - Closing (1984)
Track 12 - Lubbock's Dorian Rain (1981)
Track 13 - Wavesong (1982)

Track 14 - Cymatics Sails Again (1982) was composed in the summer of 1982 (still in the pre-MIDI era) with an analog ARP 2600 keyboard synthesizer as the main controller. It was one of set of related pieces based on my performance systems that had evolved to be conceptually similar to Indian ragas—collections of musical materials such as melodies, rhythms, scales, inflections, ornaments, etc. that are used compositionally according to time, place, and feeling.

I developed these materials over the years so I could call them up at will during live performances as well as for the shear pleasure of engaging in the process. The process flowered in 1973 when I configured a personal portable synthesizer system for live performances on the road. From 1967 to 1973 I had always used synthesizers from shared institutional facilities; those were facilities I designed with students, classes, and other faculty in mind. Once I configured a personal system my approach to making music was freed up considerably because my personal system had only to serve my musical needs and not those of others as well. Actually living with the synthesizers also meant I could design instruments (performance systems) from a completely personal perspective; plus I could hone those designs over a long period of time to be idiomatically in tune with whatever my perspective and state of mind were at the time.

So, for nine years leading up to 1982 I'd been sculpting sets of personal performance systems for play in my studios and in my live performances. The summer of 1982 felt like the first truly free summer of my then 42 year old life and I celebrated that freedom with many hours of playing and recording in a newly configured dream studio that was graced with antique French windows looking out on my fruit trees and vegetable garden, the products of another of my passions. It's easy to hear in the music that feeling of the celebration of freedom.

When I started working with synthesizers in 1967 I very quickly began to think of them as wave instruments because fundamentally that's exactly what they are—instruments for generating, processing, shaping, and mixing electrical waves that can be transduced to sound and/or light or actual material forms. One of the drivers for this piece was my penchant for finding swirling liquid sounds that could become more or less viscous according to how I initiated them and what context I gave them.

It was in 1975 when I was introduced to Swiss physicist Hans Jenny's photographs in his seminal books on Cymatics that I first saw sound actually driving and giving form to viscous matter. When I studied the videotapes of his work I understood even more deeply the viscous nature of sound itself. Schooled Western musicians are programmed to think of musical sounds as being, for the most part, precisely fixed frequencies (such as those of keyboard instruments) and characteristic timbres. Yes it's true that we use ornaments, vibrato, portamento, and other fluctuations of and between frequencies but according to most theorists those devices are more color than essence. In fact the essence of sound is the mix of the envelopes of frequency, amplitude, and spectra over time and the power of that mix to communicate all manner of information and influence. Once the seeds of Cymatics were planted in my mind, the outcome was a special affinity for viscous sounds and the powerful effects they had on feeling.

The term cymatics is derived from the Greek word kyma which means wave. The field of cymatics is the study of the structure and dynamics of waves and vibrations, the fundamental materials of music and of all life forms. Complex sets of interacting waves create what are known as dynamical systems. Scientists and mathematicians often use the expression dynamical system to refer to weather systems but it's just as appropriate for certain kinds of music and animated imagery. In fact, many of my instrument designs for both sound and light are modeled on the processes characteristic of dynamical systems. In my 20s and 30s I spent many hours sailing (mainly playing with the wind) as well as tossing a Frisbee into the wind so it would boomerang back to me (more wind play)—thus the title, Cymatics Sails Again. Sound Surfing works too but that might be a bit too California for some even though that's a good description of the musical process. Sound sample.

Track 15 - Rocking Duck Blue (1989)

To view selected sections of Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies, Part 1: The Book, click on one of the following:
Chapter 1, Emergent Music
Chapter 15, Visual Music Flavors

Information on Part 2: The DVDs.

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