CD 6 - University Playgrounds
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 6 - University Playgrounds

Excerpt from associated essay, University Playgrounds

"The Western world in the modern day continues to make monumental human and financial investments in universities of all sorts and sizes. Universities are where our culture focuses our resources for current visions of higher education. Philosophically what all those universities have in common is their dedication to both programmed and free play—physical play, mental play, and spiritual play. Despite the pressure from administrative and faculty bureaucrats and technocrats to conform to the established standards (which tend to be fixed and mediocre) there are always untethered souls who intuitively understand the higher purposes of the university and still possess the child's sense of wonder, joy, and play at whatever opens windows to light and fresh air. The freedom lovers understand that their roles are to keep that aesthetic position alive and flourishing in the face of ever greater pressure to turn the university into a collection of technical schools that caters only to big businesses and the cogs it requires for its maintenance and growth.

Attending a university continues to be a special privilege at a special time in life—typically during the full bloom of youth. It's a special privilege because of what all the investments taken together have wrought—the grounds, the buildings, the general and special purpose spaces, the resources, and the people who bring it all to life including one's peers as well as the employed faculty and staff. People attend universities with the expectation that they will have opportunities to participate in once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This is especially true of anything connected with the arts, particularly the experimental arts.

Even though dyed-in-the-wool academics would assume a quizzical look when in response to their question about the nature my academic activities I would tell them that one of my "specialities" was an experimental approach to emerging technology in the arts, I easily made a career in that field by exercising the operative word in the expression “academic freedom”, that word being freedom. Just as in the real world, the experimental arts in the academic world is a fringe game with never ending tests of the resolve of the experimental artist…"

CD 6 - University Playgrounds
Track Titles plus program note and sound sample for Track 7

Track 1. University of California, Berkeley. Ephemeral Forms: Mother Musings's Flight Patterns (1976)
Track 2. Texas Tech University. Bellows (1980)
Track 3. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Phoenix Rising (1973)
Track 4. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Milwaukee River (1967)
Track 5. The Ohio State University. Mutatis Mutandis (1970)
Track 6. Miami University. Metabiosis VI (1977)

Track 7 - Oberlin College (1974). Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags was a day-long real time composition event in Finney Chapel on the Oberlin College campus; it functioned as the culmination of my first semester electronic music composition class at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. There are number of facets to this project. In one sense this is music emerging from an experimental social system (a social algorithm) in which any person could be performing with any other person or combinations of people in duets, trios, quartets, quintets, or sextets according to the throw of a die. The synthesizers and instrument designs were also selected by the throw of a die.

In preparation for the event the composers were asked to design instruments (patches or circuits) for every synthesizer in the main electronic music studio with the intent of performing them in a real time event at the end of the semester. Throughout the semester we spent our meetings discussing the principles of instrument design, listening to and analyzing the playing of individuals, and exploring random combinations of performers and instruments as rehearsals for the final event. Great care was taken to avoid any filtering by style or personal voice. The Oberlin music community has a phenomenal history of music performances; that statement is true in all musical styles, bar none. At Oberlin the performance standards are exceptionally high even for non-Conservatory students. The average age of this particular group of performers was less than 20 but, as you can hear from the humor and creative twists, their musicianship was already at a high professional level. Two of this group were selected to be integral players in The Real* Electric Symphony—James Gillerman in San Francisco Bay Area gigs and Frankie Mann on tour in Europe.

For the event we constructed a performance platform in the middle of Finney Chapel. On that platform we integrated and arranged in a circle looking inward (for improved visual communication) all the instruments from Oberlin's Electronic Music Studios (see a photo of Oberlin's main Electronic Music Studio in 1973 on page 35). We also set up a double quadraphonic speaker system, one just beyond the circle of synthesizers on the platform and the other in the corners of the chapel.

College professors and public school music teachers and their students from a 50 mile radius drifted in an out of the event all day long. WOBC, the Oberlin College and community FM radio station, broadcast the event. In the late afternoon, as I took a walk through the village of Oberlin, I heard the WOBC broadcast of Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags coming out of open windows of houses along the way; that got the smiles rolling. After the event, as I was walking back to the Conservatory to supervise the rebuilding of the studios, someone from the WOBC staff called out to stop me so he could pass along a tape recording of the last half hour of the event. This track is an excerpt from that gift recording.

What happened from moment to moment in Kaleidoscopic Electric Rags was stochastically driven; in other words it was a combination of a deck of cards and dice driving the decision making on which synthesizer would be active (large studio Moog, Buchla Box of 200 Series modules, ARP 2600, either of two Synthi AKS synths, the mixing board), plus which individuals would be active performers, and finally what of their prepared materials would be heard in performance. Even the performers' materials themselves were stochastic in nature (the instrument designs/synthesizer patches).
As a guiding principle for the day's event I asked the musicians to bear uppermost in mind that this performance was to be, in the domain of experimental music, a display of musical intelligence based on our months of preparation. What you hear in this 28 minute excerpt is taken from the end of a 7 hour day of fairly serious performance work when the players were more than likely half punch drunk from the efforts of a long day. Everyone, whether or not they were actively playing, gathered in Finney Chapel for the end of performance; the audience had thinned considerably given it was close to dinner time on campus.

Early on during the event someone (could it have been a sophomore?) introduced the little "ebird/donkey" motive and quickly it became the day's inside joke as well as an integral musical element in the structure of the performance. Remember that this event happened in the milieu of the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music where classical theory and analysis is one of the pillars of the program for all music students. More-over, music Conservatories everywhere expect that every classically programmed composer, inclined toward the fringe or not, will be steeped in motivic exposition and development.

Thankfully there were players involved who had the good musical sense to develop the acoustic space to surround and support the motivic crazies. They supported those motive-obsessed by stringing out bass lines, trailing pads, growling their disapproval of their colleagues musical positions, spinning out purely electric threads, offering up the occasional insistent pulsings, carrying on midrange melodic and/or dramatic conversations, airing some call and response exchanges, tossing out earfuls of assorted rips and zippers, commenting on the proceedings with musical moans and groans, and sailing around freely over the top of those working the background and the middle-ground.

This excerpt is an illustration of high level conversational music. Near the end of the excerpt my vocal mock of the ebird/donkey motive was good only for a quick laugh that was followed by a musical mockback before the classicists returned to work mining the motive. That a punctuation mark, a final statement of the motive, triggered even more laughs at the end of a 7 hour performance is a testament to both the literal and symbolic power of music and to musicians capable of tuning into that power. Simply put: it was good clean fun and a rare learning opportunity to boot. Sound sample.

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

Information on Part 2: The DVDs.

Click Here to buy this CD or other parts of Pellegrino's projects.

Home for links to other projects.

©1996-2010 Ron Pellegrino and Electronic Arts Productions. All rights reserved.