Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies
Part One: The Book
by Ronald A. Pellegrino



As I write the final section of this book, it feels like I´m composing a Thanksgiving prayer. Writing this is a wonderful ego-busting exercise because it helps one to realize that there's a world of people, institutions, events, and environments living in you and through you. Some demons too. Modern molecular biology tells us that long-term memory is maintained through special self-perpetuating proteins; these special proteins are located at synaptic terminals newly grown when produced by sensations that are repeated, shocking or inspirational. What that means is that all we remember is actually a material translation of our significant experiences, whatever their causes, and that we literally carry them - the experiences via the proteins - with us throughout our lives. And it's not like they're dead weight; they're living at our synaptic terminals which means they occupy key positions not only in our brains but also where the associated sensory and motor neurons communicate.

Many of those proteins are programs barking out marching orders. In fact, those programs are competing proteins battling each other for supremacy over influencing us in how we conduct our lives. Thus the notion of demons is not just a metaphor - they truly are our constant companions in the form of undesirable programs folded into self-perpetuating proteins in long-term residence at our most critical neural junctions. The upshot is that there's a boisterous crowd living in every one of us. Living freely as an I is neither easy nor simple because every member of the onboard mob behaves as if its destiny is to take the lead and show us the one true way. So if much of our lives must be consumed by dancing with and around our battling programs, the best we can do is to focus on those that influence us in ways the we and our fellow six-and-half billion travelers find more, rather than less desirable. Let the good influences reign and roll.

My greatest debt is to my father, called Aurelio as a child in Italy and then Ernest after he left Ellis Island on his way to the American Midwest as 12 year old immigrant. I knew him as a family man working two jobs to provide for a family of six children and a live-in mother-in-law. I expect my love of realtime is directly connected with certain admonitions delivered by him when we were together in his car as he ferried me to music rehearsals or athletic practices on his way to his second job. From my preteen years on through high school I was told by him many times in many ways that it was important to figure out how to design a life that avoided the obligation of "punching a time-clock." Sometimes I think I was so thoroughly programmed along those lines that some of my DNA switches were flipped to and locked down to the free mode. I have no regret, only gratitude for those talks, especially because I was fortunate enough to be born in the land of the free. Eventually I came to interpret "time-clock" as a metaphor for any system, social or mechanical, not of my own free choice. Exercising that freedom of choice eventually became my main form of being, always of course in harmony with the prevailing conditions which, fortunately, most often are also subject to choice.

I´m indebted to my parents for encouraging my musical impulses from my earliest years. My memories take me back to my time in the crib when I was hearing arias from Italian operas coming out of our Victrola in the living room. So it's no surprise that my musical tendencies emphasize melodies. While still in Italy my mother´s father made his living by composing, conducting, and playing the trumpet in various opera houses around Italy. Consequently my mother, Nella, grew up enveloped by those arias floating in her air and they followed her into our home. During the early 1940s the sounds of arias coming off 78s often filled our family space, with the voice of Enrico Caruso, one of my mother´s favorites, dominating the air waves.

I´m indebted to the musicians and the institutions supportive of music in my birthplace, Kenosha, Wisconsin, a small industrial town (during my years there) on Lake Michigan midway between Chicago and Milwaukee. In my youth it was populated by many immigrants from Italy, Germany, Russia, and Poland and among them were musicians who played on the local scene. Art Peck, first chair clarinetist with the Kenosha Civic Band, sold my parents a very old tarnished metal clarinet for my use, an instrument that I personally found was particularly good at squeaking, That's the instrument that got me started when I was nine years old and I'm forever grateful to Mr. Peck for passing it along to me and also giving me my first music lesson one memorable evening in our kitchen on 54th Street. Not so long afterwards I managed to get a "first" clarinet - at least that's what I told Mr. Dolittle, my grade school's music teacher, because my new clarinet was actually made of wood!

A few years later I had the privilege of sitting behind Mr. Peck in the Civic Band after my brother Ernie Jr., a trumpeter, and I were invited to join the band when we were still in our early teens (our private teacher, Frank Nicolai, conducted the band). The first rehearsal provided spine-tingling thrills I'll never forget. There we were, a couple of kids in a band otherwise entirely populated by adults who were adept at playing transcriptions of European orchestra and opera music as well as marches from all the greats, including Sousa and his cohorts That was a band that, during the summer months, with one hour of rehearsal a week would present several weekly concerts of an hour-and-a-half - my capacity for sight-reading was, by necessity, greatly enhanced during my years with that band.

Kenosha was also blessed with a very active Catholic Youth Organization band; we presented concerts and marched in parades in all the major cities of the Midwest including Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. During the 1950s the Mary D. Bradford High School music scene was especially vibrant because of a then recently hired energetic citywide music supervisor, Ralph Houghton - we had concert and marching bands, an orchestra, choirs, and a stage band led by a senior student (I was fortunate enough to play that role). The stage band in those days played mostly big band swing arrangements by the greats from the 1940s and 1950s; it also organized variety shows that ran every spring for several nights. They were always major events attended by folks from every segment of the city.

During the 1950s the Kenosha educational system behaved as though it believed it was in the best interest of its students to explore as much of life as possible. So those of us who were musicians were actually encouraged, rather than discouraged as they are today, from being athletes. From the time I was in grade school there was no question that music was my field for life, but when I was in my youth I wanted to play football, basketball, and run track too. I was able to do that because Kenosha practiced the principles of a liberal arts education, even though they might not have called it that. It is currently our culture's great loss that music and art in early 21st century education have been curtailed and devalued; they have suffered enormously because modern educators have been programmed to turn our youngsters into performance and economic specialists from an early age in keeping with the materialistic tenor of the times.

During my youth in Kenosha I benefited greatly from a strong musician´s union, The American Federation of Musicians, that fostered the development of young musicians, including myself by connecting me with paying gigs both as a sideman with other bands and as a leader of my own bands. The union office was located just across the park from the high school so I often dropped in to chat with Frank Zabukovic, the friendly and helpful union agent who connected me with all manner of gigs from sophisticated touring acts to biker's bars across the Illinois state line where we played behind wire-mesh screens to avoid being bopped by flying bottles.

The union also went out of its way to connect young musicians with local adult musicians who were doing special things for the community. One of my favorite people was Manny Mitka, a drummer with considerable gigging experience in major Midwest cities, who set up music stores that functioned as magnets for Kenosha's young musicians. His various stores were always located downtown, so many of us would just drop in when we were near his store and hang out for a while. It was not uncommon to find Manny with one or another of his percussion students drumming out some clever complicated patterns while trading twos, fours, and eights with them. The people I hired for my gigging bands when I was in high school were mostly regulars at Manny Mitka's Music Store.

I would be derelict if I neglected to give due credit to the City of Kenosha and the County of Kenosha for their policy during the 1950s of giving summer day jobs to their young folks, especially during their college years. My jobs with them ranged from playground instructor to running a pneumatic hammer, patching holes and cracks in pavement, and driving a truck on a road crew; those accumulated paychecks went a long way toward covering college expenses. I was just one of many fortunate young people benefiting from those programs; it was a good time to be a kid in Kenosha.

I´m indebted to the Lawrence Conservatory of Music for my early years in formal composition studies with James Ming, a composer on their faculty who spent his summers attending the seminars of Nadia Boulanger in Paris; for four years of undergraduate scholarship support; and for their faculty´s encouragement to their students to engage in exploring the full range of musical expression. Ming´s approach to teaching composition was perfect for me; it allowed for considerable freedom to explore the content of my daydreams. There wasn´t a formal jazz program at that time but the Lawrence faculty and administration supported us jazzers by giving us access to all the available instruments and rehearsal/performance spaces. Lawrence University truly practiced the liberal arts approach to education and it was a perfect fit for someone like me who needed the time, environment, classical instruction, and guidance to make the transition from teenager to young adult. I'm deeply grateful for their patience.

I´m indebted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the opportunity to study with master musicians such as Rudolf Kolisch, student of Arnold Schoenberg; René Leibowitz, student of Ravel and Webern; and Robert Crane, student of Howard Hanson. The university rewarded my efforts with various fellowships including a Vilas Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Dissertation Year Fellowship which gave me the first year of freedom in my life, freedom to conduct electronic arts research, to compose, and to record those experiences in the form of a dissertation. That dissertation year set the tone for the rest of my life - do research in the electronic arts, compose, perform, and write.

I´m also indebted to Dr. Harold Luce, a musician whose administrative talents influenced me to take teaching positions at The Ohio State University and Texas Tech University when he chaired those music departments. Harold was unfailingly supportive of any project I presented to him; the list included building electronic arts facilities, publishing a book, traveling for research and events, breaking new ground in music education, and finding seed money for establishing programs to attract outside funding to support the presentation of leading national experimental music performers and composers in local workshops and concerts.

My years with the faculty of Oberlin College Conservatory of Music (1970-75) were ideal in so many ways. At that time, via the New Directions Concert Series, there was a perfectly paced flow of experimental music composers of from five to seven individuals a year visiting the campus. That program provided sufficient inspirational juice to keep everyone at a high energy level for the entire year. Add to that a large collection of highly intelligent, talented, and motivated faculty and students and the result was a pot that never stopped boiling.

During my time at Oberlin I directed the electronic music studios, a set of four spaces, with administrative support from department chair, to dean, to president of the college, that was a dream-come-true. Oberlin College supported a long research and performance tour I made in Europe to the centers of experimental music activity. It supported a number of trips to San Francisco to do video research at The National Center for Experiments in Television and Project Artaud, an artist's collective. It awarded me a generous research grant to produce the five films of my Lissajous Lives Film Series. Oberlin was wonderful, but it wasn't the San Francisco Bay Area, the only place I've ever found that feels like home to me - it could be that, to feel at home, my Italian genes insist on a combination of a vibrant experimental electronic arts scene, a rich multicultural setting, and, most of all, a Mediterranean climate.

The experiences upon which this book and the DVDs are based simply would not have occurred without the collaboration of numerous artists over the decades, and although all may not be listed here, with gratitude I count them all as my teachers. Every idea in this package required for its realization a society of experimental artists open to taking a fair degree of risk. Thus this package is not based on the work of just one person. By necessity the following lists are highly abbreviated and I extend my apologies to the hundreds of former collaborators not listed here. Composers/performers: Salvatore Martirano, Edwin London, Cynthia Fanning, Joan Tower, Joseph Koykkar, John Russell, Pauline Oliveros, Deb Fox, Frankie Mann, Jocy de Oliveira, Gordon Mumma, Herbert Brün, Olly Wilson, Jerry Hunt, James Gillerman, Joseph Celli, Will Johnson, and Charles Moselle. Filmmakers/video, photography, and light artists: Toby Raetze, Phill Niblock, Valrie Hildreth, Diane Kitchell, William Roarty, Willard Rosenquist, Brice Howard, and Robert Pacelli. Dancers/Choreographers: Dena Madole, Lynn Dally, Margaret Fisher, Margaret Jenkens, Brenda Way, and Jean Kerr. Clarinetists: Lawrence McDonald, Phil Rehfeldt, and David Breeden.

The connections I made with various corporations over the years were absolutely crucial to my research, composition, performance, and theoretical work in the electronic arts. Not much is possible in this field without access to special instruments as well as to exchanges with focused creative thinkers. When I was a new hire at Oberlin in 1970 working to flesh out their studios, Tektronix Inc. came across with one of their top oscilloscopes which became the instrument at the heart of my Lissajous Lives Film Series. A few years later General Scanning Inc. presented me with several sets of audio responsive galvanometers for xyz laser deflection, enough for one system to become a permanent part of the Oberlin studio peripherals and another that´s been serving me for the past 34 years. Around the same time, I worked with Buchla Associates on one of the early hybrid systems for audio synthesis, commissioned by California Institute of the Arts. Also during the same period (the mid 1970s) Everett Hafner of EMS of Amherst presented me with two Synthi AKS synthesizers to complete the design of the road system I used for many years.

During the late 1970s I had a consultant gig with Texas Instruments as they were making an effort to enter the microcomputer field. During the early 1980s I was a consultant to alphaSyntauri Inc. in exchange for one of their instruments that set the stage for the MIDI revolution in 1983. In the late 1980s, in exchange for equipment and a percentage of the gross, I contracted to work with Euphonics International Ltd on the design of a hardware/software system for integrating music and the visual arts via MIDI. In 1989 the Office of the Provost of the California State University system commissioned me to lead a week-long seminar for the CSU Music Department Chairs on the subject of teaching music theory with emerging digital tools for music visualization and synthesis. And in 1994 I was commissioned by the Marketing Department of Fair Isaac Inc., the company that has the final say on our personal creditworthiness, to design and implement one of the first corporate CD-ROM (DVD) facilities that incorporated all phases of production; instructing their staff in its use was also part of the charge. I always found working with the corporate world refreshingly efficient, probably because of their tendency to be extra focused on productivity. There are some good things to be said for the sort of discipline required when attending to the bottom line.

Finally, I'm indebted to various agencies of the United States Government. The National Endowment for the Humanities supported my early research in experimental film and video. The National Endowment for the Arts had a hand in supporting many of my performances over the years and played a crucial role in making one of my projects, The Leading Edge Music Series, happen during the late 1970s and early 1980s at Texas Tech University.

The U.S. State Department sponsored one of my groups, the Real* Electric Symphony, in a European concert tour that led to one of the most memorable times of my life - meeting Ivan Alexandrovich Wyschnegradsky, a Russian expatriate living in Paris, and having him play with us at one of our gigs there. Ivan, a mystic and student of Scriabin, was a bright, energetic 84 years old at the time. He invited several of us to lunch with him at his apartment in Paris where he demonstrated his quarter-tone piano and showed us, among other things, a beautiful book he wrote on the subject of visual music. All of us in the arts need to bow our heads to those inspirational artists who play to the very end, people like Ivan Wyschnegradsky, Rudolf Kolisch, and René Leibowitz. It was my good fortune, and that of many others, to benefit directly from their gifts.

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

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