Morton Subotnick is one of the great living composers. He has been heavily involved in electronic music since the 1960’s, and created some works which helped define the world of academic electronica. He also has been an innovator in works that involve eletronics and acoustic instruments, acoustic instruments manipulated electronicly, and other multimedia combinations. His work often explores the way physical gestures of the performer can be manipulated elecronically, and the influence that electronic processing has on a performance.
His most famous work is from the late 1960’s, Silver Apples of the Moon. This is an electronic tone poem created using the Buchla modular synthesizer. The work was extremely experimental for its day, and to this day sounds innovative. In it, Subotnick applies modular control signals to all sorts of parameters of the sound, sending sounds careening through the left/right listening field, changing the timbre, controlling the speed of pulses and the pitch of sounds. It’s an electronic tour de force.
Silver Apples was written for the medium of the record, and features two “sides”. It was commissioned by Nonesuch Records, a label that specialized in new music. It is said to be the first large-scale recording commissioned for record.
For the next few years, Subotnick wrote many pieces for record, including The Wild Bull, Touch, and Until Spring. These were all created using modular synthesis on Buchla synthesizers.
In the late 70’s and 80’s, Subotnick explored the combination of live performance and electronics with many works. Some of his better known works from this period include The Key to Songs, and Ascent into Air. In these works, Subotnick focuses on how the gestures of live performers can be used to control various aspects of sounds. He lets the motion of the performer change the position of sounds for example.
His more recent work has combined orchestral ensembles with various electronic processing and sound generation. Jacob’s Room, a piece commissioned for the Kronos String Quartet and Joan La Barbara, a vocalist, is a sort of multimedia opera. Other works include interactive CD-Roms, and even computer music games for children.
Subotnick is still active as both a teacher and composer. His professional site provides a discography and details of his compositions.