Allen Strange, 1942-2008

Allen StrangeElectro-acoustic composer and author Allen Strange died last week at the age of 64.While Strange was probably best known to a generation of musicians as the author of one of the definitive books on electronic music – Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls – he also was very active as a composer and performer of electro-acoustic music.

“Allen’s performances incorporated some very bizarre things,” said Mark Grey, a sound designer who studied under Mr. Strange. “You’d have someone with a lawn mower on stage next to a string quartet while someone else in the corner was processing it all through a computer, sitting in a lawn chair.””Allen,” said Grey, “could articulate the absurd so well that it just made sense.”

You can preview Allen Strange’s Flying Pigs below.

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From his official bio:

He studied composition with Michalsky at State University, Fullerton (BA, MA 1967) and later with Erickson, Partch, Gaburo and Oliveros (composition and electronic media) at the University of California, San Diego (1967–8, 1970–71).

He received two grants from the San Jose State University Foundation (1969 and 1974) for research into electronic music and in 1970 became professor of music and director of the electronic music studios at the university. In 1973 he attended Chowning’s music seminar at Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Center.

Strange was one of the leading authorities on analogue electronic music; his Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls (1972) is now a classic text. He also wrote Programming and Meta-Programming the Electro-Organism (1974), the operations manual for the Buchla Music Easel and has documented the 200 Series synthesizers made by Buchla.

He co-founded two performance groups, Biome (1967–72), in order to make use of the EMS Synthi, and, with Buchla in 1974, the Electronic Weasel Ensemble. He was president of the International Computer Music Association (1993–8) and has appeared as a guest artist-lecturer throughout the world. With his wife, Patricia, they have recently published The Contemporary Violin: Extended Performance Techniques.

Strange composed for live electronic instrumental ensembles, for live and taped electronics with voices and acoustic instruments, and for the theatre; most of his works for acoustic instruments require extended performance techniques.

He was interested in linear tuning systems (as in The Hairbreath Ring Screamers, 1969, and Second Book of Angels, 1979), spatial distribution of sound (Heart of Gold, 1982, and Velocity Studies, 1983), the isolation of timbre as a musical parameter, and composing for groups of like instruments or voices.

Elements of vaudeville, rock-and-roll, country-and-western music, and the guitar techniques of Les Paul are found in his works. His theatre pieces employ various media including film, slides, and lighting effects; he produced a series of such works in collaboration with the playwright and director Robert Jenkins, of which the most important are Jack and the Beanstalk (1979) and The Ghost Hour (1981), an audio drama. In the mid-1980s, Strange became interested in alternate tuning systems.

List of Work:

Prerecorded Media (available on CD unless otherwise specified)

  • Concord Gardens for tape alone, 1972, Composers’ Autograph Publications
  • No Dead Horses on the Moon for film and tape, 1985, Media Press
  • Music of Do’s, Mills College Anthology, 1981, Mills College Press.
  • Uncle Erhard for children’s theater, 1981, Mills College Anthology, Mills College Press.
  • Moon Plus Moon, 1977, Ocean Records
  • Bit, 1976, Ocean Records
  • Music of the Spheres, by Johanna Beyer. Orchestrated by Allen Strange, 1978, Composers Recordings, Inc.
  • Phoenix Rising, 1998
  • Phoenix and the Harlequin, 1999
  • Heart of Gold, 1987
  • Quitlaacayotyl, 1992
  • Bootes. 1993
  • One for the Ladies, 1985
  • Down Time for interactive CD ROM and stories by Rob Swigart, Eastgate Productions, 1996
  • Heroes IV: The Boys, 2002
  • Witness the Dawn, 1997
  • Silicon Seven, 1996
  • Towers, 1996
  • Vasona, 1995
  • Cygnus, 1990
  • Physical States, 1996
  • SideShow, 2003
  • Heros IV, 2003
  • Quinault Cathedral, 2004
  • Brief Visits to Imaginary Places, 2005 (in progress)
  • Instruments/Voice + Prerecorded Media
  • Sleeping Beauty for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, Consortium to Distribute Computer Music Series Volume 18, Centaur Recordings, 1994
  • Shaman for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, Consortium to Distribute Computer Music Series Volume 18, Centaur Recordings, 1994
  • Velocity Studies I: Slide for violin and prerecorded media, 1987
  • Velocity Studies II: Twitter for harpsichord and prerecorded media, 1989
  • Velocity Studies III: Rip for piano and prerecorded media, 1991
  • Velocity Studies IV: Flutter for alto saxophone and prerecorded media, 1993
  • Gargoyles for chamber ensemble and prerecorded media, 1999
  • Elemental Vamp for actress and digital media, 1990
  • The Werebeing Split Personality Jazz for actor and digital media, 1993
  • Strike Up the Band for percussion with familiars and secret sounds, 2000
  • The Hairbreath Ring Screamers for flute ensemble and tape, 1970, JP Press
  • Palace for solo violin, tape and mixed theater, 1979, Composer Autograph Pub.
  • . … and still another story concerns … for tape and visuals, Composer Autograph Pub.
  • Chamberpiece for small ensemble, 1971, Composer Autograph Pub.
  • Rainbow Rider for four choruses, 1972, Composer Autograph Pub.
  • Vanity Fair for actor and electronic sound, 1970, Media Press.
  • The Doug Meyers’ Playing Flute for flute and tape, 1972, Media Press.
  • Mora Speculum for actors and tape, 1973. Composers/Performers Editions
  • Soundbeams for chamber ensemble, 1974, Asterisk Publications.
  • Uncle Erhard for children’s theater, 1979, Mills College Anthology, Mills College Press
  • The Hairbreath Ring Screamers for flute ensemble and tape, 1970, JP Press
  • First Book of Angels for string quartet and tape, 1972,
  • Notes from Underground for chorus and tape, 1985
  • Misty Magic Land for unspecified sustaining instruments and digital media (2004)
  • Live Electronics (no acoustic instruments)
  • Propagation and Decay of Resonant Particles, 1969
  • Strong Loop and Wild Horses (electronic keyboards), 1977
  • Teserae Rag, 1969
  • Princess (electronic keyboards), 1977
  • Keyboard Studies (electronic keyboards), 1975
  • Instruments/Voice + Live Electronics
  • The Goddess Trilogy:
  • Sleeping Beauty for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, 1989
  • Shaman for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, 1994
  • Goddess for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, 2002
  • Switchcraft for string bass, flute and electronics, 1972
  • You’ve come a Long Way Baby for four processed voices and digital media, 1999
  • Dune for voice, improvising instruments and electronics, 1975, Ocean Records
  • Western Connection for orchestra and electronic instruments, 1972
  • Skags for four processed voices and digital media, 1970
  • Soundbeams for chamber ensemble and electronic instruments, 1977
  • The First Book of Angels for 16 voices and electronic instruments, 1976
  • Acoustic
  • Time and Again for saxophone octet, 2005
  • Shivaree for sax ensemble (2, 2a, 2t, bar, bass) and five percussion, 2004
  • Fancy Dances 2003-04
  • Horn Quartet
  • Bassoon Quartet
  • Trumpet Quartet
  • Saxophone Quartet
  • Spring Dancers for string quartet, 2003
  • The King of Handcuffs for tenor and chamber ensemble, 2001
  • Points of Departure: The Harlem Variations for solo alto saxophone, 2001
  • Points of Departure: The Midnight Variations for solo fluglehorn, 2001
  • Charms for String Orchestra, 1973
  • More Charms for String Orchestra, 1973
  • Beamer: Building of the Beast for percussion ensemble, 1980
  • Star Salon Strikers and Screamers Last Witness for four percussionists and string trio, 1978
  • Moon Plus Moon [Piano Book] for any number of pianos, 1983
  • “Four Pages” from Saturn and the Seven Ladies, for mixed ensemble, 1982
  • Chamberpiece for small ensemble, 1972 [Composer Autograph Pub.]
  • The Third Book of Angels: Lucifier’s Hammer for disclavier, 1997
  • Rockytop Screamers and Other Scapes for band, 1973
  • Performed Mixed-Media
  • Elemental Vamp for theatrist and computer-generated sounds, 1994
  • Music for DoWhatDo, a multi-media performance with Joel Slayton 1993 [Cadre Institute Video Tape]
  • Bootes (with Michael Heivly) for live electronics and kinetic sculpture, 1992
  • Cygnus (with Michael Heivly) for live electronics and kinetic sculpture, 1992
  • Werebeing Split Personality Jazz for actor and tape, 1990
  • Elemental Vamp actress, performance artist and/or video, 1993
  • Corona Borealis (with Michael Heivly) for live electronics and kinetic sculpture, 1988
  • Ursa Major (with Michael Heivly) for live electronics and kinetic sculpture, 1988
  • Detour (with Joel Slayton) for computer driven instruments and video, 1987 [Cadre Institute]
  • Vasona (with John Barnes) for visuals and stereo tape, 1981
  • Uncle Erhard for children’s theater, 1979 [MCP]
  • … and still another story concerns for tape and visuals, 1978 [CAP]
  • Music of Do’s for electronic music system, 1978 [Mills College Press]
  • No Dead Horses on the Moon for film and tape, 1977 [Media Press]
  • Mora Speculum for actors and tape, 1972 [Composer Performer Editions]
  • Vanity Fair for actor and electronic sound 1972 [Media Press]
  • Palace for solo violin, tape and mixed theater, 1968 [Media Press]
  • Recordings
  • Shadowboxer, 60 x 60 Vox Novus
  • White Lady, Metasynth III
  • About Time [interactive web production with Rob Swigart], www.wordcircuits.com/gallery/abouttime
  • Strange Brew – Music for the Recorded Media
  • Phoenix Rising Phoenix and the Harlequin Heart of Gold, Quitlaacayotyl, Bootes, One for the Ladies
  • Moon + Moon C.R.E.A.M. CD 1001,
  • Down Time for interactive CD ROM and stories by Rob Swigart, Eastgate Productions,
  • Sleeping Beauty for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, Consortium to Distribute Computer Music Series Volume 18, Centaur Recordings
  • Shaman for amplified violin and computer-driven instruments, Consortium to Distribute Computer Music Series Volume 26, Centaur Recordings
  • Music for Guitar and Tape by Cort Lippe, Executive Producer, Consortium to Distribute Computer Music Series Volume 17, Centaur Recordings
  • International Computer Music Conference 1992 Compact Disc, Executive Producer, ICMC’92 Velocity Studies IV: Flutter for alto saxophone and prerecorded media, Capstone Records
  • Uncle Erhard, Audiozine Recordings
  • Dangerous Nights, a collection of recorded stories with Robert Jenkins, Strange and Jenkins Productions.
  • The Thirty-Seventh Letter, Frogs Hollow Recordings.

The following works have been recorded by the German, Belgium, and Swedish State for archive inclusion and non-commercial broadcast in Europe:

  • One for the Ladies for tape alone.
  • Velocity Studies I:
  • Slide for solo violin and tape.
  • Skags for four electronically processed voices.
  • Conversations with Nod for electronic consort.
  • Moon Plus Moon for electronic consort.
  • Teserae Rag for electronic consort.
  • The First Book of Angels for 16 voices and electronic instruments

Books:

  • The Contemporary Violin: Extended Performance Techniques (with Patricia Strange). Scarecrow Press, 2001
  • Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls, McGraw-Hill, 1972, 1976, and 2000

via Vox Novus

8 thoughts on “Allen Strange, 1942-2008

  1. In college,( DeAnza in Cupertino) I took the electronic music course which was then tuaght by Allen. I came into the class not knowing a filter from an envelope. After a year, he recommended me as tutor for the class. I also took private lessons from him. One of his methods was to bring me in his room full of Buchla synths, unplug all the patch cables, hand them to me, then leave the room!

    Much later on, when I was totally into my Atari algorithmic applications, he invited me to give a lecture/demo for his class at San Jose state. It turned out well, as we were able to project the Atari screen to 4 feet tall!

    Another neat fact was although he is well known for his advant-gard compositions and techniques, he also taught a class in country music.

    I also found it interesting that he played bass in a jazz ensemble with David Bristol, who was one of the main programmers for the DX7 when it came out. I still have my DX7 books with his patches in it. I think he was the one who did the EPiano preset we have all come to cherish thru the years.

    When I got to visit him last summer (2007), he told me all sorts of stories about Don Buchla and how he came up with his designs for his synths and got to spend some time with him. He gave me one on one lessons in Max MSP, and got to party with him, listen to music and enjoy good mexican food. He was a great guy, and I will dearly miss him. He has been a big influence on my own work as well as countless others as he was a pioneer for electronic music education.
    Our next AlgoMusic product will be dedicated to him.
    -Tim Conrardy (March 08)

  2. Tim

    That’s a great reminiscence. Thanks for sharing it!

    I didn’t get to meet Allen Strange, but remember reading his Electronic Music book in the 80’s when I was in school. I may have to dig that out and read through it again. I’m sure I’d learn something.

    Sounds like you had great experiences with him and learned a lot, too.

  3. In 1976 I went back to San Jose State to work on my masters. Walking to a class on the upper level, I notice this small room filled with all this electronic equipment! I asked around and discovered that it was the electronic music lab run by Allen Strange. The very next semester I was enrolled in the class. Needless to say it was one of most enjoyable classes I have ever taken at San Jose State.

    After taking the class I really wanted my own synthesizer to work on, however I didn’t have the funds to buy one so I decided to build my own. At the time, two guys, Scott and Dave were building synthesizer components in their apartment in Santa Clara – e-mu. So, every month or so, I would go to their place and buy a new component for my home brewed synth. My system came together very well with Scott and Dave’s help. Of course the rest is history for e-mu.

    I sold the original home brew synth in the late 80’s. More recently, I’ve re-entered the electronic music arena with a German made synthesizer called Doepfer.

    I have Allen to thank for getting me interested in electronic music and will miss him.

  4. Rick – thanks for your thoughts, too.

    The more I hear about Allen Strange, the more I wish I’d had a chance to meet him.

  5. I played flute in Allen’s Contemporary Music Ensemble and took his electronic music class at San Jose State 1971-73. His enthusiam was spontaneous; I loved hearing Peter Scheikle played in our orchestration class and eating Indian food at Allen’s and Patricia’s house. Even though I’m now an orchestra flutist (Nashville Symphony), I appreciate so much his training which also helped me as I continued new music & electronic music at Northwestern U. I wish I had known he lived on Bainbridge Island when I visited that area several times (including once when a bomb scare on the ferry stranded me on the island away from the Amy Grant tour concert I was playing in Seattle!) The best to Patricia, his wonderful wife and partner.

  6. Allen Strange and Dan Wyman awarded me a scholarship in 88 to go to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for a summer session to study Electronic Music with Susan Cianna. I am forever gratful for his class 85-90 and his firm handed guidance through such developmental years as a young rocker in a Jazz program. Both he and Dan were big influences on my early years in SJSU’s music program.

    I just found his 2nd edition book and rocky top screamers score and some of my MASC programming he taught us on the Boochla.

    As I am living in Marin now, I just heard the news recently through Ed Goldfarb, whom I met just recently.

    Best to his family and loved ones.

    God bless,

    Todd Tate
    http://www.myspace.com/toddtatemusic

  7. It was in 1972, or so, that I was a student of Allen’s at San Jose State, both in his electronic music studio, and in a music theory class on Form and Analysis. I remember the first time I looked at what was probably a Buchla modular synthesizer, with all the patch cables, I was totally clueless. With Allen’s guidance, and his Electronic Music text, I was able to gain an understanding of electronics that I still use to this day.

    It wasn’t only his storehouse of knowledge that helped students overcome musical obstacles. He seemed to have a wisdom beyond his years, combined with a willingness to try something different, or humorous and out of the box. I still find myself thinking that, “there’s got to be a more interesting, and unique way to do this”. Even after all these years I think Allen had something to do with that. Some influences just don’t go away.

    After not having seen him for almost 30 years I sent him a copy of some piano music I had written and recorded. He was kind enough to send a response approving of the music, even though he couldn’t remember the face that went with my name. After all the students he has taught I could totally understand. And yes, the Indian food was excellent.

  8. In 1975, I was graduating from San Jose State and found that I needed to take a music class in order to graduate. Being a drummer for 11 years, Allen’s Electronic Music class looked interesting to me so I signed up. It was the best move I ever made! I became friends with Allen and spent a lot of evenings at his house talking “synth stuff”. Back then, we had a minimum of equipment available, a Buchla, 2 TEAC A-3340S reel to reel recorders, an analog step sequencer (brand new toy), a MiniMoog and an old piano in the corner of the room. But it was a lot of fun. Today that classroom is still there at SJSU but filled with the latest digital equipment. He inspired me greatly and I am still making electronic music today as well as building lots of analog modules. His legacy shall live forever!

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