The Godfather Of Modular Synthesis, Morton Subotnick, On Music & Imagination

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Electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick is featured in a new interview, by disquiet’s Marc Weidenbaum.

In the interview, he talks about why he gave up on the clarinet and switched to electronics, and shared this interesting story that explains how his electronic music has been driven by his imagination:

When my mother died, I got some boxes of old stuff and I found an essay I had written, I think, in high school.

It was a short story that described a time in the future when I came into a concert when they were doing a late Beethoven string quartet. The four musicians were on the stage with no instruments. They were sitting in chairs and they had bands around their arms and chests, attached to their chairs, and they had their music in front of them — and with their bodies and their minds they were playing their parts.

There was no sound in the auditorium. It was not quite like brain waves, it was more a physical thing; they were able to project the music through the electric currents in the room.

So, I’m still struggling to realize the ideas I had in 1960 and 1961. And I’m getting really close.

The video shows Subotnick and visual artist Lillevan performing live at Bregenzer Festspiele in Austria in 2010.

via disquiet, the Colorado Springs Independent


8 thoughts on “The Godfather Of Modular Synthesis, Morton Subotnick, On Music & Imagination

  1. Gotta love Winamp’s default visualization plugin.
    “But this is different, you know, art”

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      • from Wikipedia’s entry on “Forbidden Planet,” a 1956 SF film:

        Forbidden Planet’s innovative electronic music score, credited as “electronic tonalities” – partly to avoid having to pay any of the film industry music guild fees[citation needed] – was composed by Louis and Bebe Barron. MGM producer Dore Schary discovered the couple quite by chance at a beatnik nightclub in Greenwich Village while on a family Christmas visit to New York City; Schary hired them on the spot to compose his film’s musical score. While the theremin (which was not used in Forbidden Planet) had been used on the soundtrack of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film Spellbound, the Barrons’ electronic composition is credited with being the first completely electronic film score; their soundtrack preceded the invention of the Moog synthesizer by eight years (1964).

        Using ideas and procedures from the book, Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1948) by the mathematician and electrical engineer Norbert Wiener, Louis Barron constructed his own electronic circuits that he used to generate the score’s “bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums, and screeches”.[10] Most of these sounds were generated using an electronic circuit called a “ring modulator”. After recording the basic sounds, the Barrons further manipulated the sounds by adding other effects, such as reverberation and delay, and reversing or changing the speeds of certain sounds.

        They’re ALL our grandfathers now.

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  2. Ciani on Buchla – “He showed me that the idea of playing a black and white keyboard with one of these instruments was completely ridiculous. It was inappropriate and had nothing to do with the way you would use an electronic instrument.”
    Clearly notes are irrelevant in this scene.

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  3. So one of my defining things about music is that it has to be something that if I were to randomly walk by the sound source I would be moved in some way, rather than simply thinking it was a collection of random machines making noises.

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