EARInterview ( first part ) STANLEY LUNETTA by Loren Means
LM: How did you get started doing electronic music?
SL: I was going for a masters in composition at the University of California at Davis, and I became aware of electronic music when Stockhausen came to the campus. That was around 1964(?jh). The Tape Music Center had been going in San Francisco for a couple of years, but it was before they had the first Buchla Box. I was influenced by David Tudor at that time--he was at Davis doing electronics and everything. I was composing for conventional instruments and I'd done some tape pieces, which I really think is different from electronic music. You can do tape pieces with sound effects, a microphone, and a tape recorder--that's not the same thing, I don't think. my first piece was with a guitar and a tape recorder. So then I got some mixers, and I built my first oscillator, and went from there.
LM: Did you study electronics?
SL: No. But I was never able to afford a prebuilt electronic music system, so in 1969 I started building one. I learned how to do things "on the job," so the construction was accompanied by learning what it would do. I'm not an engineer at all, so I learned how something worked and then I built that function in as I got smarter.
LM: And that project resulted in the first Moosack Machine?
SL: Right. The Moosack Machines are a series of compositions. The first one was made for the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, and it was made to be an artistic-looking setup. In other words, it was an electronic machine but it was spread out, its innards were visible, and the wires, the transistors, the resistors and all that were used for their visual as well as their electronic use.
LM: This was the Machine that was influenced by changes in the environment?
SL: That's right. The hoops of the sculpture were really the oscillators that were making the pitches, and I stretched them out so that they were exposed to the light and the heat, and that made subtle variations on the piece. Also they looked sort of neat, with resistors and the wires sticking out. I made a mobile-type affair with them.
The base had photoresistors and heat-sensitive elements and proximity detectors like they use in burglar alarms. And there was a set of spinning discs which were on little electric motors. The electric motors were turned on and off by the music, and the discs, when they spun, were spinning over the photoresistors. they had holes cut in them, so that depending on what sound came out, the motors would go on or off, and when they went on and off and the disc spun, the holes would uncover and cover the photoresistors which would make different pitches in the oscillators, which would make the music different, which would make the discs turn differently--it was a big loop.
there were several places where if you walked in front of the thing you interrupted a light beam and that had an effect on that whole loop. And there were heat detectors up by the air-conditioning-heating system which was automatic and kept going on and off to keep the room at a certain temperature. So the piece would change depending on whether the heat was on or off.
There were sensors on the sides of the building so that in the morning when the sun shone on one side the piece sounded a certain way, then when the sun was at twelve o'clock it sounded different, and when the sun started to go down it sounded different again. At night, it sounded totally different, and on cloudy days it sounded different--it was a weather indicator too. And it played all day, every day, for six weeks.
When I had to take the sculpture out of the Museum, I broke it down. The sculpture part is now hanging on the wall of the basement studio in my house in Sacramento. And the processing unit became the first module of my digital Machine.
When we decided to record the Machine for Source, the magazine I was editing at the time, we took the pieces to the chorus room at U.C. Davis and tried to put it back together, which was an all day affair. Because the chorus room had risers, we couldn't put it on the level like we had at the Museum, so when it got put together it sounded different. It was a lot more vocal at the University, and it was a little bit more radical sounding. It was much politer in the Museum. The recording is a little more violent. Of course, it was hooked up somewhat differently.
LM: Was that Machine more chancy than the ones you've built since?
SL: Yes, it was chancy in one way, but it had fewer possibilities. The newer Machines have more possibilities, but at the same time they have more control. That makes a large difference in how they work.
LM: When I first heard the record I was impressed with the structural organization, and I was surprised to find that you hadn't organized the composition--it organized itself.
SL: It's like if you get a series of possibilities, like "What's the common denominator of 5, 12 & 17," and you get 5 and 12 and 17 until they all come together and start over again. In a sense that's what the machine did. Also, if you set your odds correctly, it's going to tend to do something sensible. If you decide what its possibilities are going to be, you don't have just anything happening. You sort of tune its capabilities.
LM: So the Moosack machine was dismantled in 1970?
SL: that's right.