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John Cage and the Twenty-six Pianos of Mills College. Forces in American Music from 1940 to 1990. Nathan Rubin. 1994. Copyright 1994 by Sarah's Books, 101 Devin Drive, Moraga, California 94556. 704w

Leland Smith

East Oakland native Leland Smith attended classes at Mills from 1941 to 1943 while he was still in high school. He matriculated at UC Berkeley, receiving his master's degree in 1948. He resumed studies with Milhaud in 1946-47 and worked with Messiaen at the Paris Conservatory in 1948-49 before returning to Mills as a member of its faculty in 1951. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1953 to 1958, when he joined the Stanford faculty.

Thereafter he became one of the founders of the Stanford computer music program, a leading international expert on the use of artificial intelligence as a means of generating sound and notation, and an adviser to the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique Musique (IRCAM), the massive Paris-based French government project administered by Boulez. Score, a computer-produced publication process created by him, has been widely described as the leading program of its kind.

Prior to his use of computers Smith had sought comparable challenges from the complex, Schoenberg-influenced musical idiom of Berkeley professor Roger Sessions, despite his earlier studies with Milhaud. Or, indeed, because of them. Milhaud's neoclassicism during the thirties and forties had been only a single aspect of his activity: in the early twenties--before the birth of Boulez' serial "revolution" and, indeed, Boulez himself--Milhaud had conducted Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Herzegewachse and experimented with a twelve-tone method of his own. Nor was his neoclassicism particularly complacent: he designated that his Fourteenth and Fifteenth String Quartets be played simultaneously.

Even so, Smith's music still seemed far ahead of its time. A 1961 Musical America reviewer of his Concerto for Orchestra, premiered in Carnegie Hall by the Orchestra of America, complained of being overwhelmed by the piece's "bewildering complexity."6

Eventually time caught up: the Overture to his opera Santa Claus was played by the San Francisco Symphony in 1962. Dorothy Nichols, writing in the Palo Alto Times, said that the colors of its orchestration seemed inexhaustible and nothing was "twisted or strained for novelty of effect." A variety of chamber pieces have since been played by ensembles in Paris, London, Athens, Taipei and cities throughout the United States. Machines of Loving Grace for computer and bassoon was composed in 1970 and premiered at Stanford's Dinkelspiel Hall on March 8 of the same year. "The work," said Smith's program notes, "is really an environment of sound (and, to a certain extent, sight) for a reading of the poem, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, by Richard Brautigan. The three parts of the poem mention a 'cybernetic meadow,' a 'cybernetic forest' and a 'cybernetic ecology' in which human beings can return to their natural, mammal state under the loving protection of computers. The music is presented by a bassoon (the human-mammal) and a PDP 10 computer. The main elements...grow out of three chords and two melodic lines which are heard in a wide variety of computer-chosen and human-chosen random deviations."

"The blend and emergence was exceptionally artful," said the San Francisco Chronicle, "...like an infinitely flexible organ playing a fantasia."7

When [Cowell's pieces] became too complicated to play--Bruce Archibald's notes for the Emerson Quartet's recording of Quartet Euphometric (1919) liken them to the computer-age meters employed by Carter and Boulez forty years later--Cowell sought to devise a totally new instrument capable of performing them, an accomplishment he realized in 1929 when Russian inventor Leon Theremin created the Rhythmicon. (But it was Cowell who visualized the new mechanism and suggested the photo-electric cell which became its operational element.) Rhythmicana, the concerto he wrote for it, nevertheless remained unplayed until 1971, six years after his death, when it was realized on a computer by Stanford professor Leland Smith accompanied by the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.

He has been the recipient of a number of grants, a Fulbright Fellowship and the Copley Foundation Award. His writings include a Handbook of Harmonic Analysis, articles on composition and precomposition in the music of Webern (in Anton von Webern Perspectives) and discussions of computer music research.

[Smith, Leland C. Henry Cowell's ``Rhythmicana,'' Yearbook for Inter-American Research, 1973. ]


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