a guide to the ruins: 50s& 60s

In two areas Partch's influence is clear. The first is in the preference of current instrument builders for various forms of just intonation. Partch was without doubt the first composer in the present century to work exclusively in just intonation. The other area is in the current interest in tuned percussion. Of Partch's large instruments, thirteen are percussion, featuring such varied materials as wood, bamboo, glass, and metal.

Harry Partch: A Soul Tormented By Contemporary Music Looks for a Humanizing Alchemy.

Vortex had its beginning in 1957 as an audio-visual experiment under the joint sponsorship of radio station KPFA and the California Academy of Sciences. Founders Jordan Belson and Henry Jacobs ascertained the Morrison Planetarium with its extensive loudspeaker system ideal as a demonstration laboratory. Utilizing the elaborate Planetarium lighting system along with special projectors, coordinated full-scale visual effects gave promise of an exciting new form of theater. The premiere of Vortex on May 28, 1957 to a capacity audience established this audio-visual experiment as a true theater of the future not based on the customary story, music, or entertainers.

The Tape Center created a revolutionary new cultural environment in San Francisco. Many people were becoming aware that the San Francisco Tape Music Center was the focal point in the city for experimental events in the arts, with the primary emphasis on music, film and dance. The composers were interested in creating music that could be presented live, which led them to the use of light projections to accompany tape pieces and theatrics with live musicians and interactive tape systems.

Robert Erickson's reminiscences of the music scene in the Bay Area with remarks on the Conservatory, the Tape Music Center, and on the University of California at Berkeley where he taught from 1955 to 1957.

From a novel about SFTMC by Ramon Sender. The City Piece: The weather presented us with a crystal-clear December [1963] weekend. Across the Bay, 600 students had been arrested at the Sproul Hall sit-in early that month ... On a rooftop in the financial district, Walt began projecting liquid shapes onto the blank wall of the ten-story Wells Fargo building, mixing in some of his films. ... The park sat spang over the Broadway Tunnel and the trombone player's blasts echoed beneath our feet like a subterranean whale's sighs. On the walk back to the Lab, the storefront songstress stood in Peter Wolford's piano workshop window singing Debussy chansons in bathrobe and curlers while her accompanist hammed it up at a piano in white tie and tails. No one could be sure if she was part of the program or just a neighborhood character. We had hoped this would happen, that our events would blend into the city and thus encourage the audience to study everything they encountered with a sharpened awareness. Thus the normal zaniness of a San Francisco night would merge into our program and vice versa.

Oliveros Interview: Origins of Free Improv: "Ramon Sender was going to the Conservatory in Bob Erickson's class there and we met and the product of that was Loren Rush, Terry Riley and myself had begun to do free improvisation, group improvisation. By 1958, Ramon Sender, Loren Rush, Terry Riley, and myself were using KPFA as a studio to go in and improvise and record. That was a very important thing to us. We began to meet about once a month, once a week, I forget, and do that activity." Review: "While the musicians are busy, mostly with percussive sounds, and the two others were acting and singing and what not, Ramon Sender was taping the goings-on, and the taped sounds came back often in greatly altered forms, on speakers located at various points in the hall. As a result, the past of this improvisation became a part of its present, and this use of the past as both substance and subject for improvisation in the present seems to me to be a most remarkable idea."

Buchla 100: This machine, the first integrated voltage controlled synthesizer ever, was built for the San Francisco Tape Music Center. It embodied concepts from the most avant-guard music of the post-war era. The idea of independent control of the "parameters" of music such as pitch, duration, amplitude, and timbre came from the the total-serialist's extension of Webern's music. The novel Sequencer modules could emulate the tape loop experiments carried out at the SFTMC. Also the device was never set up to "synthesize" acoustic instrument sounds or to act as a kind of electric organ--it's design seemed to proclaim the liberation of electronic sound. There is evidence that Don Buchla built this machine "by ear" while in highly sensitive states of consciousness. For instance the noise generator is a three dimensional sculpture of it's components (resisters, capacitors, transistors etc.) that had been bent to exact positions in space to make the unit sound good.

Tom Constanten: Piano Piece Number Three was a 'tesseract' score, giving me enormous latitude when it came to designing each individual performance. Steve Reich had just acquired a new 'toy,' a Sony 777 two-track tape recorder. He helped me prepare a tape with a separate version of Piano Piece Number Three on each track, distinguishable from each other and from the live performance by subtle variations among the piano preparations. The opening night of the series was punctuated by the sounds of the judo class that met upstairs. Coming on right after intermission, I found them hard to ignore. Rather than consider it an interruption, though (like, what am I going to do -- go tell a roomful of black belts to knock it off?), I simply found a place in the multi-dimensional road map of a score that could be interpreted to fit the sounds of bodies being thrown to the floor (ceiling, to us), and took it from there.

Despite its Serial underpinnings, nothing like Young's Trio for Strings had ever been heard in Western music, a piece constructed exclusively of sustained tones and silences. It creates a musical landscape that seems not so much exotic as otherworldly. Terry Riley once compared performing Young's extended rests and long-tones to "being on a space-station waiting for lunch" The Trio had its premiere in the home of Seymour Shifrin, a composer and composition professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Douglas Leedy wrote, "There aren't very many really revolutionary pieces of music in this century or any other: pieces that seem like cultural mutations ... Le Sacre du Printemps is an authentic example. So, I believe, is In C."

Steve Reich: The initial idea for It's Gonna Rain: "It was when I was fooling around with tape loops of the preacher's voice, and still under the influence of In C. In the process of this, I put headphones on and noticed that the two tape recorders were almost exactly in sync. The effect of this aurally was that I heard the sound jockeying back and forth in my head between my left and right ear, as one machine or the other drifted ahead. Instead of immediately correcting that, I let it go ... took my hands off of it for a bit. What happened was that one of the machines was going slightly faster, and the sounds went over to the left side of my head, crawled down my leg, went across the floor, and then started to reverberate.

Ron Boise brought a lot of Thunder Sculptures for this event, including one shaped like a vulture, another shaped like a seashell that you could crawl into and get lost in, and the Tuned Woman. The Fillmore was basically a huge dance floor with a balcony running along two walls. The balcony was subdivided into dressing rooms and offices, so the Pranksters were able to wire the place up with microphones and speakers in unexpected places, so you might be downstairs watching somebody make a fool of himself on the closed-circuit TV and suddenly hear something you'd said upstairs a few minutes ago broadcast all over the hall. The floor was littered with electronic boxes and skeins of electrical cable. They had packed in so much electronic equipment the whole hall had a low, dull buzzing sound.

"THE ACID TEST": The Merry Pranksters. Can YOU pass the Acid Test? There's no way to think about it or read about it. There's no other way to know than go ahead on it. Can you die to your corpses? Can you metamorphose? Can you pass the 20th Century? What is total dance?

SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde (1967-1972) A semi-annual anthology of scores, articles and LP recordings; 11 issues, Volumes 1-6; extant issues 4-11; editors include Larry Austin, Stanley Lunetta, John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and Ken Friedman; extant in various quantities; high quality paper, 4-color reproductions, 11"x14", spiral bound; LP recordings included in 4 issues; excellent, unused condition.

Summer, 1963, was the beginning of the New Music Ensemble in Davis, California, experimenting with free group improvisation through that year, giving many concerts, demos and making a record. The next summer Larry Austin went to Rome, and being very enthusiastic about the new way of improvising, carried its concepts to Europe. On an August evening in 1969 on the summit of Twin Peaks overlooking San Francisco, Robert Moran, in collaboration with artist Paul Crowley, realized 39 Minutes for 39 Autos. Several local radio and television stations broadcast the event live, while buildings in downtown San Francisco performed light displays (all according to precise cuing) on their facades. In concert, many local residents followed light cues given via radio, orienting their home radio speakers toward the streets. Robert Moran conducted the auto horns and headlights, while Margaret Fabrizio and assistants performed a special Moran score for realization on an electronic music synthesizer.