American Electroacoustic (1952-1972) – A Buyers Guide

Read more about American Tape music and its pioneering voice Vladamir Ussachevsky here

A definitive discography from the Broad field of American Electroacoustic is not easy to compile. Most of the output in the 1950’s and 60’s took the form of compilations or collaborative works; whilst many reissues are no longer in print or of dubious quality. This overview details current CD reissues and downloads.

American Masters – Pioneers Of Electronic Music- New world Records 80644

Predominantly featuring works by Ussachevsky and Luening; the first four tracks being taken from their seminal 1952 concert at the New York Museum of Modern Art. It also features works by Pril Smiley, Bulant Arel, Mario Davidovsky and Alice Sheilds. All protegees of Ussachevsky and Luenberg these composers represent an overview of The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre Alumnus between 1960 and 1970 and their works are diverse in approach.

Also included are later pieces by Luening, namely “Moonflight” and from Ussachevsky “Piece For Tape Recorder“, “Computer piece No.1” and “Sketches for a Computer Piece“. Lastly is “Incantation” a piece Co-composed by the two men in alternating sections. As a broad introduction to some important early figures in the field this is an excellent place to begin.

Track List

  1. Sonic Contours by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  2. Low Speed by Otto Luening 
  3. Invention in Twelve Tones by Otto Luening 
  4. Fantasy in Space by Otto Luening 
  5. Incantation by Otto Luening 
  6. Moonflight by Otto Luening 
  7. Piece for Tape Recorder by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  8. Kolyosa by Pril Smiley 
  9. Stereo Electronic Music no 2 by Bülent Arel 
  10. Computer Piece no 1 by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  11. Sketches (2) for a Computer Piece by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  12. Synchronisms no 5 for Percussion and Tape by Mario Davidovsky 
  13. The Transformation of Ani by Alice Shields 

Vladimir Ussachevsky ‎– Electronic And Acoustic Works 1957-1972

This disc gives an Interesting cross section of Ussachevsky’s work. The two early tracks here are reminiscent of his work on the Score for No Exit. They are bleak, metallic, unsettling; as if a cold electric wind is blowing through them. Two Sketches for a computer comprises sounds akin to modern day FM or additive synthesis. At times bell like and rich in upper harmonics the piece has the feel of other notable computer composers of the time but seems possessed of a more cohesive form than similar works by Babbit or Chowning.

Wireless Fantasy and Of Wood and Brass both take concrete sounds as their source material; actual wireless signals in the case of the former and trumpet, xylophone, trombone, and Korean gong in the latter. Both are a master class in tonal manipulation and famously the result of hours of work. Scenes from Creation is a rather static work for voice and electronics. seemingly a kind of working experiment, it provides an interesting contrast to the first half of the album.

Finally, Missa Brevis see’s Ussachevsky returning to his roots with a piece solely for voice and brass Ensemble. The Harmony develops in chromatic directions that Mozart would never travel but in essence this is traditional church music; Beautiful and unexpected after the rushing terror of the early tape works.

Track Listing

  1. Metamorphoses by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  2. Of Wood and Brass by Vladimir Ussachevsky
  3. Computer Piece no 1 by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  4. Sketches (2) for a Computer Piece by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  5. Linear Contrasts by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  6. Scenes (3) from Creation by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  7. Missa brevis by Vladimir Ussachevsky
  8. Wireless Fantasy by Vladimir Ussachevsky 

Columbia Princeton
Electronic Music Center

Another album showcasing the students and composers of the CPEMC; this particular release was put together just two years after the opening of the institute. Although featuring many of the same composers as the first album in our list, it is worth owning for Halim El-Dabh’s Leiyla and the poet alone. A dizzing hypnotic mesh of chanting, drumming and the subtlest of tape manipulations.

Babbit’s Ensembles for Synthesizer is the sound of Schoenberg’s serialism taken to it’s logical extreme. Here the tone row sequence is applied to many other parameters than just pitch; something only achievable with a synthesizer. The result is probably not to everyone’s taste and one questions it’s value as an experiment.

Stereo Electronic music no 1 from Turkish born Bulent Arel features a Staccato intro reminiscent of Schaeffer and his Musique Concrete. the sound sources are however all electronic. This is more evident in the central movement of the piece as Arel’s experiments with Envelopes and frequency switching give rise to a harsh metallic soundscape; parts of which point towards the work of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic workshop.

Track Listing

  1. Stereo Electronic Music no 1 by Bülent Arel 
  2. Leiyla and the Poet by Halim El-Dabh 
  3. Creation – Prologue by Vladimir Ussachevsky 
  4. Composition for Synthesizer by Milton Babbitt
  5. Electronic Study no 1 by Mario Davidovsky
  6. Gargoyles by Otto Luening     
  7. Ensembles for Synthesizer by Milton Babbitt 

Terry Riley – Music for the Gift

This 2007 CD release actually brings together four of Riley’s tape based pieces from the 1960’s. The titular Gift features music from trumpeter Chet Baker and tape loops from Riley. The recording here is that of the live Paris performance of 1963.

It is Riley’s use of Tape loops that sets this album apart as ground breaking. Bird of Paradise features perhaps the first instance of sampling or “Plunderphonics” and sees Riley Creating insistent loops from Junior Walker’s 1965 hit Shotgun, these phrases fracture and phase hypnotically until we hear the tape wear and degrade to nothing; a nod forward also to Basinkski’s Disintegration Loops.

Riley’s methods on Mescalin Mix and The Gift also provide inspiration for the current generation of Tape musicians. The former saw the tape fed out of Riley’s apartment window and around a wine bottle before returning to the play head. The latter making use of two tape recorders, both playing a single loop of tape; something that the likes of Brian Eno and King Crimson would explore to great effect.

The final piece here, Concerto for two pianos and five tape recorders, also recorded live. Features an amusingly confused introduction by the broadcasts host and sparse Atonal piano from La Monte young. Riley’s Tape manipulations here are perhaps at their most bizarre and the audiences reaction is an interesting mix of laughter and booing from one half and bravura exultation from the other. Riley’s music has never been composed with the audience in mind however and this album demonstrates his truly experimental spirit; just in that time and space where the old world was meeting the new.

Track Listing

  1. Music for The Gift (Part 1)
  2. Music for The Gift (Part 2)
  3. Music for The Gift (Part 3)
  4. Music for The Gift (Part 4)
  5. Music for The Gift (Part 5)
  6. Bird of Paradise (Part 1)
  7. Bird of Paradise (Part 2)
  8. Bird of Paradise (Part 3)
  9. Bird of Paradise (Part 4)
  10. Bird of Paradise (Part 5)
  11. Mescalin Mix
  12. Concerto for Two Pianos and Five Tape Recorders

Music From The Tudorfest: San Francisco Tape Music Center, 1964

This live recording of collaborative efforts From David Tudor and various members of the STMC represents an interesting confluence in the rivers of 20th Century American music. Tudor is perhaps most famous for his work with John Cage, who as far back as 1939 had sought to introduce elements of sonic manipulation into recorded works. His early association with Cage, however, was focused on Piano works (Tudor was at the keyboard for the premier of 4″33″) and it was only after a spell of teaching in the early 1960’s that Tudor turned to Electronic composition; he went on create complex Electroacoustic sound generators for live performance.

On Music from the Tudorfest, his contribution is largely one of abstract piano and features a number of Cage compositions. The electronic elements here are provided by the members of the STMC, one of whom was Pauline Oliveros, a newly graduated student of Ussachevsky and Luening.

The piece Variations II is always an interesting inclusion to any album by nature of it’s compositional form. It is “…for any number of performers and any sound producing means“. The score for the piece consisting of eleven semi transparent pieces of paper; five with dots, five with lines. these transparencies can be superimposed in an permutation and intersecting lines drawn between points to indicate the parameters of the music. Like 4″33″ Cage’s intention was that each rendition was a representation of the exact moment of performance. Here and with all the pieces on this album, it is vital and raw.

Track Listing

  1. 34’46.776″ for Two Pianists by 
  2. Duo for Accordion and Bandoneon with Possible Mynah Bird Obbligato  Music for Piano No. 4
  3. Music for Piano No. 4, Electronic Version
  4. Variations II
  5. Music Walk
  6. Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music, Electronic Version
  7. Concert for Piano and Orchestra
  8. Cartridge Music


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