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New Releases of Morton Subotnick's Works for "Ghost Electronics"

(photo: Anja Koehler)

Morton Subotnick is undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of contemporary composition, most well known for his work with electronics. His Silver Apples of the Moon was the first composition commissioned and released by a recording company specifically for the medium of the long-playing record, and his influence as a composer, performer, and teacher can be observed in musicians as disparate as Wendy Carlos—his student at NYU—to DIY psych-rockers Silver Apples, to DJs around the world

But Subotnick should be recognized for much more than this landmark album, as important as it was. During the course of the 1970s and 80s, he developed a compositional process which combined the media and information theory of Marshall McLuhan with the expertise of instrument builder Donald Buchla to create works that were at once acoustic and electronic, performed live and "doubled"—in Subotnick's term, "ghosted". 

(Subotnick's "Ghost Box" and "Gesture Sketch" on a PROM chip from the 1980s at Library of Congress; photos: Ted Gordon) 

"Sculpting with sound in time and space": this is how Subotnick describes his compositional process for these "ghost pieces," using bodily gestures of touch and voice to create soundless "gesture sketches" of control information. This information is then used to control musical parameters—either on an electronic instrument such as the Buchla system, or Subotnick's custom-made "ghost electronics", which can control amplitude, pitch, and spatialization in real-time. Whether recorded on magnetic tape, digital read-only-memory, or in a contemporary Max/MSP patch, these "gesture sketches" provide a "ghost" for the real-time performer, blurring the lines between score, recording, performance, and improvisation.

(page 1 from "Parallel Lines" (1979); Morton Subotnick) 

Subotnick composed a dozen works using ghost electronics; five years ago, only five of these were available to the public. But through our work at PSNY, we're thrilled to announce that as of today, ten of these twelve works are now available. Our latest addition, Parallel Lines (1979), was presumed to be lost. But through the tireless efforts of our production team, we have reconstructed the full score and parts of this landmark work for solo piccolo, ghost electronics, and an ensemble of nine players.

In addition to this newly-available piece for rental, WERGO releases a CD of landmark recordings on July 8, collecting four "ghost electronics" pieces from the 1980s from Subotnick's staged tone-poem, "The Double Life of Amphibians". Extending metaphors of doubleness and medium-specificity to organic life, Subotnick tracks life in water, emerging onto land, and finally escaping into air. Three of the four works that comprise this large-scale piece—Axolotl, Ascent into Air, The Last Dream of the Beast, and A Fluttering of Wings—in addition to Passages of the Beast, an adaptation from The Last Dream of the Beast for solo clarinet and ghost electronics. 

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