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Posts tagged 'Morton Subotnick'

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. 

WERGO Re-Releases Morton Subotnick's Landmark Recordings from the 1980s

Morton Subotnick, the legendary electronic musician and composer, will see several of his landmark recordings from the 1980s re-released on WERGO. After his pioneering album Silver Apples of the Moon, which Subotnick created using the Buchla modular synthesizer, Subotnick continued to compose and create new music both for electronics and acoustic instruments. Throughout this stage in his career, Nonesuch Records released several albums of Subotnick's music, in addition to several records released by Columbia Masterworks. As sound technology advanced throughout the 1970s into the 1980s, Subotnick began to experiment with digital technology to enhance and interact with acoustic instruments; his "ghost electronics", present in several works from the 1980s, provides a spectral accompaniment to live performers. 

Many of these works were recorded and released on albums by Nonesuch, though after the initial pressings of LPs, these recordings have not been commercially available. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, WERGO has digitized, re-mastered, and re-released many of these crucial recordings on CD. Their first re-release contains recordings of The Wild Beasts and After the Butterfly; the second volume will contain recordings of A Fluttering of Wings, Ascent into Air, The Last Dream of the Beast, and Axolotl. Scores and performance parts for many of these works are also available directly from PSNY. 

As Subotnick becomes more and more recognized for his pioneering compositions, these re-releases document a crucial moment in his career, incorporating electronics into composition for acoustic instruments. These works are accessible, portable, and performable by any new music ensemble, and these recordings will shed light on a brilliant chapter in Subotnick's oeuvre. Check out an interview with the Red Bull Music Academy below. 

Lecture: Morton Subotnick (Madrid 2011) from Red Bull Music Academy on Vimeo.

The "Lost" Works of Morton Subotnick: Ascent into Air

Morton Subotnick has enjoyed an expansive career as a composer and technical innovator for decades, and his touring schedule has grown extensively in the past decade, as he is recognized for his pioneering role in electronic and electro-acoustic music. Equally appreciated by fans of concert and electronic music, Subotnick is a legend in his own time. If you haven't yet, check out this lecture he gave at the Red Bull Music Academy:

Lecture: Morton Subotnick (Madrid 2011) from Red Bull Music Academy on Vimeo.

We're happy to announce the publication of several of Subotnick's "lost" works-- works that have been otherwise unavailable until now. The first of this series is Ascent into Air, commissioned and premeired at IRCAM in 1981, with Peter Eötvös conducting. 

Scored for pairs of clarinets, trombones, celli, pianos, percussion, and computer-generated sound, this work uses the metaphor of an amphibian's ascent from water to air as a dialectic metaphor for the evolutionary role of technology in art in the late 20th century. The amphibian represents art's double-inhabitance of two modes of existence, two modes of communication: one in water and one in air. As technology evolves in artistic practice, music finds itself in a similar position, inhabiting two modes of existance at the same time. Dialectically, "Ascent into Air" produces a synthesis of Subotnick's vision of the aesthetic and technical possibilities that contemporary music can afford us.  

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