Imaginary Landscape: Composer to Composer Talks (1980s-1990s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From 1980 to 1994, Los Angeles (now Tokyo-based) composer Carl Stone hosted the radio program Imaginary Landscape on KPFK.

Broadcasting every week for several years the show has been a key space for avant-garde electronic music, sound arts and their contributors. Spreading the sounds but also the stories of the artists that created them, Imaginary Landscape can be credited for its documentarian perspective. Stone received many pioneers and important figures of electronic music as guests on the show. Bringing music and interviews together, the show gives unique insights on the composers' creative processes, their relation with sounds and technologies, and the evolution of their careers in such particular music worlds.

As an early contribution to the documentation of electronic music and sound arts, Imaginary Landscape carries a definite contemporary relevance. For those reasons, several episodes of the show have been selected and archived by dublab radio.

Newly edited and re-mastered, those episodes feature unreleased works and live performances from the composers included in the archival series: David Behrman, Harold Budd, Alvin Curran, Brian Eno, Rolf Julius, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Morton Subotnick, Toru Takemitsu, Chen Yi, and Frank Zappa.

 

The project was coordinated by Samuel Lamontagne, Ph.D. student at UCLA. Graphic design and original art work by Jay Are. And web design by Dakota Sexton.

All the episodes are compiled in a web-archive. We selected 5 of them to highlight here:

 

 

Harold Budd

 

Originally aired in 1998, this conversation with Harold Budd touches on a wide range of topics. Casually discussing throughout the interview, the two have known each other for years, and first met at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where Stone was a student and Budd a professor. Native of Los Angeles, Budd grew up near the Mojave Desert. Through the talk we learn that after being drafted into the army, he played drums in the regiment band alongside saxophonist Albert Ayler. Unlike many Angelino musicians, Budd decided not to go to New York in the 1960s. As the discussion moves forward we learn about his experience as a teacher at CalArts and how it transformed his own perspective on composing. The pair also discusses Budd’s creative process, rooted in music itself rather than in ethereal feelings. Further, interested in knowing more about his relation with collaboration, Stone asks Budd about his work with Brian Eno. Specifically talking about their joint album Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror (1980), Budd describes the pros and cons of collaborative works.

Pieces and Recordings from:

Harold Budd, The White Arcades (1988), Opal Records [Opening and closing credits]

Brian Eno & Harold Budd, The Pearl (1984), Editions EG

Harold Budd & The Cocteau Twins, The Moon and the Melodies (1986), 4AD

Harold Budd, Lovely Thunder (1986), Editions EG

 

 

Terry Riley

 

This episode features a conversation with minimalist composer Terry Riley. It took place in 1993 in Los Angeles on the occasion of Terry Riley’s performance of his piece Woelfli Portraits at LACMA. Starting off the conversation with a look at Riley’s childhood in California, we learn about his early love for radio and his diverse musical tastes, going from country, to classical to bebop, which inspired him to focus on music. Moving forward, the two address some of Riley’s most seminal work, In C (1964), his tape loops experiments that led to it, and the psychedelic era of the 1960s which would influence him to work on music in relation with consciousness. This conception of music will be heightened with the teachings of Pandit Pran Nath, an Indian classical singer, who had a deep influence on his work. Further, Riley tells us about several collaborations that impacted his music, such as one with the trumpet player Chet Baker in Paris, his longtime work with the Kronos Quartet, and singing with Lamont Young in New York. Many musical examples punctuate the conversation and thus help bond the words with the sounds.

Pieces and Recordings from:

Terry Riley, The Harp of New Albion (1986), Celestial Harmonies [Opening and closing credits]

Terry Riley, June Buddhas (From “Mexico City Blues”) (1992), Musicmasters

Terry Riley, The Harp of New Albion (1986), Live performance in Padva, Italy

Terry Riley, Crow’s Rosary (1987)

Terry Riley, The Sands (1991), commissioned by the Salzberg Festival

 

 

Chen Yi

 

Recorded in San Francisco in 1994 this episode features a conversation with Chinese violinist and contemporary classical music composer Chen Yi. As she started taking piano and violin lessons at the age of 3, Yi’s early classical western musical training has been a fundamental part of her career. Despite the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the various types of music being prohibited in China, Yi maintained a strong bond with classical western music. After getting her MA degree in composition at the Central Conservatory of Music of Beijing, she moved to New York to pursue doctoral studies at Columbia university. During the conversation the two talk about Yi’s intercultural musical journey combining elements of Chinese culture with elements of western culture. They also discuss her involvement with the Women’s Philharmonic and her part in promoting women performers and composers. Further, the two dive into specific pieces by Chen Yi and thus showcase the wide range of her repertoire and composition processes.

Pieces and Recordings from:

Chen Yi, Duo Ye, Orchestral version performed by the Long Beach Symphony
Chen Yi, The Points, performed by Wu Man (1991)
Chen Yi, Sparkle, performed by the New Music Consort.
Chen Yi, Symphony No.2, performed by The Women’s Philharmonic
Chen Yi, Song in Winter
Chen Yi, Near Distance

 

 

Morton Subotnick

 

Largely regarded as a pioneer of electronic music and media art, Subotnick is widely known for his album Silver Apples of the Moon (1967), the first electronic music work to be commissioned by a record company (Nonesuch records). Born in Los Angeles, he is one of the founding members of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he taught for many years, and where he met Carl Stone, his then student.
Through the conversation we learn about Subotnick’s early relationship with music growing up in Boyle Heights, and how he learned to play the clarinet on recommendation of a doctor who thought practicing a wind instrument would help him with chronic bronchitis. He manifested interest in composition at a very young age, and composed music for his highschool’s chorus. Later, he joined the army and became part of the band, in which he played with Herb Alpert. In the conversation, the two thoroughly discuss what pushed Subotnick to found the San Francisco Tape Music Center (SFTMC), alongside Ramon Sender and Pauline Oliveros. Subotnick relates many details on how the center emerged and how it became central in the careers of many artists like Terry Riley, John Chowning, La Monte Young, Steve Reich and others. In the context of the SFTMC, he also talks about how he worked with Don Buchla to create what became the first Buchla modular synthesizer. In the last part of the conversation, the pair discusses the potential of technology to create multimedia art, and further, how artists should approach technology in its relation with art and interactivity.

Pieces and Recordings from:

Morton Subotnick, Silver Apples of the Moon (1967), Nonesuch Records [Opening and closing credits]
Morton Subotnick, The Key to Songs (1986), New Albion
Morton Subotnick, All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1992), The Voyager Company
Morton Subotnick, Touch/Jacob’s Room (1986), Wergo

 

 

Frank Zappa

 

Recorded in 1988 in Frank Zappa’s home, this conversation was originally commissioned by a Japanese magazine and was to this day never broadcast. Covering a wide range of topics from compositional methods, issues in the music industry, to the rise of the religious right, the conversation holds a surprising contemporary relevance. Recorded shortly after the release of Zappa’s album Jazz from Hell (1986), the conversation addresses various compositional and instrumental particularities of the work. The two specifically talk about the use of the Synclavier, an early digital synthesizer and digital sampling system. They also talk about the parameters outside of composition that have to be taken into consideration, like how the music is going to be performed and in what context it is going to be experienced. Leading to a discussion on creativity and freedom in creativity, Zappa places the reception of the audience as a key element in composition choices. From that follows a harsh critique of music schools, the state of contemporary music at large, and the emphasis put on avant-garde for the sake of avant-garde. Switching to the world of pop music they raise the constraints imposed on musicians by the music industry, whose interest is more often than not in the money than in musical innovation. They further chat about issues of creative control in the industry, and the notable exception of Prince with Warner Bros. In the last part of the conversation Zappa shares his feelings on receiving the 1988 Grammy Award for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the song “Jazz from Hell.” The conversation then leaves the strict musical realm and unfolds into politics, and ends with Zappa posing a Japanese kanji quiz.

Pieces and Recordings from:

Frank Zappa, Jazz from Hell (1986), Barking Pumpkin Records

 

 

 

 

 

"Sounding Board" is intended as a space for scholars to publish thoughts and observations about their current work. These postings are not peer reviewed and do not reflect the opinion of Ethnomusicology Review. We support the expression of controversial opinions, and welcome civil discussion about them. We do not, however, tolerate overt discrimination based on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, and reserve the right to remove posts that we feel might offend our readers.