An Interview with David Tudor by John David Fullemann in Stockholm, May 31, 1984
The following interview appears as the interviewer, John David Fullemann, transcribed it...
85.10.12/jf: why I made the interview with DT:
DT has performed organ and piano music since the 1940's. By the late 40's he had become one of the leading pianists of contemporary music in USA and Europe. During the 50's and 60's John Cage wrote essentially all of his piano music for DT. DT was unique in his ability to realize complex and sometimes unclear instructions /scores, permitting both the complexity and the indeterminacy to shine in the music.
During the 60's DT's interpretations began to include amplified and electronic sounds and in 1964 DT began to compose and perform his own compositions. He approached the music with all his skills as a performer, not as a theoretician.
As a virtuoso pianist, DT was always looking for difficult pieces to play. He was performer who was sure of his capacity and dared to perform live with unpredictable electronic instruments.
As a non-technician, his first contact with electronics probably (I'm guessing) were contacts with somewhat mysterious force. I have heard from JC and DT that there was often trouble with the electronics and cables in the early days. Without becoming over-awed by a new discipline, he began creating pieces which were based on his ability to assert just enough control over the equipment to get through a concert. The pieces were intuitively simple but very unwieldy in actual performance. For example, "Microphone" consisted of a microphone and a loudspeaker in the same space. The microphone signal was modified electronically and amplified to drive the loudspeaker.
Later as he mastered the technical aspects of electronic design he began to explore the many compositional techniques available with electronics as a more traditional composer. He could now manipulate time and space, a work with pitch and tempo; he could build circuits to test a theory or explore a phenomena. His interest is still in the creation of an instrument - an electronic situation - that he can play in concert, but there is less and less likelihood that the instrument will confound him. This music began with "Weatherings" composed in 1978.
The work that particularly interests me here is the period between the pianist and the composer where DT built increasingly difficult instruments to play. The pieces, and his special approach are, I think, unique in the development of experimental and electronic music.
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an interview with David Tudor by jf in Stockholm, August 31, 1984
F: I would like to explore this thing of how you make choices. You've got to make choices when you work, if something isn't made for you by how much time or how many loudspeakers or such. That kind of thing fascinates me.
T: You mean in the technical sense?
F: Well, both. In the case of the performance last night ("Dialects" at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm) or something like "Rainforest." You work as a composer and you work as a performer. Do you divide those two things?
T: I don't, no. Unless there is a formal structure the performance is like performing the possibilities which are in front of you. And so what's in front of you becomes the composition. And then going on from that, you choose among the possibilities what you want to appear, and then it's the task to make those things appear. So if they don't appear at one time, they might... then you try another time. The initial choice is, how much variety you wish there to be. So you try to make it happen or you try to arrange for it to happen. That's what I do.
F: So, you've set up a situation where you have some control and then you perform.
T: Yes. Well, I let it play itself as much as I can, but if it doesn't, then I interfere. (laughter)
F: For most of your compositions, you create a diagram or schematic. When does that take form?
T: It tends to change. (laughter) It takes form before the first performance, because in the beginning, I'm unfamiliar with the situation, so it's like I have to be sure I know the lay of land, so I make an initial diagram, then it gets refined. If I decide that one component is better than another or I add stages... I worked for a long time on phase shifting and feedback.
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My view is more or less what Billy Kluver said, when he asked me what I was using and I ran down the list of things that were available to me and he said to me: "Oh, you only have amplifiers" and you know, that like a light going on in my head, and I said "yes, that's exactly what it is. It's all gain stages of one kind or another." And that all came about in the first place because of my having a lot of equipment that I built myself where there was no question of a power supply common, so the voltages present were constantly unpredictable. That helped me when the synthesizer came along, because I hated the way those machines were so predictable and it's very difficult to make them sound, you know, different than they're suppose to. So, my first few runs using a synthesizer, I just accumulated all my gain stages and out them... tried to freak the thing out. It worked very well.
F: So they can be made to do something besides what the synthesizer designer planned?
T: Oh yet bet. I use the synthesizer in performance for one piece or another, I mean, for instance John Cage's "Variations VI." We had that and "Variations VII." We had that as part of the pot, but made a piece, and a, I had to make a piece, and the only thing available was this synthesizer. So I put all my gain stages into a single oscillator (laughing) and the poor thing doesn't know what it's doing. It turned out to be fun, eventually.
F: You image 'the lay of the land.' It's that you're exploring, crawling around in the machines?
T: Yes. Well, I don't like to tell the machines what to do. It's when they do something that I don't know about, and I can help it along, then all of a sudden I know the piece is mine. Otherwise, you set out to make a scale of pitches or a scale of dynamics; anybody can do that.
F: That isn't much fun. The best that happens is you'll succeed.
T: Yes. And if you don't succeed you'll be disappointed.
T: Its much better to be surprised.
F: When you're working on either a new piece or on a performance of a piece you've done before when you're setting the piece up, it's going to be different. How do you know when to quit setting up; when is it ready to fly?
T: Well, there are lots of ways of handling things. A lot depends on how elaborate the output situation is. For instance, if I have the chance to expand to expand the output, the I may be busying myself with splitting my output. You know, so that instead of having auxiliary channel I might have two channels or three channels or four channels and each one of those is like a different procedure, so I could stop without doing that, but I can continue, so it's fun to do that. On the other hand there's the opposite proposition, where for instance if the components are lacking then you decide what the essential thing is that's suppose to happen and do it with whatever is available. I mean, that's happened to me, when the freight didn't arrive and you're stuck with a mixer and a cassette recorder; you have to figure out what to do. (laughter)
F: Right. The permutations are fewer though.
T: My group had an interesting time when we were at I guess it was the Kitchen, and we wanted to work together, but we sort of didn't. None of was willing to really make a group piece. So we decided to perform as a group with the pieces that we each had. I had my "Forest Speech" which is a variation of "Rainforest." An I gave them the block diagram of that and Ralph Jones had a piece... he gave us his diagrams, John Driscoll and Martin Kalve, and there we were. I believe Driscoll was the only one who had any component duplicates which he could give us to use, and even that was only just the smallest part of what he was asking for. But everyone realized the other people's pieces with their own stuff, and it was all perfectly possible. And it was very interesting to see how other people did it.
F: But that meant you had an amazing amount of equipment.
T: Well, each had a table full, but... like my piece calls for those photocell switches... it calls for a momentary increase or decrease of gain. But however... the gain factor isn't as important as the gating factor, so any switch, any electronic gate will be acceptable. It's simply to make a perceptible difference above a certain level, or for that matter below it.
F: It's true, your block diagrams are more functions performed than they are exactly how each little gadget will do its task.
T: and Ralph Jones' piece was very much... like the oscillators that I used to use in the first version of "Rainforest," where its simply an amplifier where you take outputs from different points, near the output of the amplifier and pile up resistors, capacitors and eventually diodes and the whole thing... it's like a blocking oscillator that's made unpredictable. So, for Ralph's piece instead of building something we simply made networks which we attached to jacks and switched them around and the... and it eventually became a fantastic clip lead operation. (baby cry)
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F: When you've done a piece several times and have a sort of ballpark feeling, should it sound the same next time? You have some structure of the machinery... how then do you decide what's going to happen? Should it sound the same or should the machines be the same and then it can sound... Can you talk about those kinds of things?
T: One piece is different from another. Like Toneburst... that was done for Merce Cunningham's Sounddance. The essential thing that had to happen there was the rhythm taking over. So that halfway through the piece the rhythmic element would begin and eventually drive everything crazy. But other than that anything could happen because there was basically just an oscillation in a state of instability. But with that kind of thing the sound materials aren't important at all because there aren't any. Now, "Phomemes" was a problem, because that is suppose to have a second input to it. And making that one appear... like, the principal input is sometimes a problem, so sometimes I have to wrestle with it to make it happen. And then a lot of variation is possible because of the fact that there is a second input, so there is a real choice you can make.
F: You use that as your input so that...
F: So that you can quickly or brutally change things if you want to.
T: Well, the thing is that my focus is on the main input. I also control that, but how the second input interplays into that can make a lot of changes depending on what's available to me. Sometimes I make what seems to be the wrong choice, and I have to sort of correct the situation without removing what I've chosen. So, in other words I have to live with it. Oh, things can get real different; as a matter of fact, that piece now is at a point where its difficult to remember the original version.
F: When can you stop setting up an go for dinner? How do you decide when the piece is ready in terms of performance?
T: Well, my present operation is that the minimum thing I have to do is check all my lines to see that they're coming through to an output and when that happens I can decide either to rehearse or not to. The second consideration is whether the space is working, cause sometimes that's a matter of rearranging things. It depends on what possibilities you have of putting speakers in space.
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F: Are your pieces published? Do the pieces have a life out there on their own?
T: Not presently. There are lots of people who have learnt how to do "Rainforest" and currently there's a group in Miami that wants to do it. I have to get them outfitted, and several pieces are copyrighted. But I don't see a chance of their being published soon. what can happen is that they might be published in a magazine, or if I succeed in my plan... one day I want to write about the processes that I started with and developed, because so far I don't think anyone has attacked the phase shift problems the way I did. And in actuality, that process produced a lot of pieces. It's just on after another. All different ways of treating those components that have occurred to me.
F: Of gain and phaseshifts.
T: Yes. I mean, once one operation was successful, it immediately suggested the next one. It just multiplied and multiplied and then at one point I remember a concert in Toronto that Lowell Cross had organized. His input was a TV oscilloscope. And I happened to be sitting next to him and he was busy trying to make sure John Cage's chess board was operating correctly. So he said: 'can you give me an input?' you know for the TV thing and I said sure, so I sent him a line and lo and behold it was all working at 90û and so that caused the situation then to multiply, because I did lots of video with the same equipment so different things began to be added. And then eventually those components produced other kinds of audio. For instance , the end of the first chain happened in 1972 with a piece that was called "Untitled." That was another piece dealing with phase shift oscillation, but the core components were modulators. So there were 2 modulators in that, but the components were so many that there wasn't any possibility of performing that in a single operation. It was like sixty components with their associated possibilities, pots and switches and so forth. So I broke that chain and I took recordings of it several times. I then used that material at random. Then I made an output chain where I could perform, and that chain resembled what was in front of it, except that the two lines coming in had feedback loops in common with the outputs. So that worked.
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Then the next piece was what I had wanted to do in "Untitled"; to perform the whole thing without any tape material, and that was "Toneburst" where I got it all in one operation.
F: It was the most terrifying piece I've ever seen.
F: You've won a place in the hearts of the Buffalo audience. That piece is just unbelievable.
T: Well, you see, when I made "Untitled" that was made because John Cage and I had some concerts; he wanted to do simultaneous pieces. So he wanted something to go with his "Mesostics re. Merce Cunningham." His conception of how he was going to do it was that he would have to shout them. And so they would be very short. So he wanted something to go with it. That was a case where I looked at what I had at hand and I started out to work with it, but I had no intention whatsoever of making a wild audio situation., but that's what happened. So I thought... well, if that's what it wants to do, why not? The two things worked together perfectly.
F: To back up to the situation where "Untitled" couldn't be realized as one large electronic stew, how did you decide it couldn't be done, because it did get done later with "Toneburst"? Was it a constrain of time or of something else?
T: It was [due to] the fact that the original chain was double.
F: Two separate chains.
T: Yes, and trying to handle both... I mean the two oscillations coming there, each with their associated controls, and trying to handle that and then trying to handle the output... it was not that it was too complicated, it was simple too difficult. I mean, after all, feedback is feedback. And even though I'm good at isolating the output, in the end there is always the possibility that it will take off.
F: So "Toneburst" was just one of these chains.
T: It was just one. But in the case of "Toneburst" it added to the oscillatory input; it added output processing so that the same material was being processed in different ways. So that the output appears to be different, although it's the same material. That's what happened there, and later there were other pieces.
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There is a piece, I don't know whether you've heard it, called "Pulsers." It used the modulator that Gordon Mumma designed in 1970, 69. And when I was working in the Pavilion in 1970, well, to describe it... if it's interesting... I had asked him to make a modification system with a view toward its being able to be used by any person who was performing. I mean, it wasn't that he was doing it for me, it was to be part of a sound system, and that was his part of the design. And that system was suppose to consist of twenty channels, but I got beaten down to eight. One of the ideas involved was to be able to switch amongst loudspeakers. So there were actually thirty-seven loudspeakers, which could be programmed to have eight different spatial patterns, if you wanted to do that. So, he made eight channels of modification. of course on of the first things I did was to see: 'can these be used without any input?' So I chained them together in various ways an lo and behold, there they were, oscillating.
F: Sprung to life.
T: So after Expo 70, that equipment was no longer available. So all the pieces which I did there... I did ten different ones... were virtually gone. So I began thinking about it. Gordon Mumma was working with the Cunningham Company... and one day he brought along his prototype modulator and I asked: ' could I use it?' and eventually gave it to me. So when I went inside it, I poked around and I saw various things: there was a chip used, the 1545, which is bipolar in and out. So I immediately took the unused outputs and added another chip. And the I changed the threshold situation. My objective was really to find out: 'can I imitate what I had done', because I liked that material so much... I didn't want to see it die. So I found that by processing the output, putting it back and then...again it was phaseshift that did it... and then it began to have the same characteristic.
And then later I did the same thing with a piece of mine that's recorded and that is called "Microphone." The original material was made with this gadget modifying the output of two reverb chambers. And that's all it was, just microphones and... oh... the other thing was the fantastic Ling filter. I don't know whether you've seen one, it's an old tube device. Its got three gang-switched frequency controls plus vernier, so you can tune up 59... you tune out 60 cycles and retain 59, 61. It only went up to 5000 cycles. I believe the original design was to control vibration tables. Where I made this piece, in Mills, they had a whole bank of those filters just lying around. And I found that but putting the filter into this circuit I could tune the space. It acted as an additional gate. So...
F: The space became active?
T: Yes, and it was wonderful. It practically did it itself. I only had to touch the filter controls and al of a sudden the sound just disappeared. I tuned it up again and there it was... and because of the way the modulator was made, the sound... it became like oval shapes. Basically it was a kind of gated ring modulator operation, so the sound would start and it would go apart in frequency and come back together. So it began to sound like primordial beasts. But that was another attempt, you see, to recover the piece that was in Pepsi because having that space... the architecture was a three quarter sphere, thirty seven loudspeakers all over, in a sort of rhomboid pattern. And in my ideas for design I asked for two shotgun microphones. So one day I got up there and I was performing... I took the two shotgun microphones and aimed them at random into the space. And then I used the slowest clock patterns amongst the speakers. And it worked like a charm. I mean, you could never tell when there was going to be a sound. And of course they were modified through the modification capability, so it was very beautiful.
F: So that the loudspeaker space became active?
T: Oh it was incredible. Eventually you felt like you were on a barren seashore, listening to birds coming and going occasionally and there'd be a silence for ma long period, then all of a sudden...
F: Were there more pieces? That piece had room for a sort of audience participation...
T: Could have.
F: ...wanted or unwanted. That piece was vulnerable to traffic and whatever that came into the space. Did you do other pieces like that, 'cause "Toneburst" was closed; everything happens within the wires? Except for perhaps temperature and dying batteries and things.
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T: Well, "Pulsers" is a piece like that. For instance trying to record that piece. If you take a line level recording from it, all you've got are clicks and pops. That's all you've got... and the piece actually depends on the resonances of the loudspeakers in space. 'Cause otherwise the pulses have no duration. And I've experienced it time and time again, because, you know how difficult it is to make a recording while you're performing. So I asked other people to do it and I tell them: don't use the line or mix the line and the loudspeakers, and they don't get it. In Australia where I did it, for one of the best performances I ever had the guy hooked up both line and mike and after five minutes he disconnected the mike, so that recording was lost. Do you remember in Tokyo, at the NHK the "Pulsers" material? I recall there my great surprise at the beginning of the piece, because the characteristic of that material is that the pulses have a certain minimum tempo. And there in NHK hall, I was able to get sparse momentary sounds. And I wondered subsequently why I wasn't able to do that anymore, 'cause having done it, I thought: 'well that's one of the things that the thing can do'. The I realized that in NHK Hall there were speakers all over the place, which meant that there were long lines going out into that hall. That hall was actually huge. So what I had there was a kind of delay from the loudspeaker and that's why it was taking so long to feed back in. I mean, the input is under the control of a threshold and it enables me to reduce that to a point that's below the threshold that I would normally be using. Because naturally I trigger it according to what I hear.
F: Do you have an image when you work with a new piece? Sometimes it seems that you are sort of grappling with "Toneburst" when it's misbehaving or whatever. Or when it's doing well. It has a sort of personality that you're dealing with. Do you see it as 61 small gadgets and a lot of cables, or does it get a sort of personality? Especially when you work with a piece over years.
T: Eventually you discover certain critical points in a circuit, and its those that you pay attention to when things are misbehaving. The last resort is always to cut it off completely and start over - that's perfectly acceptable. As a matter of fact, that's part of the whole operation. I found that very rarely did I feel that there was an unacceptable situation, even though I don't like it when feedback takes off. But after all, having so many points with which to create variation... I guess what I'm trying to say is that since it's suppose to be an unpredictable oscillation, that's the condition in my mind. So that it stays in a so-to-speak static state, then that's when I have to grapple. If I get it balanced, it's constantly producing a variety of itself. That's the image that I have... that it should be producing this variety.
F: Showing it's stuff.
T: Yes. And you see, the duration of the piece has a lot to do with that very problem because I have another element which has to be added later on in the piece. If I don't have it in balance by that time, then I'm really grappling. (laughter)
F: I hope we can somehow get that piece recorded. If you're not going to perform it so much, it would be nice...
T: Well, let's hope there's a revival of it. It's awfully hard to record those... set up and perform those things without a real impetus to do it.
F: Well. The pieces since 'Sounddance,' what is your latest piece?
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T: The latest piece is 'Dialects.'
F: Which is what you'll do on Sunday?
T: Yes. You heard the recording of it from New York. Its gonna be like that, hopefully. I don't know, this space here in Stockholm is quite different. So, you know, I have to see.
F: What is the "motor" in that piece?
T: The motor?
F: Some of the other pieces started with: What can I do with a lot of gain, a lot of phaseshift? That was the mechanism for the starting point.
T: The motor as you call it in this one is rotation. The piece's commission originated from the Galbenkian Foundation, but the commission was through a studio, an electronic studio in Metz. And so I had to have a project not really knowing their studio. I decided to do my own thing. So, I knew that I was going to have to deal with multi-track and then I have this gadget which you've seen, that rotates four signals. So I laid down sixteen tracks, which amounts to four simultaneous sounds, all rotating, and then since I wanted to have a lot of multiple rotation, I used those tapes as one layer, and on top of that I had another rotating layer to be activated by myself in performance. That's its motor.
F: That piece must be a lot of trouble to install in different rooms?
T: Ah well... that's one where you really have to monitor the space and make sure that the outputs are at the right points in space. I mean, when you have two things rotating, you've got to make sure that it's going to be perceptible. But it's nice, I'm happy that I'm able to handle it. At first I had my hands full as it were, but now it's OK. I've doubled up on the outputs.
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F: In "Rainforest"... I guess it's now "Rainforest IV" where the sounds you hear come from the objects themselves. The objects aren't just resonators or sound sources but they're the whole instrument. That piece began as something else, right? with small things that were microphoned and amplified and sent out to loudspeakers?
T: That piece is a long story, actually. The first time I ever thought about it ... I recall I was asked to make a project for a Washington park, who wanted to have a more or less permanent sound installation. It was an opportunity to make a project, and I didn't know if anything would happen and eventually nothing did happen. But what happened was that my mind started working. and I thought that what I would like to do would be to make an orchestra of loudspeakers all having different 'voices' which would all receive a common input. I began thinking about it , not knowing a hell of a lot about electronics and I discovered this fascinating thing called the magnetic amplifier. And I began to look at all those windings and I thought, well, maybe such a machine would be able to switch amongst signals and outputs, and that was what I was after. That project never came about, but I still had those ideas in my head.
And then along came 1966 with the Nine Evenings. The first piece actually turned out to be the second piece that I'd ever done. And I had in the meantime tried to work on those ideas by assembling materials. So I found some transducers that were made to activate walls. I later went to see the manufacturer and I spoke to the designers and they told me that the reason that they were in existence was because the Navy had asked for the means to has sounds under water which could be heard above the water. And that they had designed them successfully for the navy... they had these floating units which were capable of a hundred watts of power. Only one of those ever came into my hands, but in the meantime I had the transducers and my first use of them was in the Nine Evenings where I had the possibility to utilize remote controlled carts. There were five of those, so I made five constructions. And I sent sound into them and caused them to run about the room. Besides that I had twelve loudspeakers which were switching the same signals, but this gave me the opportunity for the sound to get very close to the audience and move away from it, so it was like a spatial variation.
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So that worked OK, and those things sat around and Merce Cunningham asked me for a piece. Well, I have those things lying around, so I might as well put them to use. So, the first thing I did was to work on an amplifier to run them. I made an eight channel amplifier with small capacity. And I made object which I could travel with. And they were so small they didn't have any sounding presence in the space, so I then amplified the outputs with the use of contact microphones. So that worked OK.
Then for the second version of it I wanted to have a different kind of input.... because the first I had used oscillators that made animal like and bird like sounds. In the second version I wanted to use a vocal input to the system, the natural resonance of the object and its subsequent amplification. It's a kind of mechanical filter... so that was the second version.
The third version had to deal with the ability to have any input go to any transducer. So that...
F: They could be both animals and voices.
T: That could have been any sound input. I made that system for another simultaneous performance with John Cage, when he was doing his... I don't recall whether it was Mureau or not. It might have been. It was one of the pieces that changes all the time, so I needed to have a sort of continuous thing, so there I used tape sources, but having the ability to mix them or separate them into different output channels.
F: Were the objects being used as resonating, as sort of modulating devices?
F: Were the outputs coming back into the whole thing, or... they went through once and then out into the space?
T: Ah, they went in once and out into the space. I did experiment several times, for Merce's "Events"... where I did feedback into the system. But that isn't so interesting when the output is so small; it get very interesting when they're larger.
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So the next step was the 'Rainforest IV' where I had decided I was through with the piece. (laughter) I was asked to give a workshop, so I said: 'OK, I'm gonna give this piece away' (laughter). There the object was to make the sculptures sound in the space themselves. And part of that process is that you're actually creating an environment. So that when the contact mikes are perhaps filtered or not the purpose of the contact mike is to take the resonant frequencies which you hear at best very close to the sounding object; to take those into an ordinary loudspeaker which you can consider not as auxiliary but as enhancement. What that does when you establish the proper tonal balance is that you've got a reflection of the sound which you can distance in space.
F: The piece becomes even larger.
T: It becomes larger and there's a coherence there that's deceptive which I like very much, because as you move through the space there are sounds that you hear, that you've heard before or have heard somewhere else. And I wish to God that my performers could understand that, because they get so carried away with the fireworks that can happen in the sculpture itself that they don't pay attention to the tonal balance. And when you've got like six people all doing that, it can get pretty wild. It's at its best when it remains calm.
F: There is a serious problem when you work in an orchestra pit for the dance company: you as a performer have probably the worst seat in the house and your job is to provide everybody else with what's good. We ran back and forth from the balcony and everywhere to figure out: whatever it sounds like here is one thing; what it sounds like there is one thing; and you try and get some correlations with which you can function. But this problem of the joys and problems of being at the machinery and trying to remember that the audience has a completely different situation. There is no solution to this... you can't be in both placers at once.
T: You can only try. No it's a terrible problem. One has to wish for luck. Occasionally one has it. Like I recall... I don't know whether you were present there, but there was a performance of 'Sounddance' [Toneburst] in Tempee, Arizona.
T: In a Frank Lloyd Wright structure? Well! That was the most beautiful sound that the piece ever achieved. And it was due to the architecture. The place... one of the features was that there was a lot of red sandstone, which in itself is... softens sound, and it also makes it very clear. But one of the interesting architectural features was that the balconies were in a way disconnected from the structure, so that behind the balconies and at the sides of the balconies it went straight down.
F: There was space?
T: There was space. And the hall was quite large. And I wasn't in the hall, I was performing it, but with the acoustics present there, there was nothing I couldn't do. I mean I could push the gains way up and the sound was beautiful. And I think Behrman was doing the sound system at that time and he was out in the hall and he said: 'you know, it's fantastic... its like skyrockets of sound shooting around'. It was so clear, you know, you could hear the space every time. And I was able to switch like mad because you could hear it. You could hear it... it was like no overlap so the reactions become much quicker because everything is sharp and clear. Those are the nice things. But like one of the performances of 'Untitled' was in Royal Albert Hall, London. It was like (laughter) a railroad house... like a roadhouse. That's where I discovered the last refinement on that piece was the ability to stop the whole situation, because there when I did that, it continued for a while. (laughter)
F: When you remember concerts that you've done, and you remember the really good performances, the things that stick up as wonderful evenings... the equipment was good, or the spaces or the audience... what are the kinds of things you remember, that make you glad you were there doing music?
T: It's when the music is good. That's what I take away with me. It's when the pieces really work, when they surprise me and when I handle it well.
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Like, years ago when 'Pulsers' was still in good condition... but now it doesn't work anymore... must have burned it out... but I remember there were two performances in the Kitchen on subsequent nights, that being a piece that involves feedback oscillation. It's all a situation of sitting down and starting it, and seeing what you've got. Do you have anything or not? So, the first evening when I began to open the threshold, the piece began quite calmly with very slow rhythms. The piece, as I was performing it then, has a natural kind of structure which comes from my using a tape of an improvisation that Kosugi made with his electronic violin. And he make it for me because he couldn't do the first performance live. So that having to play a part in the way the piece evolves in time means that when his part comes in, the pulses have to accompany that or they can take over from it and you begin to make sure that all those variations are present. So it began very calmly and then the fast rhythms began to take over. But I mean, I made that happen. Now, the second night I opened up the threshold and all of a sudden ... it was like you were in a rock and roll hall. The piece was really jumping. So the process of calming it down became quite interesting. But that's the kind of thing I remember. I mean, when you've established a situation which you can handle in a musical way and where the handling of the components seems part of your fingers, part of your thought.
F: It's quite an excitement, that first charged instant when you begin to turn it on and see what's there. It doesn't matter, it doesn't help really that you've set it up and you knew how it all worked an hour ago... that was an hour ago.
T: A long time. But for instance in a piece like 'Toneburst' I'm too busy to think, whereas 'Dialects', performing it is like a thought piece, you know.
F: You're very self-conscious.
T: Extremely. That's a good way to put it. Well, not only self-conscious but, I mean, conscious of the environment.
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F: Do you have plans for another piece?
T: Next one is going to be a real vocoder shebang... I have plans for that. I'm now working on some circuit boards I bought that look very promising. It takes a signal and filters into banks. There are sixteen stages and the first sixteen are all odd harmonics and the second are all even harmonics. And so I'm going to work on that with a pan situation. It'll be more complicated than that because it's going to be double... the inputs are going to be panned so it should turn out well.
F: So you are moving into something new, you're leaving the world of feedback a little bit behind, if I could see a trend?
T: I'm doing something else, yes.
F: There was a phase where there was lots of feedback and the new pieces move in a different direction.
T: Yes, well, the feedback pieces have given me the whole thing about duration and rhythm., I mean, lots of things I can do in that realm, and 'Rainforest' is complete harmonious coherence... in lots of ways I can handle that. But now I really want to tackle the pitch elements, you know, and try and make something which is obviously tone. So that's the next step and then I'll...
F: The comes harmony.
T: Well, then it'd be simple... any number of ways to put all those things together. One day, I hope... thinking about what I'm doing, I wish to God that some of the projects I have that are out there... that I could finish with them. 'Cause I'm sure for instance that what I did on that Island research, the things that two parabolic or other shape antennae can do. If I had that for the work that I'm now doing I'd be further on, but I don't have it yet. What I mean to say is if I had been able to do more work in that field, I would have some principles which might turn out to be exactly what I need for the next things.
F: Yes, of course. That was a part of your work that couldn't be developed.
T: As a matter of fact, this interview is giving me a new idea. (laughter)
F: It wasn't for nothing. It's fascinating to me because I live a more pragmatic life... I think: there's a problem that has to be solved; for me the problems are usually given. And your job is to think of problems. So it's a whole new mechanism that for me is foreign.
T: Well, when you realize that things don't always turn out the way you think, I mean, there's one thing that happens: you started off working in a certain direction and it leads you somewhere else. For instance, you can start out to build an oscillator and suddenly you find it's not doing anything like what you had in mind. And then it may send you off saying, well, but I can use it to do something else. Or there's the other situation, which is even more revealing, when you start on a piece with certain given components, and then you know that everything is going to work so long as you have duplicates of this, or then you have another gadget, or your modulator has to have a certain, special quality. And then all of a sudden, you've accepted a commission and you have a deadline, the components were not there so you go to the shelf, you see what you've got and then you discover that there's really other ways to do it, other ways to realize an idea, and that's wonderful. (laughter) All of a sudden you don't have as much work to do. Or, I mean, that's how things chain along because then having already realized it, without what you thought you needed, you can continue with getting what you need and by that time, you've already got a new piece; 'cause the first thing stands for itself.
F: So in a way, the composition is bounded by the equipment and yet its not... it's a very elastic situation.
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The phrase 'Composers Inside Electronics'... how did that come about?
T: Well, I tried to think of what we were doing, that other people don't do, and the thing is that we...first of all... that we built equipment but also that we think about what's inside. And is it doing what we would like it to do, or what it can do? Instead of using the components as givens like university composers (laughter). It's amazing... kids go to school and they get their hands on all that expensive equipment and they don't have the experience of starting from nothing.
F: Was that phrase 'Composers Inside Electronics' used first with the 'Rainforest' group?
T: We did it afterwards.
F: I think of it in connection with the guys, but has the group done things besides 'Rainforest'?
T: Oh yes. We do our own stuff. We've had several series. It was just a means of really getting a group name. That's the only thing I could come up with on short notice that expressed my opposition to synthesizers et cetera.
F: So, the phrase is a description of the group?
T: Yes. They're a good group and I especially like the fact that they all come from different disciplines.
F: Are there analogies between your music an cooking?
T: Oh definitely.
F: You are about as wild when cooking as you are making music.
T: Yes, performing is very much like cooking: putting it all together, raising the temperature. (laughter)
F: Scrounging Akihabara for ingredients.
T: What pleases me a lot is when I succeed in making a piece that you can really perform in (real) time. That's one of the reason why I have not really addressed digital electronics. Because I know that it would be quite hard to bring about a performance situation which would be as sensitive as the analog one. At first I was disturbed by the fact that putting up a whole bunch of components on a table and sitting down is not really very visual. But the fact is that many people have pointed to that, actually enjoyed it. I remember Linda Fisher, when she heard 'Pulsers' for the first time, she couldn't get over it. You know, the fact that I was actually shaping the music, the way an ordinary performer does, playing an instrument. And the fact that I was able to do that with an electronic instrument, she pointed out to me, is important.
And there're still so many things that you can do, I mean... it's obviously endless. Maybe one day I'll take a different tack for a while. (laughter)
F: You used to work up quite a sweat playing the piano.
T: Oh yes. Well... I'm going to start to try computer control, not sound generation, but going to see if that can get wild.
F: They can be handy as help-mates. They can have more fingers than you have or something.
T: Yes. Phil Edelstein was looking at that circuit for a spectrum analyzer and he said: 'Well, you don't even need to use the display.'
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