Interview with David Tudor

Tomkins Cove, NY, March 28 1995


MR: Well the general question I was hoping to get your thoughts on is the question of this trying to teach your music or trying to teach live electronic music and have it carried on, have it performed by other people and of how whether or not it can retain its life as a growing organic kind of music or whether that is desirable or whether it has a kind of ephemeral kind of existence that is not suited to that kind of perpetuation. And because you are teaching some pieces to John Adams [current Company sound engineer and musician], for instance, I was interested in how you were conveying that information and how he is accepting it and how you feel about other people performing your work.

DT: Well it is something that I've wished for and I would appreciate your input. How do you think it could happen? I'm willing to ...ah..

MR: Well there is a certain amount that can be gleaned from listening to recordings for instance. And there's lots of recordings of your performances. And there are your diagrams that you were showing me today which are useful in another way and there's other kinds of documentation that is useful like photographs and videotape..which convey some aspects of the work but I wondered how much, how necessary is for instance your personal teaching or the teaching of someone who you taught in, you know, allowing someone else to perform your music?

[pause]

MR: You know especially when a lot of it depends on specific things that you have built.

DT: Well that's a side issue cause ah..... If you build something yourself the end use of which is somebody is going to perform with it then you always do the best that you can but it is very hard to make a device that works perfectly....So they are all going to be personal

MR: I wasn't thinking so much of the perfection of the devices as the personal quality ,like I mean you have these instruments in your collection which are unique which might make it difficult for instance for someone who didn't know you or didn't know how those were constructed to fully understand the way a certain piece was made.

DT: Clearly if I was to start thinking about this problem there are a number of conditions which underlie this selection of equipment and um so that if I have to think, there are a number of ways to attack this problem and one question that you're asking already is how do I make it my own if I am teaching it to other people, but uh somebody has to be aware of the kinds of designs which I seek out and, it isn't for me, it's never a question of my taste, because I am perfectly willing for my music to exist with somebody else's taste.

But the thing is that there is some principles that have to invent a way to realize like uh, like say somebody is asked to do a piece which I have done. And so one of the first things would be to uh to list the procedures involved in performing it and analyze them for uh their content in this way, is something given or is something invented. In other words, is it sound which is already in existence or does it have to be created from scratch? And I haven't met many people who really think in that way. So, that my own questions would be how to teach people to make choices, how can I do that? You're faced with a situation that gives you alternatives.

So, okay why don't we start again and take a different tack?

MR: Different tack? Well let's see. Do you think there are pieces of yours that could only be performed by yourself as it stands because only you know...or are there pieces that you wouldn't trust to another performer for instance? Maybe you could, are there any examples you can think of of where people were performing your works, and whether you were teaching them or not, how you felt that that was good or bad or...

DT: Oh the most obvious example is Sounddance where I haven't attempted to teach anybody and the situation is that anybody can do it. But how can I teach it in such a way that I teach my, I have to call my dynamic of performing it. after all it's the material, the sounds are already there, it's just a matter of ....

MR: ...matter of distributing them?

DT: Yes, that's a very good word.

MR: And like you said in that piece there was a particular time at which you want to change the E.Q. settings for instance, that's something that you know and you have a time for.

DT: And anybody can do it.

MR: But I think it would be hard for someone to pick up what you're.. It wouldn't be natural necessarily for another performer to do the same things that you are doing with those sounds.

DT: Well if I look back a couple of years ago it was when I was making that piece for its present performance I had to make those master tapes and I did that by using the original three tapes that formed the basis of the composition and then rerecording them and so in other words, they were rerecorded as though they were being done newly again. So I had the opportunity to listen and to reequalize them. And the thing was that it involved me listening to them again and deciding if they were adequate. So I have to say that when I went through that process I was extremely conscious of the energy level that was given by the tape that I was listening to and if I needed to, I would redo it and increase, if it wasn't sufficient I would find the means to enhance it to release more energy, more sonic energy. Conversely, I might have left it alone or I might have reequalized it to give less. But that was my concern that each component of the composition have sufficient energy...when I arranged for that composition to be performed, the conditions were still the same. I have to listen to the energy released by each, each CD

MR: Now that the piece exists on CD [source materials are played back from CD instead of from cassette], do you ever forsee yourself performing it in the old version or for would you prefer that if someone else was to make a realization or would you enjoy that if someone were to recreate the original?

DT: Yes I would. In many ways I would prefer that to my giving elaborate instructions to be followed to the letter for its reproduction. I prefer actually showing somebody else how to attack it.

MR: Well that part of what... I mean you've never taught in an institution but you've been a teacher all along as well to many people. Like the group of people who did Rainforest for a number of years with you were kind of your pupils, in a way. In developing that piece, how did you get across to them your idea about how it should sound or the kinds of sounds that would be appropriate to use in that context of the source material. This is information that is interesting to me now because I am trying to make a realization of Rainforest with this class of students at Wesleyan. And it is going kind of nicely but there is sometimes perplexing questions about how to go about things...

DT: Well the first thing is to set up a transducer so that you can listen to various sonic material which is sent throught it. The first thing would be to, the very first thing would be to find out, to ask yourself if you have any instinct about what kind of material to send through a transducer. Your transducer, when it is attached to an object. There are lots of ways you can strike the object itself and test its resonance and get a feeling for what kind of material you should send through it. And so if you have...you have to listen for what frequencies it responds to. I'm trying to think if I can recall, if I can recall an object which didn't suggest anything...any sort of sonic material to put through it. But early on I tended to avoid those materials. I avoided glass.

MR: And if the people you were working with were choosing objects they were also choosing their own sound materials.

DT: Yes, that was the condition if they were working with me, they had to make their own decisions about that.

MR: Were there ever any times when you made suggestions or criticisms?

DT: Searching...there really wasn't. I'd have to remember who it was exactly. There was a guy who was thrilled with the whole process. And what he did sounded very good but when he was testing, I was around listening to his tests and whenever he found a result that was very striking he wouldn't leave alone, he would push it some more to see if the object could take it. And he stopped when he had destroyed four transducers. So he realized he was taxing the situation.

MR: But it wasn't you who stopped him.

DT: No, I didn't stop him but I told him I didn't have more transducers to spare so he would be limited during his actual performance so he got the point [laughs].

MR: And I guess, I mean in the instructions I've read for Rainforest composers and performers the only thing you forbid is composed music.

DT: Yes.

MR: Does that really mean that anything else is appropriate or are there other...

DT: I'll tell you what it doesn't mean. It does not mean that you should not compose for it. But it means that you should do something that you do intentionally for the instrument and not just think that the instrument is going to respond, whatever you give it. Well, for instance, it's a delightful exercise to get a like a transducer that is resonated by a wooden object and one which is resonated by a metal or it could be glass, you know something which rings and then to ah to ah set yourself up so you can put any sound material through to any object. So, it would be very tempting to make an orchestra of instruments that you could play, you give a tango party and play tango through all of these instruments and one after the other and it would be glorious, I can guarantee you. But it is not going to be my piece. [laughs]

Well, if you are interested, when I did it at Chicaro well the hell is--New Hampshire?--That is the first time that I did it as a group composition.

MR: When was that? 1972?

DT: Yeah, when I did it I thought of it, the fact that I was giving away this piece. It was like a class, small class and I had to show them how to do it, so I felt like I was giving it away. But ah, in order to protect myself I did the following. I had been given a very beautiful object by I think it was John Driscoll who found and I think it was the rim of a wagon wheel. And so I said I know just what to do with that and so I made him set it up for me. And uh, then I listened to it a little bit and I spent an evening making a recording for it. And you know, it was rather gorgeous. So it then became you know in the afternoon we planned the opening night. So they wanted me to, they said they all thought I should do the first sound. So I played this tape through the wagon wheel and it worked like a charm....like it set the tone for anything else which came. It wasn't that other people were supposed to do similar...on the contrary I had already instilled in them that their task would be to release the specific resonances of each object. So that worked.

MR: Are there any other of your pieces that have been performed on occasion with others? Or has it usually been in collaboration with you or are you alone?

DT: There are....

MR: I guess just in the context of the company there are a number of pieces that you share like the neural network piece which you used to perform

DT: With Christian...

MR: What kind of ....you said in teaching John to perform, you said you gave him tips, you gave him pointers on doing those pieces that you could do, like when you were touring last fall. I'm curious what kind of advice you would give. I guess it was the neural net piece.

DT: From that I arranged to hear one performance that I didn't play in. It was somewhere in the south of France. Afterwards I told him that I had a complaint that it sounded as if they were afraid to perform cause nobody dared to push any gains to extreme, cause .....[to the dog, Fergie] Did you bring me a cracker? [laughs] He's a sweet dog, I wish I had my own. [telephone] One of my performance idols was always Ferruccio Busoni [sp]. I read Busoni very often came on the stage with his dog and his dog would sit on the rug in the corner and would not utter a sound during the whole concert. So I thought that would be very inspiring to have a dog. But it hasn't worked out....I 've had several cats which I would have died for, but they're gone.

MR: But you don't have a cat now.

DT: No I don't.

MR: The notion of live electronic music means that it's in flux, and not to be repeated, and it's hard to pin down in a notation, and that makes it difficult to communicate, unless it's a verbal communication, an oral tradition. And Gordon Mumma, when I talked to him recently, spoke of an oral tradition in the company, and in live electronic music in general.

DT: Mm-hmm?

MR: Where things didn't need to be written down, where people either knew each other so well that there was no need to speak, or, things were taught explicitly and then worked on as a group until the proper performance was achieved. So, I'm really interested in the question of the communication of this knowledge.

DT: Well, my approach was always to encourage the, that the objects should teach you what it wants to hear.

MR: In Rainforest again?

DT: Yeah in Rainforest. And so I, you know, when I failed with a couple of people I attributed it to the fact that I hadn't been strong enough to indicate to them what the object wanted to hear. But there were some performers in Rainforest which were, I couldn't get them to do anything strong enough. Because I looked at their material, I knew and I couldn't, I don't know what it, I always thought of it as my own failing if it didn't sound well enough. Like you know, David Behrman never managed to make a characteristic result. I was expecting him to do something quite strong, but it didn't occur to him. Then I had to think, you know, it wasn't his piece. If it was his piece he would have pushed it.

MR: Hmmm. But in a way in Rainforest and in your other works too if somebody else is going to do it then they really have to take on the role of being a composer as well as a performer so there is a responsibility for composition that rests in those pieces as well.

DT: Oh I always thought it was a nice piece because it would teach itself. It teaches itself.

MR: Yeah, that's what you'd hope but in the case of the class that i'm working with right now for instance, there is confusion in the beginning about what's the intention. Like somebody for instance wanted to have a drinking glass but wanted to fill it with water and somehow that didn't seem be quite, but I mean it was with the intention of changing the pitch or seeing the water vibrate or something and that...

DT: That means, is that telling me that what he did was to fill it full of water as a sound source.

MR: No, but to have a glass full of water being driven by a transducer and somehow the water seemed to be like an extra thing that wasn't desired. But it's not forbidden.

DT: No, it isn't forbidden.

MR: But nobody said the objects had to be dry. But, ah....

DT: Did he try two glasses of water? [laughs] There was a case that, of, uh, who was it? He was a good friend of mine who, he had two transducers and he had, there was the sound of water... the two transducers on a, oh, what do you call it... a lever. And the idea is that one fills up and then the other one tips over. What is that called? Oh, it was Nic Collins who did it.

MR: Huh, huh, you mean so it's like a balance?

DT: A balance, right [laughs]. It was fascinating. [laughs].

MR: So what would happen? One would... there was two... each one... was it two cups?

DT: Pardon?

MR: Two cups?

DT: Yup.

MR: Each with a transducer.

DT: Right.

MR: And there was the sound in one of...

DT: Gosh, I think...

MR: It's escaping you?

DT: [laughs] Right.

MR: But it was the, was it the visual effect of water being...

DT: We'll have to ask him how he did it. It was fascinating, it was fascinating, I just loved it. He's still, he's in Amsterdam.

MR: Mmm.So, as a Rainforest object, would that seem, like if somebody brought something like that as an object, would that seem outside the boundaries?

DT: No, not at all, no. No, the only thing that, uh, I would ask as the composer of the piece is that the, whatever's driving the objects, as sound, be uh, doing something sonically, it's contributing to the sonic environment.


mattr Sept. 13 1995


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