Music of Our Time: A Second Wind for Organ
by Richard Teitelbaum (circa 1968)
This article was originally on the back of Tudor's LP of the same name (circa 1968). It is reproduced here with the permission of Richard Teitelbaum.
One of the most significant developments in the music of the past few decades has been the extension of the tonal and timbral possibilities of conventional instruments inherited from the 18th and 19th centuries. These extensions have included the use of extreme registers, broadened dynamic range and new timbral resources obtained by means of unconventional performance techniques.
Recent piano works have called for playing directly on the strings, framework and case and for the introduction of new tone colors by "preparing" the strings with objects of various materials. Of the pianists who have experimented with these innovations, none has contributed more than David Tudor. Now, in this recording, Tudor brings his creative experience and knowledge to the invention and discovery of new techniques of organ playing. Each of the three works is performed on a distinctly different kind of instrument, and Tudor employs techniques that ideally project a sound world unique to each composition.
For instance, in Improvisation Ajoutee, Mauricio Kagel has specified an instrument of huge dimensions, affording massive sound clusters and a wide range of timbral variation, set in a surrealistic context that at the same time recalls and grotesquely caricaturizes traditional organ music. By contrast, Christian Wolff's For 1, 2 or 3 People is performed on a small baroque instrument and presents startling successions and juxtapositions of individual sounds that are both amusing and strangely moving. To produce these sounds, Tudor has invented unusual techniques analogous to the prepared piano, including the removal of certain pipes, partial opening and closing of vents, percussive playing on the pipes and the use of contact microphones to pick up and amplify small sounds. Finally, Gordon Mumma's Mesa, for Cybersonic Bandoneon, mates a popular Argentine tango instrument with electronic sound-modifying modules to produce a work of mysterious intensity.
Since 1948, Tudor has been devoted to the performance of contemporary music, both instrumental and electronic. He has performed virtually the entire repertoire of contemporary piano music, including premieres of many works written specially for him, in concerts throughout the world. Recently, Tudor has involved himself in the creation and performance of "live" electronic music, exemplified by the performance of Mesa heard on this recording. Tudor's own work, Bandoneon!, was one of the most remarkable events of the much discussed "9 Evenings of Theatre and Engineering" held in late 1966 in New York.
Mauricio Kagel was born in 1931 in Buenos Aires and was active there as pianist, conductor and writer until 1957. Since then, he has lived in West Germany and has written a number of works which involve the performers in theatrical as well as musical actions, such as Sonant, Sur scene and Antithese. Improvisation Ajoutee (1961-62) calls for a four-manual organ and two or three performers in addition to the organist himself. These performing "registrants" are required to carry out changes in registration during the course of the performance, thus facilitating rapid changes in timbre that would not otherwise be possible. The composer has written about this work: "The improvisation arises through the statistical nature of the timbre transformations. The tension between visual perception of the registrants' score and its practical realization creates a spontaneity in cause and effect. The three players add to the sound of the organ-voiced events in a tone-color scale ranging from humming to shouting."
This recording was made in New York City at St. George's Episcopal Church on the superb Moller Organ designed by Ernest White. The parts of the registrants were performed by Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma and Michael Sahl.
Christian Wolff was born in 1934 in Nice, France, and came to the United States in 1941. He studied classics at Harvard University, where he is currently teaching. In the interest of freeing both sounds and performers from the conventional concepts of musical structure and continuity, Wolff has employed unusual compositional methods and notations that have been likened in function to the role of rules governing the conduct of games. The composer has written: "A situation is indicated, but not when one enters into it, nor, necessarily, for hew long one is in it. Durations of the individual notes may be indicated as relatively short, long or free, or they may be determined by the requirements of a situation.... The players constantly have options of what to play (say, one of three pitches, any pitch at a fixed loudness, any loudness at a fixed timber).... It's as though you take a walk with a friend or friends, going by whatever way you like, agreeing on the way, with a direction in mind or getting lost or going nowhere in particular, and you are absorbed by this: the landscape in which they walk is what is given."
For 1, 2 or 3 People was written in 1964. was written in 1964. Any instrument(s) may be used. This performance was made on a Schlicker Baroque Organ belonging to the sculptor Richard Lippold. Taking advantage of the special resources of the recording medium, David Tudor has superimposed two versions of the same material, one played on the keyboard and one from the interior of the organ. The selection of material for the superimposition was made in a way which remains faithful to the requirements of the score and admirably realizes the composer's conceptions.
Gordon Mumma was born in 1935 in Framingham, Massachusetts. In collaboration with composer Robert Ashley, he established the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music (1958) and the annual ONCE Festivals of contemporary music (1961) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is presently a composer and performing musician with the Sonic Arts Group, the ONCE Group Theatre Ensemble and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Mesa is a duo for Bandoneon wit electronic sound modification. The Bandoneon is an accordion-like instrument of the organ family and was invented by Heinrich Band in Germany during the 19th century. Elaborate electronic circuitry, designed by the composer, is attached to the Bandoneon. This circuitry determines the sound modifications and musical continuity by semi-automatic, or "cybersonic," means.
Mesa was commissioned for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company production of "Place" under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. The work was premièred in August, 1966, at the Fondation Maeght, St. Paul de Vence, France, with David Tudor and Gordon Mumma performing.
© Richard Teitelbaum