David Tudor Interviewed by Joel Chadabe

Tomkin's Cove, 9/8/93

Project of Music for Magnetic Tape

It was John's idea. It was John who supplied the ideas and motivation. And the project actually began because our friend Paul Williams gave us some money. He was a godsend. I worked closely with John in the first year. Th spirit was to be all inclusive, so one of the first endeavors that we made was to categorize sounds.

The Barrons acted as sound engineers, as a team. They worked with us for several months. Then, because the money was running out, John took the tactic that we should record all the necessary material, so the last monies were spent with the objective that we would have all the material in our hands necessary to complete the splicing. The Barrons helped to record and prepare all the material, and of course they made contributions out of their technical knowledge and recording methods.

We established a method of working. The main work was splicing tape for Williams Mix, and the splicing continued at Monroe Street. John and I were impoverished. There was no money to throw around. I recall that at one point the money was in danger of running out, and so John and I made an assessment of what had to be done so that the funds would last until the completion of Williams Mix, and subsequently Paul gave us another sum of money to help continue.

Then Earle came and offered to help. And spent more and more time helping.


[I started to work with the merce cunningham company in 1953...]

The first version was composed as a score for Merce Cunningham. I made eight small objects-they were small sculptures-and I programmed the objects with sound generators. For the second version, it was the same eight objects, but the sound material was John Cage speaking. The third version was designed to be performed simulataneously with Mureau, one of John's compsitions. At some point, I decided that subsequent performances should be entitled Rainforest IV. That fourth version was designed to incorporate microphones, with the idea that the microphones are releasing the sound of the objects. You put the sound through a physical material, so that the physical material transforms the original source which is fed into it, and if you can manage to amplify that sound with a microphone, you release the harmonic content which the material gives to it.


[The tour was in 1972.]

There was a tour that John Cage organized for me. He thought that we should go around Europe. He got a number of engagements where we could work together. The idea was that we should each do our own work, but simultaneously. It's an idea which he had in his mind, the idea of simultaneous composition, and I know the first time he used that idea was a collaboration with Lou Harrison, and it was an idea which persisted in his mind, so he organized the tour for the two of us. We performed in London, Switzerland, Cologne, and I recall the last performace was in Spain, in Pamplona. It was outdoors, poor John, that was the very last performance on that tour. And whereas in Cologne, John and I agreed to do an evening-length performance of Mureau with Rainforest III, in Pamplona our last parting shot was to do the other collaboraion which was John singing his Mesostics Re Merce Cunningham together with my work called Untitled.

That was actually one of the high points of my electronic career, that piece called Untitled. Even for me it was unimaginably wild. I didn't set out to make it a wild sonic piece. Rather, I accepted it because that's what it was. Untitled was an electronic hookup designed in such a way that it had no beginning, no point in my thinking where the sound originated. However, the manner of making the hookup was to connect the end of every chain to the beginning, so in order to establish the state of total oscillation, once I set out to realize that, I saw what I had done, that was what the piece was, and I had to accept the fact that it was out of control. Because that was the situation that I set out to make. A complete feedback loop. But highly involved. There were... I counted them at one time, there were sixty feedback loops in the electronic hookup. And so the manner of performing it became three tapes recorded as source material for the performance, and then those tapes were connected to a final output which was again variable under the control of my performance. The tapes had been created by the feedback loops. The number "60" came about because there were sixty components involved, and I was not about to travel with sixty components to create the source material, so I recorded it and then subjected it to the feedback loop which was under my control, and that was one of my most enjoyable experiences. The first performance of Untitled, with the Mesostics... was at Radio Bremen. It was a radio concert with live audience, and so John and I had the opportunity of working for a whole evening before the performance because we had to test out the piece to see whether we could do it, and we were both amazed. John's idea was that the character of the mesostics would be best realized by him, as it were, in a single breath, and that he should shout it, he should shout the text. So it really came out wild. It was so unpredictable, it was just wonderful. It's the kind of thing that couldn't be done again.

My next piece, subsequent to that, maybe the second piece after that, was another score which had been commissioned by Merce Cunningham and I had been working with the feedback loops and the whole concept of electronic feedback and so I thought, "why not try to do it live, completely, without any source tapes?" The dance was called Sounddance, the music was called Toneburst.


Maurizio Kagel had introduced me to the bandoneon, and he had composed a piece, Pandora's Box, for me. I bought one bandoneon and had one built for me, a big one, so I had in my mind that I would make a performance with it. And so when they asked me to do an evening at 9 Evenings, my thoughts grew, and I started to accumulate equipment, and I saw the possibilities in using the bandoneon.

My approach was to make a situation where I controlled the maximum number of tonal variables that I could obtain through the use of peripheral instruments. There was a lot to take care of during the performance.

[bandoneon with contact mikes =to= vochrome reeds (no sound) but mechanically vibrate the relays.]

Bob Kieronski, a friend of mine, designed a device which he called the "Vochrome." It was a set of harmonium reeds, pirated from a harmonium, in an enclosure that was made to be as soundproof as possible, because my desire was not to have the sound of the reeds present. And I attached two contact microphones inside the bandoneon to vibrate the reeds. Bob designed the Vochrome so that it would mechanically vibrate relays, and then he recalled that he had in his basement some old relays and that he could connect them to the Vochrome. One day, when we were trying it out, he said that the only problem with the relays was that they're in sequence and you have to start a sequence from the beginning, so would you like it if I put a switch on your bandoneon so that you can reset the relays to zero. That was one of the most important things, because by touching that button I could stop the sound. The silence was deafening, because the sound in the Armory was extraordinary, so reverberant. Once you started something oscillating, it would go on forever.

So according to the pitches that I played, the sounds changed. But the relays not only changed the sounds, they changed the way the sounds were distributed to the loudspeakers. There were twelve independent channels and 12 loudspeakers. And Fred Waldhauer contributed a device that he called the "Proportional Control," controlling the loudness of the sound in the loudspeaker proportional to the instrument. I had established discrete switching between loudspeakers through the Vochrome device, and I also wanted smooth control.

Then the signals from the same contact microphones were sent to Lowell Cross' TV Oscilloscope, which displayed visual patterns at the same time as the music.

And there's more: I had made a number of large sculptures in the manner of Rainforest. I think there were five, because Deborah Hay had a piece with dancers on platforms that could be sent around the space, and she wanted to have music, and I agreed to do the music if I could use the platforms for my sculptures. So the sounds from the banondeon also vibrated the sculptures. My idea was that they would be sent around the room, that their sound would circulate. The audience was on three sides, so they would come close to the loudspeakers. And for that, I had to have five operators, seated on chairs, sending the platforms around. They were really radio-controlled carts.

Small Instruments

Flexibility, portability, and cost, but it was also because I could get the sound which I wanted to hear.


This page was last updated on November 29, 2001. For more information contact: John D.S. Adams @ scrump@earthlink.net
or D'Arcy Philip Gray @ starchy@cam.org. Server space generously provided by Electronic Music Foundation.