"I smile when the sound is singing through the space"

An Interview with David Tudor by Teddy Hultberg in Dusseldorf May 17,18 1988


TH: How did it all start, that you got interested in music?

DT: We had a piano at home and my mother had played piano very well when she was alive. I never had any choice: the moment I was shown a piano, I had to see what it was all about and that was that.

The organ started much later, because my father played the organ. Since my mother had died, I very often went with my father to his church because he had to work there. When he saw that I was interested, be put me in contact with a teacher. My first career was launched at that point.

TH: Were you playing the piano at the same time?

DT: Yes, I was doing the piano at the same time, but when I was twenty or twenty-one I decided to give up the organ. When I met my teachers, Stefan Wolpe and his wife Irma Wolpe I was so struck by the intensity of the music that they showed me, that I decided that an a pianist I would have much more opportunities to play contemporary music than as an organist so I decided to move to NYC to pursue the piano actively.

TH: Did you compose for the piano?

DT: Oh yes, early on. I have same 'chicken scratches' for the piano. Nobody has ever seen them, but they exist. (laughter)

TH: What are they like?

DT: There are some very interesting notations. I won't say anything more. (laughter)

TH: When did your interest in contemporary music begin?

DT: My first recollection was my organ teacher who had taken me as an apprentice. One afternoon he played a piece of Messiaen on the organ and I laughed right out loud when I heard it and he himself tried not to laugh. He could not understand why I was laughing but it was with joy; the intensities of the harmonies and the resonances and you couldn't keep it away from me after that.

TH: How old were you then?

DT: Eleven.

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TH: In the late 40's, beginning of the 50's, you got together with John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown and Christian Wolf. Where did you meet?

DT: In NYC. Feldman had been a student of my composition teacher Stefan Wolpe and I had been performing Foldman'a piano music and at one point John Cage needed a pianist, to perform not his own but someone else's music [Boulez-Second Piano Sonata] and at that point I met John and our friendship has not stopped since that time.

TH: You were also both teachers at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. When was that?<

DT: 1951 was the first year and I was there every summer including 1957 when the school dissolved.

TH: Could you tell us something about your activities there?

DT: Well, the activities were mostly independent but John came two of the summers I was there. We had fun, there was a lot of activity. At Black Mountain, the summer period was always special because there were always guest Professors invited for the summer of which I was one. When you realize that at a school like Black Mountain the maximun number of students they had was ninety and the faculty were nearly always thirty or forty, it was not at all academic (laughter). It meant that the students were shared among the teachers and that meant a marvelous interplay amongst the faculty because more than one person was concerned about the same student.

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TH: The project, for "Music for Magnetic Tape" was something that, you and John Cage engaged in. How did that start?

DT: John was interested in anything that could be considered experimental at that time. In the musical world there were many composers who were doing things that they didn't know how they would turn out in the future; there were composers using electrical instruments, composers using microtonality and there were composers who were interested in electronics.

In those days one did not have easy access to electronics so John Cage tried to find something like we now would call a grant situation and a friend of ours gave us 5000 dollars to start experimenting with magnetic tape so we could use an electronic studio and pay an engineer.

John Cage started the project and I helped him as much as I could and after a few weeks he made an assessment of how much money was left and what could be spent and he decided he had to immediately make the composition because all the time had to be spent on realizing one single thing. And it was clear that experimentation takes a great deal of money so he decided that in order to have a result, they should make a project which would enable one to experience things to the greatest depth possible.

The composition was called the Williams mix because the man who had given him the money was Paul Williams. He had been an architect at Black Mountain and he was our friend. As John approached the composition, he organized his sound material into seven different categories. for instance, city sounds, country sounds, electric sounds, natural sounds and so forth.

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TH: At this time you were not so involved with electronics, you were playing the piano and you had your European debut at Donausuchingen in 1954. What did you play then?

DT: They had commissioned a premier piece of John Cage [34'46.776" / 31Í57.9064"] which he and I called "Colloquial", or the Whistle piece because he used accessory sounds in the work and one of the most convenient things you can do without your hands is to blow a whistle. The title of the piece itself deals with length of time. The part I played was 34 minutes and some seconds and his was 31 minutes and some number of seconds and later on there was a part composed for string instruments and still later there was a part composed for percussionist and the whole thing is to be combined in any way or each part can be played individually a la Cage.

TH: How was this music received? Do you remember it?

DT: (laughter) I remember it very, very well. You see, actually the performance in Donaueschingen was the first in Europe and the piece was commissioned for the Donaueschingen Festival. They insisted on what Europeans love to call a dress rehearsal (laughter), which was an absolute conundrum because you don't dress to rehearse.

In any ease, when they heard the piece, they got cold feet and wanted us to shorten it. John Cage was furious but he later agreed to some compromises with the understanding that the Sud-West Funk, who were recording the concert, would give us the recording and that they would make the recording after the performance because everyone seemed to understand that it would be a total scandal and that it would be impossible for anyone to even hear the piece, which turned out to be the case.

I remember that people came from the WDR in Koln and they were so ashamed about our reception at this concert.

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TH: You also played and lectured in Darmstadt between 1956 and 1962. What do you think of that period when you look back to it now in the late 80's?

DT: Well, it was a very interesting period, and it was fun. A lot of people who were vitally interested in composition were present at the same time and so there was a lot of exchange of ideas and feelings. I don't think there has been anything like it since that time because it was ver intense. However, I don't know what the new Darmstadt situation is. My own memories of it are that, there were a lot of people with common interests who were suffering through common grievances: that the food was so bad, that the time schedule was inconvenient and all those kinds of things but we all enjoyed working together and it was a situation where there was violent approval and violent disapproval and that it didn't make any difference because we were all living in the same world.

TH: What was your position in Darmstadt?

DT: Well, basically I wanted to communicate to Darmstadt ideas which were unfamiliar to them and to do my best to demonstrate them. I also wanted to gather now works to take back to New York where I was dealing with the opposite situation: performing European music that people there had never heard so I was like an emissary, going back and forth. However, my first purpose in going to Europe was to play American music.

TN: Did you meet Teodor Adorno in Darmstadt?

DT: Yes, I mett him several times. I enjoyed talking to him very much, he was like a familiar spirit to me, for he had been a great friend of my teacher Stefan Wolpe and I have experience with different musical worlds, so I understood Adorno. I admired his books for as far as he was willing to go. At the same time I understood why he couldn't accept the ideas Cage and the American school were bringing that were really going to change the face of music because either you can live with it or you can't, but that didn't change my admiration for him at all.

TH: How and when did you start working in electronics?

DT: It was something that grew on me. As a pianist in the 50's and on into the 60's, I was using more and more electronic equipment in the performances. I became interested in the kinds of equipment that were not at my disposal and how they could improve my performance, so I began looking around. I would say that there were two people who were very important in different ways. One was Toshi Ichianagi. We worked together a great deal in performance. Toshi was a student at a seminar that John Cage gave at the New School for Social Research. John's proposition for teaching was to teach people how to make compositions dealing with the world of parameters and coordinating various parameters together and so Toshi's work began to reflect that. He at one point composed a piece for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company which was to be an orchestra piece but in typical Ichianage fashion, he decided that he had to make parts even though it didn't matter whether the whole orchestra was there or not. Toshi's score was one of such vagueness that it made me think, how can I do this with electronics? His proposition for the performer was to make choices between various ideas. Like 'add something', 'subtract something', 'multiply something', 'divide something.' It had nothing to do with electronic music at that point, but the question was: 'what kinds of performing actions can I make that are going to satisfy those conditions?' The other person who helped a great deal was Mumma. He had been around radio men, broadcast engineers and electronics buffs for years, so his suggestions were always to the point, although he never offered any solutions. He didn't say 'do this', or ïdo that', he just told me about something that somebody had told him or he said, 'maybe you should look at the cables', suggestions really of practical help.

I think that, those two people really set my mind to thinking about electronics in such a way that I began to think about sound sources. You see, it was repugnant to me to use the piano as a sound source.

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TH: Before we go any further into your electronic pieces, I would like to ask you a few things about your long and fruitful relation with John Cage. Cage has stated that his own music from 1950, when your partnership began, could not have existed without David Tudor. Could you comment a bit on that statement?

DT: In a way, I'm not the person to answer that question. You have to understand that. I mean, there were many common interests that brought me and John Cage together, and that causes us to continue working with enthusiasm together. The thing was that I could do anything that he asked, there was no proposition that I couldnÍt attack in my own way to bring about a solution. For instance, when he was composing the 'Music of Changes' he was with Morton Feldman and I a lot, and we were always talking about musical problems and I remember seeing the first two measures, the thrill, the excitement of seeing the notation and of looking at something completely unfamiliar.

You see, I hear sound off the page, so it was very exciting for me, even without sitting down and trying to do it.

But at one point, John had to make some compositional decisions, and he said: 'how many arms should I assume that you have?' I don't remember what I told him, but I do remember that in the case of the whistle piece which we performed at Donaueschingen I already had a lot more experience, so I told him, 'sixteen'! (laughter) But he had asked me the same thing about the Music of Changes and I think I said eight. That may have been what influenced him to make the composition with eight voices. That refers to the musical structure: there are eight possible voices. But of course, that's for a pianist with sixteen arms, right? (laughter)

TH: When we look at some of the scores of John Cage, were you not in a sense a co-composer when you realized them? How do you draw the line between interpreter and co-composer?

DT: Oh, I think it's a great line. I crossed over it with great difficulty because I always wanted to be a faithful interpreter and my whole early training was for absolute realization of a score which is a very complicatedproposition. For instance, nowadays, I feel that many people don't read John Cage's score in the sense that they don't realize why the instructions are difficult to understand. Now, when you look at a score that somebody presents to you and you see that you are following the instructions and the way they are laid down, you are the composers' helper. If you have to select a medium for yourself in which to realize those materials, then you have to think about how far you have to go in order to realize it. One example is John Cage's Cartridge Music. All the instructions were given. All you had to do was to do what it said quote unquote and bring about a performance score for yourself. However, in doing that, there are a lot, of small things which cause you to actually alter the readings you got from the score. For instance, for the determination of time, John Cage had employed a clock on transparent paper which goes around from one to sixty. Well, one thing which I discovered very early on was that when you are performing, there are lots of things you have to do besides looking at a stopwatch or thinking about the time. So after a while, you think, 'Oh, I was so late, what am I going to do? I'm supposed to hurry,' or, 'the time is so long, I have nothing to do, what shall I do?' So after looking back on it you decide, well, it's not important what minute it is, it's only important what second it is, so then you see that if you make your determination only reading the second hand and it-does not say what minute it is, then all of a sudden you are giving yourself a freedom of interpretation which you didn't have before.

It was years later, because John and I performed this piece for many years, that I found out that he had done exactly the same thing in his own realization. And another thing which I had done was with reading a time bracket. If you take a time bracket, it says you start at :05 seconds and you stop at :35 seconds. It's also possible to read the bracket backwards. I mean, what difference does it make? And John was also doing that himself, but he had never told me. He had never told any of his performers that that was possible. But that's also given in the score material. If you look at it, precisely, you see that there are those possibilities.

Now, John Cage had a series of Variations. In the First Variation, we both followed the score and made precise determinations. We commonly decided upon the time length and everything fell within that time length and the proportion that we had read. When it comes to Variations II, the material given by Cage began to be much freer and so many more determinations were necessary. One thing you had to determine was what instrument you had to use and in the case of Variations II, it didn't matter what instrument. That is, it didn't have to be one instrument, it could have been many instruments. This was a new piece and I wanted to make it a new experience so I wanted to experiment. I decided to do it for amplified piano. I had been assimilating experience using electronic equipment. I looked at the score and thought, " how can I realize these parameters using electronic equipment? /". Now involved in my decisions was the fact, that John Cage always makes his electronic notations according to numbers. For instance with the gain control, he looked at how many gradations there were on the dial. Well, gain controls can be made in different ways: you can turn the control almost all the way up and there is no change in gain or it can happen very immediately half-way through the control and there is no further effect. I had to find some relevant means of using this amplification as part of the instrument. It's not just amplifying the instrument, but the whole thing taken together is an instrument of its own.

So I began to look at the parameters and I made certain decisions as to what was important and that enabled me to make a score of my own. I looked at it and I said, 'well, this whole proposition is so fraught with chance- happenings, that I have to be able to have a score which itself incorporates all those possibilities, at the same time being faithful to the readings which I make from John Cage's material. So I made a series of nomographs. They had every notation I had made but I could see every parameter at one glance. It was like a sign to me saying that you have to realize this within a certain time bracket.

Well, when you go that far, then in a sense you are co-composer. However, I still would be unable to call myself a co-composer. I call it my electronic version and I give my name as it's being my version.

TH: Could you tell us something about your collaboration with Cage in bringing about the work Indeterminacy, that began with a suggestion from you?

DT: Yes, he wanted some sounds to accompany his reading. He suggested the parts of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, that those might be used, or anything else that I wanted. I had already prepared a great deal of material from the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra but for John's lecture he wanted quite a length of time, so taking the notion that the time of the performance had to be adjustable, I then looked over the material that I had and I even made more. The method was that I looked over all the graphs from the Concertos which would only produce single ictii (accents) whereas when I performed the piece with Orchestra I included both that mode and also the linear mode, with cursive figurations. Then I looked at all the graphs containing single points or which would produce single ictii and I expanded each graph to the same proportion. I made a notation of this proportion like a book. You simply turn the pages and you could select what material you want. With that in mind, I could play the whole thing in fifteen minutes if I were a genius or thirty minutes, or forty-five minutes, or an hour. Eventually we performed it for three hours and there was always plenty of sound material. It was fun.

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TH: When did you first sign your name to a composition?

DT: I was working in electronics a great deal and at one point when I was working on an electronic set-up, the thought came into my head, 'well, this is mine', you know, 'this belongs to me.' At that point. I signed my name to the composition. That was very important to me because I was playing works of many, many composers and I was employing electronics and many of the procedures were very similar. I discovered that if you work very seriously in electronics there is a point where a certain sound-world or a certain color conception can appear, an electronic set up that's hooked together with a certain idea. And all of a sudden you realize that it has a life of its own. And that's when it occurs to me, 'it's I who have done that,... I have given life to this configuration.' So then I decided that I have to sign my name to that. I can't say that anybody also did it.

TH: When was that?

DT: The first time was 1964 although the first one I actually signed my name to was Bandoneon in 1966. But the first piece was actually in 1964 which was done at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and at that point I had not titled the piece. I titled it after that [Fluorescent Sound]. It was done at the Festival for Modern Dance and Robert Rauschenberg who was doing a dance collaboration with Steve Paxton asked if I would do the music. I said yes and I walked around the museum and thought, 'what am I going to do?' I noticed that there were -it must have been- a thousand fluorescent light bulbs. One day I was in the room when someone was turning on the fluorescent lights and they didn't know which to turn on and all of a sudden there was the most beautiful music. I thought, 'OK, I'll put some contact microphones up there from the bulbs to see if the sound can be made really audible.' In these days the museum had only two large rooms. The room where the sound was beautiful was actually the foyer but the room I had to work in was the larger gallery and when I tried it there, it worked OK but less beautifully than in the other room. I think there were more light bulbs on the same switch in the large room which seemed to make a difference. So then I had to get up on a large ladder and place the contact microphones which actually took nearly three days. Fortunately I had help to do it because there were, I believe, 75 switches with three light bulbs on each switch. It was a big job. It worked very beautifully. The only problem was that Bob Rauschenberg was to come in from the side entrance of the museum riding a Brahma cow, which he did and they were afraid that the cow would do something indecent so they asked me to stop the music. (laughter) That was my first composition.

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TH: I would like you to speak more specifically about your electronic works. Could we start with Rainforest IV?

DT: My piece 'Rainforest IV' was developed from ideas I had as early as 1965. The basic notion, which is a technical one, was the idea that the loudspeaker should have a voice which was unique and not just an instrument of reproduction, but an instrument unto itself. An offer came, which didn't get realized, but I was asked to make a proposal for a park in Washington. The idea was to have a sounding outdoor sculpture, so my mind began turning around. I thought, 'wouldn't it be wonderful if each sculpture sounded completely different from the other and the whole could be run by one machine which would be like a commutator.' I eventually acquired some devices called audio transducers. They were first developed for the US Navy because they needed a device which could sound above and under water simultaneously. I went to see the manufacturer of these devices and they gave me several samples. They later produced a commercial version. I had them in 1968 when Merce Cunningham asked me for a dance score and I decided that I would try to do the sounding sculpture on a very small scale. I took these transducers and attached them to very small objects and then programmed them with signals from sound generators. The sound that they produced was then picked up with phono cartridges and then sent to a large speaker system. Several different versions of this piece were produced. In 1973 I made Rainforest IV where the objects that the sounds are sent through are vary large so that they have their own presence in space. I mean, they actually sound locally in the space where they're hanging as well as being supplemented by a loudspeaker system. The idea is that if you send sound through materials, the resonant nodes of the materials are released and those can be picked up by contact microphones or phono cartridges and those have a different kind of sound than the object does when you listen to it very close where it's hanging. It becomes like a reflection and it makes, I thought, quite a harmonious and beautiful atmosphere, because whereever you move in the room, you have reminiscences of something that you have heard at some other point in the space. It's a large group piece actually, any number of people can participate in it. It's important that each person makes their own sculpture. decides how to program it, and performs it themselves. Very little instruction is necessary for the piece. I've found it to be almost self-teaching because you discover how to program the devices by seeing what they like to accept. It's been a very rewarding type of activity for me. It's been done by as large a group as 14 people. So that was how our Rainforest was done.

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TH: When I look at your recorded works, "Pulsars" and "Untitled" are the ones that follow. Do they develop along the same lines as "Rainforest?"

DT: Let me see. "Untitled" was the next piece and that was developed from experiments that I was making with feedback amplifiers. Already in Rainforest I had discovered that because of the output situation, I mean the sound generators going to a loudspeaker which was capable of transforming the sound, when I made the small objects for the Rainforest sound generators I found that very simple inputs make the most complex result. If you take a very complex result, it would become very predictable, but if you take something rather simple, than in the end the sound in the output becomes astonishing. It's like a revelation. In order to make those generators I experimented with feedback amplifiers that were capable of unpredictable oscillations The next step for me was obvious because I was searching for a way to generate sound without any input source material. Rather than think of tone generators or recordings of natural sounds etc., I experimented with principles of amplification, trying to make amplifiers oscillate in an absolutely unpredictable manner.

In the and, it turned out that I didn't even need any amplifiers because most electronic equipment uses the principle of amplification. You need filters, modulators and mixing equipment which have gain stages. By piling these components up, I was able to work without any sound generators and I made several pieces in that manner. One of them was "Toneburst" which was also done for Merce Cunningham. "Toneburst" had a large component count.

In 1972 John Cage asked me to make a piece to be performed simultaneously with his reading of his Mesostics. And so again, I was looking around for what to do, and I decided, 'wouldn't it be nice if I could have a complex piece with very simple equipment?' I took the ideas that were in Toneburst and decided to use two chains of feedback generation. The component count began to rise alarmingly so I thought, well, the sounds are totally unpredictable, so what I'm going to do is to break the chain and record it and then I will use that as indeterminate material to make the final performance.' The final performance diagram closely resembles the way the input sounds were generated except that it also contains feedback loops which enabled me to perform with a relatively small component count of say, 40 components instead sixty or eighty.

TH: What work was this?

DT: It was called "Untitled" and was performed with John Cage's "Mesostics re. Merce Cunningham" The first performance was at Radio Bremen.

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Another piece I have done, also in 1973, is called "Microphone" which was commissioned by the Mills College Electronic Music Center. The original concept for it came from work I did in the Pepsi Pavilion at the Expo '70 in Osaka. There I oversaw the design of a sound system that I tried to make flexible enough to accept any kind of performer.

In the and, the number of loudspeakers in the space was 37 and there were 8 input channels which could contain modifying equipment. Each of the eight input channels could have a program card which routed them to the 37 loudspeakers in different ways so that one could make circles and squares. The building's structure was that of a 3/4 sphere so that the spatial propositions were quite interesting.

I was one of the programmers from the musical side, to make material to listen to while you were examining the pavilion and I made ten different programs there. One of them dealt with shotgun microphones which are highly directional, using them in conjunction with the modifying equipment in the sound system without any sound input. That is, nothing went into the microphones except the natural feedback.

Now, the modifying equipment gave me gating possibilities, since by simply pointing the microphones in space and then having the sound moving between the loudspeakers at certain speeds, the feedback would occur only for an instance. There were marvelous sounds made that reminded me of being on a lonely beach, listening to birds flying around in the air.

When I left the Pepsi Pavilion, I no longer had the possibility to make the piece but Mills College gave me the opportunity to work with multi-track recording and they had two echo chambers that were very far away from the studio. So I thought, 'OK, lets see if I can reproduce "Microphone" without the original space,' so I used both echo chambers and the same modifying equipment and lo and behold it worked.

The recorded version of Microphone is a collage of nine different versions. I believe there are three on one side and six on the other.

Actually it has been performed as an environment. I did it with Alvin Lucier years ago where all the tapes are independent so that it can go on for hours.

Another program I did for the Pepsi Pavilion dealt with trying to make the whole system occilate, again without any sound input. By manipulating the threshold controls to all the modifiers in sequence, rhythms began to appear and the degree of their variability was really extraordinary.(laughter) When I was performing this at the pavilion, people started to dance on the floor. (laughter) And again, I couldn't recover the piece because it, was so dependent on that system but I happened to have the prototype of the modulator and I thought, 'If I apply my feedback principles (which incidentally always start with different degree's of phase change), maybe I could reproduce those rhythms.' So I did it. The first time I did it was for a dance work of Viola Farber and her company and later I expanded it to a concert piece. Since in a sense there was only one principle of sound generation I decided to influence the sound output to make as many different kinds of sounds as I could. If I had 12 loudspeakers, I could produce 12 different sounds from the same input material. So I had recovered that piece and it was "Pulsers".

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I use the principle of making the sound outputs different enough that you could not recognize them as being generated by the same signal, in all the later pieces. For instance, one of them was called "Phonemes", which was also a dance score for Merce Cunningham. There I took two sound modifiers. One of them was a vocoder which could chop sound into small pieces. The second device I took was a percussion generator, somewhat like a percussion synthesizer which permitted me to lengthen the attack to several seconds. So then, I thought, 'now... if I take short sounds and lengthen them and I use long sounds on the vocoder and shorten them, I have two processes which can overlap'... and so I began experimenting. Listening to the combinations, it reminded me of speech. The sounds were very short, so I called the piece "Phonemes".

I then made a later version of it to be a concert piece. That one features the longer sounds rather than simply the short sounds and that reminded me of listening to a foreign language that you can't possibly understand but you know that it is a language. So I called that one "Dialects".

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TH: You have often collaborated with choreographers, visual and laser artists and now you work with Jackie Monnier with her mobiles and sculptures that move in the wind like the one that you are performing here in Europe for the first time. What is this piece called?

DT: The one we are doing now is called "Lines and Reflections." Our work started with a score done for a film of underwater kites. The kites were made by Jackie Monnier and they were manipulated under the water and filmed. The filming was done by the American filmmaker Molly Davies and she and Jackie asked me to do the music so I went out in the boat and recorded sound underwater and arranged the material in the same way as the film material was structured, without following the events by any means. Then I thought: 'wouldn't it be nice if we could make a sound environment outdoors with the kites in the air,' so my mind started to work on that proposition and I discovered that it is not so easy. The way to do it is to try indoors. So I asked Jackie if she had some kind of mobile that would resemble a kite. She began to develop sculptures which she calls lines and they hang vertically and contain structural elements which resemble kites.

It was obvious to me that radar was the way to go and I hoped to use the same radar equipment that I first used in 1966 which had great power capability. Well, it turned out that the radar system that I had access to was not sensitive enough for a kite-like situation. So now I'm working with another kind of radar which is much more sensitive. At the moment, I can only do short range transmission because, well, it is very expensive to use high power levels.

TH: How does the radar function in this piece?

DT: It transmits the frequency out into space. The same device also receives the frequencies back and any movement in the path between the transmission and the reception causes a shift in the frequency and it's as simple as that. These days, for instance, if you protect your house, you can also use radar or you can use ultrasound, it's the same principle: you get a signal back which can trigger an alarm, but in my case I take audio frequencies from the devices and those I use to trigger modulating equipment. In a sense it's very much like the principle of altering the output to disguise it.

TM: When you look back to your earlier works, and compare them with what you do today, do you see any line or development?

DT: I wonder. I like to think it is changing, but when I look back at lots of things I have done, it occurs to me that I make a situation which Japanese people, when they come to my concerts, see immediately, I put myself into the most difficult and complex situation and try to get out of it. No matter what I touch, my approach is a complex one which works, so to speak, in circles or spheres because I work around the problem and eventually it begins to talk to me and when it does that I know that I have a piece.

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TH: More than any other electronic composer you are really a composer inside electronics. That was also the name that you gave to your group: "Composers Inside Electronics". Is it right to feel a polemic tone in this description?

DT: I purposely selected that title because the people who were working with me were working in that manner. That is, instead of using electronics as given instruments, they were working with the circuitry, trying to alter it, influence it, discover what it can do and that's a totally different method of working in electronics and I thought it should be propagated. As You know, especially in America, you have so many schools teaching electronics and they are teaching with expensive, complex equipment which people cannot possible afford to have at home. What are those students going to do when they come out? Nowadays students are coming to me from schools working with computer technology and they find that the computers they have at home are not large enough to do what they were able to do in school so that instead of furthering the musical situation, the people who were capable of doing it drop away. When I work with other people we try to make do with very simple resources. I can give you an example of what Composers inside Electronics did. We were asked to give a series of programs and we decided that each one of us would take one evening and we would all perform the same work. Now that created a dilemma because the equipment for each piece is unique and only one person has it, so we were not able to duplicate the equipment. The problem became 'can you realize the same electronic principles, the same composition, with other equipment?' And it turned out to be very possible and surprisingly easy. It was a joyous experience to find out that you were actually doing somebody else's music with things that you had on the shelf.

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TH: What do you think of today's electronic music situations?

DT: I'm following it a bit. As long as there are people who realize that machines are not interesting and that behind any music there has to be a live person, I think that we might be able to overcome the omnipresence of synthesizers and keyboards. A lot of it is in the character of the listening: if the loudspeakers themselves are just pumping something canned or whether they are really talking to you, and that's something that really only a musician listening to it can give you. I mean, if you have a musician performing a piece who is in the same space, who is listening to the sound, who knows when and how to make an alteration to enliven the situation, then you feel that something live is happening. If you don't have that, then you have to accept the fact that it's like going to the cinema. Things won't progress if electronic music remains on that level.

TH: You also said, I think some 16 years ago, that electronics were virtually an undiscovered field. Do you still feel that today?

DT: Well, I would still say that, there is a lot to discover and I know it seems that electronics is mundane in many respects because of the computer technology but if you look at the background of the analog technology, there are marvelous things from two centuries ago that are worthy of being investigated.

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TH: When you perform, sitting behind your tables full of components, you give the impression that something is going to happen here that is not totally predictable. It seems that you want to surprise yourself as much as you want to surprise the audience. Is that correct?

DT: Oh yes. When things are going very well, I might smile. (laughter) I have been known to laugh at my own performances, just for the joy of it, not making fun. When things are really lively, it makes me want to get up and leave the table and let it play.

TH: Is that the same laugh, perhaps, that you had when you first heard that Messian piece at the organ?

DT: I think it's very similar. (laughter)

TH: You try to do other things with your sound gear than what they are intended for?

DT: Yes, I attempted to express those things with that group title, "Composers Inside Electronics." One of the things that I tried to imply with that title was the realization that an electronic component can seem to have a personality very much in the same way I try to make loudspeakers have a special voice. If you really examine a device that you might buy, like a filter or a small mixer, and you actually try to experience its capabilities, you have to push it, to ask it to do something that it's incapable of doing. When you make those experiments you find out that unique things are happening because you are influencing the electronics. I mean, take the classic experiment of using ordinary feedback: just take the output of something and feed it back into the input. Those of us who do that have had really rich experiences. And it is obvious that that line of experimentation can continue. And we can expect to continue producing.

TH: You are happier when you are doing something that you have not done before. Is this still true?

DT: Absolutely. Rather than taking the engineering criteria for granted, I have tried to discover what actually is unique. I recall my own astonishment, years ago, when I attempted to explain the kind of complex hook-ups that I make in electronics, I mean, many people have asked me about them and it's not an easy thing to explain. Once a physicist came and said, 'well, what do you have here' and he looked at everything and he said, ' Oh yes, you have only amplifiers'. And it was like a light going on in my head. Looking at the map in that light, I can understand why it's possible to gain unpredictable results from something which has predictable specifications.

TH: Like Cage, you have said that you are interested in leaving sound to itself, that sounds should be themselves, that sounds have to be free. Do you still hold that view?

DT: Yes, I certainly do.

TH: Why do you want to free sounds?

DT: (laughter) It might be presumptuous of me to think that I could free them. The thing is I want them to be free. As we were talking before, when the sound appears to be live in the space, then it's free, it seems to flow by itself and not to be caused by some specific intention, especially of an intellectual nature. If you put yourself in a situation of unpredictability and then find that it's completely possible to accept it, then you become an observer. Then you see that the sound can be free. I know it's hard to be clear about that, because a sound is something that you receive, but when you put sounds together, they are in a context and if that is burdened by an intention to conquer or an intention to impress, then...well, if I find myself in that situation, I'm rather unhappy. I smile when the sound is singing through the space.

TH: Do you think that this freeing of the sounds has some social implications?

DT: Yes, I hope so, but you'll never hear me talk about it.

TH: Why not?

DT: I'm not that kind of a composer.



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.