MCTC Sound Arts
Expanding in Reverse: Rediscovering Predecessors in an Electronic Music History Course
The body of knowledge available to a society that is of use in...practicing arts and skills.
The technology is just a tool.
- 2 Year Associate's of Science degree (60 credits)
- Teaches fundamental principles, with significant work in all 3 domains
- Focus on using sound for creative work
- Scope not limited to music
Transforming the Course
- Very broad overview
- Separate from the production courses
- 'Ear stretching' to develop sound imagination and aesthetic listening skills
History and Literature of Sound Arts
Anthropology defines technology as:
The body of knowledge available to a society that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.
A History of What?
Electronic >> Technology
Music >> Sound
Neither the phonograph nor the Futurists were electronic!
after Aeolus, god of the wind
Greeks, 2nd century B.C.
Hydraulis vs. Telharmonium
- Overcame human limitations to produce & distribute sound
- Complex enough to require 2 people
- Limited tonal complexity and range
- Physical performance skills shifted to operation of the apparatus
New paradigms of power and limitations:
Heron of Alexandria
10 AD – 70 AD
- Work for both entertainment and serious mathematics
- Inventions range from party tricks, to a vending machine, to a proto-steam engine
- Many include algorithmic programming
- Introduces function and power of algorithms
- Sophisticated work with relatively simple technology
- Concrete, observable example of control systems
- Sets the stage for later analog (synth cv) and digital (generative) music systems
As a Point of Entry for Students...
Heron's maze of conditionals and sub-routines are not entirely different from a Max patch...
Including ancient works allows students see that...
fundamental concepts behind the use of technology need not be tied to a particular tool, power source, or point on a timeline.
there can be conceptual continuity between eras.
- Mainly American composers between roughly 1900–1940
- More on the fringe and with fewer resources than their European counterparts
- Almost no electronic music or access to new instruments, but the sound imagination of early electronic composers
California/Upstate New York
New Musical Resources
Written in 1919, not officially published until 1930
Rhythmicon (later built by Leon Theremin)
Musical system using the harmonic series for both harmony & rhythm
Use of player piano (later done by Conlon Nancarrow)
The seminal American experimental composer
String piano, tone-clusters, use of folk music in America and other cultures
In the player piano, Nancarrow had an early MIDI system:
- Note messages
- Pedal control (MIDI CC #7 and #64)
- Complete non-realtime control of tempo and sequence
- Independence of pitch and tempo
- Editing and memory
Strong musical relationship to the RCA MKII and Milton Babbitt's work
First Construction in Metal (1939)
Prepared Piano (1938)
Placing object between the strings to dramatically change the tone
Practical solution to wanting percussion music when only a piano was available
Used as a solo instrument, in ensembles, and to accompany modern dance
- John Cage (prepared piano)
- Charles Ives (1/4-tone pianos)
- Edgard Varese (percussion works)
- Harry Partch (instrument building)
Early Field Recording
After Edison's 1877 acoustic phonograph, electronic music histories of sound recording tend to move to the musique concréte of 1940s.
with Zoltán Kodály
- Began acoustically (1906)
- Captured non-Western musical language in Western notation
- Analyzed and integrated folk song into their own language (not verbatim)
- A case where sound recording was crucial behind-the-scenes to music
- Intertwining of technical and creative histories of sound recording
First-ever wildlife recording in 1889, age 8!
Wanted by Nazi regime, immigrated to England
Developed the 'sound-book'
Lifelong travels, recording, archiving, and broadcasting with BBC
- Electronics are but one way of building and using tools for musical expression.
- Highlight 'big ideas' by showing historical continuity.
- Encourage students to find that continuity in their own view of the world.
Expanding in Reverse (AES)