The original release featured Charles Amirkhanian’s selections of electro-acoustic works by seven women who were, or would become, prominent composers of their day. Although the 1977 album title (New Music for Electronic & Recorded Media) did not refer to gender, the project sought to raise the visibility of women in classical music. The composers selected were Johanna M. Beyer, Annea Lockwood, Pauline Oliveros, Laurie Spiegel, Megan Roberts, Ruth Anderson, and the soon-to-be well-known Laurie Anderson.
As with many technological developments from the beginning of the twentieth century that came to fruition after World War II, the ideas of early electro-acoustic composers outpaced the readily available technology. For example, Johanna M. Beyer’s 1939 Music of the Spheres, which opens the CD, allowed violins to be substituted for the three electronic instruments specified in her original score. The first performance of Music of the Spheres as conceived by Beyer was produced and recorded in 1977 specifically for this album. After a lion’s roar and triangle duet opening, the piece unfolds with one of the electronic instruments performing an ostinato figure that gradually accelerates and then decelerates while the other two electronic instruments present a two-voice contrapuntal melody, punctuated throughout by occasional triangle attacks.
The repetitive motorized sounds that open Annea Lockwood’s World Rhythms are jolting after the serenity of Beyer’s work. A composition exploring the polyrhythms of nature, a series of initial water sounds precedes an overlapping succession of recordings of pulsars, earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, rivers, peepers, fire, storms, waves, and breathing. Recordings of nature and the shared journey are important elements in Lockwood’s work, and would be displayed again on a larger scale in her well-known A Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982) and the recently completed epic A Sound Map of the Danube.
Oliveros’s 1965 San Francisco Tape Music Center work Bye Bye Butterfly demonstrates her early use of electronic music technology to create an improvised real-time performance piece. The studio equipment available to her was too large and bulky to move easily into a concert hall, so her works in this style were improvised directly to magnetic tape. She continued to work on this concept, which she called the Expanded Instrument System (EIS), and its current digital incarnation, created with design and programming contributions by Panaiotis, David Gamper, and Zevin Polzin, remains central to much of the music that Oliveros composes today. Bye Bye Butterfly opens with a primary texture of electronic combination tones processed through tape delay feedback loops. Halfway through, a recording of Madame Butterfly is introduced and processed in a similar fashion (a precursor to the digital sampling and looping we take for granted in music today). Oliveros explained that she simply wanted to include an LP recording in her new composition, and her choice of the Madame Butterfly disc was completely random. This chance selection, however, can also be heard as a metaphorical goodbye to Pauline Oliveros, the orchestral French horn player from Houston, as this spirit from the past mingles with the new sounds of the experimental composer she had become.
Appalachian Grove I, inspired by mountain fiddle music, is an up-tempo, computer-generated composition by the highly inventive and under-recognized composer Laurie Spiegel. Produced at Bell Labs in 1974 using Max Mathews’s GROOVE programming system, Spiegel says the piece was “composed in reaction to an overdose of heavy, sad, introspective contemporary music.” Spiegel’s simple computer-generated timbres result in the discrete, fast-moving dots of sound that dominate the composition. The pointillistic opening leads to a passage of sustained sounds that then return to the initial texture. A broader selection of Spiegel’s musical experiments from this period can be heard on her EMF recording Obsolete Systems.
The two Laurie Anderson pieces that close the CD, New York Social Life and Time to Go, gave the world its first exposure to the experimental composer/performance artist who would soon achieve mainstream success with the rise of Oh, Superman on the British pop charts. New York Social Life follows Anderson through a day of quick conversations often beginning with “Hey, how are you,” and ending with “really busy now,” “we should really get together,” and “got to go.” Interspersed are a gallery owner’s lament that “It’s just not like it was in the ‘60s, those were the days,” and a man from Cleveland inviting her to perform, saying her work is “not really my style, kind of trite, but listen, it’s just my opinion.” Her day ends with a friend calling to say “and listen Laurie, if you want to talk, I’ll leave my answering machine on and just give me a ring any time.” Anderson delivers her text with a waltz-like lilt accompanied by an unconventional performance on the tambura by Scott Johnson. Time to Go opens with a guitar and organ riff performed by Johnson as Anderson tells the story of Diego, a night-shift guard at the Museum of Modern Art whose job it is to snap the patrons out from their “art trances” and tell them to leave. As the story ends, a multi-tracked minimalist violin duo by Anderson thickens the texture while her voice continues to repeat the phrase “time to go.” -- Douglas Cohen
1. Johanna M. Beyer - Music Of The Spheres (1938)
Performed by The Electric Weasel Ensemble
Donald Buchla: Frequency Shifting
Brenda Hutchinson - Pulse Control
Allen Strange , David Morse , Stephen Ruppenthal - Synthesizer
Charles Amirkhanian - Triangle
2. Annea Lockwood - World Rhythms (1975)
3. Pauline Oliveros - Bye Bye Butterfly (1965)
4. Laurie Spiegel - Appalachian Grove I (1974)
5. Megan Roberts - I Could Sit Here All Day (1976)
Danny Sofer - Drums
Phill Loarie & William Novak - Voice
6. Ruth Anderson - Points (1973-74)
7. Laurie Anderson - New York Social Life (1977)
Scott Johnson - Tambura
8. Laurie Anderson - Time To Go (1977)
Scott Johnson - Guitar, Organ
Compilation by Charles Amirkhanian.
Originally released on LP by 1750 Arch Records, 1977.
CD re-release by CRI in 1997 and New World Records in 2006.