Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor's Music
BY YOU NAKAI | 768 Pages | 300+ illustrations | OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2021
WORKSHOP WITH STUDENTS, MOBIUS ART CENTER, BOSTON [9/29/85] (EXCERPT)
WORKSHOP, WERKSTAAT BERLIN KULTURHAUPTSTAAT EUROPAS, RADIO 100 [6/14/88] (EXCERPT)
A KIND OF ANACHY [9/19/89] (EXCERPT)
INTERVIEW BY JULIE MARTIN [1/26/92] (EXCERPT)
STEIM AFTER TALK [6/16/94]
KPFA Interview with Cage and Tudor | Brussels |
5/29/72 | Other Minds Audio Archive
Interviewer: David Tudor, a few days ago when I told some people that you were coming here, someone told me, “Oh, make sure you have a very good piano.” And in fact I had to tell them, “Well, he doesn't need a piano.” When you were in Belgium before, you were usually playing the piano, and now you don't play piano anymore. What happened?
Tudor: I got tired of the sound of it. And I had a great desire to not have to hear it anymore.
Interviewer: Do you think you played it too much?
Tudor: No, it’s one of the problems about a professional musician—that it becomes more and more difficult to enjoy music. I think perhaps if I was an amateur musician, I could enjoy the piano. And when I do enjoy it these days, it is as an amateur—as an amateur listener, as it were. [laughs]
Interviewer: So you’ve developed a growing interest for electronics?
Tudor: Yes, I have, I have. And that offered me the opportunity to stop playing the piano.
Interviewer: Did that also help you to have a fresher attitude to music itself, the music you were doing?
Tudor: Oh yes. You see, in my life I’ve played other instruments beside the piano. I began my work as an organ player, and that is quite a different sound world. And as I got through life, I like to do things which I haven’t done before. Also I like very much to discover the nature of… well to discover natural processes in the way I look at things. For instance, the piano became for me more and more a percussion instrument, because that, after all, is its nature. And instead of continuing to work with that, I really needed to find some other sound world.
Interviewer: When did you become actively interested in electronics?
Tudor: Well, I always enjoyed working as an electronic performer, and I try to play everyone’s pieces, in the same way that I try to play everybody’s piano pieces. [laughs] And gradually, I started to become really conscious of the nature of the instruments I was dealing with. And at that point, I felt that it was my music. So less and less, I played other people’s music.
Interviewer: Yeah, because this is also part of the new situation at least for this country, that now you are known not only as a performer, but also as a composer. And in fact, I think it’s only fair to say that in several of the pieces that you play before even on the piano, composed by other people, you were in fact, the true composer.
Tudor: Well, I beg to differ! [laughs] Because one person’s process is not another person’s process. And still, even though one is involved in making precise all the details of an indeterminate composition, still the process is not what one would choose oneself, if one were to choose it. There would surely be a different choice somewhere in the process.
Interviewer: Yeah, to play someone else’s music, even if the indications are very few, it’s still a kind of a mental pressure, good or bad—you’re under someone’s influence.
Tudor: Well, but beyond that, you’re in a world that was seen by somebody else.
Interviewer: So now, basically you are dealing with your own world? And how is your own music? It’s basically electric?
Tudor: Well, I feel that I have something that I can call my work when I discover a natural process. Or, when I discover an instrument as a natural object. That’s how my piece Rainforest came about. Because I had felt for many years that loudspeakers are an obscenity. Or, at any rate, it’s a false notion—they don’t exist. Because an attempt was made to create something to reproduce sound, but to me a loudspeaker is a vibrating membrane, and is capable also of creating sound by its vibration. And so I was dreaming one day, and I thought how nice it would be to have a whole forest, or orchestra of loudspeakers, each one with a quite different sound. Which means that they should have the sound that they have, rather than reproducing some other sound which is in somebody’s mind. And of course that entails, or it carries with it, the knowledge that even if it’s capable of reproducing a single frequency, yet it’s still an instrument. So it’s not at all necessary to reproduce a broad range of sound in order to have a loudspeaker, which is an instrument. So then with that, all of a sudden I saw that that itself was a natural process because that instrument doesn’t need any music in it. So that there I was in a position to be able to make an electronic piece with a totally unsophisticated input-output relationship. In other words, the very simplest electrical impulse, is going to cause the loudspeaker to vibrate, and there’s no necessity whatsoever for a sophisticated electronic processing.
Interviewer: Which is the sound source in Rainforest?
Tudor: Well, it can be anything. But as I originally thought of it, it should be the simplest waveform.
Interviewer: Like a sine wave?
Tudor: A sine wave is ideal because it reveals the physical properties of the loudspeakers to their fullest. [laughs] The more complicated it is, the more obscure the relationship.
Interviewer: Yeah, you have the loudspeakers the most naked when the sine waves are going through. Now you have composed the other piece that John was talking about, Untitled. What is the difference of attitude between Rainforest?
Tudor: Yes, well there I was dealing with electronic processing. I had dealt with a very complex processing in a certain work by Toshi Ichiyanagi, which he composed for the Merce Cunningham called Activities for Orchestra. And his instructions, which he gave to the performers to perform the electronic parts, were very vague and dealt with things that you couldn’t define as a precise action. For instance, he says, “divide,” or “add,” or “subtract,” or “multiply,” or “take something away,” and such notions. As I was working with that, I discovered one day that those processes were applicable to a hookup of electrical components which didn’t contain any input signal. And I discovered it by accident, and for that reason I dedicated all that work to him. Because without trying to figure out what in hell he could have meant… you see, whereas actually he didn't mean anything, which I’m also very grateful for. [laughs] So I found then that there was a process that existed just as a tree does; you know, a tree between rain and earth and sunshine. So that piece deals simply with that: how to make the equipment perform itself. It’s all actuated by overloading the situation with an output voltage. But at no point do I introduce a signal. Whereas in some pieces I have, I have done that. I use a signal which is not considered to be an input signal but acts as a control—I mean technically it’s known as a control signal. And in that case, I sometimes use an ordinary signal generator to do that; to act as a control signal on the signal that I have already developed in the processing equipment. But this work is new for me, because I completely wish to avoid any control whatsoever over the material. [laughs]
Interviewer: That work and Rainforest has been usually performed at the same time as John’s performance.
Interviewer: Is there any relationship between the two?
Tudor: No, except that we’re both dealing with nature. [laughs]
Workshop with Students | Mobius Art Center, Boston |
9/29/85 | David Tudor Papers, Getty Research Institute (Box 2A C75)
David Tudor: Well I don’t suppose you can guess what it’s about. [laughter]
Student: It’s not a yard sale, is it? [laughter]
Tudor: Not yet, give me a few years. [laughter]
Student: What are these instruments here?
Tudor: It’s called an audio transducer. The term doesn’t mean very much, but it’s a loudspeaker coil that’s been especially wound to drive heavy materials rather than things like paper. This type which is about the best that are available is still not very good, power-wise. It’s said that the same people who designed these are designing similar units for the navy to be used underwater which are capable of 100-watts of power. And I don’t know whether I believe it, I have to have one in my hands to believe it.
Student: How many watts can these take?
Tudor: Let’s see. Some people who work with me are driving it with 25 watts. The manufacturer claims 40 watts, but then these instructions tell you to limit it to more like 15.
Student: I wasn’t here last night but is this the set for the performance?
Student: Could you tell just a little bit about the performance?
Tudor: The performance is virtually experimenting with this set up, you know, trying to make it do what it was designed to do and exploring all the variations in it. It’s like discovering what's there.
Student: Is that a chimney cleaner?
Tudor: It is. It’s from France where they call it the "Hedgehog.” I looked up in the dictionary but there’s no English referenced [laughs] where you’d think there would be an old one.
Student: I brought a friend yesterday to see the set. It was his first time ever hearing contemporary music. Afterward, I found I had trouble explaining to him what it was all about, because for me, I have a lot of experience with it but it was a very hard piece for me to listen to. And it was extremely interesting, but just aurally it was very very difficult. And I was wondering if you could give me something to take back to him beyond what I tried to give to him last night in explanation of why… I mean he wanted to know why somebody would do something like this. [laughter] And I tried to explain as best as I could but I can’t explain it for you, so I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit and why it was interesting…
Tudor: Well, okay. I’ve always been interested in natural sound phenomena, and so if I looked at the kinds of work that I have done in the past years I see that somehow or other that was always connected with it. One of the most important things which seems always to occur no matter what I do is my relationship to a loudspeaker. I don’t like to hear the sound of loudspeakers when the music sounds “canned”—if I can use that word. And for me, the loudspeakers are a real instrument. And I’ve been blessed by having the opportunity to experiment a lot in performance—that's sort of difficult, you know, unless you get yourself into a situation like that. So a lot of what I’ve learned about electronics I’ve learned from performing. And I have no formal training at all, and I’ve picked up a lot from whoever is willing to contribute to it. But being in a situation where I could virtually improvise in time, I really learned a lot.
And one of the things that I found out, it happened one day in Australia where I was performing virtually a new piece. It was something that I had been working on and I had performed it experimentally and they told me that they were going to record it. So I told them that I myself had no equipment available for recording because everything is incorporated into the set up. So he asked me, can you give me a line level signal or shall I use microphones? And I said, I could give you line but I would prefer if he used microphones. So this set up allowed him to establish both things. The performance started and it went on for—it was an hour and half piece. He couldn't give me a tape right away, but I was coming back to Sydney so I said, can I have one when I come back? And he said, yes. When I came back it was like there was no connection, and he didn't even want to remember that he had recorded it. [laughter] And a friend of his who was also a friend of mine said, oh, he would get the tape for me. And when I got the tape, I could see exactly what had happened. The guy had set out recording it with microphones plus line, and after 5 minutes, he turned off the microphones. And there was only the line of the signal present. Okay, I learned something which I had not really been aware of. The thing is that I learned finally that the particular loudspeakers which you are using are part of the performance. The piece involved pulses which were done by a processor of amplitude modulation which made the variable rhythms—I mean, the rhythms could be varied by changing the settings of the pots. But the pulses were so sharp that if they were recorded at line level you would only hear a series of clicks. There’s virtually nothing to listen to. The loudspeaker unit is a vibrating diaphragm and that makes the sound.
Student: And the room sweep becomes part of the instrument.
Tudor: Exactly. And something similar is going on here. Because part of the generation has already been prepared and is on tape and those are done with this machine here which was invented to help you with your dirty records [laughter] that are full of clicks and pops. So this machine is made to take them out. Now that’s something that doesn't interest me at all. But what did interest me was that the person who marketed this put in it an inverted mode so you can hear what you are taking out. So I thought okay, that’s for me! [laughs] And sure enough, sure enough, it produces the clicks and pops which are already present. So I took a collection of tapes that I have been leaning heavily on for years that were all recorded at laboratories. And they are tapes of brain waves, eye muscle movements, and you know, biceps, and things like that, and not only from human beings but also from animals and from insects. I had the opportunity to collect those in 1970 when I was programming a pavilion in Japan for Expo 70. So I got a lot of that material and I took that back. That kind of material already has very useful things for me because usually, for instance brainwaves are very very strongly pulsed through and there’s a lot of peaks present. So I put them through this machine and of course the amount of… it’s got a variable threshold so that you can get just a few impulses or you could get a whole stream of them. So that's really intrinsic to this performance.
Otherwise, there are three methods of operation here simultaneously. The first one is the generation of sound itself. And if I am faithful to what I set out to do, it starts with my activating this object, and that's the reason why the tapes are here because I have to get the thing going. Once it’s going, I have four pick ups that are receiving the sounds that the thing is producing. When it’s activated, all those tones vibrate very gently so I attach the pickups very loosely, so that they’ll hopefully get knocked by something [laughs] producing another impulse. Most often, well it turned out last night, most often it either gave me a string of impulses, rather than single ones, which I am still hoping for—maybe I will get them tonight. If I loosen up the relation of pickups to the object, then that may come about.
The other thing it does is produce continuous sound wave material. That's because… it’s the nature of that kind of transducers. Now there’s a sound which is virtually a hum but even that, if there’s no sounds in it which overrides that, you would be looking at a continuous sound because any material you use has a resonance, I am going to get resonant frequencies from them. Then there is the second part is transforming what I get off these pickups, and here I’ve done it by further gating the sound. So I have the four pickups, I have the four gates working, and four filters. So it's a simple, for me it's a rather simple concept. But the thing is that it’s an act of transformation with parameters I can change during the performance, so it gives me something to do. [laughs] Because I’m constantly reacting to what I’m hearing and trying to bring about the differences which I know that are in here, in this process.
Student: How much can you anticipate the sounds you are going to achieve? Are you getting used to the possibilities of the Hedgehog, the sounds that are going to come out of it?
Tudor: The more I perform it the more I know where the really important parameters are. I learned a lot about it last night, but I’m playing tonight and show the difference. The last part is listening to what I’m producing and trying to make it appear differently. That's very important for my work at the present time—actually for maybe 5, 6 years past. Because in the early days when I first started, I worked a lot in sound generation, my aim being in trying to generate sound without any instrument—that is no oscillators, no taped, no recorded materials. Just simply trying to bring about a state of oscillation without any of those things. And the first thing I found out was that I could induce oscillation by working with phase, with loops of feedback having a change of phase. And all you need, virtually, is an amplifier—an amplifier of sufficient power. You’re not really talking about much power, but you have to have a gain of 10, you call it. You put a feedback loop around it, and experimentation is the name of the game. First of all, you can just take the output of it and feed it into the input. Or you can take the output, you can reverse its phase, which is easy to do just by reversing the two conductors. Or you can do variable, you can have variable phase. So I made a lot of equipment, a lot of small boxes, each one having different parameters for change of phase. And gradually, equipment began to accumulate for performance, like I would have this much equipment present just to generate these sounds. But then everything was homemade. So I came to a situation where my hands were completely tied to the performance trying to do the generation. I had a new work to perform and as life does it to you, it was abroad. So in other words, I couldn't take four suitcases of equipment with me. So I decided I’m going to do all these sound generation, I’m going to record it and then use it in performance. So yeah, I recorded it just in order to have a body of material that I could use. And the idea was not to be concerned with what it was during performance. I mean, it wasn’t important which take it was, it wasn't important where the take started, it just meant you had to have something to generate the process. Then what I did take with me was a miniature version of this sound generation which I used to further process the tapes which were there. So again I had a series of feedback loops with variable phase. So that taught me that there’s a lot you can do in performance really with very very simple material just by manipulating the sound. That was a 4-channel piece so by making the sound appear different in all the four speakers, you have a natural, automatic delay and sound imaging. So after that, I began to work intensely with that, making a sound appear different than the original. So a lot of my current work incorporates that. And as you can see, I’m sort of lazy, because instead of doing it, building the materials myself, I’m trying to use the components available in the market in the same way that I experimented with this by making my own. And somethings are good, somethings are very useful, and other things are pieces of junk and they will eventually get weeded out. I hope that gets you a little…
Student: Thank you.
Tudor: This is one of the devices used by me to make the sound appear different. It is a device made to send the sound around to the four speakers and I have altered it. First of all I changed the speed so that it has a great range that goes up to 32 cycles per second, so that I can obtain sound modulation with it. Because the speed which it is going through the loudspeakers becomes audible, and that frequency modulates the sound that you are putting into it. Furthermore, instead of giving it one input, I gave it four, so that I can put four different things in it. In other words, I can create a sound just by doing it, because this thing… first of all the speed going through the loudspeaker modulates the sound. Then I further alter it so that I… you see, these things are designed by somebody. His idea is that, well since if you move the sound too quickly from one speaker to another the waveform will be cut off. In other words, the sound will be chopped. So then the idea is to smooth that transition from the exiting one speaker to the entrance to the next. So I had to go in the box and defeat that to get what I wanted, which was the chopping. I still have to build a… I’m not satisfied, it’s not clean enough.
Student: So do you go into a lot of these boxes and alter them?
Tudor: I do, in many cases, I do. Like this one is a gem I picked up recently. It’s got an LED in it. This is like a threshold control. The Japanese have called it “noise floor” and their parameters are “stop” and “go.” [laughter] When it’s “stop” the LED turns to red and when it’s “go” it turns to green. [laughter] This is the only one so far—actually I know another one which is not yet on the market—but this is the only one that has a gate where you can trigger it. So I did go inside this and altered the trigger so that I could make the output shorter.
Student: So did that start out as a noise gate?
Tudor: Uh-huh. I mean, it’s sort of… you can... I keep asking myself, you know, well why don’t I go to digital generation or use a computer for these things and then I always come back to the same feeling that I need the resolution I can get with all the components and not the digital. And it’s also because I like to perform the pieces in real time so that… I’ve done some work in digital and it takes a lot of preparation in order to get into a situation where you can surprise yourself, whereas here it’s automatic. [laughs] In a sense you can’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but my job is to influence it so that it does happen.
Student: Would it be possible to do a little [inaudible]
Tudor: Yeah, I hope. Let's see...
Tudor: I need my road-map, I don't have it memorized...
[sets source tape and rewinds]
Student: How do you get like the brainwaves and things into gates or pulses?
Tudor: Excuse me?
Student: Well you said that some these gates and pulses are taken from like brainwave activity and things like that and I was wondering how you get that activity into actual audible pulses or gates that you can put on a cassette tape.
Tudor: Well, I didn’t. I mean, it was collected from the laboratories who had actually recorded it. I have several different types. There’s nothing with me… oh, as a matter of fact, there is. And I sometimes… for instance, brainwaves they have very slow frequencies. So the laboratories they gave me… for the most part they gave me already modulated tapes because in order to make them listenable to they wanted to have them stepped up in frequency. So it’s a very simple process of modulating the wave with another one so that you get it up to what they consider to be an audible range. With some of the tapes I was very lucky because they had put the modulating signal on one side of the stereo tape so I was able to demodulate them partially, you know, to get them back more to their original state.
Student: Acoustically do you enhance percussive effects?
Tudor: It would enhance the natural percussion. I then took those tapes and I further processed them so that they became absolutely percussive.
Student: How did you do that?
Tudor: I used this.
Student: Oh, in live performance?
Tudor: Yeah. Well, I do it live in addition to having prepared it.
[begins to perform]
Student: So this sound that we’re hearing right now, where is it coming from? Is it coming from the transducers?
Student: Will it be asking a lot if I asked some your thought processes that occur to you [inaudible] what you are looking for [inaudible] mundane or... I'm curious about what’s going on...
Tudor: Well, I’m trying to get the pick up sound for you, so I’m looking for it.
[sound layer increases]
Tudor: You can hear that the pulses are there as well as the continuous sound. Umm... let’s see.
[continues to perform, adding layers, then stops]
Tudor: Okay, you can hear that the thing is in a state of constant vibration.
Student: I couldn’t see it so?
Tudor: No? It’s infinitesimal. [laughter] With certain kinds of material I can make it so that you can see it but then it would be even more… [inaudible]
Student: The sound from the loudspeaker stimulates it into vibration, or…?
Tudor: No, it’s the transducer. Because there is audio frequency in it, it’s making it vibrate.
Student: Okay, the audio frequency that’s making it vibrate is fed into it, it’s not a thing from the air, from the speakers? There’s a thing in there in the…
Tudor: It’s being driven by two voice coils. If it were a solid object, the situation would be completely different, because then you would get more of the pulses out. My idea here was to make it… I used it and it attracted me because it does vibrate naturally. I mean, it can’t help it. And so instead of the situation which I used a lot in the past where I have a firmly attached microphone so that I’m only withdrawing from it the resonant frequencies of the material, yet here I had chance activation so I thought if this thing really vibrates enough it’s going to hit my pickups. So I think they're actually too firmly attached. But now, let’s see…
[begins to perform again]
Student: What are these things right here?
Tudor: Oh, these are Matrix Switches.
Tudor: There we go. The tape wasn't running.
Student: What is the source on the tape?
Tudor: Okay, let's go back to the sound of the pickups.
[performs again with more percussive sounds, then with dry pulses]
Tudor: That's the original.
Student: Is the piece being taken from that tape?
Tudor: No, they're not. That's the sound on the tape which has been recorded with this machine.
Tudor: Then because of this possible switching, like last night, I don't think I can do it for you now, but these sounds which you hear from the pickups I then put them back through the gates and then again you hear them differently than they are now.
Student: And can you feed them back to the transducers?
Tudor: Feed them back to the transducers, right.
Student: Would it be possible to play the two pickups separately, to hear the two sounds they are making?
Tudor: Ah, yeah, absolutely.
Student: So which one is active now?
Tudor: I'm not sure. I'm not sure which pickup. I virtually don't care. [laughter] There's one...
[switches from one pickup to another]
Tudor: The third one...
Student: They are all very different.
Tudor: This is the fourth one.
Student: The matrix board, that’s your home-built creation?
Tudor: Oh, yeah.
Student: Those are just routing through different groupings of these things?
Tudor: Uh, yes. The idea is all the inputs and outputs are completely accessible. And I wish it were true. Then it wouldn’t be so difficult. [laughter]
Student: It’s sort of a grown up version of a contact boards.
[continues performing and stops]
Student: Do you know what all of the connections are when you switch it? Or are you listening more than you’re moving across these…
Tudor: Oh, I’d say I already know. If I don’t I’d have to refer to my diagrams.
Student: When you do a piece like this for the first time, like you did last night, do you find it like the next time you’ve learned enough from it so that you’d really make any changes?
Tudor: Oh yes.
Student: I think it’s wonderful and interesting that you choose to go into performance in that state, doing the piece the first time and then the second time and third time. What causes you to approach that? It’s totally different from the keyboard instrumental approach to me.
Tudor: It’s the difficulty of rehearsing. I mean, there’s no way you can rehearse it in a live space.
Student: That’s directly experimental.
Tudor: It is.
Student: Didn’t Liszt do the same attitude? He only played a piece three times. The first time straight, the second time decorated, and the third time decorated so much you couldn’t recognize it and he never played it again.
Tudor: Yeah, maybe. [laughs]
Student: Are most of the sounds you are using generated from human physiological-type experiences? Is that the theme in this piece? I mean, consciously…
Tudor: One is generated from a Scotch Brooke. [laughter] One is made by a [inaudible] pulse generator, another one is recorded from an Australian bird that’s been phase modulated by myself.
Student: Which bird was that?
Tudor: A nightjar. Nightjars are one of the most fantastic sounds there is, but it’s so heavily pulsed. It’s one of the best sounds to test the loudspeaker. [laughter] Okay, the rest of it is modulated brainwaves.
Student: How did you get the modulated brainwaves?
Tudor: I called up a laboratory.
Student: What brought you in that direction?
Tudor: I was collecting a whole different, bunch of material. And I had a small staff working for me. There were two people busy telephoning various laboratories. And one of the guys knew… had enough connection so that we got a lot of nice things. We got a lot of natural sounds, we got underwater sounds, we got telemetry from NASA, and lots of this brainwave stuff. In some cases, he was able to go somewhere and supervise the recording. I remember one thing he gave me which I’ve already used it in two pieces was he recorded mosquitoes. So he went to a place where they had millions of mosquitoes and they were put into a test tube and then recorded. And then later on they were put into a water jar and the sound came out in a totally different frequency range.
Student: Were you a composer in residence somewhere at that time?
Tudor: No, no, I was just freelance. No, actually I was working for this pavilion.
Student: Did you teach at Stony Brook at that point?
Tudor: No. no, that’s the confusion. I live in Stony Point. [laughter] Stony Brook is on Long Island.
Student: I was curious that you’re using the brainwaves because when I was listening to your performance last night, spontaneously, I felt very strongly that you were tuning the resonant frequency of my brain. [laughter] So I was curious if you are into that or if you think that it’s just my own…
Tudor: I don’t mind at all! [laughter] No, it is an interesting field. I remember once I was teaching at Davies and they wanted a series of performance with various kinds of things. So I did Alvin Lucier’s brainwave piece.
Student: Was that wired in real time, so to speak?
Tudor: Yeah, I did it live.
Student: Were people sitting there with electrodes on themselves?
Tudor: No just me. It’s a piece for a solo performer. [laughter] It’s very old, isn’t it? The early 60s.
Student: Can you change the sounds by consciously doing…
Tudor: Oh yes, you can shut it on and off.
Student: Just by taking [inaudible] ?
Tudor: That depends on… Let’s see, I have to remember… I haven’t done it since that time so I forgot...
Student: I think that not visualize for the alphas come out…
Tudor: Yeah but there’s the thing that it depends on where the electrodes are on your head. If they’re the back then it’s more likely you don’t visualize. If they are on the front…
Student: That’s where the visual stuff is.
Tudor: Yes, but they can also be put on the front, and there you either turn things on or off—I forgot which—by closing your eyes, it’s quite different. You see, I had no equipment to perform this piece so we had to go to the laboratory at the university and the guy there said, “Oh, yes, they're testing chickens here all the time!” [laughter] So he said, “I know how to do that.” So first, he put the electrodes on the front of my head. And everything worked fine. And I was a little bit conscience stricken because I knew that Alvin had done all his work with, you know, putting them on the back of his head. So we did that. And in order to make this test, we had to bring in an amplifier and loudspeaker. So I said to Larry Austin, "take in your old junk amplifier, in case anything happens." But he didn't, he put in a brand new Macintosh transistor amplifier. And when the electrodes were on the back of my head, suddenly I spotted a puff of smoke. And sure enough, one channel was gone. And Larry Austin refused to believe it. He said, "well, let’s try this again, there must be something wrong." So I said, "don’t do it." We did it anyway and that time, the loudspeaker burst into flames. [laughter] I had to run down the hall to get water. It was beautiful enough so that I wanted to do it. [laughter] I did do it live once but not with that piece, a piece of my own.
Student: What was your sound source at the time?
Tudor: It was a piece of mine that I've done through Merce Cunningham and we were in a theater in Buffalo, which had been an old movie house. And Cunningham company carries around the sound system, but if possible, we like to have a couple more channels. So the sound man in the theater said, well, we have these movie speakers up in the attic. And they were immense. I never saw such huge speakers. And they were very old. And he said that he had used them occasionally recently, and he said there was a problem with one of them, but if there was any problem that he would come later in the afternoon and replace it—the speaker. So one of the speakers, the voice coil froze. And you know, it means that it stops moving. So, you know, that meant there is danger to the amplifier, just for example. So we call the guy up and he came, he came over, but he didn't have very much time. So he didn't go back into the attic and get another one because there were like eight of them up there. But he simply kicked the loudspeaker cone and the voice coil and then it came back in operation. But in the performance, it was okay for about eight minutes out of an 18 minute piece, then the voice froze and eventually it burst into flames. The fireman came rushing in, wanting to evacuate everybody. Actually it was only smoke, really, but it could have become…
Student: That made the performance a little more dramatic?
Tudor: I loved it! Well, I mean, wouldn't it be lovely if you have a series of throwaway voice coils and you could make a piece like that. No, that kind of thing is perfectly possible. Like a girl who was performing with me in Oregon. We were doing realization of a Cage piece and she was allowed to select any activity that she wanted. And so she decided that her contribution would be that she would sew a paper dress because she was a seamstress. And then after that she would model the paper dress and then she would set it on fire. And she did.
Student: While she was wearing it?
Tudor: While she was wearing it. And it was gone like, the whole thing was gone like in two seconds flat. It had just simply disappeared.
Student: What shape was she in?
Tudor: Perfectly calm. She wasn’t afraid. I mean she just put the dress on over what she was wearing.
Student: When you put electrodes on the back of your head, do you have to shave a patch of hair?
Tudor: You can but it’s not necessary. Well, any more questions?
Pulsers/Untitled—is that your last album?
Tudor: Yes, it’s old music though.
Student: Is there a chance for another album?
Tudor: Yeah, there's another one in the works with Lovely Music. But we don't know how or when.
Student: When you make recordings do you ever wish you put specifications for what equipment to use? Because the speaker is so important in your work. And then someone takes it home and listens on whatever thing they have…
Tudor: I don't know what to do... I don’t know what to do. The thing is the best results that I've gotten is with binaural recording. And so far there isn't a decent unit, you know, that you can specify to playback on. I keep hoping that it's going to come about but there's nothing. And then of course, of my work is at least quad. The piece that's going to come out is called Dialects and that’s eight channels. And when you listen to it, binaurally, it's very obvious that there are more than four channels in there, things like the sound beating in the back of your head and all that. But so far, there's no way to get that on the stereo system. And we've already tried to press that. And we went direct from the digital original, thinking that it was going to work, and the engineer thought would work perfectly, and all kinds of clicks and pops appeared. [laughs] And it’s because of the digital recording process. And so that meant the expense of the, you know, remastering and repressing Lovely didn't want to get into it without being sure that it was going to be really work. Plus otherwise, they could ideally, if they brought it out on video, it would be fine. It would be fine, it would be no problem.
Student: I’m interested in your concept of what constitutes an event, or I’ve noticed mostly last night, you have these kind of longer stretches where you create an environment or something that you like and then it abruptly changes, there’s always an abrupt change into next duration. What leads you to make the changes? Do you like to go through your set up, kind of one system at a time and explore? What makes you change now or any point?
Tudor: There’s no preset plan. I try to find everything that’s there and if I like something I tend to let it run itself. Or, I see what is behind it that, you know, could be released. So I try that. Sometimes you try a gesture which produces an abrupt change and at that point I have to decide what to do. I can incorporate the change process and continue doing that, or I can accept that change and try to establish that. It all depends on how you feel about time.
Student: You’re often changing your instruments but the big abrupt changes that I would hear are more something that you fall on to? It’s not so much, I will make a…
Tudor: Ah, sometimes. They were last night, they were last night. When I become the master of this piece, I can do things like that quite deliberately, and then we’ll find out what the natural format in time can be.
Student: But it’s that kind of perfection worth repeating?
Tudor: Ah, no, but it’s nice to have the experience. See, last night was the first time and I’m dealing here with two switches. So I have to constantly refer one to the other in order to know what I’m doing. Now, like the third time I perform this piece, I’ll have it down pat, I’ll know which switch to look at first. In other words, I’ll have my diagram already part of my mind and my fingers. So then I’m in quite a different situation as regards to time because I don’t have to stop and consider if I’m making a mistake.
Student: Where do you go from there?
Tudor: Then I would start weeding out components and deciding how to better realize my idea.
Student: An idea that would not be there in the beginning?
Tudor: No. The process is already there, and it’s here. But the first time it’s there somewhere, right? It’s not true to the obvious. For instance, there is a relationship which after we finish here I’m going to change it. There’s a relationship between the pickups and the signal gates. And I thought real hard about how I can get this so it’s easy to control. It turned out to be very difficult, so I had to make a change in the hook-up in order to make it easy for myself.
Student: Do you come to experimental music from a traditional background or were you always interested in experimental music from early on in your life?
Tudor: I was always interested in the contemporary scene and the more experimental it got then the better I liked it.
Student: When did you play your debut as a pianist?
Tudor: I was 9 years old. [laughs]
Student: Where was that?
Tudor: Philadelphia, in a radio station.
Student: Did you have much room for experiment?
Tudor: None at all. [laughter]
Student: When did you come across music that you would now consider contemporary music?
Tudor: The first thing I was aware of is when I was an assistant to an organist and he played a piece of Messiaen and I laughed out loud when I heard it. [laughter]
Student: How old were you then?
Student: This was a different attitude [inaudible] ?
Tudor: I enjoyed the vitality of the contemporary scene and that made me actually change to become a pianist. Because I was already in a heavy career as an organist, and all of a sudden I decided I’ll have a lot of opportunity if I really attacked the piano literature.
Student: How old you were by this time?
Tudor: Seventeen or something.
Student: You said, “when I become a master of this piece.” Could you discuss your concept of mastery of a particular piece and musical mastery? What you see to be the performance…
Tudor: I mean, I had the piece in my head, right? I got it in my ears too. It’s just, you know, the performance procedures are mastering, like mastering any instrument. It so happens that for electronic music it can be very different because each set up is like a different instrument. For instance, this set up in which there is a switching facility is quite a different one from one where you only have a potentiometer control. It’s like a whole different world. Another difference comes about if you collect a lot of foot pedals, you know? There’s that.
Student: I’m just wondering when you said I’m mastering something, it brought up questions about experiment on music, to what extent is a musical expression an experiment? I mean, how heavily is experiment weighted against the fact that something is going to be produced? I mean, how important is the element of experimentation versus the fact that there’s something going to be created, right? Well, an event, whatever. Is an event successful or not successful based on the experimentation? Or is an event just an event?
Tudor: Well, you have a lot of variables! [laughter] Well, everything contributes to everything. It’s not really a linear process. As a matter of fact, the composition for me, it doesn't really start anywhere. It’s constantly referring to its past and its future so that kind of question isn’t important because I can’t distinguish between the experiment and the performance. You see, if I do that, I’m getting into, what he said, making a product. And there is no product here.
Student: Do you feel more or less satisfied or happy or elated after some performances rather than others?
Student: Is there any correlation between the times when you feel more satisfying?
Tudor: Uh, it’s when I perform well. [laughter]
Student: And what constitutes performing well?
Tudor: When I master this material that I’m performing with. [laughter]
Student: Once you’ve mastered a situation then you do a new set up and master that. So you don’t stick with one but you master and continually. ? yourself.
Tudor: There is always some minute alteration and occasionally a big one.
Student: Do you get tired of a situation once you've mastered it?
Tudor: No, no. there’s all these interesting things. Like when I’m performing with the Cunningham company, the same piece might have to appear on 4 loudspeakers, 5 speakers, 6 speakers, 7 speakers, 8 speakers, sometimes 10. But I’m equipped to handle 8. But there are situations where like the channel is multiplexed so I might have to handle 10 or 12. And it’s amazing what happens to your performance ability because all of a sudden you have to make a completely new diagram giving you different possibilities. 8 [sic] speakers is a very very limited sound. Right? It means that umm.. well usually what it means is that you no longer have 4 pairs of speakers but you have 3 pairs and an odd ball. The question then is what is the function of the odd ball? If there were 4 pairs, then you have a quad, where you know which pair opposes another pair and so forth, but if you have an odd ball then something special has to be up there. And then it depends on the nature of the odd ball—maybe it's a tin horn, or it could be a bull horn. So there are interesting ways to change your piece.
Student: Do your pieces tend to evolve towards a definitive version?
Tudor: Umm.. I would say only up to a point. There’s a point where, you know, it’s done everything you've wanted it to do and you know that if you needed it to, you could do it that way again.
Student: And do you start losing interest in the piece at that point? Or other than external circumstances, when do you want to do another piece?
Tudor: All of my works are sort of process compositions. And the only one that I dropped after I’d done it because I was simply not interested was a piece that I did on a synthesizer. I was teaching how to use a synthesizer in India. And friends of mine who brought me there thought I was the man who could do it. And I ran into a situation where we gave a performance and one of my students who had a beautiful piece was too shy to perform it. So all of a sudden I had to make something. So I took a couple of hours and I made a synthesizer piece. And I’ve since used it—it's a good piece. But it’s not going to lead me any further. I’m never going to do that again. And there is nothing about the synthesizer which would make me do it.
Student: Why? What kind of synthesizer was it?
Tudor: It was an early Moog. It was around 68.
Student: With keyboard?
Tudor: There was a keyboard there but I refused to use it. [laughter] No, I’ll tell you what I did. I decided that I better find a way to tweak it out. I had already done a little experimenting like with the early Buchla synthesizer, and a very nice technique was to load a mixer up and put it in a feedback loop. So I decided to take a single oscillator and load up all its control inputs and sure enough, you would think there would be thirty oscillators but there is only one. And it’s okay, the variety of sounds is sufficient for me, but ordinarily I can’t stand, what is it, the coherence of the sound. That doesn't attract me. Every time I’ve had to use the synthesizer, or a synthesizer component, I had to add something outboard to it that would change the way it operates. It’s mostly because all the considerations of the voltage, you know, what voltage needs to work or what the output signal level is—that’s all coordinated. And if you manage to uncoordinate that, then you are in a completely different position. It’s like this early Serge synthesizer was marvelous to experiment with because there were so many points available to you to work with. There were outputs taken from the internal parts of the circuitry of each component, so you really had a lot to…
Student: What brand was that?
Tudor: Now it calls itself Serge. It was Serge Tcherepnin who was at California Institute of the Arts. It's still a synthesizer but it’s quite a different one from the early one.
Student: You’re not using any electronic oscillators in this piece, at all?
Student: There was a sort of a sustained sound that was making this vibrate. Was that also on the tape? What does that sound come from?
Tudor: It comes from the object.
Student: But where's the sustained sound before it gets into there? Where does it come from? I’m not being clear with the question. You know there was just this kind of like a steady hum which is going into this which makes it vibrate...
Tudor: I know, I don’t understand. All I know is that it always happens when the transducers when they are there. They happen even in Rainforest.
Student: It might be noise.
Tudor: It’s noise, yeah.
Student: Which is nice.
Student: The first sound you made which is a little bit like steam coming out of a radiator—was that modulated too? Pitch high?
Student: What was the original source of that? Was that one of your brainwaves?
Tudor: It was one of the pickups and the equalizer at extremely high frequency.
Student: Was there a sound input to the Hedgehog at that point? Or was just an ambient room sound?
Tudor: No, there is a sound input.
Student: What is your opinion about the future of music? What do you see as the most exciting thing happening aside from the digital stuff?
Tudor: It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or anything like that. It’s a question of perception. And it’s quite obvious to me there’s a whole new breed of people coming into music, so things are going to change and the change is gonna come from them. It’s not gonna come from any idea of digital or analog. Like the group that we call ourselves Composers Inside Electronics. It’s supposed to be a loose group, but it happened that the ones of us who formed it, I’m a musician, Ralph Jones was a musician, Phil Edelstein was a computer man, and the fourth one is a designer, John Driscoll. And Philip and John had no musical background whatsoever. However, they were able to make very beautiful music. But if you are experiencing it, you are aware of a very different relationship to time than I have. I mean, I have a comparatively dynamic relationship to time because of my performing experience, but theirs is completely different and it’s more like the experience of listening to a painting, if you can picture that. And that’s made a big change. Some people don’t like it at all. I’ve spoken to older musicians who say, "oh these electronic guys, they’re doing the same thing all of the time! What they do is they set something up and they just let it run, performing itself..." [laughter] And of course it’s not true, but if you don’t perceive, if you are not aware that something else is going on, you think music hasn’t changed, but it’s changing.
Student: I’m sorry, but what’s changing? [inaudible]
Tudor: What do you think it is? There’s only one thing which can change your mind about what music is, and that is if you can make a differentiation between “tone” and “sound.” If you can do that, then you have a clue to where the music is. Because “tone” is something that happens inside you, and “sound” is something that happens in space. And if you have that differentiation then it will lead somewhere. For instance, that for me is to not use an oscillator, not to depend on montage of prerecorded tape, to find out what the electronic components are doing themselves. And you can explain everything, say, I’m doing this and I’m doing that, but there was only one person who came back to me with a real understanding and explanation of what I was doing. He said, “well, what are you using?” And I said, “well, there are filters, and preamplifiers, and...” And he said, “oh, you only have amplifiers!” It was a physicist who told me that. And it’s completely true. All of a sudden, you know, it’s like a light going on—all of a sudden you understand something you have been doing naturally. That a filter is an amplifier, right? Everything you have is amplifiers! And if you start from that perception, things start to get a lot easier. [laughs]
Student: What you are doing, in terms of signal-to-noise ratio, you’re making the signal out of the noise…
Tudor: You use the natural state of the components for what they give you, not what they are supposed to do. The description of one of these components is telling you something that the designer thinks that it should do, then you put it to the test and you find out that it doesn't do that. Nowadays there’s a lot of people coming to me who are using the kind of stuff that I do and they see that I’m using it so they think that I can help them. Their problems are, for instance, they are using an instrument, they buy something, and they think it’s going to work perfectly, and they find that the distortion is so awful that they hate the sound that they’re making so what’s wrong? [laughs] And usually it’s like a simple impedance problem which in the end turns out to be not so simple. You have to find something that uh… that’s what you wanted. And I’m not a good person to ask because signal-to-noise isn’t very interesting to me. I mean, it’s only if I have to make a recording then I’d have to know what I’m doing in that respect but otherwise I tend to use it.
Student: What kind of music do you listen to in your leisure? Other people’s music… do you ever buy albums or recordings of other composers?
Tudor: Umm… no. [laughter] No, no. People give me things. And if I don’t have what interests me, I ask for it. Like this guy in California, Phil Loarie. His music I admired a great deal years ago and I wanted to keep up with him so last time I met him I asked him to send me tapes and he was doing gorgeous music.
Workshop | Werkstaat Berlin Kulturehaupstaat Europas, Radio 100 |
6/14/88 | David Tudor Papers, Getty Research Institute (Box 3A C157)
I worked with John Cage in the 50s and in the 60s mostly as a performer of his music. The freedom that his music gave to his interpreters was really an affirmative force in my musical thinking. Even today in my compositions when I employ other performers, the freedom John Cage gave to me I try to pass onto people who help me in my work.
It’s simply dealing with images. There isn’t a one to one correlation between phonetics employed in the compositional process. But the process is involved with the transformation of short impact-like sounds into continuous sounds and the reverse transformation from continuous sounds into short impact-like sounds and the process is continuous not only of course to time but its continuous within the composition in the sense that the movement from one extreme to the other can take a long time or it can take a short time and both things are constantly present.
The reason for employing small components is that it enables the next composition to either employ them or not. If one gets involved in the synthesizer concept one is always dealing with a fixed relationship which one has to in most cases undo. And my preference is to use modular materials which can change from piece to piece. And also it enables me to expand the piece by adding other components to it which were not in the original formation.
My music is always performed live and I try never to have it played in recorded form, but sometimes it’s necessary. But the sounds are actually, in every case in my music, they are performed live. Even if I do make recording which is used during a live performance, I also do that in a live space so that it has an imprint of my hearing and my perception.
A Kind of Anarchy panel discussion | UC Berkeley |
9/19/89 | Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation, Inc. records, NYPL
WORKING WITH MERCE CUNNINGHAM
David Tudor: You see, when you get to compose a piece or you have an idea for a piece it turns out that it makes a lot of difference who is going to be watching and what they are watching. If they are watching you, you might structure your work a little bit differently, because you are the only thing to watch. If there is something else to watch, there is an immediate freedom that comes in in your treatment of the material. You may decide, for instance, in the case where a time length is greater than you actually want your idea or your musical material to be presented, if the time length is different, you may decide to relax it or shut up. And this kind of activity is something that happens in Merce Cunningham's work in a remarkable way because he leaves you free to make that decision. If you're working with a theatre piece, that is, with real theatre, you're constrained in another way, so that you still have your kind of constraint. Working with Merce Cunningham, you have no constraint, and it's a joy, it's a joy to be in that situation. Now adding to what Charles [Amirkhanian] was talking about just before with Gordon [Mumma], I would say that the other thing that is very remarkable is repetition. You get to repeat the work, you get a second chance, you get a third chance, you get a fourth chance. You can change your piece completely because you are free. I mean if you are unsatisfied with the sixth performance, the seventh performance you can decide to start over from the beginning. But remarkably that doesn't happen. It seems to work and the adjustments are flexible because the whole situation is flexible. And I think its wonderful because I look at so many young composers working in electronics who do their performances in a one shot. And these days it's set up, perform, tear down, all in one day. And they don't get to repeat it, so thats a kind of discouragement, and Merce's support of this free activity is something which I would be eternally grateful for. I think those particular ways are very special to him.
Charles Amirkhanian: What are the rules in Variations V, John?
John Cage: I don't think there are any rules. There was a great deal of material that was in operation, and it was constantly changing, so that the effect of the dancers in relation to the photoelectric eyes and to these... what do you call them?
Gordon Mumma: Capacitance sensitive antennas.
Cage: Yes, [they] made certain things come out or not, and we had a delay system arranged so that one wouldn't get a mickey mouse impression from the dance to the sound.
Amirkhanian: Was it a fixed delay? It was always the same?
Cage: No, it was different. Was there many David?
Tudor: Umm… it didn't use anything which you would call a delay. [laughter]
Cage: But the sound came later, didn't they?
Tudor: It was built into the wiring! [laughter] There were miles of wiring involved and believe it or not, that's one of the ways to accomplish delay. [laughter] Basically, the materials were simple enough. It was the implementation of it which makes it appear to be extraordinary complex. And also what happens in a performance was that John tried to make sure that there was enough material so it would be extraordinary varied. I recall that sources were… John had made some recordings. One of his next door neighbors had a drain which was completely out of order. So he made some very significant recordings of those drains. [laughter] The other source was shortwave radios, and we had a kind that you won't find today unless I guess you go down Highway one you might find some. But they are the kind that the navy and the army used to use, so that you have a receiver which goes maximum 3 mega cycles with ultimate control so that you get the wildest possible kinds of sounds. Like the whistling sounds and all that that you heard…
Amirkhanian: That was shortwave..
TUDOR: Those were shortwave signals, but they were very powerful. If you look at a contemporary shortwave radio, you won't get it, you won't get it, because you won't have the signal amplitude--the receiver doesn't have the strength. Well, okay. And then a third source was contact microphones which... the dancers had some objects which they themselves could activate. Merce Cunningham had a bicycle which was rigged up, so that there was a contact microphone which was receiving the impulses of the wheel spokes, which was wired into an amplifier and a loudspeaker which the bicycle itself was carrying. So that was whirling around the stage. Then the whole thing was turned on and off, so one never knew what was going to happen. The musician's job was to keep this material going so that there was a constant supply of sound, and the whole thing was triggered by the dancers, what position they were in, and it was never the same. I mean six things could be triggered at once, and sometimes nothing was happening though you heard a dancer moving a plant which was miked. It was a lovely situation once it got organized. Before that it was absolute chaos. [laughter]
Amirkhanian: But conceptually, there was no overall controlling composer mind that was saying this is the way this piece is going to sound?
Cage: No, No, No.
Mumma: There is a score for the work that is published.
Cage: But it's remarks following the performance.
Mumma: But to which you receive royalties. [laughter]
Cage: Right. [laughter]
Mumma: Music's come a long way! [laughter]
Cage: I try to write remarks that would suggest the possibility of making a similar performance.
Amirkhanian: If you, David, look at what you were doing, lets say in 1949, 1950, playing the music of Boulez, and Cage and so forth, and then you project 15 years ahead now and you're involved in Variations V--is there any connection musically?
Tudor: Umm, why are you asking? [laughter]
Amirkhanian: I'm just wondering what you think about the differences and the...
Tudor: Well, there's different ways to think about this. That's why I have to ask why are you asking, you see.
Amirkhanian: I'm asking because I think it would have been unthinkable for you to project fifteen years ahead that you would be doing Variations V with John from the standpoint of 1950. That if somebody had played to you that music in 1950, you would have been shocked and perhaps a bit turned off.
Tudor: What are you talking about?! [laughter] I was dying for something new to do! I was tired of looking at scores that were black, one page was blacker than another. [laughter] I would get scores in the mail and I would take one look and say "I've done this before!" [laughter] And I wanted to do something that I had not done, so I welcomed every opportunity that came my way that was in the province of being a musician. So that's another way to answer your question. Of course, I saw in those days that I would be doing something new, but there's no question that the faculties that you gain as musician in life, those would be with you forever and they are going to show up whatever it is that you attack as long as you attack it as a musician. So that's one possible answer. But I mean, there are many answers to a question like that.
Amirkhanian: I guess I'm thinking of the idea that there were such control in the pieces that you were performing 15 years earlier on the part of the composers. And in this piece you have an almost anarchic situation where there doesn't seem to be that kind of control, but you found that freeing.
Cage: But it was practical.
Tudor: Well don't forget that the equipment imposes a control.
Cage: That's what I mean.
Tudor: Yeah, you yourself know that, John. [laughter]
Amirkhanian: You said that sometimes when you collaborated with John and David there would be very very loud sounds that David would produce that were almost shocking, and you almost at first didn't know how to respond. Could you talk about what that was like, and the nature of the collaborations with the three of you in certain of the pieces where you wrote them all together for one dance?
Mumma: There were in the Cunningham repertoire two pieces from the late 1960s to early 1970s in which John, David and I shared responsibilities for the music. One was a dance called Signals and the other was a dance called Landrover. And we agreed in advance to take different responsibilities in these pieces. As I recall, in Signals we were all playing at the same time but we worked independently with quite carefully limited materials. The result was particularly translucent. Now and then there would be some thunderous thing that might catch one by surprise but nothing seemed to drown anything else--there was always room for the three of us. In the work called Landrover, for which I think Jasper Johns did the decor, I recall we divided the piece into three sections. The choreography was in four sections, and we divided the music in three sections.
Cage: Because there were three of us. [laughter]
Mumma: There were three of us. But three against four has always been so nice in music. And we each did a separate part of it, but not with any planning among ourselves except for an agreement about where we were in time and those parts never failed to seem to belong together to me. In Landrover, as I recall... David, do you remember what the sound situation was? I recall something about termites…
Mumma: But there were much louder than one experiences termites in one's own home.
Tudor: I'm afraid it was earthquake.
Mumma: But the earthquakes were much quieter than one experiences in one's own home.
Amirkhanian: Did you record termites?
Tudor: No, I know they came from a laboratory somewhere here in California. But I don't recall where. They were obtained so long ago, they were obtained in 1969.
Amirkhanian: Recordings of termites?
Tudor: No, no it wasn't termites, it was earthquakes.
Mumma: It was earthquakes, okay! [laughter] Actually historically, I think this kind of collaboration developed really with the Events that Merce Cunningham did which began before I was at work with the company. But the musical aspect depended very much upon our almost innately developed ensemble among the performers. And the events were often times particularly wonderful because they were not just the three of us. We would have other people who would join us--Kosugi occasionally, Toshi Ichiyanagi on occasion, David Behrman particularly for a quite a number of years... And that was often times wonderfully productive because there were more occasion for us as individuals to not have to do anything and to be able to think much more calmly about what we would do when we did it. It was a particularly valuable learning experience for me at least in that ensemble situation.
UNPLUGGED ELECTRONIC MUSIC
Amirkhanian: Occasionally when we travel, bags don't get to the airport. Did it ever happen that your entire set of electronics didn't arrive somewhere so you had to change your plans?
Tudor: Oh yes, indeed.
Cage: It did happen, Yes. [laughter]
Amirkhanian: Are there any interesting and amusing anecdotes to illustrate this? How did you handle the situation?
Cage: I'm anxious to hear David's story. [laughter]
Tudor: I thought we handled it very well. I mean, you remember, John, this particular one that I'm talking about I think was in the modern museum in Paris. I think it was an Event and for some reason we didn't have any electronic equipment whatsoever. Sometimes we end up with a small loudspeaker of something, but there was no hope, there was no hope of thinking of anything electronic. So John set out to find out all the kinds of sounds that were available, to moving furniture, scratching walls, etc. I set out doing the same thing in a different way. I went out searching for things to beat things with. [laughter] And Gordon I think he tried to find things to blow. [laughter] And the end result of it was that we were imitating our own electronic music. [laughter]
Mumma: With acoustical means.
Tudor: Yes, absolutely. [laughter] It's completely possible!
FEAR OF ELECTRICITY
Tudor: For instance, Gordon helped me a great deal. I am a person who is terrified of electricity. I knew nothing at all about it. And Gordon helped me get over that. Now I have a lot of experience related to that but I'm still terrified now, you know. In a way its always going to terrify me. But it doesn't deter me from working at it, and especially now from working in electronics. I mean you have to make a differentiation there, but I had to get over my fear in working in electricity so that I could trust myself working in electronics.
THE OTHER SIDE
Amirkhanian: Now with all the available resources how does one commit to restrictions so that you can get on with your work? Some of you want to tackle that? In other words we don't just have string quartets and orchestral instruments, we got anything goes because of you. [points at Cage]
Cage: Not exactly anything goes, because it has to remain in the field of what you can actually do. And what you actually have to travel with.
Tudor: There is also another, at least for me, there is another part to it because I usually attack those problems from the other end. I mean I don't ever start out from the premise of dealing with what's available and trying to find out what part of it I want to use. I always come from the other side. I'm interested in very specific principles which exist, and I hate the fact that things like synthesizers and reverb devices and all that offer so much possibility. I mean in that case one has to make some choices, otherwise all the music that everyone makes is going to sound the same. So if you start from the other side, there's quite a different way of working, and interestingly enough it leads to the discovery of things that are not in those synthesizers. Okay, it's a different bargain.
Amirkhanian: By that reasoning though, everybody who writes a string quartet will end up writing something that sounds the same?
Tudor: How so?
Amirkhanian: Because you are using the same instruments, like the same Lexicon, Casio..
Tudor: No, no, no! We are not speaking of instruments. We are not speaking of instruments. No, we are speaking of ideas. I mean, look at people who have written string quartets. Look at John Cage who's written a string quartet. Look at Micael von Biel who's written a string quartet. Look at Benjamin Franklin who's written a string quartet. You can see immediately that the concept of the instrument is different. I mean an instrument is not just an instrument which everybody uses in the same way.
Amirkhanian: But then couldn't somebody say to you, "well, a Lexicon 200 reverb unit is used differently by different composers"? Why do you object to those instruments and not to violins?
Tudor: No, no, you're right. But what I'm pointing out is that you have to arrive at that concept. You see, this man was asking, you know, how do you pair down the possibilities. If you have a different means of using a reverb unit, you have already made that decision. You have already made that discovery. But that's what you have to do.
Amirkhanian: My question, I guess, is do you have to take apart the reverb unit the way you create extended technique on a violin? Do you have to alter the instrument?
Tudor: Naturally. [laughs]
Interview by Julie Martin | Stony Point |
1/26/92 | Klüver/Martin Archive
Julie Martin: January 26 1992. And I'm with David Tudor in Stony Point. For the record, when were you born?
David Tudor: [laughs] I was born on the 20th of January, 1926.
Tudor: In Philadelphia.
Martin: Did you grow up there?
Tudor: Uh-huh. Around there.
Martin: And when did you start music?
Tudor: Oh, I guess I was... I'm told that I started when I was five years old. [laughs]
Martin: On your own?
Tudor: Well, I had teachers.
Martin: Oh, I see. I mean, your family gave you the lessons?
Tudor: I believe so. Then I went to a neighborhood teacher who was very good. And then I... uh, a singer noticed my interest in the organ and among his many jobs he sang at a church in Philadelphia. So he took me there to see the organist and the organist wrote a letter saying he would teach me for a period of three years for nothing, and eventually he made me his assistant.
Martin: How old were you then?
Tudor: I think I was eleven. At least that's the figure that I remember.
Martin: But you were doing piano at home?
Tudor: Oh, yes. And then later on, I decided to switch to the piano. Because it seemed obvious that there'd be more opportunities to do new music.
Martin: Did you go to music school?
Martin: So you just started with the organist and then went on?
Tudor: Yes, my organ teacher was actually anxious for me to go to college. But it was just his belief that that was the thing to do. [laughs] It turned out not to be true in my case. [laughs] So I never had any... All my training was by what you would call private teachers.
Martin: With the organist, was it all organ music?
Tudor: Oh, no. Everything. And I owe a lot to that education. Because you know, I learned all about early music, pre-early music [laughs], all the way up to what contemporary things were being done for the organ. I played Messiaen, for instance.
Martin: Were there contemporary works for the organ at that time?
Tudor: Yes, oh sure.
Martin: But you said the piano offered you more?
Tudor: Well,at first it was like a different world, it seemed. It seemed that there was more vitality within the contemporary field.
Martin: How did you come in contact with the contemporary world.
Tudor: Well, through my organ teacher at first. And then I met Irma Wolpe, who became my piano teacher. And there it goes on from there. She was the wife of Stefan Wolpe, the composer. And she taught in Philadelphia; she taught also in New York and at Swarthmore College. At the time I was playing the organ in Swarthmore. And I met her at a party, and decided to actually... that very night, after meeting her, I decided to study the piano.
Martin: Just from what she said or just from talking with her?
Tudor: No, from hearing her perform.
Martin: Oh, she performed there.
Tudor: Well, she played her husband's music. So that was that. [laughs]
Martin: And then did you move to New York?
Tudor: Yes. But not for some time. I still played the organ. It must have been... I think even in 1951, I was still playing the organ. Or at least 1950.
Martin: In Philadelphia?
Tudor: Yes, not in the city but around there. Philadelphia has lots of suburbs. [laughs]
Martin: With the organ, were you limited to churches?
Tudor: Well, you can't say that. I mean, technically, you're not limited at all, but it's just wherever there's an organ.
Martin: Who were the composers you met after Wolpe?
Tudor: Well, I met all of the composers who were studying with him.
Martin: Who were they?
Tudor: Well, one was Issac Nemiroff who married my sister. There's Klauss Adin, James Timmons, Eddie Sauder... Johnny Creasy. I think his brother, Vincent Creasy. Strange how that name just pops into my head. [laughs] Well, actually, I've been having a series of conversations with Hilde Wolpe, who is doing a memoir of Stefan's. You know, she was his wife during the last years and they had a very strong powerful relationship. And she's a marvelous writer.
Martin: So she's been interviewing you on that period?
Tudor: Yeah, everybody's interviewing me. [laughs]
Martin: Oh, David, I think that's one of the joys or dangers of getting old.
Tudor: Well, it's certainly time consuming. [laughs] Don't take that amiss. But it's very true. And for a while there were... all kinds of people were calling me from Europe, especially Germany, who wanted to interview me. Some of them are pretty good. Others I really have my doubts about. You know, it's a sort of graduate student shenanigan.
Martin: Ones that come with questions this long?
Tudor: Yes, "may I quote you as having said..."
Martin: Oh Jesus! [laughs] Well, at least I decided to start with no questions. Oh no, one: when were you born? One prepared question! [laughs] When did you first meet people like Feldman and Cage and those people?
Tudor: Feldman was a student of Stefan Wolpe's at that time. And I was introduced to John at a couple of concerts in New York City. One day, there was a score that Merce Cunningham needed to have a rehearsal tape of. So John knocked on my door, delivered the score to me.
Martin: Where were you living?
Tudor: In New York.
Martin: Where in New York?
Tudor: I had a place on East Fourth Street.
Martin: That was the first one?
Tudor: It's the only place I've lived in New York. [laughs]
Martin: I'm sorry, I meant that was the first score that you...
Tudor: Oh, yes. And then later on Merce brought several dancers to Black Mountain College and one summer, and I was there teaching. And so, you know, the company was formed there.
Martin: Oh really?
Tudor: Yeah. That is, the present company was formed. I think that was 53.
Martin: But he had been performing for a while...
Tudor: Oh, yes.
Martin: But the idea of forming a company...
Tudor: No, that was the first company. He had a... I've forgotten the woman's name, a very remarkable dancer. I should be able to remember her name and I actually only met her as a guest artist. I think once we went to Chicago and she was there...
Martin: You said that the company was formed that summer. Were you part of it then? Did you join?
Tudor: I don't think I was ever asked to join. I just was part of it. [laughs]
Martin: But you didn't start performing for the company?
Martin: And then with John, concerts would just perform? come up and you would perform?
Tudor: Well, John... you would have to talk to him about it to get the story, because I don't remember how it happened but... that's not right. I know how it happened. I just don't know why it happened. [laughs]
Martin: Well tell me how! How is as interesting.
Tudor: John organized a series of concerts. I guess it's something that he liked to do. And he was accustomed to doing it for himself. And of course, I was his collaborator. So he organized concerts for me. Like, Billy probably was present at the Cherry Lane Theatre. I don't know what year it was. And then later on, at the Carl Fischer concert hall, there were several series given there. Then, I guess in 1954, John got commissioned to write a new work for the festival at Donaueschingen. So he and I went there.
Martin: Is that Germany?
Tudor: Germany. And so John organized a tour around that. So we were in Germany... I think we even... I guess we weren't in Italy then, but Germany, Belgium, England, Switzerland... et cetera. [laughs] I had a Christmas card from the fellow Adam Barker-Mill who bought one of my works.
Martin: Oh, the guy in England?
Tudor: In England, yes. He had this card printed out that said "Merry Christmas et cetera" [laughs] Brilliant! [laughs] And it's not "Merry Christmas comma etc," it's "Merry Christmas et cetera." [laughs]
Martin: Even better! [laughs] So really, John was this incredible organizing person?
Tudor: Oh, yes.
Martin: Because Steve Paxton was telling us about the tours. You were part of the Volkswagen bus tours?
Tudor: Oh, yeah. [laughs]
Martin: John and Merce somehow had it down, the physical details of just organizing that.
Tudor: Well, John was... probably couldn't have been done without John because he liked doing it, I think. And all that driving, ugh... [laughs] I remember, one of my fondest memories is that John was very anxious to get the car packed, because it took a little while, you know, lots of stuff had to go on top. And so he went around, making sure that people were up. One day Viola Farber was rooming with probably Marianne Preger and John knocked on the door and said, "Are the bags up?" [laughs] Viola was very incensed. [laughs] By the way, Viola is around.
Martin: So the first time you went to Germany, that was in the mid-1950s.
Tudor: Yes, 1954. And then I was there nearly every year. I think I didn't go in 57, because I had booked myself a big tour. And I remember I must have gotten cold in the back, because it became very difficult for me to sit at the piano. Because I had to learn all the new works. So I canceled the tour at the last minute, because I just thought, I can't start out like this. [laughs]
Martin: In Europe, were people receptive to the music?
Tudor: Oh, they were incredibly shocked.
Martin: Oh, really? They were shocked.
Tudor: Yes. Actually, I remember my first appearance in Yugoslavia. I must have done... I had this version of John Cage's Variations II, I had done a special realization of it that was electronic but involved the piano. So I programmed that in Zagreb. And shortly after I began to perform it, the whole audience, one by one, came up and crowded around the piano to the point where I no longer could perform. I had to stop. [laughs]
Martin: Hostile? Or just standing...
Tudor: No, really, incredible curiosity. They had never seen anything like that before. And it involved all these actions, you know, where I had to move around the piano and I simply couldn't do it. [laughs] They were all over the place. It wasn't a large audience, but it must have been like 200 people.
Martin: That's large for one little piano! [laughs] There must have been enough patrons who were understanding so that you kept being invited and there were places to perform.
Tudor: Well, there was curiosity and I think people... well, I could put it crassly and say that the shock value was a consideration. [laughs]
Martin: Really? So people would book you knowing that...
Tudor: Knowing that there would be controversy. Well, I remember, it was my first appearance in Paris—I think the second time I was invited by Boulez to come—so I played some of John Cage's Music of Changes. And Boulez gave the speech before, saying... it was very succinct, he just simply told the audience, "You will hear some sounds that you're not accustomed to, so fasten your seat belts!" [laughs] But there again, that happened quite often in France, especially in France, but also in Italy, that one had to play against an uproar. There was no way that people could hear the music. [laughs] And you just had to do something that... you know, I eventually got used to.
Martin: Did you make the music louder because of it?
Tudor: No point, no point. [laughs]
Martin: Were there fights in the audience?
Tudor: Oh, yes.
Martin: So you had supporters versus...
Tudor: Oh, yeah, on my first appearance in Paris, which was with John Cage, we did two piano piece and Pierre Boulez reported that a friend of his... I should be able to remember the name... It was a poet, and this poet was enormous in stature. And the people around him were making so much noise that he leaped over the seat and sat on somebody to make him shut up! [laughs]
Martin: So you did have your supporters! [laughs] What about in this country? Was it the same when you performed here?
Tudor: There were often audience demonstrations. But not the same, not the same. I think it was more usual in Europe to, you know, make a fuss or demonstrate during a performance. Here, there were a few. Well, just to tell you an old story: the first time that I played John's famous piece, 4' 33", it was in Woodstock. And I recall the performance as being one of the best. [laughs] Because there was a very unusual circumstance that... I think it was called the maverick Concert Hall, which had... I think it was a made-over barn or something like that. But the roof of the hall was corrugated tin or something like that. And John had ascribed time lengths. So this is a piece in three movements, right? And of course, there's no sound. But the time lengths worked out, so that it rained during the second movement. Only. It didn't rain during the first movement, or the third movement, but it rained only during the second movement. I was so pleased. [laughs]
Martin: That's incredible! [laughs]
Tudor: Well, at any rate, it was John's custom during those early concerts to answer questions from the audience, after the performance. And so the Woodstock [one], it was sponsored by the Woodstock Artists Association or something like that. And there were two people in the audience who were really incensed at this, at the music. And just near the end of the questioning period, one of them got up and said, "Good people of Woodstock, I think we should run these guys out of town!" [laughs]
Martin: So much for intellectual debate in America! [laughs] That piece, David, 4’ 33”, were the three movements included within the four minutes? The three movements are within that time, or is it longer?
Martin: Is it within that time?
Tudor: Well, curiously enough, it seems impossible for people to understand the fact that since the piece is in three movements, it's longer than four minutes and thirty-three seconds. [laughs]
Martin: Oh, I see.
Tudor: Yes, because there's a pause between the movements, unspecified in duration. [laughs] So that's... you see, that's an impossible idea for people to understand that you should call a piece four minutes and thirty-three seconds and then it's actually longer.
Martin: Is the time that it's supposed to be being played is four minutes? But you can pause between movements as long as you want.
Tudor: Yes. [laughs]
Martin: Like a football game! [laughs]
Tudor: Yes, it's very much like a football game! [laughs]
Martin: You just have time outs! When you performed it, was it clear to you, you made it clear what was the pauses?
Martin: How did you do it?
Tudor: Oh, well, John's suggestion was that I should indicate the beginning of the piece by closing the lid of the piano keyboard, and to indicate the end of the movement by raising it. So that's what I did.
Martin: So you did that to the three movements. It was an active piece! [laughs] A lot was going on!
Tudor: You bet! [laughs]
Martin: It's so interesting. If you had a sort of classical education, were you just personally attracted to the new music?
Tudor: It was like an adventure! And then later on, well, I've been often asked why I gave up piano, and there never was any reason. The only explanation that I've ever been able to give for it was that I woke up one morning and realized that I didn't feel guilty about not playing the piano. Because everybody expected me to, you know, just continue on indefinitely. And some people, like Berio once expressed to me his disappointment that I had stopped because I was one of the best interpreters. And it was like... it was like the people like Berio felt good about my being around, you know, but all of a sudden this person isn't doing the same thing he used to do. [laughs] But, I mean, there were other things involved. The fact is that I became... "bored" isn't the word, but not excited by what I was being asked to do. Because by that time, my reputation had gotten around, and I recall distinctly opening the mail with pieces that people had sent me, and I had this pervading feeling all the time that I've seen this before. It's like the composers couldn't manage to make the pages black enough. [laughs] Because they can do... they could write anything! [laughs]
Martin: And then you would do it?
Tudor: I would do it. Like, I think I had a review once from an Italian newspaper where the... oh, and I know who wrote it. [laughs] I think it was Mario Labortobato, very tongue-in-cheek fellow. He's a real wag. But he wrote in the paper that I could play the raisins in a fruitcake! [laughs]
Martin: Damn, that wasn't the next score John gave you? [laughs]
Tudor: Could have been like that. [laughs]
Martin: Great idea! So were the scores you got from John always interesting, in that sense that you’re talking about, interesting?
Tudor: They were interesting, or they were, you know, progressions from one phase of the work to another phase. Like the piece that he wrote for me, the Music of Changes, has what John calls a rhythmic structure, which determines... actually, it's made to determine time lengths, except that in that work he employed a method, which changed the time length from actual time to another one; it had to do with the I Ching so that the time lengths could change. And the way that 4’33” came about I understood perfectly well, because it was composed, like the time. Only it so happened that John had decided to employ only even numbers. In other words, he only accepted even numbers, which came up when he was tossing the coins. And all the even numbers happened to be silences. So, I mean, it seems to be perfectly logical...
Martin: I mean, it's composed, it's not a statement! [laughs]
Tudor: Well, it's a statement, willy nilly. [laughs] But it came about because of the compositional process. I think later on, John published the piece as only instructions, you know, which obviated the need for a score, actually. But in fact, the original score, which I have unfortunately lost—I think I'd given it back to John Cage—the original score was with notated time lengths. I mean, there were measures, you know? No sound but measures. [laughs] I've explained all this to different people. I even did it on TV, I think. Because somewhere somebody should remember. [laughs]
Martin: Absolutely! Yeah, but it's mythic for the wrong reason.
Tudor: Exactly. But that's our life, isn't it? Think of E.A.T. [laughs]
Martin: Did the interest in the use of electronics come about naturally in the progression?
Tudor: Uh-huh. Well, there again, I think it was... John was instrumental in that because he was using audio equipment in various pieces, so I got to handle the equipment more and more. And it wasn't that I was interested in gadgets. But it was a different kind of instrumental manipulation. And that did interest me a great deal. And then gradually I felt the need to know more, and I even entertained the idea that I should study electronics. But my attempts to do that didn't lead anywhere. Later on I understood why. All the information that one gains about electronics in America comes from people writing about electronics. Then later on, like during my travels, I collected electronic articles from England, from France, from Germany, from Italy, etc., and there's a noticeable difference the way the British write about electronics. And later on, I came to understand it. It's because they think everything starts with physics. So they write about electronics from the physicist's point of view, and it's completely different. All of a sudden, things become clear and understandable, because you have something to refer to. With the American writers, they keep talking about electrons, etc., as though their existence was simply taken for granted. And the British don't make that mistake.
Martin: The British give you context.
Tudor: Well, they tell you that there are these forces which are being caused by the way electronic components are put together. In other words, it became much easier to acquire knowledge about electronics from people. So I did what other people have done. For instance, Gordon Mumma told me that he learned everything he knows about electronics from his local ham radio operators. I mean, he did study it a little bit himself, but he already had gained the necessary knowledge, you know, how things work. [laughs]
Martin: When was your first piece that you did?
Tudor: [laughs] You'll get a good laugh out of this one! The first piece I did was in 1964. And it was for Bob Rauschenberg and Steve Paxton. And it was done at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. And Bob had this piece where he rode a cow through the museum. And so he asked me if I would make some sound. And I guess, for various reasons, I didn't realize that I was actually composing it. But later on I did. [laughs] A couple of years later, I realized that that was actually my first electronic piece, and at that point I gave it a title. The title doesn't appear anywhere in relationship to Bob's work.
Martin: Oh, I see. What's the title?
Tudor: Fluorescent Sound.
Martin: And what did you do?
Tudor: Well, I had to work in the museum. This was during... it was like a week of programs that was occasioned by Merce Cunningham's being there. So there was not only Cunningham concerts in the museum, but they were Rauschenberg, and Paxton performed. I believe Alex Hay performed, and Deborah Hay,. because they were both in the company. I recall working for them, but I don't remember what was done. Just something probably incidentally. But for Bob, I thought of... well, I had to work after hours a great deal in the museum. And so I noticed that every time the fluorescent light went on there was this distinct sound present. And there were two spaces in the museum. And the sound in the front room, what you call the foyer, which is where I was doing the concerts—I think John and I gave a concert in that room—the sound of the fluorescent lights going on and off, it was very, very noticeable, and very beautiful. However, Bob and Steve needed much larger space, so they were in the bigger room. The sound there was not so noticeable. So I really had to work at it. And I was helped a great deal by a young guy, who was also... I think he was a composer himself. His name is Olle something or other... I can't remember at this point. But he had helped me a great deal because in that room I had to have a cherry picker. So it was a lot of going up and down, and I became quickly tired, physically. So he helped a great deal once I showed him what had to be done. And the first thing we had to discover was which circuits the lights were activated by, and it turned out that they were in groups of three. So finally I made a score which represented the ceiling, with all the lights and everything—I believe there were fifty circuits involved. So I performed it from the switch box, switching the lights on and off. And the most notable thing about the performance, I guess, was the fact that I had to be informed when the cow was in the room, because at that point the music had to stop. Because Bob was afraid that the car was going shit. [laughs] He didn't want that on his record! [laughs]
Martin: So the lights went on and the sound, so the lights varied also.
Tudor: The lights were the sound.
Martin: Oh, you didn't put contact...?
Tudor: Oh, yeah, there was a contact mike. You see, that was why we needed the cherry picker, because we had to select a contact mike that could be activated by a single electrical circuit. But there were 150 lights in the room, and there were three lights on a single circuit. So there were fifty switches to be activated.
Martin: But the light would go on also.
Martin: So you lit and... poor cow! [laughs] Could the lights be on without the sound being on? It must have [been possible], because otherwise it would have been in darkness.
Tudor: There was plenty of light. Yeah, I mean, there were other lights in the room. But all the fluorescent bulbs were on the ceiling. I think it was quite noticeable that the lights were going on and off. However, had it been in the front room, the sound would have been much stronger. But that's the kind of thing that one doesn't discover, you know, except at the last minute when it's when it's all hooked up and working. [laughs] I think maybe the bulbs were much older in the foyer space. [laughs]
Martin: Oh I see, that's what did it?
Martin: Have you ever done it again, in another space?
Martin: Was your next one Bandoneon?
Martin: [laughs] Bandoneon Factorial.
Tudor: [laughs] Bandoneon.
Martin: I always try to be careful to put that space between factorial—not "Bandoneon!"
Tudor: That's the kind of title that you always wonder whether... but it was Bandoneon, but with an exclamation point.
Martin: Oh, that wasn't supposed to be factorial? It was supposed to be an exclamation point?
Tudor: It's supposed to be an exclamation point, but the fact is that mathematically, it's the symbol for factorial.
Martin: Right? So it's supposed to mean that.
Tudor: Yeah. But it doesn't matter whether you understand it or not. No, I mean, to understand the piece you have to understand that it is Bandoneon Factorial, but the title doesn't matter.
Martin: No, no, I understand.
Tudor: It could just as well be Bandoneon Exclamation Point.
Tudor: Oh, but boy, what a hassle that was.
Martin: Oh, God.
Tudor: Well, that's life, isn't it? [laughs] I remember thinking that perhaps Robert Whitman should have been shot for the suggestion to revive the 9 Evenings exactly as they were done. [laughs] Do you remember that?
Martin: No, I don't! When did he want to do that?
Tudor: It was when he was married to Sylvia and living down on White Street. I went there for dinner once. I think you were there.
Tudor: And he came up to me in all seriousness and asked me what I thought of this. He said he thought it would be a very necessary thing to do, you know, to do the 9 Evenings again, just as they were done in 1966! And then, this is like, what, how many years later? Ten years later, at least, maybe fifteen years later.
Martin: He did a retrospective of his theater pieces in '76, I remember.
Tudor: Oh, is that it? '76?
Martin: And these were done exactly the same! But that's what he likes! [laughs]
Tudor: No way you can get me involved in that! [laughs]
Martin: I mean, it'd be done very nicely now.
Tudor: Oh, it'd be much simpler to do it now. Much.
Tudor: Too beautiful. [laughs] No, actually, for me, it would be quite difficult.
Martin: Oh really?
Tudor: Oh yeah. It would be very interesting to attempt it. But I've had people call me up, you know, because people who play the bandoneon, or who play accordion, they need works to perform. And they've heard about this piece. [...] And, of course, I have to advise people that it's really too difficult, really a very difficult proposition. But then, just a few years ago, I got caught by a man in Toronto. Actually, I was called by his engineer, telling me that this man wanted to do this work, and that he had all kinds of engineering help at his disposal. So I thought, Well, okay, I'll give this a try and see what happens, knowing full well [laughter] that they couldn't do it. So I explained, I told him, "Make sure that the engineer calls me and talks to me." I sent him the score, which is itself very formidable. [laughs] But I explained that they didn't have to be involved with the visuals, that just to satisfy the musical conditions would be enough. But then I spoke to the engineer and told him what kind of equipment they would need to do it. And I said, "I have no idea how you can do this now without constructing some of the equipment yourself." And I explained why, and it's because a lot of that a lot of the sound modification devices had to deal with home-built equipment that I had built myself. And I had discovered this principle of what's called a saturated amplifier, where you arrange feedback around an amplifier to the point where the circuit oscillates of itself—all you have to do is activate it by putting the signal in, and it can keep oscillating forever and ever, which is one of the features of the piece. And I had to tell the engineer that that piece would not be the same if they did not have that sound. And what they had assumed was that if they employed these currently very sophisticated reverberation machines that everyone is using now in electronics—all the rock stars have to have their own favorite reverb machines [laughs]—they assumed that the sound would be the same. I told them, "No way." Because you're not dealing with the reverberation only, but you're dealing with a particular kind of distortion that comes from saturating an amplifier, and no way you'll get it under the... plus, the conditions would be too controlled if you did that. It's not that the piece couldn't be done. It's that somebody has to understand the principles involved in it. Then it would be hard work, but not impossible. But I would hate to have to do it again! [laughs]
Martin: I'm gonna go back a bit... Mary Bauermeister was telling us about the performances in her studio.
Tudor: Oh, yes.
Martin: Do you remember those?
Tudor: Oh, sure. [laughs]
Martin: Wonderful photos of you performing there. Was that during one of the tours to Europe? Or did you go specially for that?
Tudor: No, it was during... that happened because I was there.
Martin: It's quite amazing. The number of people.
Tudor: Oh, sure.
Martin: Is that the first time you met Paik?
Tudor: Uh-huh. [laughs]
Martin: What was he like?
Tudor: Hmm... that's not a bad question. [laughs] I probably have to describe several different qualities, because he is a complex fellow. He didn't appear as an angry young man. But one of the things he... he tried to be inscrutable. And he didn't need any help with that. [laughs] But it's like he didn't want anyone to know what he was doing. So I saw a show of his recently in Basel.
Martin: We saw that.
Tudor: You saw Basel. Did you see the one in Zurich?
Martin: No, we didn't get to Zurich.
Tudor: I understand that that was all the big, large pieces. And so it wasn't as interesting.
Martin: I was glad I saw Basel.
Tudor: Yes, it was gorgeous. Except I disapproved with the wiring. [laughs]
Martin: What do you mean?
Tudor: All these attempts to hide the wiring! [laughs]
Martin: Right, he'd gotten too elegant!
Tudor: Well, it wasn't him.
Martin: That's the Swiss, right?
Tudor: Well, it had to be that way. I think even if they do it in New York, I don't know how they would manage. But Paik would manage. [laughs]
Martin: I love those early pieces or the pieces about his early life.
Tudor: Yeah, but I always felt that the kind of wiring present should be displayed. You should be aware of the danger. [laughs] And that was not present in Basel. There is nothing dangerous at all!
Martin: But have you seen some of those pianos he's done?
Tudor: Oh, yeah.
Martin: That was the stuff that he was doing at that time?
Tudor: I don't know when. But I was certainly very pleased to see that there was a piece from 1990 and a piece from 1991. [laughs]
Martin: And they get better, don't you think? He's one of the few who really can deal with...
Tudor: They get simpler, I think.
Martin: He loads a lot of imagery in, but you're right, the pieces get simpler. But the room with the blank TV sets, that was fantastic.
Tudor: Gorgeous. But that's an example of its getting simpler.
Martin: Was that new? It's an old piece but a new installation? Was that a new piece?
Tudor: It wasn't old... well, it's... but what is old? [laughs]
Martin: No, I thought it was an early piece.
Tudor: Well, 1970?
Martin: True. [laughs]
Tudor: I met Paik, I think in 1956. [laughs]
Martin: He was doing music right? Or was he still doing philosophy?
Tudor: No, he was doing music. That's where he cut off John Cage's tie.
Martin: Was that a shock?
Tudor: I don't think John... [laughs] I think John expected it. But he was shocked. [laughs] I mean, that's, you know, one doesn't do that. [laughs] You know, John has a certain side of him, which is, it's not conventional but... you know, he was brought up in a Methodist household. [laughs]
Martin: Oh really?
Tudor: Oh, didn't you know? Both his father and mother were Methodists. [laughs]
Martin: Methodists means something?
Tudor: Well, it's true. Methodists come from England. But it's... in some ways, it's probably the strongest religion in America. And that comes from England, it's the Puritans.
Martin: So with John, it was some sort of "one doesn't do that" rather than taking it. But good manners and all that. In a sense, he hasn't done anything that assaults the audience. Well with sounds, but... [laughs] Or has he? I mean, I don't know.
Tudor: Well, it wasn't because he intended not to. He's never been afraid of that. No, that's... I remember that when we did the piece for Donaueschingen, there was a piece for two prepared pianos. And John wanted to have... he had this concept of what he called "auxiliary sounds."
Martin: Auxiliary sounds?
Tudor: Auxiliary sounds. Imagine. [laughs]
Martin: [laughs] Yes?
Tudor: John is a very complicated fellow sometimes. If I ever get up into my attic, I have a file of clippings that I took out of the early issues of the New Yorker magazine. And amongst them there's a clipping... you know how the New Yorker probably still does it, but it takes something from the press, from some communication, and then makes a comment on them.
Martin: Right, right.
Tudor: Right. Well, one of them was a program note that John had written for one of his pieces. He begins by explaining that the piece has to do with the difference between the number one and the number two. [laughs] And it goes on and on and on. [laughs] I don't remember what the comment was, but it was very succinct. [laughs] I mean, total confusion was present in this program note. [laughs] Well, why was I talking about...
Martin: We were talking about assaulting the audience.
Tudor: Well, about the "auxiliary sounds." And John said, “Well, I have all these whistles. And so we should use them.” So, you know me, I got involved in... I started collecting whistles right and left! [laughs] In the end, amongst ourselves, we always called this the "Whistle Piece." Well, you probably heard that in the '60s. And the piece was composed when John was here living in this house. So I was rehearsing it, and I had the piano in the other room at that time. And I said to John one day, "Don't you think that it's a little foolish to be blowing these whistles all the time?" [laughs] And John said, "I've never minded appearing foolish." [laughs] And I really appreciated that. In a way I enjoyed feeling like an actor. I've always enjoyed that as part of the, you know, the process of performing. Eventually I think all performers get involved in that, can't help it.
Martin: Was that part of it when you're playing the piano? When you're playing more conventional pieces, did you feel that?
Tudor: I would have to say that that was something that my training made me frown upon it, but it's something that I began to appreciate. And occasionally I really welcomed it. You know, you look at this guy who has now become very popular, Harry Connick.
Martin: I don't know, which one is he?
Tudor: Oh, Julie... [laughs] He's a very young guy who specializes in the most chromatic... He plays the piano, he sings; he's branching out, I think I've seen him as a conductor. But he's become very popular, because he does all these old romantic things. Tunes from the '20s, you know. And he does them in his way, he's very faithful to them. Not the most faithful. There was a guy that I admired a great deal when I heard him. He was a singer. I think his name was Pete Mason. And he used to sing all those old tunes, but he sang them as though they were sheet music. [laughs] And it was gorgeous, it was gorgeous! It was so simple... you know, it just warmed my heart to hear all those old tunes.
Martin: When did you move up here?
Tudor: Uhh... 53, the fall of 53.
Martin: What's the story on Stony Point? I don't know it. I mean, on this land.
Tudor: Oh, the land was bought by Paul Williams.
Martin: Who is he?
Tudor: Paul Williams is a friend of ours, who had been a student for years at Black Mountain College. So M. C. Richards knew him and his wife, and this whole community sort of started in a remote way from the Black Mountain impulse. Because... well, it was actually M. C. who came to New York to live with me. And she missed being in the country. And so it became an objective to move away from New York. So we got John involved in it, and at that point also Carolyn and Earle Brown were also interested in moving out. John had hoped to get Merce Cunningham to be involved in it also. But after Black Mountain... well no, I guess it was before Black Mountain broke up, because it broke up in '57.
Martin: You were going back and forth there until '57 off and on?
Tudor: Off and on. But Paul Williams had been influenced a great deal by the work of Paul Goodman. I believe he was an architect, Paul Goodman.
Martin: But also a thinker.
Tudor: Yes, he was a thinker. And I remember Paul Williams liked Paul Goodman's idea of... that community should be made the way European villages are made, so that you have a square, but you do it so that the square is the rear of the houses. Now, that hasn't happened here. [laughs] But the idea is present here. There are two squares, each containing potentially four houses that sort of face the communal area. I think it was too difficult here to realize that it should be the rear of the houses, on the contrary. [laughs]
Martin: If he'd gotten a little flatter land...
Tudor: But at any rate, M. C. and I, we started already looking for where we could go to live to not be in the city. And I think our first move was towards Staten Island.
Martin: Oh really?
Tudor: Oh yeah.
Martin: I mean, especially in those days it was total country.
Tudor: Well, not total. Well, somehow we got a connection to the Tibetan museum. I believe the Tibetan museum had a house attached to it. And there was a caretaker who didn't want to live in the house, she didn't want the responsibility. It meant really that you'd have to take care of the property. But it was a large enough space so that four or five of us could have lived there. So we went there several times, M. C. and I drove out. And we thought we had it settled. It had lovely things. You know, it's on the hillside, one of the highest points on Staten Island, and it faces the Atlantic. And they have the gardens there terraced, and there are fig trees which produce fruit! And it's because of the ocean. You know, it's really like ocean breezes. And we had it labeled down. And they knew that we had a dog and so forth. But as we were... in our last encounter with this person who was the caretaker, the caretaker mentioned to us, "Oh, by the way, you don't have any children, do you?" Because the property was terraced, but it was not paved. And she explained to us that we couldn't even have children come to visit. And of course, I mean...
Martin: It's like a red flag.
Tudor: A red flag went up in M. C.'s mind. And M. C. said, "No, there's no way that I'm not going to be able to have children, not be able to visit." And the reason was perfectly understandable, because you just had to walk down into the garden, and it was extremely dangerous, it could have been extremely dangerous. And it meant that the place would be sued. And they couldn't... they had no money, they couldn't deal with that. So we gave up. And now in the meantime, Paul William's wife was dealing with the fact that Paul himself had architectural dreams. And one of his dreams was to buy property in a Latin American country. He thought of either Mexico or Guatemala. And he was through with his studies, actually through... I think he thought of it like as the next-to-the-last phase; he was going to come back to study more with with Paul Goodman. But in the meantime, he had inherited money from his father. His father was the inventor of the type of insulator that's used on all the electric wires that you see all over.
Martin: That glass thing?
Tudor: Yeah, those glass things. And so, you know, Paul... our understanding was that Paul had inherited something like two and a half million from his father. And so, Vera, his wife said, "Well, you know, if you go down to Central America, it's going to be several years before you get back. In the meantime, there are these people here. [laughs] And why don't we get going? Are we helping them out?" And of course, that that was the end of Paul's dream, in a sense. [laughs] Although this place has worked. It has worked.
Martin: So then you all came up here, it was '53?
Tudor: And in that little room there, Karen and David Weinrib slept, and M. C. and I had slept on the other side of the house with my piano.
Martin: Did you build this?
Tudor: No, this is a farmhouse.
Martin: This was the only house in the property?
Martin: So you started fast, you took the first house. [laughs]
Tudor: No, no, no, no, there were five of us and John Cage lived out in the attic. [laughs] All five of us lived in this house! You never knew that?
Martin: I didn't know that, Jesus...
Tudor: [laughs] That's really communal living!
Martin: That's communal living. [laughs]
Tudor: No, we had a good time.
Martin: Oh, it sounds great. And David Weinrib? I don't remember what he does.
Tudor: He's an artist. He's mostly known for his ceramics. But he's done all kinds of things. And his wife Karen Karnes—who is Karen Weinrib, she changed her name back to her mother's name—she's up in New Hampshire, I think, or Vermont, one or the other. Still potting away. She's one of the most successful American potters.
Martin: Her name was here, right? Is it her name that was on the... ten or fifteen years ago, the pottery...
Tudor: Yeah, that was her pottery. But the "potshop" as it was known then, was started by David Weinrib, his wife Karen, and by M. C., who is also a potter. And so we had to live somewhere—we all lived here. And the cooking, M. C. cooked for one week and Karen cooked for the next week. Very good system. [laughs] And there was no running water. Where the water is now coming in, there was a pump in there. We called it "the pump room." [laughs]
Martin: The pump room!
Tudor: Yes, you had to prime the pump.
Martin: Well, at least it was inside the house, right?
Tudor: The pump is inside the house. But the water came from the spring. But as more houses went up, there was danger about using the spring. So finally we abandoned it.
Martin: Danger? That there wouldn't be enough water?
Tudor: Uhh let's see... what was the reason? Oh, well, the reason was that the first houses were going up. Now the first houses were built at the top of the hill. I think LaNoue Davenport was one of the first members. And there were others, there was the Hultbergs, Paul Hultberg and his wife Ethel. And the Davenports. And John Cage also moved up there; he made his own house, and that meant that the sewage was coming down. And in the meantime they had a well up the top of the hill. Then the next group of people—the first one was Sari Dienes, and she built lower down. And Stan VanDerBeek. So then there was a second well dug, and at the point that the second well went in, M. C. decided that we should switch over because there was real danger that the spring could be polluted. So we attached ourselves to the well.
Martin: Oh, I see. The spring is still there?
Tudor: The spring is still there, unused. Making water all over the place! [laughs]
Martin: So you've lived here the longest.
Tudor: Uh-huh. I'm now the oldest member.
Martin: Sari Dienes, where is she now? She's still up there?
Tudor: She's still up there. She's great.
Martin: She's amazing. When did you first meet her?
Tudor: It must have been... for some reasons, I think of '57, but that might be because she used to live on 57th street. [laughs] But it was in the '50s. She lived in, what was it called... Carnegie Studios.
Martin: Uh huh.
Tudor: I don't think that exists anymore. But it was a lovely place and a lovely building. It was attached to Carnegie Hall. I think it was right next door to Carnegie Hall.
Martin: Yeah, that's torn down.
Tudor: It's torn down. It was very large. They were real studios for artists to live in.
Martin: And they probably faced north and light was northern light.
Tudor: Yeah, it was a lovely place. And she got invited to come over, she got interested in this place, and moved out. Paul built her house. Now, I think she's... I don't know what arrangements she's made, and I'm grateful that she hasn't involved the community too much in it, but I think she wants her house now to become a foundation. So I hope that it's going to be well arranged, so that it can be what she wants it to be. But you can imagine how difficult. Well, she's a single person and her body of work is immense. And it's got to be taken care of, there has to be some means.
Martin: That's the problem with funding...
Tudor: Oh, terrible.
Martin: Especially in this day and age.
Tudor: Well, this day, this age is not going to go on forever. [laughs]
Martin: Do you think it's gonna get better?
Tudor: I think so. Oh no, I think there'll be more people who... Well, I mean, I've certainly seen it in my life. Now, you're asking me all these questions. But I mean, it's... you know, the deep, deep things that happened. The questions I'm getting asked now... really? Oh!
Martin: They're even dumber than mine! [laughs]
Tudor: No, no, you're just... you're right now on the surface of this stuff. But a lot more is going to occur to you that...
Martin: I know the things I want to know, I don't even know how to ask, you know?
Martin: It takes a while. I mean, there's a whole change in the whole way of thinking what you all did, what you were all doing. This incredible... really like the beginning of the 20th century.
Tudor: Well, you know, I've been living with it for a long time! [laughs] I'm the first person... And I'm not currently aware of the thinking in Europe. But I've had all these people coming to me asking me questions about the early days. I remember when it happened, but not the date. But I remember my first contact with the Swedish composer Bo Nielsen when I was asked, would I give the first performances of a couple of pieces of his? And I said yes, of course. And I already knew that, in a vague way, he was connected with Stockhausen, or he claimed to be a student of Stockhausen or something like that. Fortunately I didn't know too much about that. [laughs] I think there's nothing to know actually. I think he may have met Stockhausen and been influenced by him. But his home was in Malmberget.
Martin: What's that?
Tudor: Malmberget is the... it's the largest city in Sweden which is within the Arctic Circle. It's like the farthest north you can get and still be in civilization. It's something like that. And after meeting him and talking to him, I realized that he knew all about music from listening to the radio. [laughs]
Tudor: Well, when you think about it, it isn't, it isn't. It's that the farther north you go, the clearer radio reception is. If you live within the Arctic Circle, you can hear everything, all the broadcasts from all over! No, it's the nature of the radio transmission. And I mean, it works in such a way that in certain areas of the earth, there's no interference. So he could listen to broadcasts from all over the world up there. You ask Billy [Klüver] how that works.[laughs]
Martin: That's fantastic!
Tudor: The same thing, of course, is true of Alaska. I mean, I know it from just... you can visit like Plattsburgh, New York, you know, and my God, even the TV! I mean, TV works on different principles, but still, if you're in that neck of the woods, you can hear broadcasts from all over Canada. [laughs]
Martin: So his musical education was...
Tudor: Had been through the radio!
Martin: I guess the electronics lab at WDR was really important then.
Tudor: Well, as I see it, it was influential. And that's what's important about it. It wasn't the presence of Stockhausen. By the time Stockhausen got into it, it was already a going thing. And I don't like the way that he has handled all that. Because I knew Herbert Eimert, who started the whole thing. And I know why he started it. And it was his impetus that got the whole thing going. By the time that Stockhausen came in, in other words, the whole studio was present, it was something for his use. And he put it to his use. [laughs]
Martin: What was Eimert's idea?
Tudor: That it should be a common resource for composers and that things should be made for composers.
Martin: In the plural, as opposed to the singular. [laughs]
Tudor: I remember Stockhausen had a few problems with me. I don't think he ever approved of the things that I did with John. I remember after John and I had performed Cartridge Music a couple of times, Stockhausen questioned me in a bleak manner. You know, I think he thought it was childish, what was happening. [laughs] So I began to speak to Stockhausen about experimentation and the necessity for really doing it oneself. And his remark to me was that, "But industry will give us what we need." [laughs] And it was like... that was very enlightening to me. That one could have had that attitude. And later on, I had the same disappointment with Kagel whom I admired. I admired Kagel a great deal because he was like a defiant spirit on the European scene. Now it appears that he was only using everything that... But Kagel actively courted Siemens because he wanted access to technology, you know, and it was... I mean why should Stockhausen, you know, corner the technology?
Martin: Oh, so he tried another direction to get to the technology, but just to the technology as given. So both of them were into...
Tudor: No, no, I think Kagel really appreciated this, the do-it-yourself, make music any way you can. No, Kagel is very... he's a different kind of person.
Martin: But you always liked the hands on.
Tudor: It goes straight to my soul. [laughs] No, no, I've always felt that... and, I mean, I couldn't have been comfortable, I couldn't have continued working in electronics, just with using the equipment that came off the bench. I'm not satisfied unless I can go inside. That's why I called my own group, I called it "Composers Inside Electronics." And it was true for a while—we all were. [laughs]
Martin: Now they make it harder and harder to get inside, don't they?
Tudor: Well, it's a mixed bag. It's a mixed bag, I think... I can't criticize all manufacturers willy nilly, because they are making an effort. They're making an effort. They realize that it's to their advantage if they get musicians using their products, and the more that that happens, the more chance we have. But the whole market is so inundated. The problem now is to get the musicians to be aware of what's happening.
Martin: Really? You mean the technology's outstripped the...
Tudor: Well, it's been—for most musicians, it's bewildering. And you very easily get into a situation where you think, Well, why should I build this? You know, I'll just go out and buy it. And there's the rub. [laughs]
Excerpt edited by Julie Martin
Courtesy Klüver/Martin Archive
Aftertalk moderated by Nicolas Collins | STEIM, Amsterdam |
6/16/94 | Filmed by Molly Davies
Nicolas Collins: I remember meeting with you and some of the members of CIE in New York, must have been about three or four years, in which the idea of trying to build a neural network system for you for sound generation was first introduced. And it was last year that I first read of the work that was coming out. Neural network programming I know has been used by a number of people for generating control structures for music but you are the only person I know who is actually using this technology to generate sound with. Can you tell us a little bit about how this works? How you do it?
David Tudor: It isn't easy to get a precise picture of what's happening. This piece is the first. I'm expecting to go on with it. Actually I did another piece which I gave to the Cunningham Dance Company. That was the very first one. That piece was entitled Neural Network Plus. And I decided that since I had more to do, to accomplish with the same equipment, that I would make the next series of compositions with a different title. Nic tells me that this is Neural Synthesis No.8, but my engineer tells me it's No.12. [laughter] So you know, I've lost track. It always comes out very differently, and actually it's due to the manner of activating the electronics. First off, you have to realize that this sound material is not produced with any external input whatsoever. Nothing is exciting the circuits into action. It's all done with a feedback network which is very complex. And it isn't… well in a word, it isn't very precise, because the neural technology is analog. It isn't digital. If it were completely digital, you could expect the same results the next day. But it isn’t like that at all. It’s that, what they call the neurons have to be weighted. The circuitry which has come into my hands doesn’t give me the possibility of recording it precisely, so it drifts overnight or instantly. So the performance of it is like a continuous trying to excite the neurons to speak. So in a nutshell, this piece depends upon different, I would have to call them 'passes’, which were performed with my neural synthesizer. And those results were recorded and then for purposes of my musical vocabulary, I further modified the signals which came from the synthesizer. But I don’t do very much in that respect. Very soon, after working with it, I realized that I didn’t have to do very much. The main problem was to excite the neurons to speak. I’m now in a very different situation because the Intel corporation was pleased by the fact that I had used this [inaudible] to make a product that was of an interest to the company. And they were pleased enough so they gave me the processor which weights the chips. So now I’m in a situation where I can record what’s been done. And I can put it on a computer and I’ll know that one 'pass,' one attempt to use a signal is the result of a specific set of conditions. And so far I haven’t been able to do that. But my position was that I didn’t really need to do that, because it’s a completely analog technology and theres no input, the inputs are the outputs. So… how would you describe it… it gets hot?
Collins: It gets hot and bothered, you could say.
Tudor: That’s exactly it. You understand. [laughs]
Collins: I was gonna pull out a very dry word, unstable, but it’s hot and bothered. But from my experience working with you, I think that instability is one of the primary motivating forces in all of the pieces of music that you do. The networks that you create, even before the incredibly dense feedback network of the neural network, were based on systems that were in a very unstable state. And relatively small changes on the part of the performer will introduce cataclysmic changes in the overall texture of sound. I don’t mean to sound extremely nerdy and geeky here, but you have almost exclusively worked with analog technology in your work. I know that now you’re talking now about using computers in junctions in neural network but you have steadfastly adhered to the nuance and resolution of the analog world at a time when a lot of digital technology was changing the face of a lot of electronic music as people heard it through say pop music and things like that. Do you have any sort of five or ten choice words about your feeling about the nature of the analog world versus the digital world in terms of its musical meaning to you?
Tudor: Well, you can easily see from my history that I’m very familiar with analog techniques and very sensitive to it. but I don’t want to reject any possibility which could come to me from using digital. And I have used digital but my experience causes me to make a distinction between analog and digital. The thing about this, the technology which is used in this neural network technology is it’s so vast in terms of number that one step which I am willing to make very gladly will be to use it digitally and find out if that makes it easier to control. And I think it will, at least it will be more predictable. And then because of my being ornery, once I’ve done that I will again try to make it unstable. But that chip actually it consists of 256 circuits so you could quite easily dedicate a whole series of neurons to do a single thing, which is the digital principle.
Collins: I know that a lot of your pieces from the 70s in particular were scored for large numbers of individual circuit modules that in a many cases you weren’t able to realize in a live situation because replicating rather complex circuits in a large number is just impossible from the time standpoint. I think Untitled was one example of such piece. And you came up with various ways of recording material generated with one of these circuits and then processing it by that circuit, so I would gather that the advantage of the neural net is that you get that density of multiplied circuitry that you have sort of anticipated in your work for at least 20 years but that has just physically not been capable of existing before now.
Tudor: Well, here it is.
Collins: To get to the question of the sound, the actual sound of it, I was struck by how speech-like a lot of material that comes out of this is. It sounds like a cliché but a voice crying out to be heard, the first instances of child starting to speak and differentiating from a cry to an articulated word, and I know that you’ve done a number of pieces that overtly make reference to speech—Dialects, Phonemes—and it seems as though both the rhythm and the sound part of speech is something that is running through your music for quite some time. Is this a conscious interest on your part? Or is this something that appears from the material as you work with it?
Tudor: Well, I’ve been conscious that it’s there and that it’s possible to do. That's why I entitled the piece Phonemes—that was the first one, and then another one. There was an intermediary which… I admired a book by Carson McCullers, I think that’s her name? It’s called Likeness to Voices, and I entitled the piece called Likeness to Voices, but then I put a subtitle—Dialects. [laughs] That’s how that piece got started. Let’s see… I don’t know how to recover the process well enough to describe it… I think it was a process of going between speech and discrete tones, I guess I would have to describe it like that, and vice versa. That’s why I called it Dialects because according to the way that you imagined the sound… I’m listening to the sound, and the next sound I produce because the previous one reminds me of something either resembling speech or going towards music. And I try to come up with a title that would express that. So it turned out to be Dialects because I realized it isn’t speech, it’s something in between.
Collins: In these days I think there is a tendency towards the shorter and shorter discrete time among people—and I won’t name names—but you work with very long structures, I think you were talking about how 60 minutes is a starting point for a lot of your pieces. It’s almost as if the materials get warmed up in the course of around a 60 minutes period. And they can go longer but cutting down on shorter very often it’s just not possible for the way they work. Can you say anything about the way you think of structuring time in those large blocks and how you approach manipulating and not manipulating sound over periods of time?
Tudor: Well for me there’s no time, there’s just experience. And experience takes the time that it takes. So if you tell me in advance what length of time that I need to encompass, I begin to think about that because you know, I’m a human being, and my consciousness has limits which I tend to ignore, but that’s the fact. I think about performing for one hour very differently than performing for an hour and half or for two hours or as I have done, I believe in Amsterdam, I’ve performed for three hours. That was my piece Rainforest which was installed, that piece is designed to have no time. It can last anything. That in itself is a different circumstance. And if you imagine yourself into a timeless situation and you realize that it’s all a question of attention and how to keep listening to yourself. If I don’t listen to myself you won’t hear any differences. [laughs] The difference that you will hear will be more or less environmental, but they won’t be differences that I myself have produced.
Collins: Rainforest is a good example, because I think that piece has been misunderstood by a lot of people as being an installation, rather than performance because the durations are so long. And because it’s very frequently presented in museums just because of the size of the space that you need to do it. But it’s clear from working with you in a structure that it’s a performed work; it doesn’t exist as a static object or that a predetermined or random time frame are associated with it.
Tudor: Well, the difference between that situation in my theory is that if you do a work that’s environmental which is actually designed not to require people's attention… well, I have no trouble of making pieces of any length. Some of my pieces are very short and there is this…I’ve just been compelled to revive a piece from the late 70’s and I did it against my wishes but it turned out to be a complex proposition because I was not able to perform the piece as I conceived it. The piece was called, the dance was called Sounddance, and I had a piece which I had entitled Toneburst, which is very particular because it was centered around a toneburst generator which I had soldered myself together. But it was an outgrowth… that was the last piece in a chain. The previous piece which I did is the work that Nic Collins remembers as Untitled. So when Merce Cunningham asked me to revive this composition, I completely forgot that I had to pay attention to the title. And so I performed it. The only possibility I had to recover the sound that I did in Sounddance was by using similarly produced material. I mean similar, in a sense the same processes in the electronic hookup I did in Untitled that was the year previous and I performed it with you.
Collins: I’ll just ask one more question—it’s the question of loudspeakers, something that we’ve talked about on many number of occasions. There is some mysterious property in your music leads one to view the loudspeakers in a lot of different ways than normal. And there were several moments tonight when that speaker in particular came out as a soloist in a very overt way and it had an acoustic presence, it almost seemed like a conduit for sound that is being produced somewhere else and being played back there—that it was literally speaking. And I notice it’s a characteristic that you’ve worked with for some time and you’ve always admonished the Composers Inside Electronics to not just to think of it as a playback system for sound, but to think of it as an instrument, which is a very nice thing to tell us except it seems to be a very difficult thing to accomplish. How is it that you get that character out of electronic music where it doesn’t seem as though it’s some sort of a playback of sound, but it does seem as though the speaker is actually a live musician? Do you know what I’m talking about?
Tudor: I certainly do. Well, I would just say that I have been lucky. [laughter] But it is a matter of searching, it’s a matter of searching for that circumstance. Sometimes you can record a piece and then perform it and imitate live procedures. But I don’t do that because… well, normally I don’t do it, but upon occasion I have resorted to that. I had to make a piece, again for the dance company, and it had to be very quiet. So I thought in terms of subtraction. So I added a lot of stuff together, which I had to have removed the things which could sound like an instrument. I removed it to the point that it would only suggest that it was there when one listens. And then over that I put a tape which I assembled which, in order to be like a wandering voice. So I had a device which would send it around continuously but in different speeds and in different…well you know, its a kind of performance so you can make it appear differently in different locations. But I had it wandering, so it was above there like a little cacophony of undistinguishable sounds, and that worked very well. But the only reason why it succeeded was that I had it under the control of a kind of an attenuator that was continuously variable by touch. So for me touch is very important.
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