Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 28 May 02 17:19
Carl Stone builds his electronic music from natural sounds and acoustic instruments, sometimes using fragments of familiar musical pieces, electronically reproduced. He is a sonic purist who relies on computer-based transformations to create a radical new way of listening to what was once familiar.Stone and his Macintosh computer operate the musical equipment in performances that are as interesting to watch as to hear. Stone's works have been performed throughout the world and his music can be found on C74, New Albion, CBS Sony, Toshiba-EMI, EAM Discs, Trigram, New Tone, and other labels. A catalog is available. 'pict.soul' is a new CD on the almost equally new CD label, C74. A duo-collaboration between Carl and Japanese composer and fellow lap-top musician Tetsu Inoue, it was jointly realized while the artists were on separate continents - ironically with Inoue in the USA and Stone in Japan. Both artists specializing in sampling and DSP intensive sounds, they sent materials back and forth by regular mail and internet - the final product concatenated and released in CD form. Leading the discussion is Ed Ward, whose first piece for Rolling Stone, back in 1968, dealt with electronic music (which he predicted would play an increasing role in pop music -- pretty good, eh?), a subject which has fascinated him since he saw Otto Leuning and Vladimir Ussachevsky fail to get the huge Columbia-Princeton synthesizer to produce a tone on live TV back in the 1950s. Although this was practically the last time the pop press had any interest in his musings on the subject, he's continued to pay attention, attending live concerts, listening to records, and even riding in a float in Berlin's famous Love Parade a couple of years ago. He lives and works in Berlin, where he contributes to NPR's Fresh Air, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. Please join me in welcoming Carl and Ed to inkwell.vue!
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Tue 28 May 02 17:48
<tap-tap> Is this mic working?
Berliner (captward) Wed 29 May 02 01:12
Hmmm, well, I can hear you anyway. Great to have you here, Carl. Of course, with you in Japan, me in Berlin, and most of our readers in the U.S., "here" is sort of a weird concept. But I've had the opportunity to play the new CD several times by now and all I can say is, YOU CALL THAT NOISE MUSIC? No, no... But I, like most listeners, I suppose, am pretty curious about how it all came about, and what it is we hear here. So a few start-off questions. 1) How did this collaboration come about? 2) You said that Tetsu was in the US and you were in Japan when you got going on this. Did you exchange files via e-mail? 3) Then what? Who put the pieces together, and how? And on the CD, where "are" you and where "is" he? Is it a simple channel-by-channel breakdown? 4) The label this came out on seems to exist mostly to promote the software the company puts out, including Max/MSP, which you credit on the back cover along with ProTools as your compositional tools here. Could you explain what this software does, and if we can "hear" it doing it on the CD? That should get us started.
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Wed 29 May 02 03:00
Nice to be here as well as there and everywhere. Kind of like making the last album. And nice to have you as my interrogator, Captain. The collaboration came about after years of Tetsu and my saying "you know, it would be great to work together sometime" to each other. Up until recently, Tetsu didn't perform live much and I hardly record, so ity was hard to find a platform. But when Cycling 74, the label, asked me to make a CD for them, I decided to use the opportunity to rope Tetsu in to the project. This is the second time that I did a collaborative album with another composer in which neither of the two parties ever met in the same studio at the same time. The first was my CD MONOGATARI:AMINO ARGOT, which was with Otomo Yoshihide. In both cases the means of file exchange was the time honored system of snail mail. Although I had a snazzy T-1 line and was itching to use it, Tetsu was stuck with 58K dial-up at his studio in New York, and it just didn't sem practically giuven the file lengths we needed to use. MONOGATARI:AMINO ARGOT has a strict structure of exhange, where we passed a according to a scheme and a schedule that was worked out in advance. With 'pict.soul' it was much more freewheeling. To start, Tetsu made a piece using a sample of mine from a compilation CD put out in England, adding some of his own ,materials, He sent this to me. I sampled from his master, adding some materials from an earlier CD of HIS, and added my own materials as well. Tetsu took the lead most of the time in the first few weeks, as I was busy relocating to Japan and had also broken my wrist. Later on I was able to start more affirmitively. As to when to decide when a track was "done" I would say it was pretty intuitive. We just knew. There's no way to know which of us is which - even in our own heads - because it was not a simple process like "I do a track, then you overdub a part, and then I'll add something" We were constantly re-sampling, re-mixing and reconstructing each others work. So it is not easy to say who is who, and maybe not important anyway. Still some people have said that certain sections or certain tracks have our individual imprimaturs, and I think this is so. But you can't just tell by channel placement or any other technical means. And to answer the last part, Max/MSP is a programming language and not a program per se, so it does not have a "sound" like some assembled software packages might. It's interestingt, if you listen to each of the releases put out by the company, all of whoich use Max/MSP, they all sound very different. A testiment to its flexibility I think.
Berliner (captward) Wed 29 May 02 09:54
Funny, because on the train to Amsterdam today, I read last month's issue of Wired (which is the sort of thing train-travel is good for) and the article there, "Songs in the Key of F12," has a pretty good explanation of Max/MSP in it. Maybe someone will come up with a URL for it if it's on line. So...why did you choose to work with samples? You started a while back, ie, before sampling became as easy as it is today. What pulled you in that direction?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 May 02 10:22
Hi, Carl... just popping in with that url for "Songs in the Key of F12" by Erik Davis: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.05/laptop.html Here's a quote: "The hardcore, however, use more flexible applications that let them design their own instruments directly. The most legendary of these modular programming environments is Max/MSP, which got its start 20 years ago at Ircam, a highbrow music research lab in France. Max allows users to design data-flow networks that, among other things, can generate music. MSP is an extension to Max. It synthesizes and processes the sounds sluicing through those networks. Max/MSP creates these networks, called patches, mostly by drawing links between graphical objects that represent different processes. 'It's like a musical Erector set,' says Joshua Clayton, a Max programmer who records under the name Kit. 'From simple building blocks, you can build individualized musical machines.'"
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Wed 29 May 02 16:07
That's a pretty fair summary of Max/MSP, although some finicky historians might quibble with the 20 year assertion - I think it's more like 17. Anyway, I like Max because it allowed me once and for all to construct music systems in software that did what I wanted musically, rather than making me bend over backwards as I had been doing with other commercially available tools. Ed, you asked about sampling. It's true, my interest in using samples pre- dates the availability of any commercially available samplers, or at least ones afforable by mere mortals like me (the Fairlight and the Synclavier were on the market, but many orders of magnitude beyond my budget). At first I used tape recorders and radios in performance. LAter I developed a performance system using a turntable, a stereo digital delay called a Publison (made in France in the eighties) and a stack of LP records. Two pieces of mine from that era ('Dong Il Jang' and 'Shibucho') have survived in recorded form, although unavailble commercially for reasons of copyright. If anyone is interested to hear them, I can make up a couple of MP3s and post 'em on my website. But I guess the answer to your question "why sampling?" lies in an anecdote from my college days. As an undergrad at CalArts, I had a work-study job in the Music Library, which had many thousands of LP records in the circulating collection (this was 1973). The collection included a lot of western classical music of course but also a really comprehensive world music collection, avant-garde, electronic music, jazz and more. Because the librarians were concerned that the LPs, many of which were rare, would soon become unlistenable at the hands of the students and faculty, my job was to take every disc and record it onto cassette, a kind of back-up operation. I was stationed in a windowless room in the basement with three turntables, three cassette decks and a monitoring system that consisted of a mixer, amp and speakers. My task was to just keep dubbing away, three LPs at a time. This I dutifuly did, but along the way I discovered that I could monitor the output of any of the recordings I was making and even mix them together without disturbing the recordings. So I began to experiment, making musical collages as I did my work, and started to develop my habits of combining disparate musical materials to serve as fodder for my own creative work. I did not think of it as composing at the time, and I didn't even consider it particularly relevant to the music I was making in the studios at CalArts (which was almost exclusively 'pure' electronic music, not using any samples or recordings). Only years later did I see the impact that work in the library had on my own music.
Berliner (captward) Thu 30 May 02 01:38
So as long as we're mining your past here, what was it that made you want to be a composer, as opposed to, say, a rock or a jazz musician or just a standard instrumentalist in the world of "classical" music? I guess implicit in this question is the idea that there's a point in your life that you have a general idea where you're headed and yours was marked "making music." I realize this isn't something that some people experience, but I always take it for granted, having figured I'd be a writer from a very early age. Were you talented on an instrument? Were you caught by some piece or pieces of music and thought "I've got to learn how to do that?" What drew you to electronic music rather than composing for traditional orchestral instruments or the piano?
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Thu 30 May 02 04:51
I was not particularly talented on my first instrument, piano, and more to the point I was unmotivated, at the age of five, to practice. Lessons were a bore, but I jazzed them up by improvising the endings to the Bach and Mozart pieces I was assigned to learn. My teacher finally got fed and told me "As a pianist, your job is to play what's written. If you want to write your own endings, you should become a composer." I didn't think much about that at the time, but perhaps it sunk in at a subconscious level. I gave up on piano a few years later and seemed to have more aptitude as a drummer as well as a washboard player in a jugband. Still, in late high school I returned to the keyboard, inspired by the likes of Michael Ratlidge, organist for the group Soft Machine. I saw them open for Jimi Hendrix in 1967, Los Angeles and it set me off in a new direction. I became interested iun electronics. Synthesizers such as the Moog and the Buchla were just emerging. I went to Cal Arts and it was then, at the age of eighteen or so that I considered the idea of composing as an avocation.
Berliner (captward) Thu 30 May 02 05:47
Avocation or vocation? The former means hobby... Interesting, then, that your career seems to have grown up along with contemporary electronic music: Moogs and Buchlas, and the availability of machines like that to mere students. Were there a lot of electronics to mess around with at Cal Arts? Did you have to learn tape editing? And who were your early models in electronic music. You studied with Tenney, but who were you listening to?
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Thu 30 May 02 17:35
Oops, right you are - I meant vocation. CalArts was a kind of citadel for electronic music in those days. There were three very well equipped electronic music studios in the music department, plus rolling carts that were set up as mobile synthesizers. It was all under the direction of Morton Subotnick, who was really my main teacher. And yes, good tape technique was part of the curriculum. Keep the razor blades sharp was the motto at the time.. Barry Schrader taught the practical ins and outs of using the equipment, and also taught a course on the history of electronic music, which was very important for me. It was there that I first heard Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, Pierre Schaeffer, Max Mathews, Bernard Parmentier and others. We paid a lot of attention to Mort's music of course, and I was also especially influenced by Lucier. His piece 'I am Sitting in a Room' is a masterpiece in the way it unified form, content and process. There was so much music around CalArts western classical, African, Balinese, Javanese, avant-garde, electronic; it was like heaven for a 17 year old kid from the LA suburbs. Phil Glass came through with his ensemble around 1973 - i had never heard of him before then - and I was completely knocked out by the sound, the use of electronic instruments like Farfisa organs, the repetition, the volume. And the great South Indian nardaswaram player Sheik Chinna Moulana came through and gave an incredible concert in the main gallery. That knocked me off my bonanza, as they say in Hollywood.
Berliner (captward) Fri 31 May 02 01:32
So the question comes up, then, why cast your lot in the world of "serious" music? Did you perceive this as the only way you could work with electronics at this point? Did you have any thoughts of making a living by doing it, or weren't those issues even on your radar at that point? What did you see as long-term goals, if any, and how has that perception changed since then? Do you think you've come a good ways towards realizing those goals?
(fom) Fri 31 May 02 12:28
I'm curious if electronic music is as nearly-all-male as it seems from the outside, and if so, do you have any ideas as to why that would be?
David Gans (tnf) Fri 31 May 02 14:01
is Suzanne Ciani still a factor? I interviewed her in the mid-'80s, when she was pretty happenin'.
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Fri 31 May 02 16:59
I'm glad you put the term "serious music" in quotes, because I hate that term. I considered what I was doing to be a furtherance of the experimental avant-garde that was tied to and extended western classical music. Although I devoured pop and rock in high school I was starting to lose interest by 1973 - partly due to my exposure to the many new forms when I went to CalArts, but also because of the doldrums that pop music seemed to slip into in the seventies. Anyway, "serious music" seemed to be the right place, and in fact the only option, at the time. It was still a few years away from the cross over break through of Phil Glass (And later Steve Reich). I'm not sure what happened to Suzanne Ciani, she was active when I was starting out but seems to have disappeared. I think she might be doing music for film and television, but I'm not sure. Looks like a job for google. Yes, the ratio of men to women in electronic music is still piss-poor, although there are some stand-out exceptions (even not counting Walter/Wendy Carlos). Maryanne Amarcher, Blechtum from Blechdom, Annea Lockwood, Ruth Anderson, Joan La Barbara, Eliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, Miya Masaoka, Pamela Z, Cindy Cox, Annie Gosfield come to mind immediately.
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Sat 1 Jun 02 00:02
Not to mention Yuko Nexus6 and Sachiko M, both in Japan.
Berliner (captward) Sat 1 Jun 02 06:06
I've done some searching of the want ads in my time, and I've never seen a composer wanted ad. Which is by way of asking, once you got out of college, how did you find work? Did you teach? How does an experimental avant-garde composer get gigs? I know that back in the old days, there were individual patrons, like Haydn had the Eszterhazys, and then in our day, ensembles like chamber groups, string quartets (Kronos being very big on this) and orchestras commission works. I guess dance companies do, too. Also, once you graduated, I imagine most of your learning came afterwards, simply because the hardware (and, later, software) available for this sort of work improved exponentially -- I mean, just compare a Mellotron with even an E-MU sampler for size and ease of handling. Were you caught up in a big scramble to have access to the sort of hardware you needed? How early did you adopt the computer as a medium for composing? Maybe too many questions there, but have at it.
David Gans (tnf) Sat 1 Jun 02 08:58
Off-WELL readers are invited to participate! Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post 'em here.
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 1 Jun 02 14:46
E-mail from Brett Campbell: Carl: I admire what music of yours I've heard, and one reason I do is because it seems to try to get beyond the narrowly insider-defined genre of "electronic music," which often seems to be more interested in geeky techniques and sound textures than in musical communication. We have an electronic music show on the public radio station here in eugene, oregon, and it seems as though there's a split between this (mostly godawful) '70s -synth stuff (see above) and the newer, dance-inspired stuff from '90s rave culture, which seems to have broader appeal, although maybe originating from the pop rather than -- Ed's term -- "serious" side. So my question is, do you think the emergence of electronica and its various hydra headed genres, including laptop pop (e.g. Bjork), signals an opportunity for crossover success for composers, like you, from the classically trained side of electronic music? thanks, brett
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Sat 1 Jun 02 19:48
Hey, thanks Brett. Well I think that on balance electronica is positive insofar as it has expanded the musical vocabulary and the widened the limits as to what kind of information and gesture people will call music. I also think the emergence of what people call 'microsound' - music that focuses on the smallest detail and also uses error as material - is positive. Whether this augurs success for guys like me in the future remains to be seen though. There's certainly a lot of hype behind folks like Moby these days. To take a stab at Ed's questions: >how did you find work? Did you teach? I decided early on that I didn't want to teach and I didn't want to do commercial music (i.e. jingles or soundtracks). I also preferred to do without a day job, if that's okay. So I got a P.O. box and waited for the commissions to start coming in. A few weeks later a day job looked pretty damn attractive, so I found myself driving a truck for my Dad's company. I quickly created Plan B: I would indeed deign to have a day job, but it would be music related and outside of academia. It took a while, but I slid into the role as first a staffer and then eventually the music director at KPFK, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles. IN 1982 I left the job in order to start up branch of the organization called Meet the Composer in California. I ran it as a part-timer while building my own career as a composer. That too eventually ended as my own creative work demanded more and more time. Somehow I made it all work through a combination of touring, commissions and grants, and I always felt proud that I was able to survive - sometimes just barely - as an independent composer without any academic affiliation or Hollywood soundtracks on my resume. >Were you caught up in a big scramble to have access to the > sort of hardware you needed? How early did you adopt the computer >as a medium for composing? Well, from 1982-85 or so I had a very specific set-up, namely a turntable and a Publison, the French stereo digital delay that I had made 'my axe". But in December of 1985 the Publison was stolen in an outrageous burglary at my home in Los Angeles. I decided to use the insurance money to try something new. MIDI had recently emerged as a technology, sampling instruments like the EMU were affordable, and the Macintosh had arrived. I decided to give things a whirl. I bought a Prophet 2002, a DX7, a Mac Plus with wow! 256MB of RAM and went to work. FAced with a tour just a few weeks away, getting my feet wet, staying up night after night and writing those two hours of music was one of the most intense and rewarding experiences of my life. Most of those pieces have been retired now, but Shing Kee, which came out on my first CD "Four Pieces" and also was re-issued on "Moms" (from New Albion) still gets played a fair bit on the radio and has been used by several choreographers.
Berliner (captward) Sun 2 Jun 02 03:30
Now, Brett's gone and opened a topic I wanted to get to here. The world of electonic music these days is very amorphous. In a blindfold test, it'd be hard to tell, a lot of the time, whether you're hearing a "serious" composer or a "pop" performer. I've certainly seen you in both contexts: a "serious" show in Nagoya, and a non-performing situation with a pianist presenting a piece you'd composed, and then a club all-nighter in Kyoto and the show with Min Xiao-Fen here in Berlin at Die Insel. I've played your stuff for a club-hopping dance maniac friend from London, and he whipped out his notebook and wrote down the name of the record immediately (it was "Mom's"). I've also played it for people with no background whatever in this sort of thing and it's appealed to them. Isn't it possible that there's a new kind of audience out there that doesn't care for the labels and is just attracted by the music? Have you ever been approached by someone who wanted to do a dance remix of one of your pieces? If not, how would you feel about that. Come to that, what kind of a gig do you prefer, something like the Nagoya sit-down, art-museum-auditorium kind or the kids standing around with beers and digging the scene kind? Given the choice between the two kinds on the same night with the same pay, which would you choose?
Sanni Abacha (cstone) Sun 2 Jun 02 18:16
Well, I think the fact that it's difficult to distinguish between 'serious" and pop in electronic music shows the false distinctions. I think the new audience really DOESN'T care and I think that's healthy. But an interesting problem sometime emerges, because the protocols and etiquette for listening in dance venues vs sit-down concerts are usually different. For example - at clubs in Europe and in the US, it is not considered particularly bad form to converse while someone is performing (this is less true in Japan). So, if the music has a wide dynamic range (as concert music is more likely to have) then the soft parts can get drowned out in the hubbub. That is why, although my music has found its way into both types of venues, I do not perform the same pieces in both places. I like it when an audience listens attentively without conversation, so concert venues have an edge for me. But my ideal world is here in Japan, where the kids in clubs stand around with their beers, quiet as church mice, until the last note is played and then they go nuts. I am told that some of pieces are used as fodder for DJs and remixers in clubs. As far as I know, nobody has released any of my music in remixed form. Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) asked me if he could remix one particular piece of mine, which ironically was itself a remix, of a Eurotrash disco tune.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 2 Jun 02 22:27
Another from Brett Campbell: Thanks for your answer to my first question, Carl. To follow up: has the pop-inspired electronic music influenced your own creative direction? You're mentioning Japan and Europe; another good electronic music composer, Jeff Stolet, also has a following in both places, probably more than in the U.S. (I'll resist any synth jokes along the lines of Prophets without honor in their homes....) I don't have the international experience you and Ed do, so my question is: why do you think electronic music composers like yourself are able to reach audiences outside the US more easily than in the US? Is it something about the audiences there, or something about the way music is distributed here? Or both? Another question: despite our lamentations about the stultifying US record biz, you seem to be able to make a living off your avant garde music -- no small thing these days. Is reaching an international audience one way to do that? If so, what would you advise other composers about how to do so? I guess the underlying question here is, given globalization, the internet, the changes in the marketing of music and so on, how has the model for making it (for nonmainstream composers like you) changed, and how do you expect to change your strategy (if not your music) to keep up with it in the near future? thanks, brett
Richard Zvonar (zvonar) Mon 3 Jun 02 00:20
Carl wrote: >As far as I know, nobody has released any of my music >in remixed form. I think I might have used one of your recordings in a Cosmic Debris performance once.
Richard Zvonar (zvonar) Mon 3 Jun 02 00:57
Carl wrote: >I'm not sure what happened to Suzanne Ciani After a long career doing commercial music and sound effects in New York she retired to Northern California and seems to be turning out one CD per year, including orchestral work. Ed wrote: >I've done some searching of the want ads in my time, >and I've never seen a composer wanted ad. Bob Davis landed his gig as resident composer for the theater company Soon3 by answering just such a want ad.
Berliner (captward) Mon 3 Jun 02 05:36
I'm curious, anent your remark on the glitchmeisters, about how it is you build your own compositions. For instance, the pieces on Mom's, the first stuff I'd heard of yours (and likely pretty early stuff, too), was pretty easily-tracked sample manipulation, but pict.soul and other recent pieces are quite different. Also -- I guess this is a different question, but maybe not -- I've seen you improvise, going head-to-head with Otomo Yoshihide (folks, he was scared -- and who wouldn't be?), doing a solo set on your Powerbook...how is this different from composition? What, if anything, do you try to achieve with your composed music? With your improvised music? (And apropos of this -- or of nothing -- I throw in one of my Igor Stravinsky quotes: "Music, in and of itself, is incapable of expressing anything at all." That's to get you off a hook I suspect some people will want to hang you on).
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