Avant.org and Wesleyan University were pleased to present Circuit Scores: Electronics after David Tudor, a program of live experimental music and handmade circuitry featuring works by artists associated with composer David Tudor, a leading figure in live circuit-based sound of the 1960s and 1970s.
Circuit Scores concluded an interdisciplinary symposium held March 25-26th at Wesleyan University celebrating the restoration of the recently acquired Tudor Instrument Archive. The afternoon featured performances and presentations by Mats Lindstrom (Director, EMS Stockholm), Julie Martin (Director, Experiments in Art and Technology), sound artist Liz Phillips, and selected members of Composers Inside Electronics (C.I.E.), Tudor’s environmental sound collective.
Hosted by the School For Poetic Computation, Circuit Scores retured to the former site of the composer’s Fluxus experiments with Cage and the Cunningham Dance Studio: the historic Bell Laboratories location on Bank St.
Circuit Scores included both performances of historical and contemporary electronic circuit works. Ralph Jones’s Star Networks (1978) is a non-linear analogue circuit composition performed in-situ during its own construction, which summons the generative structuring of dynamic sound systems in real-time, in turn collapsing the musical hierarchies of composer, performer, and listener. Mats Lindström’s One (for David Tudor) (2008), a work that instrumentalizes the electrical filigree from an array of live fluorescent lights, an homage to Tudor’s own Fluorescent Sound (1964). Ron Kuivila performed a 1:1 digital rendition of Tudor’s Pepsibird (1970), a circuit composition that creates a multi-channel sound environment, originally created for the Expo ‘70 World’s Fair in Osaka with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.).
Mats Lindstrom performing his piece One (for David Tudor) which affixes contact microphones to fluorescent light tubes tying them into a custom modular feedback system.
Members of Composers Inside Electronics (C.I.E.), a live electronics group co-founded with Tudor in 1973, also performed new compositions, including Phil Edelstein’s Impulsions (2015), a work for dueling resonance and impulse responses, and John Driscoll’s Speaking in Tongues (2012-2016), an electroacoustic work for performance or installation that uses evolving custom-built instruments and ultrasonic feedback disturbed by acute physical movements. Composer Tom Erbe presented a digital realization of John Cage’s aleatoric tape composition, Williams Mix (1952), offering the first complete computer model of the infamous collage work.
The historical paradigm produced for the event offered further insight into the intermedia art practices of the postwar period, highlighting significant developments in the performance and construction of experimental sound work, environmental sculpture, and conceptual art springing from an atmosphere of collaboration among the technical and avant-garde. In so doing, Circuit Scores looks to advance a useful framework for locating the networked and mediated aesthetics which typify early twenty-first century culture among its respectively dispersed lineage of experimentation. Despite its ubiquity, the electronic circuit’s existence today is increasingly invisible. By attending to the circuit-based experimentation of the 1960-70s, and its effects on technoculture, we have an opportunity to analyze how the mechanics of power and information have been transposed or transformed in the recent past, and how the underlying circuitry might address or invoke new aesthetic, social, and political realities.
The performances - listed below - were followed by a panel discussion on tuned space and sonic environment with Julie Martin, Director of Experiments in Art and Technology, formative environmental sound artist Liz Phillips-whose sound field environments pose an alternative non-musical tradition of creative circuitry-, and present members of C.I.E. The discussion was then followed by an audience realization of Star Networks. Accompanying this program, Avant.org has published an interview with Phillips discussing her role in the emergence of circuit-based sonic art and environmental sculpture in the 1970s, as well as her numerous collaborations with artists including the choreographer Merce Cunningham, Fluxus artist Alison Knowles, and composer/sculptor Yoshi Wada.
John Cage, Williams Mix (1952 / 1953) [Digital realization by Tom Erbe]
Mats Lindstrom, One (for David Tudor) (2008) [Realized by Mats Lindström]
Phil Edelstein, Impulsions (2015) [Realized by Composers Inside Electronics (CIE) & Mats Lindström]
John Driscoll, Speaking in Tongues (2012-2016) [Realized by CIE & Mats Lindström]
David Tudor, Pepsi Bird (1970) [Digital realization by Ron Kuivila]
Ralph Jones, Star Networks at the Singing Point (1978) [Realized by CIE & Mats Lindström]
Panel Discussion [John Driscoll, Phil Edelstein, Ralph Jones, Ron Kuivila, Julie Martin, and Liz Phillips]
Ralph Jones, Star Networks (1978) [Audience realization]
Tudor, among others, was a noted figure in the practice of creative circuitry and live electronics in the 1960s and 1970s. He constructed homemade circuit systems for live performance works such as Bandoneon! (1966), Pepsibird (1970), Anima Pepsi (1970), Pepscillator (1970), Microphone (1970), Pulsers (1970), as well as his longstanding and recurring project Rainforest, a spatialized, resonant sound environment. These works followed his earlier encounters with live electronics in the works of composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose four-channel electronic composition Kontakte (1958-60) in particular anticipated Tudor’s own subsequent interest in circuitry and spatial sound. The Pepsi works listed above were composed for an E.A.T. commission at the Pepsi pavilion for the Expo ‘70 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. In this large space, which took the form of a geodesic dome with mirrored interior, the works were performed on a 37-channel sound system which enveloped the audience from all directions. The fluid sonic environment was further emphasized by the compositional strategy of distributing sound in space as well as time–a technique also utilized in Stockhausen’s Poles (1970)–to speakers located above, below, and around the audience. As such, the listeners did not experience the work over time alone, but within a convergence of time and space, as sound moved around the body and collective environment to provide a unique acoustic experience for each person that was dependent on their location in the room, and their unique auditive capacities. The idea of environment is also a key element in Rainforest, which is today still staged by C.I.E., and utilizes variable circuit systems, audio transducers, and resonant objects to distribute sound through space. The various objects, electronically transformed into speakers, amplify audio sourced signals in unity as they modulate according to changes in waveform as well as the material conditions of amplification (i.e., the physical conditions of the object and its capacity for resonance, along with any physical interaction or interruption of that natural resonance potential, such as dampening with a hand or other objects). Regarding this affective mode of performer/listener interaction, the dynamic sound environment of Rainforest integrates the electronic circuit with social gesture to amplify and circulate ideas on the collective production of sound.
It is also useful to consider the historical moment in which these works were produced, Claude Shannon, whose centennial birthday will be celebrated this month, had in 1948 published The Mathematical Theory of Communication while at Bell Laboratories, and the concepts therein were just being realized in an outpour of new media and information technologies. Shannon’s paper had posited that the information content of messages was formally linked to their structure, and conversely that communication could be described with relation to its entropically boundaries. This insight gave the American Telephone & Telegraph Corporation, who held an overwhelming monopoly on the communications infrastructure, a means to extend their existing electrical networks to realize a worldwide system for expanded forms of communication. The status of sound, as an existing paradigm for transmission of continuous information was thus figuratively and materially transformed into an instrument for broader forms of interactivity. Sound sent over telephone line or radio transmitter was suddenly imparted dual function via the process of binary encoding and Bell Laboratories was poised to capitalize on advanced methods of routing these communications by creating and demonstrating the utility of this new communicative potential.
As Shannon indicates, when switching networks became more complex and interconnected, they follow a power-law whereby their potential or probability for variation exponentiates. The result of such disorder is the creation of noise, which can obstruct or overpower the original source signal, and thus degrade or negate clear communication. Shannon understood noise as a manageable nuisance – something to be avoided, if tolerated – but the interest in electronic circuitry as an artistic mode, musical or otherwise, conveyed the opposite: the intentional channeling of entropy, and of signal interferences such as noise, feedback, filtering, and frequency modulation, as formal variables in a generative composition, realized and modified by a performer in real-time, or set up as an installation via responsive elec- tromagnetic fields. Shannon’s spectre persists through E.A.T.’s interest in communications technology, situating the circuit at the intersection of postwar information systems, new media practices, and new developments in live electronic music.
For Shannon, who worked on information systems and cryptography at Bell Labs in the 1940s, electronic circuits transmitted complex messages and conducted mathematical logic, completely in the service of communication (telephonic and militaristic). Although Shannon moved to MIT in 1956, the mathematician’s work on circuitry and creative electronics at Bell Labs gave way to an energetic culture of collaboration and experimentation within the high-powered and well funded research institution which would ultimately encompass the counterculture projects overseen by the engineer Billy Klüver, who co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) in 1967 with Robert Rauschenberg following their initial collaborative efforts. The intersection of E.A.T. with new music, especially live electronic music, is of particular historical import, in particular E.A.T.’s emphasis on the cultivation of new artistic and social forms. This collective mindset is reinforced by the convergence of engineers and artists under projects such as E.A.T., as well as those within Bell Labs, MIT, and the Riverside Research Institute, which provided artists new materials and opportunities while enabling engineers and their host institutions, opportunities to expand the utility and public awareness of new technologies. This interrelation of corporation or the private research entity with aesthetic or utopic interests of artists is a paradigm which we believe invites further analysis.
The efforts by E.A.T. to merge art and technology were not simply driven by an excuse for formal innovation, but were also engineered as a social project based on personal interaction and community building. In 1969, this aspect of E.A.T. was clear in its call for proposals for the exhibition PROJECTS OUTSIDE ART, calling for “[Projects on] education, health, housing, concern for the natural environment, climate control, transportation, energy production and distribution, communication, food production and distribution, [and] women’s environment,” as well as its broader aims to construct “collaboration between groups… eliminate the separation of the individual from technological change… and avoid the waste of a cultural revolution.” The collective spirit of the Bell Labs research community, especially its artistic factions, helped cultivate this socially oriented momentum, which today we hope to celebrate and revive at Westbeth, a former locus of creative collaboration.
For Tudor and others of his mindset, including those participating on this program, the electronic circuit provided unexplored artistic ground, especially regarding live electronic music, spatialized sound, and auto-generative acoustic environments. The circuit offers a key cultural metaphor for the circulation of information of ideas, as well as its potential to resonate with the social sphere and community engagement. The environmental installations of Phillips illustrate the potential to link circuitry with broader socio-political realms, such as in City Flow (1977) which aggregated, sonified, and modulated Manhattan traffic flow data through a custom synthesizer system in the CUNY Grad Center courtyard, and Windspun (1981), a sound circuit responding directly to weather patterns installed into a windmill in the South Bronx that powered a local gardening and composting system. As Phillips remarked in Radical Software (Vol. 1 No. 3, 1971), “I use electromagnetic fields where people actually become electronic components in the circuit.” Composers traditionally use scores to convey required instructions that the performer must follow to reproduce a series of sound events, or a composition which is executed using a series of commands. Even in the case of semi-improvised graphic scores, like those of Stockhausen, the performer is asked to make various choices within a parameter set. However, when the electronic circuit is transformed into a score, or installed as an auto-generative system, the musical hierarchies of composer, performer, and listener are also transformed, conflating into a facilitator or receptor of signal flow and modulation.
• • •
The electronic circuit today continues to assist in addressing the subjective concerns of individual persons and communities, including those that have been marginalized within and beyond the realm of art/music. The circuit as such functions as both an electronic mechanism for artistic form, but also as a discursive site for situating, preserving, discussing, or generating socio-political affirmation and action. Raising these issues is an important goal and function of Avant as a multimodal project space, a perspective that also circumscribes the work of artists, writers, and other producers who we support or admire. Regarding the social sonic circuit, we see circuit-based art manifesting today in several provocative ways, and hope to highlight the connections between these histories.
The tactile electroacoustic and modulating sculpture environments of Sergei Tcherepnin are structurally similar to Tudor’s influential Rainforest project, while simultaneously reorienting the use electronic circuits, transducers, and resonant materials toward questioning the distinct realms of social difference, self-affirmation, and queer listening. Likewise, the sound works of Christine Sun Kim instrumentalize the electronic circuit to translate, normalize, and destigmatize (an)acoustic strategies, linguistics, and social practices developed and engineered by deaf and/or non-hearing persons and communities. James Hoff uses a variety of algorithms, software circuits in their own regard, to bring attention to the sonic and visual materialisms of viral infection and the pervasive infrastructures of computational and social malware. The community-driven computational hardware and social performances of E. Roon Kang and Taeyoon Choi, co-founder of the School for Poetic Computation, highlight our dependence on-and isolation from-contemporary intersections of media culture and bio-technology. And the microphone/speaker feedback systems used in the assemblages of Kevin Beasley, as well as his improvised digital sound collages, highlight the intertwined and conflicting histories of popular culture and racial violence in the United States. The critical aesthetic modalities of E.A.T. and Tudor, along with those working with or around him, run through these and other circuit-based works being created today, which continue to generate new artistic and political forms.
We would like to thank all of the participants, as well as the attendants, for helping Avant.org realize this special program. We show particular gratitude to Julie Martin, Liz Phillips, and Ron Kuivila, whose tireless labor, dedication, and inspiration to these practices and concepts has made Circuit Scores possible.
⸺ Charles Eppley & Sam Hart
John Cage, Williams Mix (1952/1953) | Digital realization by Tom Erbe
I started work on Williams Mix in January 2012 by carefully measuring and noting all of the events on the score – and in the process, discovered the hierarchy, internal rules and structure of the piece. I then devised a patch in the PD language to play Williams Mix and perform the scored transformations noted by arrows, underlines and dashes (see below). Whenever the score is open to multiple choices, my performance software either gives me control, or uses a chance process to determine the outcome. Because of this every performance is different. A group of my friends contributed the 500-600 sounds required to perform the piece. Other than the original, this is the first time anyone has realized Williams Mix from the score.
Mats Lindstrom, One (for David Tudor) (2008) | Realized by Mats Lindström
One (for David Tudor) was originally commissioned by Moderna Museet in Stockholm and premiered at an international symposium on the art of Robert Rauschenberg in 2008. One (for David Tudor) is not an attempt to achieve a reconstruction of Tudor’s legendary Fluorescent Sound performed on the museum’s existing fluorescent light banks in 1964. One (for David Tudor) is essentially a recycling of some of Tudor’s most distinctive features as a composer: the technical level of ambition, the methodology and the aesthetic attitude. The fluorescent lights that were used at its premiere were retrieved from the abandoned computer room at the Electronic Music Studio (EMS) in Stockholm, which was once the home of one of the most powerful computers of the musical world. One (for David Tudor) also recycles some archaeological artifacts from the heyday of computer music as well as reviving working methods that were never given a chance to develop in all the technological frenzy of progress. Since the premiere, the piece has been performed in Ljubliana, Berlin, St Petersburg, Venezia, Beograd, Warsawa, Moscow and New York.
David Tudor, Pepsi Bird (1970) | Realized by Ron Kuivila
Pepsi Bird is one of a set of electronic circuit works composed for the Experiment in Art and Technology pavilion at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. The geodesic dome-shaped pavilion was commissioned by Pepsico and featured a 32-channel custom speaker system designed by Tudor, which he viewed as an instrument through which he performed this and several other circuit works, including Microphone, Pepscillator and Anima Pepsi. This rendition uses a 1:1 digital mapping of the original analog circuit, using eight channels of sound.
John Driscoll, Speaking in Tongues (2012-2016) | Realized by CIE
Speaking in Tongues is a work-in-progress created as a group work for Composers Inside Electronics. The work uses a series of custom-built ultrasonic instruments that can be manipulated (played) in various ways. This improvisational work is evolving based on the creation of a playful orchestra of new instruments and additional performers.
Phil Edelstein, Impulsions (2015) | Realized by CIE
Impulsions is an excursion on the use of a library of objects and spatial impulses. The work is collected under the cover of Composer Inside Electronics activities.
Ralph Jones, Star Networks at the Singing Point (1978) | Realized by CIE
Star Networks was first conceived as a collaborative live electronic piece for Composers Inside Electronics on the occasion of a concert series the group presented with David Tudor at The Kitchen in New York City. Intended to exploit the group members’ familiarity with analog circuitry and oscillating feedback systems, the score describes a method by which a performer can create potentially chaotic oscillators “on the fly” using a network of basic analog components and high-gain tube or solid-state preamplifiers. In this work, live circuits are constructed during and throughout the performance.
Circuit Scores: Electronics After David Tudor was co-organized by Avant.org’s Sam Hart and Charles Eppley with Ron Kuivila (Wesleyan University). The event is hosted by the School for Poetic Computation, an artist run school that explores the intersections of code, design, hardware and theorization through artistic interventions.
Charles Eppley is an art historian, musician, and sound enthusiast from Brooklyn, NY. Charles is a PhD candidate at Stony Brook University, where he researches the role of sound in modern and contemporary art. He publishes art and music criticism (Art In America, Rhizome, Hyperallergic) and has taught at The New School, Pratt Institute and Stony Brook University. Charles is Managing Editor and Curator at Avant.org.
Sam Hart is a scientist, publisher, and artist living in New York. Sam works as a bioinformatician at the Sloan Kettering Institute where he studies dysregulatory genetics. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Avant.org, an online project space for critical interdisciplinarity.
The School for Poetic Computation is an artist-run school based in New York City. Founded in 2013, SFPC classes are designed to bring students and faculty together to explore the intersection of code, design, hardware and theory — with an emphasis on creative intervention.