All posts by acornled

cetus soundarts fest

At 5:45 PM on Saturday, August 7, 2021, the other-worldly sounds of composer Olly Wilson’s germinal electronic composition Cetus rang out from the Clark Bandstand in Tappan Square, Oberlin, Ohio, beginning the first-ever CETUS SoundArts Fest. We named this festival in homage to Wilson, who, in 1968, won the first ever prize for an electronic music composition for Cetus. From 1965 to 1970, Wilson was a professor at Oberlin Conservatory, where he taught the first courses in electronic music, the genesis of what today is Oberlin’s Technology in Music and Related Arts program, or TIMARA. Playing Cetus set the tone for what we hoped would be two or three hours of adventurous electronics-centric music, created in the moment, right before our ears. 

Unfortunately, CETUS SoundArts Fest got washed out by a torrential storm, before we got even halfway through our lineup. Due to a COVID resurgence, thanks to the virulent Delta variant, we intentionally lacked an alternate indoor location. We also had no rain date, because our visiting headliners, composers and performers Lainie Fefferman and Jascha Narveson, were only available for that day. So we pressed on, despite slightly iffy weather prospects. But the deluge that came shortly before 6:00 PM was not predicted by any forecast we saw. 

Good fortune seemed to be smiling on us as we got the program rolling right on time. Our friends from NOYO Lab Group (a project of the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra) kicked things off with a bass -trombone-led group improvisation. Each of Ephrem King’s trombone phrases set off a whirl of echoes and counterpoints in Jessica Narum’s synthesizer, Colin Holter’s electric guitar, and Eli Leder’s electric bass. 

NOYO Lab Group at CETUS SoundArts Fest (video by Larry Dunn)

Next up, still under benign-looking skies, was False Ocean, an avant-garde band from Cleveland, featuring Kai Becker on bass and electronics, Raven Clark on vocals, Josh Hall on vocals and electronics, Michael De La Cruz on electronics and synthesizer, David Lee on guitar, and Max Reynolds on drums. False Ocean provided this impressionistic introduction to the band. 

False Ocean is inspired by the city upon whose shores they sound, 
where young people adapt to a weathered ruling past 
that too often forgets there is a future, theirs. 
Echoing the discord of life in post-industrial Cleveland 
via electronic experimentation, high-voltage improvisation, 
and musical fusion 
(though plans for nuclear are rumored on the table), 
its noises are belligerently amorphous, 
sound waves flowing from one moment to the next 
to fill space like hard water and the city on it. 

False Ocean is fed by the sounds and attitude 
of this industrial landscape, harmonizing to the hum of hurting machines 
that carries through the air, 
same as the smoke that sticks to our spit and clouds our stories 
‘til we have to scream them to strip it out of our lungs. 
The atmosphere around this False Ocean is chaotic, 
exhausting, and desperate, 
and at the same time this is our catharsis. 
We punch up with the jaded stubbornness of midwestern youth, 
hear ourselves where it is already loud, 
and buzz with the static of Rust Belt possibility. 
It feels dangerous to be around this False Ocean, 
but smelting yourself in sound, 
down til we’re something stronger, is survival. 
And surviving this together? 
You feel strong as steel. 
You feel like family.

False Ocean dedicated their performance to those we have lost during the pandemic, as a wake in this time of no funerals, to remember those now gone, and to share our collective grief. False Ocean poured all they had into a cathartic set full of equal measures of pandemic-induced rage and sorrow.

We did a quick stage turn, and just as Arlene completed her introduction of the third act, Drew Smith, light rain began to fall began to fall. Before Drew could even begin, the water was coming down in sheets. Propelled by a 40-mile-per-hour wind, it was blowing rain straight through the bandstand. Everyone scurried to cover equipment, especially the electronic gear. But the storm bested us. Too much equipment got so wet, no one wanted to turn anything back on until it had a chance to dry out. Reluctantly, we called a halt, and CETUS SoundArts Fest came to a premature end.

Kai Becker of False Ocean (photo by Larry Dunn)

The biggest disappointment for the performers and listeners was losing the chance to play, or hear, more music. Here’s the stellar lineup of sound artists we never got to hear.

  • Drew Smith, an improviser, composer, technologist, and artist, who plays guitar, synthesizer and electronics, both as a solo artist and with groups like the Oberlin Synthesizer Ensemble, Chroma Burst, D.O.G., and The Henry Nelson Ensemble.
  • A trio of Michael Gapsari, a composer, synth player, electronic music artist, programmer, and songwriter/poet;  Tempest Baum, a singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer, actor, and director from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently studying in the TIMARA program at Oberlin Conservatory; and Hamish Robb, a guitarist, sound designer, and composer of experimental music, currently based in Ohio and majoring in computer science and musical studies at Oberlin College and Conservatory.
  • Claudia Hinsdale, a songwriter, composer, and performer who makes sounds to live inside of.
  • Narvefeffer, a duo composed of Lainie Fefferman, who makes music by putting dots on lines, drawing curves in software, writing code in boxes, and finding new ways to wiggle her vocal chords; and Jascha Narveson, who was raised in a concert hall, was put to sleep as a child with a vinyl copy of the Bell Labs mainframe singing “Bicycle Built for Two,” and now makes music for people, machines, and interesting combinations of people and machines.

Despite all the disappointments of CETUS SoundArts Fest getting washed away, everyone involved expressed a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude, just for the opportunity to be together and making/hearing live music. We sparked so much joy among the performers, the listeners, and even people far and wide who could not be there physically, yet  somehow were there vicariously. It made every bit of time, toil, and treasure we invested in this project worthwhile. We hope that somewhere in this vast universe, Olly Wilson was smiling that his life’s work was ringing out on Tappan Square, along with music by others inspired by him and in homage to him, in 2021. 

We convey our bounteous thanks to everyone who came out to hear some adventurous music, only to get soaked; to all of our sound artists; and to Oberlin Concert Sound and Wayne Wood at Oberlin College, for all their help in making CETUS SoundArts Fest happen.

Graphic design by Kim Kauffman

gazpacho: sunshine in a bowl

[Editor’s note: this is an archive post from the original Acornometrics blog on Tumblr. We posted it soon after we had uprooted ourselves from our beloved homestead Acorn Ridge Gardens in LaCrosse, Indiana, and moved to Oberlin, Ohio. We’re re-posting it now because we just made our first gazpacho of 2021.]

August 12, 2013

We’re having a bit of separation anxiety from leaving our garden behind at Acorn Ridge and moving to Kendal at Oberlin. But frankly, we’re not missing all the back-breaking work. Fortunately, there is an excellent farmers market in Oberlin and lots of farm stands nearby. So we have had plenty of tasty, fresh, often organic produce available all summer long.

Tomatoes are fully in season now, and we have been getting particularly tasty golden cherry tomatoes at the Saturday market (our favorite is one called ‘Sun Gold’). The plethora of tomatoes means it’s gazpacho time! And these golden cherries make for a really tasty outcome. Here is our favorite recipe.

CLASSIC ANDALUSIAN GAZPACHO

(Adapted from Restaurant El Faro in Cádiz, Spain in Gourmet, August 2002)

The classic Andalusian gazpacho is found all over the region with, according to the authors of this recipe, surprisingly few variations; most chefs prefer to allow the pure taste of the tomatoes, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil to shine through.

Any ripe tomatoes will suffice for this recipe, but we are partial to the “Sun Gold” cherry tomato. The result is like sunshine in a bowl.

Yield: Makes 4 to 8 servings (depending on serving size)

Active Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 1/2 gallon

Total Time: 3 ½ hours

INGREDIENTS

1 (3-inch-long) piece baguette

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoons salt

3 Tablespoons Sherry vinegar “reserva” (or similar)

1 teaspoon palm sugar (or other raw sugar, or omit)

4 lbs. ripe tomatoes (whole cherries, or cored and quartered if larger)

2/3 cup extra-virgin Andalusian olive oil (or similar)

METHOD

Soak bread in ½ cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Mince garlic and sweat it with a little olive oil, salt, and fresh-cracked white pepper in microwave (or in a small skillet over a low flame). 

Place the garlic, bread, salt, vinegar, sugar, and half of the tomatoes in a food processor with the cutting blade and process until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Gradually add half of the oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute. Put this first half of the soup into a Foley food mill (or similar fine sieve tool) and force into a large bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.

Place the other half of tomatoes in the food processor and process until they are very finely chopped. Gradually add the remaining half of the oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.

Put this second half of the soup into the mill (or sieve) and force into the large bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids. Whisk together the combined soup thoroughly and transfer to a 1/2-gallon glass jar and chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Adjust final seasoning with salt, pepper, and vinegar before serving.

Garnish possibilities: sprinkling of Aleppo pepper, dollop of creme fraiche, strewn snipped chives, finely chopped cucumber, dollop of greek yogurt, cucumber raita, chopped hard-boiled egg … 

Sun Gold cherry tomato gazpacho with a floated zucchini fritter, dollop of cucumber raita, and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper. (photo credit: Larry Dunn)

[downloadable recipe follows]

caught: hiding in plain sight

Larry Dunn, September 2012

I was wearing a borrowed jacket and hat pulled down over my ears. It was too warm for the outfit, but I was in desperate need of disguise. Sure that every passing stranger was an FBI agent or one of their dupes, I was hiding in plain site on a bench in the cavernous main hall of Chicago Union Station, waiting for my friend (and former parish priest) Bill. He was bringing me the duffels we had left at his house when we suddenly discovered the need to find alternate lodgings. 

It was August 1968 and the mayhem of the Democratic National Convention was building. My friend Otto and I were there as “youth representatives” on the advance planning team for the anti-war demonstrations. We had been haranguing our older and more famous colleagues – Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Dave Dellinger, et. al. (i.e. what would become the Chicago Seven) – that to capture the youth imagination, we needed to have some more radical, action-oriented demonstrations, not just marching. They gave in, likely out of frustration with us, and charged us to design such an action and bring it in for consideration. If our plan made sense, they would add it to the official program. 

Otto and I were founding members of Detroit-based YPFJ, slangily pronounced “Yipfugs”. The letters stood for Youth for Peace Freedom and Justice. YPFJ was closely aligned with another Detroit-based organization, People Against Racism (or PAR). That alliance resulted in YPFJ’s innate anti-Vietnam-War stance taking on a decidedly broader anti-US-Racist-Imperialism edge. Our search for suitable Chicago targets for our action led us to the banking/finance sector, which was heavily invested in South Africa, shoring up the racist apartheid regime. Near the top of the list we found the Continental Illinois Bank, whose headquarters had a very interesting feature – a subway stop in the basement of the building. The lightbulb went off. We would hold a demonstration in the bank by convening right inside via the subway. When we brought our proposal back to the planning team they were impressed with the concept, with one caveat. We needed to go scout the location and make sure that we could hand something out to the demonstrators that showed them how to get out of the building if (when?) things got too hot for comfort. 

Continental Illinois Bank, Chicago, Illinois

So Otto and I headed over to the bank to case the joint. We arrived by subway, with Otto planning to check the basement while I went upstairs to determine the best paths to exits. I made a mental picture of everything to my satisfaction, figuring I could draw it on paper later. I turned a corner to head back downstairs to exit via subway, only to find Otto being frog-marched up the stairs by a security guard. “Hey stop right there,” he shouted at me. “Have you been drawing diagrams of the bank too?”

The guard marched us both down to the security office, demanded to see some identification, and asked us what did we think we were doing? It is instructive to note here that my official YPFJ title was Minister of Bullshit (a cynical variation on Minister of Information). My creative verbal invention skills kicked into gear. As Otto would put it, we sold the guard a load of old boleros. “Well, the truth is, we’re model railroad enthusiasts. We’re in Chicago visiting some family friends and we got to talking about Chicago architecture,” I said. “We realized there were such great bank buildings here, we needed to add an iconic Chicago bank to our train layout. And, well, Continental Illinois Bank seemed like the cream of the bank architecture crop.” Somehow, the old geezer decided to accept our story. “I don’t go much for your long hair and all that, but you seem like nice enough boys and I don’t think you’re trying to cause any trouble. Just give me the name, address, and phone of the people you’re staying with and I’ll let you go … if you promise not to draw diagrams inside a bank anymore.” We gave him Bill’s contact information and skedaddled out of there before he could change his mind. 

Unfortunately, the guard’s supervisor must have seen things differently. When we got back to movement headquarters that afternoon, one of the staff people ran over the moment he saw me. “Larry, do you know someone named Bill Palmer? He’s been calling you in a panic every half-hour all afternoon long. He says it’s urgent that you call him back.”

I called Bill right away. “Larry, what the hell are you up to?!?! The FBI came here this afternoon saying they wanted to talk to you about a bank robbery. What the hell are you doing?” Well, I got him calmed down enough to hear a quick version of what happened. I said it was best if we did not come back to his house and he agreed to bring our stuff to me at Union Station that evening. He thought my clandestine measures were a bit much, but I guess he figured it was easier to do it than to argue about it. 

Just as it was getting dark, I saw Bill approach, heading for the big clock as I had instructed him. He dropped our duffels to the floor, leaned against the wall, and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He stayed like that for a few minutes, eyeing every passer-by. He did not take out a cigarette and light it, the signal he was to use if he had any inclination that he was being followed. He was saying, “I think the coast is clear.” He picked up the duffels and walked into the men’s room across from where I sat. A moment later he walked out, without the duffels, and headed towards the departing trains. I got up and casually walked into the mens room, picked up the bags, and headed for the street exit and a deep full breath of fresh Chicago night air, thinking that I had eluded the FBI for good. 

Boyhood Home, Royal Oak, Michigan

Three weeks later, back home in Detroit, our doorbell rang at dinnertime one evening. My mother answered the door, then called out “Larry, are you in some kind of trouble again? The FBI is here looking for you.”

hot dish tater tot pot pie

By Larry Dunn, December 29, 2020

Awhile back we got obsessed with tater-tot-topped hot dish recipes, in part because of their mildly odd upper Midwestern roots as potluck dinner fare, and in part because Oberlin is a tater tot mecca, thanks to The Feve, a local watering hole.

Out here on the internet, you can find plenty of tater tot hot dish recipes with a classic Midwestern quick-fix approach, using ground beef, frozen vegetables, and canned soup. But in developing our own recipe, we were much more intent on a made-from-scratch approach. So ours features fresh vegetables and a scratch-made bechamel sauce. The recipe is include in this post, and there is also a link to a downloadable PDF at the bottom.

HOT DISH: TATER TOT TOPPED SALMON POT PIE

Our own take on the tater tot hot dish phenomenon, with a make-from-scratch approach. It specifies left-over grilled salmon, but it can also be made with canned salmon (easiest to use the skinless and boneless types), any leftover fish or roast chicken, or even all vegetables. Any of the veggies can be substituted or omitted. In order to ensure the tater tots get crispy, we pre-bake them in the oven to 12 to 15 minutes.

INGREDIENTS

2 medium carrots, roll-cut or in a medium dice
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced or chopped
2 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine

4 Tablespoons of butter
4 Tablespoons of flour
2 cups of milk
1 cup of broth (or sub another cup of milk)
dash of hot sauce
pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
8 to 12 ounces leftover grilled salmon (or canned salmon)
1 cup of frozen peas
1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, or thyme)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds of tater tots (depending on shape of baking dish and desired density of tots)

METHOD

If pre-cooking the tater tots, spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in an oven preheated to 450F for about 12 minutes until they start to crisp and brown. Set aside.

Prepare the vegetables and sauté in a skillet over medium heat until the carrots start to soften, with a bit of salt and pepper. Increase the heat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Reduce the white wine almost completely and set the veggies aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until frothy. Add the flour and stir to absorb the butter and cook it a bit. Lower the heat to medium-low and start adding the 2 cups of milk, about 1/3 of it at a time. Stir frequently to avoid lumps. When the sauce is bubbling and thickening with all the milk, add the broth and stir to combine and bring back to heat. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Drop the heat to low and add in the salmon and the reserved vegetables. Stir to combine. Add the salmon, chopped herbs, and frozen peas and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour the mixture into to 9×13 in. glass baking dish or a ~3-quart ceramic casserole dish.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the tater tots in an attractive manner on top of the pot pie mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tots are nice and brown and the mixture is bubbling. Cool for about 10 to 15 minutes to let it set, then serve.

we care if you read

#NewsFlash from I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, the online journal of contemporary music and related arts and technology founded in 2010 by Thomas Deneuville and now led, since 2017, by editor in chief Amanda Cook.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, the award-winning multimedia hub for living music creators, has officially become part of the American Composers Forum. After 10 years of operation as an all-volunteer enterprise, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN (ICIYL) was acquired by American Composers Forum (ACF) this month. “Over the past year, we have developed a number of initiatives in partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN,” says ACF President & CEO Vanessa Rose. “The synergy between our two entities and our shared vision for our musical landscape were clear early on. ACF is thrilled that we can complement our work as part of one family, and equitably support the excellent staff and contributing team at ICIYL.”

“I CARE IF YOU LISTEN Joins American Composers Forum,” from I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, on September 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

You can read the full ACF press release here. Congratulations to Thomas and Amanda for ten years of tireless effort to make ICIYL a contemporary culture juggernaut and to ACF for its vision for the future. We cannot imagine a better outcome for the future of ICIYL, which we think will be an extraordinary asset for ACF. We also extend bounteous thanks to the ACF Board of Directors, The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization, and individual donors to ACF for their financial support to make the acquisition happen.

Thomas Deneuville (photo: Axel Dupeux)

ICIYL has been a virtual home for us since August 30, 2012, when our first article was published. Eight years. 92 posts, almost 1 per month. 34 concert/festival reports. 58 interviews with movers and shakers in contemporary music and art. We’ve been busy!

Amanda Cook (photo: courtesy of Classical Bridge Festival)

Today, with eternal gratitude to Thomas and Amanda for providing us this platform, we are retiring from active duty as ICIYL contributing editors. To mark this moment, we are pulling our first-ever ICIYL post from the archive, to re-post here today. Enjoy! And please keep following ICIYL as it enters a new era. We care if you read.

A Rain-Soaked Inuksuit in Chicago Millennium Park

Arlene & Larry Dunn on August 30, 2012, on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN

In a modern world too often marked by conflicts of humanity versus nature, an exhilarating human communing with nature unfolded in the pouring rain on the fields of that most modern of landscapes, Chicago Millennium Park, on Sunday afternoon, August 26, 2012. Over 100 musicians, led by eighth blackbird and production designer Doug Perkins, performed John Luther Adams’ epic Inuksuit as they mingled with an audience of several hundred stalwart music fans.

Inuksuit in Millennium Park

Adams, who lives and works primarily in Alaska, conceived of Inuksuit as much as an environmental experience as a music performance. The title is an Inuit word that means “to act in the capacity of the human” and refers to stacked stone sentinels built over the centuries by the peoples of the Arctic. Inuksuit of varied styles and sizes are found marking important sites — migration routes, fishing grounds, memorials — throughout the aboriginal areas of Alaska and Canada. Adams uses this singularly Arctic symbol as a means to require the performers and the audience to confront fundamental questions about who we are, where and how we live, what it means to act in the capacity of a human in an environment in crisis.

Millennium Park, Chicago’s new jewel by the lake, promised to be an opportune setting for staging Inuksuit. Its starkly modern landscape featuring the architecture of Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano incites questions of human relationships to the environment. Perkins and members of eighth blackbird made a thorough examination of the unique topology and features of the park to determine how best to use it a stage for presenting Inuksuit. They designed an elaborate site plan (see graphic) to deploy musicians and instruments radiating out from the music pavilion and lawn area into the Lurie Gardens and on Piano’s bridge to the Art Institute.

Despite his extensive advance planning, a persistent storm system put Perkins’ plans in jeopardy. When we arrived at rainy Millennium Park, the Great Lawn of Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion was nearly empty save for scattered sets of drums, cymbal trees, and glockenspiels like so many inuksuit harbingers of the experience to come. The stacks of instruments were covered with plastic, tarps and other protective devices in hopes the steady rain would subside. But as performance time approached the forecast never wavered from 100% chance of rain. A crowd began to assemble and word spread that plans to deploy instruments and musicians broadly throughout the park were scrapped. But the musicians were adamant they would perform unless there was lightning.

John Luther Adams

Would the rain prove to be more than these indomitable musicians bargained for? It would not! At the appointed hour of 5:30, 101 musicians began to slowly and quietly convene in an amorphous formation in the center of the Great Lawn as the crowd gathered around them. The music began with sounds evoking the Arctic winds, some players blowing through large paper cones, others using conch shells. The rain suddenly held off.

As the performers began to wade through the crowd and spread out, wind noises gave way to clarion calls on the conch shells, eerie whirring noises from swirling flexible plastic hoses, scratching sounds of wood rubbed on wood and stone rubbed on stone. Performers assigned to the percussion stacks reached their positions and poised to play. Suddenly, eighth blackbird percussionist Matthew Duvall struck a thunderous boom on an oversized bass drum, unleashing a cacophony of sound throughout the Great Lawn and Pavilion. And just as suddenly the heaviest rain of the day burst forth. In this piece about communing with nature, we were all completely engulfed by it.

Matthew Duvall

Inuksuit is designed as a participatory piece, with the performers immersed in the audience so there is no one ideal place from which to experience the soundscape. We found ourselves promenading throughout the pavilion area with the same ritualistic style and pace of Doug Perkins’ organically choreographed movements for the performers. Some of us were equipped with rain gear and umbrellas. Others simply allowed the rain to soak them. The magical combination of music and rain unleashed an innocent abandon in the crowd: a little girl running in a “catch me if you can” game with her father, a man sticking out his tongue to catch the rainwater, some in mediative poses with their eyes closed, others holding umbrellas over musicians. No one, it seemed, had any inclination to leave.

The music continued to move in waves from one group of musicians to another, mesmerizing the crowd in its thrall. The dominant notes came from the stationary sets of drums, cymbals, gongs and hand-cranked sirens. Wandering performers added accents by striking triangles, metal bars, and metal tubes. From the stage of the pavilion, safe from the potential water damage, piccolo trills rang out. The waves and crescendos of sound mutated continuously as one wandered about. The rain added its own percussive notes, dancing off taught umbrellas and splashing in growing puddles. The light took on a special glow, reminiscent of the Arctic midnight sun.

Slowly the sounds softened to the level of bird calls, carried primarily by the glockenspiels, triangles, and piccolos. Many performers began a ritualistic promenade back to the center of the Great Lawn, attracting the crowd with them. Gently the music died out, eventually replaced by sustained applause, hoops, and hollers from an intensely joyous audience. The musicians were mostly soaked through to the skin, some visibly shivering; all were clearly exhilarated by their triumphant performance of Inuksuit.

Inuksuit at Millennium Park comes to a close

Congratulations and our profound thanks go out to the full roster of performers:

Director – Doug Perkins

eight blackbird – Lisa Kaplan, Tim Munro, Yvonne Lam, NIck Photinos, Matthew Duvall, Michael Maccaferri, Ryan Ingebritsen

Calumet Chamber Musicians – John Wachala

Chicago Civic Orchestrea – Eliza Bangert

Coalescence Percussion Duo – Judy Moonert, Greg Secor

DePaul University – Robert Fletcher

Eastern Illinois University – Jamie Ryan

Ensemble Dal Niente – Shanna Gutierrez, Ammie Brod

Fifth House Ensemble – Matt Monroe, Herine Koschak, Ross Weijer

Fulcrum Point – Kate Flum

Grand Valley State University – Bill Ryan, Dan Rhode, Adam Cuthbert, Josh Dreyer, Sam Gould

Illinois Percussive Arts Society – Jeff Strong, Jeff Brenner

Indiana University – Greg Mesa

Moraine Valley Community College – Andrew Novak, Julio Jimenez, Ben Lisak, Maura Vizza

Naperville High School – Ben Walhund

New Millennium Orchestra -Emma Hospelhorn

New Music Chicago – Jeff Shaw, Andrew Tham, Jennie Brown

Northern Illinois University -Greg Beyer, Brian Wach, Alexis Lamb, Mike Mixtack, Nick Fox, Dan Eastwood, Greg Essig, Zane Cupec, Austin Shoupe, Jonny Gifford, Chris Mrofzca, Daniel Henson, Angela Kepley, Jaime Esposito, Tim Mcallister

Palomar -Alicia Poot

Roosevelt University – Nathan Bushey

Third Coast Percussion – Rob Dillon, Peter Martin, Dave Skidmore, Clay Condon

University of Chicago – Shawn Allison

University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign – Gavin Ryan, Dan McLaughlin, Peter Breithaupt, William Mullen, Tom Siwe

University of Michigan – Josh Graham, Dylan Greene, Jon Brown, Chris Sies

University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point – Tom Bjoraker, Kel Kelley, Rebecca Kolonick, Sean Conners, Matt Clark, Jeff Crowell, Bri Trainor, Andrew Cameron, Andy Neidner, Carissa Tikalsky, Alex Meronek

Other: Yael Litwin, Chris Jasinsky, Ben Runkell, Daniel Reifsteck, Chris Dandeles, Paul Beckman, Emilie Mitchell, Doug Bratt, Christina Foster, Chris Jones, Alan Fey, Megan Arns, Amy Garapic, Ben Fraley, Aaron Butler, John Corkill, Jake Coon, Brett Baxter, Trevor Saint, Simon Munro, Alex Hough, Gabe Gaster

sip6: slicing and dicing

by Larry Dunn, August 27, 2020

Week six of Synth in Place, the online course in DIY synthesizers taught by Kirk Pearson of Dogbotic sound labs, in collaboration with Thingamajigs, sent me spinning down a memory rabbit hole to my fourth grade arithmetic classes at Shrine of the Little Flower elementary school in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Under the title of “Slicing and Dicing,” we delved in to Boolean logic, the conceptual framework underlying digital processing of signals with discrete voltages, i.e., the entirety of our computerized modern world. George Boole (1815–1864), a mostly self-taught English mathematician, pioneered the idea of applying the mechanisms of algebra to the study of logic, thereby revolutionizing the field. His application of formal methods to studying phenomena that exist in only one of two states − true or false, on or off, etc. − eventually found powerful application in the development of computing and other forms of electronic processing.

Sputnik-1

Now, flash forward about two centuries. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union propelled Sputnik-1 into an elliptical low-earth orbit, shocking the world. Most unnerved was the USSR’s global arch-rival, the United States, where government scientists were caught off guard that the Soviets had sufficiently advanced their space rocket technology (which we had both harvested from Germany as part of the settlement of WWII) to be able to put a satellite into orbit. The launch set off the Space Race, a new battlefield in the Cold War. And it also precipitated the Sputnik Crisis in American education, a flurry of activity aimed at closing the substantial math and science gap between students in the USA and those in the USSR. Simply put, they were developing rocket scientists and we were not.

In the fall of 1958, my 4th grade class at the Shrine elementary school was suddenly no longer studying arithmetic, we were studying New Math. Instead of a commercially printed arithmetic textbook, we had a succession of mimeographed and stapled pamphlets on topics like the number line; Boolean logic and it’s derivative, the binary number system; and number system bases, like binary (0 through 1), decimal (0 through 9), and hexadecimal (0 through 9, A, B, C, D, E, F). This was purported, correctly I think, to be a better way to prepare us conceptually to understand and excel at the more advanced forms of mathematics and computer technology needed to engineer space exploration.

For me, and probably some others in my class, New Math was more like a fun game than the drudgery of arithmetic (how could it take us eight years of that to get ready for algebra, in high school?). Of course there were some who were confused, though perhaps no less confused than they were with arithmetic.

New Math

Many parents in our extremely conservative suburban Detroit enclave were incensed by this sudden change in the curriculum. “If arithmetic was good enough for teaching us, then by god it’s good enough for teaching Jimmy and Sally!” And some no doubt thought the New Math was a communist plot, because many in our parish saw a communist plot lurking behind every lamppost. So the New Math experiment in our school didn’t last very long, and soon we were back to learning good old arithmetic. It’s impact in the broader society was more substantial in the first couple of decades after it was launched. However, New Math eventually was a victim of the 80s and 90s return to the basic ABCs. Interestingly, some of the concepts are finding their way back into the math curriculum for elementary and secondary education in the USA, through the Common Core movement, once again vexing some students, teachers, and parents. So the history and impact of New Math on American education remains controversial.

For myself, I next encountered these ideas when I started studying computer science at Elmhurst College, outside Chicago, in 1980. A required course in advanced algebra, called Functions, began with the number line, Boolean logic, and set theory. I felt right at home.

With the focus of our Synth in Place class being on making electronic sounds, it feels appropriate to close with the signals sent from space by Sputnik-1, captured by radio enthusiasts as it spun around the globe in 1957. Maybe someone in the class will utilize or replicate these sounds in their project.

Sputnik: the orb that launched a thousand synths

Stay tuned.

aphrodite’s prism

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

~Anaïs Nin

Today is our 51st wedding anniversary. Sixteen years ago, we wrote/constructed Aphrodite’s Prism: A Love Story, from three perspectives, to mark the occasion of the wedding of our niece Jodi Rudoren (nee Wilgoren) and Gary Rudoren (nee Ruderman) on December 4, 2004. Last year we decided to make a 50th anniversary edition, which we are sharing today with all of you. You can download the full booklet, using the link or the red button below. In 2013, we posted Larry’s story from Aphrodite’s Prism on our original acornometrics blog on Tumblr. We’ve pulled that piece from the archive to re-post it here today.

Love in the Late 60s

America in tumult, 1968

Any love story is better understood in the context of its times. Despite how exceedingly personal love between two people must be, it can be the swirl of external events around it that provides much of its enduring fabric. Our love story—Arlene’s and mine—begins in 1968 and is inextricably entwined with social unrest, the struggle for civil rights, and the Vietnam war making the world topsy-turvy all around us.

Arlene Wilgoren – 25, Dorchester Mass, Jewish, Brandeis grad, civil rights worker, math whiz, socially adept and worldly wise.

LD Dunn – 18, Royal Oak Mich, raised to be a priest, pending college dropout, hippie, rabble rouser, troubled genius, painfully shy, often outrageously entertaining, and casual in his conviction that he was destined to flame-out before reaching his 21st birthday.

Whatever could bring these two together?

That mini-dress, those earrings, and …

April 1968. Martin Luther King gunned down by a sniper’s bullet on a motel balcony in Memphis. We were each working in fledgling political organizations—Arlene with PAR (People Against Racism) and LD with Yipfugs (Youth for Peace Freedom and Justice)—that were thrust into the limelight in the aftermath. PAR was in the midst of a hastily called organizational meeting in Detroit that week, using their newfound notoriety as impetus to form a national organization out of dispersed, loosely affiliated groups in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, and Washington. Yipfugs, based in the Detroit suburbs, were up to their usual disruptive tricks, demonstrating and leafleting at a Eugene McCarthy for President rally at Tiger Stadium—yes, we were against poor Gene McCarthy who was way too establishment for our taste. We wanted nothing short of revolution, baby!

Following the rally, we were invited to a PAR party at the home of Les and Bonnie Biederman. Les and Bonnie were the first Jewish folks I knew as friends, having come form a very insular Catholic community. A group of us Yipfugs arrived at the party well into the evening, exhilarated from our evening of haranguing naïve young people to jump off the McCarthy bandwagon and join the radical movement for real change. Welcomed inside by Bonnie, my eyes almost immediately settled upon Arlene.

She sat in an Eames leather lounge chair. An overhanging high-intensity reading light cast a halo around her. She wore an orange and yellow mini- dress, which she had made herself, with big orange and yellow hoop earrings. She had a trim, pixie haircut and a 10,000 watt smile. All of this struck me, but what struck me even more was that she also happened to be expertly rolling joint after joint.

“Oh, let me introduce you to Arlene Wilgoren from Boston PAR,” I heard Bonnie say.

Without taking my eyes off Arlene or those joints, I said, “Well sure, please do!”

Throwing darts at LBJ

Arlene moved to Detroit to be the National Secretary of the new PAR National Organization, located in the McKerchey building on Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit. It happened that the office was about 5 blocks from the Detroit Institute of Technology (for some reason, we dis-affectionately called it Z-I-T), where I was in the second semester of my Freshman year in college and already at my second school. I wasn’t very interested in school, at least not at ZIT. I preferred to hang out at the PAR office where David Baker, PAR’s leading political theoretician, had taken me under his wing as his protégé. I was getting the education I really wanted in political analysis, organizing techniques, propaganda, that sort of thing. David wasn’t always around, or maybe he shooed me away as a pest when my endless inquiries got to be just too much.

So I spent the rest of my time there in Arlene’s office. She had a Lyndon Johnson dart board (the first president she ever voted for, because he pledged to stop the war; within weeks of his inauguration the bastard was bombing the shit out of North Vietnam, giving Arlene a somewhat sour outlook on voting). I would throw darts at LBJ and shoot the breeze while Arlene tried to get some work done. She was awfully tolerant of my intrusions, and possibly even a bit charmed by this wacky young hippie who liked to hang out in her office. Over the weeks we talked about all kinds of personal history, and compared notes on the current state of affairs in the world and how we were going to straighten them out.

The more I learned about Arlene the more she became like an icon to me on a professional level, if you can call radical rabble rousing a profession. In those heady days of my radicalization, I had some first-rate mentors training my mind. But Arlene was different—she was schooling my soul. I learned from Arlene about passion for freedom, equality, and justice, not just intellectual justifications. Before too long we became really good friends and started hanging out a lot together, though always in group settings—which was how we usually did things in those days anyway. We were very communal. I’m sure it never occurred to me to “ask her out on a date”—that wasn’t exactly one of my top skills. And even if I had thought of it, I’m sure I would have been scared to death to ask.

On tour with the Melville’s

As the summer of ’68 approached, my mentor threw me a summer challenge. I was to conceptualize, organize, and implement a speaking tour of the state by some recognizable authorities on the war, racism, and imperialism. Something that would draw some crowds we could proselytize and organize into the movement. I set about doing my research and hit upon a move I thought ingenious. A recent event of some note was the “Catonsville 9”—all nine were current or former Catholic clergy who broke into the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office and poured lamb’s blood on all the files. They were all arrested, because their policy was “Don’t just do something … Stand there!”—meaning take demonstrative, symbolic actions against the war and stand there in the face of the authorities and take credit for what you do.

We were very taken with this approach because of its blend of political action and street theatre—or guerilla theatre—of which we were great devotees. Among the “9” were the Berrigan brothers—Daniel and Phil, both priests—and Tom and Marge Melville, former Maryknoll missionaries, priest and nun respectively, who were kicked out of Guatemala for helping the underprivileged classes organize against the corrupt right-wing dictatorship (which was heavily subsidized by the US because they were anti-communist). The Melvilles would be perfect for my speaking tour challenge. I loved the fact they were defrocked clergy (me and the Catholics had gone our separate ways by now) and they had the whole package—anti- racist, anti-war, anti-imperialist. As a bonus, Phil Berrigan was living at my Uncle’s church in Baltimore and could surely provide an entrée to the Melvilles.

We put together a five-city tour of Michigan in July and went on the road with the Melvilles. I don’t remember how we decided who should go—but Arlene ended up joining our entourage, partly because she hit it off with Tom and Marge. And likely, we needed her car. So we had about a 10-day road trip, cooped up in Arlene’s Corvair, sleeping on the floor in other hippie-radical’s houses, and introducing the Melvilles to enthusiastic crowds at one movement church after another.

That road trip greatly cemented the friendship between Arlene and me, and it wouldn’t be long before things took an interesting turn.

The unforeseen value of being a communist

When Arlene relocated to Detroit, she had moved into a basement apartment on Cass Ave., just off the campus of Wayne State University. That apartment was later dubbed the Apartfug because of all the wayward Yipfugs Arlene sheltered in their time of need.

It all began with our friend Carolyn from a good Royal Oak Catholic family of about eight or ten kids. For some reason her family couldn’t cope with her; I believe they thought she had flipped her lid. Perhaps she had, though more likely it was just the drugs. Carolyn wasn’t too thrilled with her family either, so a couple of us Yipfugs cooked up the idea to see if maybe Arlene would let Carolyn stay with her for awhile. Arlene being the generous soul she still is today said—“Of course.” Not surprisingly, one thing led to another. Soon, Carolyn’s boyfriend, Otto, had moved in and the Apartfug was on its way to becoming a mini-commune. The next refugee turned out to be me.

I was still enjoying the relative hospitality of my parent’s house. “Dunn’s Room” was the inner sanctum of the 60’s hippie-radical movement in Royal Oak. It occupied the entire upper floor of the 11⁄2 story house we grew up in. From 1967 onwards, we had transformed this space into an outrageous lair of hippie-dom–floor-to-ceiling psychedelic murals in day-glo colors, pulsing in 3-D with the black lights and strobes, and the stereo blasting one acid-rock anthem after another. And there are probably some drug stashes still hidden away in cubby holes in the attic to this day.

Somehow, we had convinced our parents we should install a doorbell at the bottom of the stairs for them to use when they wanted to talk with any of us. This was purely for their own convenience, not ours, we reassured them. (What can I say? I wasn’t called the Minister of Bullshit for nothing.)

One now-historic afternoon in the Fall of ’68, that doorbell rang persistently. Shaking off whatever fog I was in, I stumbled out of the bedroom and leaned over the second floor landing to see what was up. It was my father. “Whose leaflets are these?” he barked, pointing to a stack of papers on the bottom stairs. He was pretty good at getting worked-up into a red-faced lather in those days.

“They’re mine,” I said. In truth, I couldn’t recall for sure what they were, but they were obviously leaflets even from that distance. And as the resident propagandist, it was quite likely they were mine. “What’s the point?”

“Where did they come from?!” he barked.

“I made them—so we can get people to come to this rally we organized!” I said somewhat incredulously, still missing the point.

“The speakers at this rally are communists!” he barked back.

Me, broken record again, “What’s your point?”

His blood pressure was still on the rise, “Are you telling me you’re a communist?!”

Me, bewildered, “OK, so what if I am?”

“No communist is going to live in this house!,” he roared.

“Does that mean you’re telling me to leave?!” (whose blood pressure was up now?)

“If you’re telling me you’re a communist, then yes, I guess that is what I’m saying.”

“OK—fine. I’ll be gone by tonight!” “Fine!” he said, and slammed the door.

My expulsion was as unexpected as it was inevitable. But what to do next was not so clear. The only “job” I had was my political activity—organizing, propagandizing, learning from my political elders. And the only income I had was occasional hit or miss cash from dabbling in the traffic of mood- altering substances.

LD ensconces in the Apartfug, and that ain’t all!

I packed all my worldly possessions in a black plastic garbage bag, I didn’t really have much more than nothing. But where the hell was I gonna go? I screwed up my courage and called Arlene.

“Hey,” I said. “I got kicked out of the of the house. Can I stay there for a day or two while I figure out what to do?”

“Well … sure,” Arlene said. “I don’t see why we can’t make room for one more if it’s just for a few days. Come on down and we’ll help you figure it out.”

Who would have ever predicted those few days would turn into 36 years and counting? Of course, there wasn’t really any ready place for me to sleep. Carolyn and Otto were sleeping on some sort of couch or day-bed in the living room. Arlene had the small bedroom to herself, with a single mattress on a box-spring on the floor. She offered to pull the mattress off for herself and I could sleep on the box-spring. I wasn’t in any position to quibble, and it was surely better that sleeping on the floor.

I don’t know if either of us can fully explain what happened that night. Did a comforting hand reach for a hand in need? Or did a grateful hand reach out in thanks. No matter, that simple gesture turned into a hug, that hug into a passionate embrace that lasted well into the night. From there, it was likely not as quick or simple as it seems now – Arlene probably thought it was crazy to conclude this was anything more than friends taking care of each other; I was probably too crazy to recognize whether it was crazy or not. But a deep and enduring bond was formed that night, as friendship blossomed into love. And before long, love was precisely what we were calling it.

Such a romantic proposal

I remember it all as just so simple and nonchalant. Sometime in that Winter of ’68-’69, the local Detroit PAR organization took a determined decision that if they were going to confront racism in the white community, they had better relocate to suburbia and live among the heathens. So the Detroit PAR office moved to the corner of 9 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue in the welcoming community of Ferndale (just three miles from my youthful, very white, stomping grounds of Royal Oak).

The PAR National Office remained downtown, as did we for the time being. But we were also quite involved in the local Detroit PAR activities and I still had Yipfugs business to attend to in the suburbs as well. So we made frequent trips out Woodward Avenue for meetings and such. Sometime in late winter or early Spring (I don’t have any specific notion of the date and wonder if Arlene does) we arrived at the Ferndale office early for a meeting and were sitting in the car listening to music. I’ll never recall this moment verbatim, but it went something like this.

Arlene: “You know, I’m awfully happy to be in love with you. And it just seems to keep getting better.”

LD: “I know what you mean–I keep feeling like, ‘this is great, how could it get any better,’ but then it does. I have a hard time remembering what life was like before I loved you, and don’t know why I should even try.”

Arlene: “You know, I’ve been thinking, maybe we ought to get married.”

If it’s true that inside every cynic is an idealist striving to avoid disappointment, then inside every idealist is a real pisser of a cynic. I replied: “Wow, married! What a great idea!” while thinking, hey man, I’m going to die before I’m 21 anyway. Even if it doesn’t work out, I can stand anything for two years.

So I said yes. And the truth is, yes was just the right answer. It seemed, and seems, so right in every way.

A dashiki so short you can see her pupuk … and honey, couldn’t you at least wear shoes?

So that brings us to the wedding. A weird and wonderful hippy wedding which Jodi herself wrote about as a college Freshman at Yale and which continues to be the stuff of myth and lore—even among folks who were not there.

The wedding outfits: Arlene made matching dashikis—brightly colored and ornately patterned, modeled after African ceremonial robes. She made mine a shirt and hers a mini-dress, so short that the casual observer could catch occasional peeks at her underpants. .

The setting: We planned to be wed outdoors (out in nature, man, among the birds and the bees and the flowers), unfortunately bad weather forced us into the basement of a movement church in downtown Detroit.

The guests: Hundreds of young radicals in their finest hippy garb, along with pockets of straights— notably Arlene’s mother Goldie and stepfather Al, my parents, some relatives and neighbors. The hippies reeked of pot smoke, the straights of Chanel #5 and Old Spice. Rising above the noise and intermingling scents, our favorite local rock band jamming Come on Baby Light My Fire and Sunshine of Your Love.

The vow: an original, so perfect for its time, hand-lettered in calligraphy on a scroll made from a window shade:

The 23rd Day of Leo, 1969 Because of the way we love each other, we, Arlene and LD, have decided to live our lives together. And we declare that we will act not only as individuals, but also as a unit until that union inhibits our growth rather than stimulates it.

The ceremony: Everyone gathers in a circle, sitting on the floor. Arlene hands out wild flowers—for Peace. LD hands out peaches—for Sustenance. Goldie, whispering, pleads with Arlene: “Honey, could you at least wear shoes?” We jointly recite our vow, as a promise to all assembled, with no official witness for the state. We conclude with a massive group hug, readily given. And everyone signs our wedding scroll in witness.

The celebration: A potluck supper, featuring hot dogs, followed later in the evening (for the hippies only) by an endless night of partying and carrying on in all the special manners the 60s had to offer.

The aftermath: Over-indulged, finally in bed by 5:00 AM. Phone ringing at 7:00. It was Goldie. “Darling, are you actually married?”

“Of course we are Ma,” said Arlene, groggily.

The truth: Well, legally, no, we were not. We had decided that what really mattered to us, and, we thought should really be what matters at all, was to stand up in front of our community and announce our love and commitment to each other. So we did just that. And to hell with the state. It was none of their business, so we burned the marriage license!

This pesky legal detail we finally did take care of several months later with a few signatures on a newly registered license.

Thirty-six and counting

Thirty-six and more years later, it seems like so long ago and yet only an instant in the past. Since those early days we’ve wandered from Detroit to Boston to the great American West; back to Detroit; to Ferry, Michigan; to Washington, DC; to San Francisco; to Fayetteville, Arkansas; to Chicago; and, for the moment at least, to LaCrosse, Indiana. Not to mention stints as rabble-rouser, consultant, administrator, teacher, farmer, consultant, student, finance executive, nurse, computer scientist, consultant, executive, nursery owner, philanthropist, consultant, and retiree. And somehow, through it all we remain inseparable beyond a few days at a time.

The message in all this—cherish each other for who you are, support each other to be who you can be, never stop learning and growing. And you can never say “I love you” too often, too much, or too enthusiastically.

sip5: vactrols and vcf

by Larry Dunn, August 11, 2020

Our focus in week five of Synth in Place, the online course in DIY synthesizers taught by Kirk Pearson of Dogbotic sound labs, in collaboration with Thingamajigs, turned to west coast style synthesizers, and vactrols and VCF (voltage controlled filters), components they use to great effect.

The iconic maker of west coast synthesizers was Don Buchla (1937-2016), whose Buchla Modular Electronic Music System was the first commercial music synthesizer to to hit the market, in 1965. You can’t talk for long about Buchla and his synthesizers without also talking about Morton Subotnick, one of the founders of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, an early and influential laboratory focused on the development of electronic music. Subotnick, and his Tape Music Center colleague Ramon Sender, were close collaborators with Buchla on his first synthesizer, providing the user specifications for a device with a flexible modular configuration to provide endless variation in how the sound produced by oscillators could be manipulated. Subotnick used the Buchla 100 series modular synth to create the first totally electronic music album to be commissioned by a major record label, Silver Apples Of The Moon, in 1967.

In 2013, Arlene and I had the distinct pleasure to hear Morton Subotnick’s live performance of From Silver Apples of the Moon to A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur IV: LUCY, an 80th-birthday-year reprise of sounds from across the broad swath of his extraordinary career. We wrote a piece about that experience for I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, the online journal of contemporary music and related arts and technologies, where we are contributing editors. I’ve dug that piece out of the vault to present here, because I think it perfectly captures the ethereal experience of hearing an expert practitioner spin out a unique sound universe using a west coast synthesizer with an array of input and manipulation devices.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Morton Subotnick Performs a Sorcerer’s Brew of Music at MOCA Cleveland

Arlene & Larry Dunn on December 4, 2013 at 7:00 am, on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN

Morton Subotnick, a true pioneer of electronic music, celebrated his 80th birthday this year. Yet only his halo of white hair, snowy goatee, and a slight limp gave any sense he was a day over 65 when he mounted the stage to perform From Silver Apples of the Moon to A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur IV: LUCY at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland on Thursday, November 14, 2013. No doubt staying in the avant garde of electronics in music has kept him surrounded by younger people. Perhaps he has continuously re-absorbed youth by osmosis along the way. His performance was both historical, in that it contained many recorded samples of all his previous work since the 1960s, and of-the-moment, as he spontaneously mixed his samples and vocalizations into a sorcerer’s brew via live manipulation and processing.

Morton Subotnick (photo: Larry Dunn)

Looking like a learned shaman, Subotnick seated himself at an elaborate workstation consisting of a Buchla Music Easel (an updated version of the first-ever music synthesizer, which he helped develop in the 60s), microphone, multi-part touchpad interface, laptop, and more. It was all routed through a quadraphonic sound system from the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) department of Oberlin Conservatory, which co-sponsored Subotnick’s visit, including a lecture at the conservatory the following day. Four large monitors surrounded the audience, one in each corner of the open ground-floor gallery. After pausing a moment to ready himself, Subotnick launched into a series of wordless vocalizations that were transformed into pure sound and shifted around the room like they were powered by a cyclotron. This set the tone for his hour-long program full of shifting textures, timbres, density, and dynamics. Although there were no definitive stops, it was composed of three distinct sections that seemed to embody new ways of hearing the energy of the universe.

The opening section evoked the scene of some primordial swamp, full of gurgling water, croaking frogs, and buzzing insects, intersecting with wild winds and ghostly beings. Subotnick gradually built the complexity of the texture, adding waves of samples to the mix, creating more layers of sound. As the tempo and dynamics increased, it became difficult to discern the individual elements. One became immersed in its totality, mesmerized by the engulfing sound, only to be jolted awake by a loud blast and then returned to long steady tones eventually fading to near silence.

Morton Subotnick (photo courtesy of Oberlin TIMARA)

Subotnick initiated a new construction in section two as a thin gauzy fabric was punctuated by a persistent low-frequency 1-2 thump. He transported this beat throughout the gallery as this soundscape unfolded. Over this beat were crazy, wild combinations of shrill sounds morphing from disorganized chaos into more parallel structures. It was like being transported into a hidden dimension where we could hear energy darting around the room as light rays and thermal currents caused gas molecules to collide. Subotnick added more materials to the mix, thickening the texture and increasing the intensity, sounding as if we were caught up in the tail of a comet flying high above the earth. The texture gradually scaled back to only two or three lines, with Subotnick’s humming vocalizations bringing a momentarily subdued calm. He then rebuilt the complex texture at a rapid pace, increasing the volume to a crescendo with that thumping bass vibrating the entire room. With that climax exhausted, the sounds slowly dissolved and faded.

The final section inhabited a more human sphere, beginning with the haunting sounds of a disembodied female voice chanting quietly. Subotnick added processed live vocalizing and a steady percussive tapping, soon joined by the orbiting sound of a ball bearing rolling around the outer rim of a hubcap. The human vocal sounds continued to dominate and morph into moans, sighs, and heavy breath sounds as if trying to communicate with the universe on a new channel. It was fascinating to observe how the specific gestures Subotnick made on his touchpad and with his mouth at the microphone gave shape to the sounds that emerged. The texture soon thickened and became more complex as intricate plucking and striking sounds joined the mix. It sounded like some ancient sonic communication system using muted marimba, hammered strings, and kalimba. The textures and dynamics built to another crescendo of enormous beauty, then suddenly dissipated to silence.

After a sustained standing ovation, Subotnick returned to the stage for a short improvised encore with a free-jazz feel. He opened with a rapid riff of processed vocalization that reminded us that he had an early career as a virtuoso clarinetist. His voice receded and electronic samples came to the fore at nearly manic speed, dominated by heavy low frequency thumps. It seemed at once both chaotic and precise, and came to an abrupt halt.

Morton Subotnick (photo: Adam Kissick for NPR)

Following the performance, Subotnick described his workstation set-up to us in a little more detail. His Buchla Music Easel is equipped with only two oscillators, but he multiplies their effects using Ableton software on the laptop. Two ten-button keypads on his left, enable him to select which samples go through which software multiplier. With the multi-part touchpad on his right he manipulates the shape, tempo, and volume of the samples he selects to play. In the program notes, he stated: “For each season of performances I create a new hybrid Ableton-Buchla ‘instrument’ loaded with prepared samples from all my previous works and performances and new patches that will allow me to modify the samples while performing brand new sound gestures created especially for the new season.” He plays from a score, displayed on the laptop, which defines the order of samples to be played but allows ample space for spontaneity in how he manipulates those samples.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Stay tuned.

sip4: cricket v. space invader

by Larry Dunn, August 6, 2020

In week four of Synth in Place, the online course in DIY synthesizers taught by Kirk Pearson of Dogbotic sound labs, in collaboration with Thingamajigs, we focused on the basic components and technology of commercially produced music synthesizers, and we looked at plans for making two simple synths: one that sound like crickets, and one that can replicate the sounds of 1980s Atari games like Space Invaders.

Our inspiration this week came from Thaddeus Cahill’s prescient 1897 invention, the Telharmonium. This awesome contraption was a synthesizer long before the invention of synthesizers, music amplification before the invention of amplifiers and loudspeakers, a music streaming service long before the internet. Sadly, the Telharmonium was never a commercial success, because it required the nascent telephone network for transmission services. But the demand for telephone service grew so rapidly, that there was no available bandwidth. However, its concepts didn’t disappear completely, as they led directly to development of the Hammond organ. And where would jazz, and rock, and church music be without that?

Breaking down the inner workings of a commercially produced music synthesizer was a revelation for me, as I’d never put much thought to how they work. I’ve just always been content that they make cool sounds. As an introduction, we fist learned that all the commercial synthesizers out there are using the same fundamental technologies and components to synthesize sound, whether those sounds are in the realm most people would call music, i.e., imitating the sounds of acoustical music instruments, or less readily recognizable sounds we’re more likely to hear in the experimental music realm.

We also learned that there is an east-west divide in the synthesizer world, not in underlying technology, but in the nature of the human-to-machine interface, the mechanisms the operator uses to elicit sound from the electronic beast.

Robert Moog at his synthesizer in 1970

East coast synthesizers typically provide a primary interface in the form of a piano- or organ-style keyboard to play the instrument, along with various knobs and switches to customize the nature of the sound. The epitome of this east coast style are the Moog synthesizers, the name that many people think of when the topic of synthesizers comes up in conversation. Robert Moog (1934-2005) was an engineer, not a musician. So he spent a lot time with musicians when he was designing his device. His objective was to make the Moog Synthesizer something musicians would find interesting and easy to play, thus, the keyboard interface so you can play it like a piano or organ.

Moog presented the first public live demonstration of his synthesizer in 1964 at the Audio Engineering Society’s New York convention. A 2014 video made by Moog’s company looks back on that day and the legacy of the founder’s creation.

Soon thereafter, it was clear that the Moog Synthesizer was an instrument musicians could and would actually play, to amazing effects. Composer and performer Wendy Carlos blazed the trail for the possibilities of the Moog in the classical realm with her 1967 release Switched-on Bach. And Keith Emerson, of the power trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer, rocked the pop world with his Moog break in bandmate Greg Lake’s Lucky Man, changing pop music forever.

Stay tuned.

swamp rose mallow

by Arlene and Larry Dunn, August 6, 2020

red-throated flowers
bleed milky sticky-sweet goo
yummy marshmallows

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

For her homework assignment in the online class in Prairie Ethnobotany we are taking from The Morton Arboretum, Arlene selected the Swamp Rose Mallow plant.

Common names: Swamp Rose Mallow, Rose Mallow, Hardy Hibiscus, Marsh Mallow

Scientific name: Hibiscus moscheutos

What the scientific name means: Hibiscus comes from the Greek word Hibiskos, meaning mallow; moscheutos, from the Latin, means musk-scented

Native range: East of the Mississippi from Ontario to Florida.

Plant description: Hibiscus moscheutos, a perennial plant featuring hairy stems and leaves, grows in wet ground often near riverbanks or in ditches. Flowers are most often pink but can range in color from creamy white to deep rose, some featuring beautiful dark-red throats.

Historical human uses: The sweet sap of mallow plants was used by ancient Egyptians to make confections for the gods. The French, in the 1800s, discovered that cooking and whipping mallow sap with egg whites and corn syrup created a moldable substance, creating the marshmallows we know and love today.

Celebratory Haiku:

red-throated flowers
bleed milky sticky-sweet goo
yummy marshmallows

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)