Vol. 37 Issue 1 Reviews

Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn (eds.): Source: Music of the Avant-Garde, 1966-1973

Robert Ashley, Larry Austin, David Behrman, Allan Bryant, Lowell Cross, Alvin Curran, Annea Lockwood, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Alvin Lucier, Stanley Lunetta, Mark Riener, Arthur Woodbury: Source: Music of the Avant-Garde Records 1-6, 1968-1971

Hardcover, 2011, ISBN 978-0-520-25748-1, softcover, ISBN 978-0-520-26745-9, 381 pages, preface by Douglas Kahn, introduction by Larry Austin; available from University of California Press, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94704-1012, USA; telephone: 410-642-4247; fax: 510-643-7127; electronic mail orders@cpfsinc.com; http://www.ucpress.edu/.

Compact disc, 2008, Pogus Productions P21050-2; available from Pogus Productions, 50 Ayr Road, Chester, New York 10918, USA; http://www.pogus.com/.

Reviewed by Michael Boyd
Wilkins Township, Pennsylvania, USA

SourceSource: Music of the Avant-Garde, surely familiar to most readers of the Computer Music Journal, was a journal published between 1967 and 1973 that featured “new music scores, essays by composers and artists, statements, interviews, artworks, sound and concrete poems, photo essays, circuit diagrams, instrument designs, event reports, documents, and LP recordings” (p. ix). It was an outgrowth of the improvisational New Music Ensemble at the University of California, Davis. Its editorial board, led by UCD faculty member Larry Austin, included Stanley Lunetta, Dary John Mizelle, Wayne Johnson, Art Woodbury, and Paul Robert. Contributors to this publication included many established and emerging figures such as Harry Partch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Robert Ashley, George Brecht, Cornelius Cardew, Annea Lockwood, Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Roger Reynolds, and Frederic Rzewski (to name just a few). Commenting on the editorial process, Austin stated that “we wanted to publish new original work, and primacy of idea” (3). In total, eleven issues of this large, oblong format (10.75” x 13.5”) periodical were published, four of which featured one or two ten-inch LPs (a total of six LPs were released).

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Source, which captured and documented a vibrant period of musical experimentation and exploration. Many important scores appeared in this publication including Cage’s first version of 4’33”, Ashley’s The Wolfman, Cardew’s The Great Learning, Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations, and Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music. Also important was the array of diverse, creative pieces by lesser-known composers (the New Percussion Quartet’s Be Prepared, a work in which a piano is prepared while a Mozart sonata is played on it, is a personal favorite). The essays, editorial pieces, event reviews, interviews, and conversations and other prose pieces provide a nice depiction of what concepts and issues were significant during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Significantly, many of these same issues hold importance today, and some of these writings such as Oliveros’s “Some Sound Observations” are still widely read. The inclusion of circuit diagrams might be of particular interest to readers of this journal that want to study the technical aspects of electroacoustic works from that period, or recreate such pieces using modern technology. These diagrams are also notable in that they might emphasize to current electroacoustic composers the need to document one’s work in detailed terms that are not platform-specific.

Only 2,000 copies of each issue of Source were printed, and now, roughly 40 years later, it is difficult to acquire issues of this journal (a quick search of eBay.com located a few issues for sale at approximately $500-1,000 each). Many university research libraries hold sets of Source, but a more convenient, affordable option has been needed for some time, for scholars and artists that do not readily have access to one of these collections. Fortunately, over the past few years these materials have become available once again. In 2011, portions of the journal were reprinted in a single volume by the University of California Press, edited by Douglas Kahn and Larry Austin, and Pogus Productions reissued the six LPs as a three-CD set in 2008.

The University of California Press’s reprint retains the journal’s oblong, landscape appearance, though in a slightly smaller size (10”x 8”). In Kahn’s introduction to the volume, he notes that reproducing the original size and complete contents of Source would have made the book prohibitively expensive, a fact that “necessarily produced a series of compromises with our original editorial intent” (p. xii). Specifically, Kahn states that the smaller size resulted in the inability to include as many scores as the editors initially intended, and thus, one might get the “false impression that Source included more essays, on balance, than scores, performance notes, and circuit diagrams” (p. xii).
Further, to create a book of manageable size, some pieces have been excerpted. For example, five sections (or “Paragraphs”) of Cardew’s The Great Learning appeared in Source originally, spanning nineteen pages, but only three sections over five pages are found in the new edition. Also noticeable when comparing this work’s original presentation with the newer format is that a uniform font is employed throughout most of the new edition, causing one to miss the unique handwriting of composers like Cardew (and others). Obviously, works like Nelson Howe’s Fur Music, which featured a piece of synthetic fur hand-glued to each original issue, and Dick Higgins’s machine-gunned perforations in The Thousand Symphonies: “Symphony #585” are not presented as they were originally, though both pieces are documented in the new edition. With these various adjustments and abridgements in mind, though, I am quite pleased with the new edition of Source and feel that the editors did an admirable job creating a volume that is representative of the original. Having access to a good portion of the original content at home is extremely welcome, and the book’s appendix, which lists the entire contents of the journal, is a useful tool for focusing visits to libraries that hold the original volumes of Source.

Source Records featured 13 works by twelve composers: Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Larry Austin, Allan Bryant, Alvin Lucier, Arthur Woodbury, Mark Riener, Stanley Lunetta, Lowell Cross, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Alvin Curran, and Annea Lockwood. All the compositions from the original LPs are included on Pogus’s reissue. The vast majority of them feature electroacoustic components, and most are around 15 minutes in duration. Commenting on the production of the compact disc set, which was made difficult by the deterioration, or absence, of the original master tapes, Austin writes that the production team “carefully transferred, noise-reduced, and crackle-removed all the actual LP record tracks to the digital medium, then mastered to the compact disc format for this reissuance: the result is an authentic recreation of the original LP’s characteristic sound.” Indeed, the sound of the CD set is quite clean, though with the welcome analog warmth and slight noise that one expects from the LP format.

Several works in the set, such as Ashley’s The Wolfman and Lucier’s “I am sitting in a room,” are well-known classics of the period. Though other recordings of these pieces are currently available, the early realizations found in this set are compelling and historically important. In Source Records there seem to be pairs, or groups, of pieces that explore similar concepts, though, of course, in very individualistic, idiosyncratic ways. Behrman’s Wave Train, Austin’s Accidents, and Bryant’s Pitch Out all pair strings of various types with electroacoustic resources. Woodbury’s Velox and Austin’s Caritas employ the PDP-10 computer and modular synthesizers. Other recordings document the audio portion of multi-modal works. Cross’s Musica Instrumentalis: Video II (B)/(C)/(L) involves “the interconnection of a stereo sound system to internally modified monochrome (black and white) and color television sets,” while Riener’s Phlegethon is consists of the burning and melting of polyethylene mobiles. Environment and space are explored in both Curran’s Magic Carpet, a performable, site-specific installation of strings and chimes, and Lunetta’s moosack machine, a work in which sonic output is shaped in striking and surprising ways by environmental factors such as light, temperature, wind direction, and surrounding movement.

Paired together, the new print and audio editions of Source are a valuable resource for composers, scholars, and performers, granting a wider availability to music and writings that have been difficult to access for some time. Since the cost of recreating the journal in its original size, color, and format would be prohibitive, the compromises that went into the production of this book are entirely understandable and acceptable. I do not envy the editors’ task of weaning down the original material to a reasonable size, and I believe that they created a volume that includes many of the journal’s important compositions and essays, while also conveying the breadth of the publication. Furthermore, at $34.95 for the paperback edition, the new book is accessible even to students. The compact disc set reissues the original records in their entirety, and the transfer quality is excellent. I highly recommend both!