Open Sources: Words, Circuits, and the Notation/Realization Relation in Live Electronic Music

Authored by: Ronald Kuivila

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music

Print publication date:  September  2009
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9780754662822
eBook ISBN: 9781315172347
Adobe ISBN: 9781351697583


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The term ‘live electronic music’ can be regarded as simply descriptive of any work that involves electronic means in performance. This would include myriad works ranging from the nightingale’s song in Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome (1924) to the theremin in the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations (1966). However, it also has a far more specific connotation as an identifier of a collection of pieces and approaches to performance with electronics that evolved in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to this day in approaches such as circuit bending, electronic instrument building and some forms of laptop performance. These works favoured custom or homemade circuitry over commercially produced electronic equipment. The configurations of electronics used were more often treated as situations than as instruments. As David Behrman wrote for a 1971 recording of his piece Runthrough (1971):

Runthrough is made from cheap circuitry put together at home. Three or four people can use it to make improvised music. There is no score. The circuitry consists of sound generators and modulators, with dials and switches which can be worked by one or two people, and a photocell distribution circuit which two others can play with flashlights. The sound is best heard coming from four or eight large loudspeakers placed in a circle around players and listeners. No special skills or training are helpful in turning knobs or shining flashlights, so whatever music can emerge from the equipment is as available to non-musicians as to musicians. The generators and modulators provide a large reservoir of particular sound possibilities which can be gotten at by the players in the course of operating the various controls. Because there is neither a score nor directions, any sound which results from any combination of switch and light positioning remains part of the ‘piece.’ (Whatever you do with a surfboard in the surf remains a part of surfboarding). 1

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