David Tudor Symposium:
Concert Program 1:
Performed May 18, 2001

Featured performer/composers:

Ron Kuivila, electronics
Vicki Ray, piano
David Rosenboom, piano
Mark Trayle, electronics

Notes by David Rosenboom and Ron Kuivila

Action Piece 1, combining materials drawn from:

Eight Piano Transcriptions for David Tudor (1963), George Brecht
Incidental Music—Five Piano Pieces (1961), George Brecht

Informed by various notes and correspondence between Brecht and Tudor

Ms. Ray and Mr. Rosenboom, actions

As members of John Cage's class in experimental composition at the New School for Social Research, George Brecht and Dick Higgins began to experiment with pieces designed as "actions" specified with a few lines of text. At the time, Cage's approach to chance composition was closely related to that of integral serialism, where sounds are conceived as a collection of parameters to be specified (such as pitch, duration, volume, and timbre). The approach Brecht and Higgins adopted sought to avoid that kind of constructivism in favor of something simpler, more immediate, and more overtly poetic. The first two versions of Brecht's Drip Music (1959) suggest this:

            Version 1: For single or multiple performance. A source
            of dripping water and an empty vessel are arranged so
            that the water falls into the vessel.

             Version 2: Dripping

David Tudor performed these pieces at Mary Bauermeister's studio in Cologne where students at the Darmstadt summer course could encounter the unsanctioned elements of American experimentalism.

Constants IVa and IVb (n.d.), unknown composer

Ms. Ray and Mr. Rosenboom, one piano, four hands

We discovered Constants IVa and IVb among the scores in Tudor's archive and found the formal structure fascinating and intriguing. Although we have not been able to identify the composer, we wanted to program the piece. It appears to be the work of someone influenced both by experimental compositional techniques and avant-garde jazz. It consists of two sections of identical duration. IVa is made up of sharply articulated clusters, chords, and intervals separated by pauses that define an irregular duration structure. IVb repeats that structure exactly, replacing each chord with silence and each silence with a rhythmically complex stream of notes drawn from the corresponding chord. The use of a fixed rhythmic structure and a two-part form recalls Cage's Sonatas and Interludes. The hard driving rhythmic complexity of the second part shares the intense energy found in the late work of John Coltrane or Cecil Taylor.

For Two Pianos I, II, and III (1961), Michael von Biel

Ms. Ray and Mr. Rosenboom, pianos

Michael von Biel came to prominence in the 1960s as a composer of string quartets. These pieces were precisely notated works with practically no pitched sounds. As a composer-in-residence at SUNY Buffalo, he developed an interest in Fluxus art and the work of Joseph Beuys that eventually led him away from music and toward graphic design instead.

For Two Pianos contains numerous specialized notations for unusual sounds both inside and outside the pianos. It is precise and delicate, revealing the extensive sound terrain available when the pianos are conceived almost as sound sculptures. It is dedicated to Morton Feldman, with whom von Biel had just completed studying when he wrote this piece.

Dialects (1984), David Tudor

Mr. Kuivila and Mr. Trayle, electronics

Dialects is produced through the process of transforming speech-like sound sources into each other, in two interactive streams. The first source is the beating of insects' wings; the second, alpha waves. A performance of Dialects combines groups of these sounds rotating at rapid speeds with live electronic percussive elements triggered by bunches of vibrating wire flowers, made for this work by the artist, Jackie Matisse. The rotations were presented through an eight-channel sound system.

Dialects is probably the most closely specified of Tudor's later pieces. It includes an eight-channel tape that serves as a fixed launching pad for the overall performance. The piece is conceived in terms of the transformation of tapes of insects and brain waves. The electronics used include a simple electronic "drum" consisting of a swept oscillator and filtered noise source and numerous swept resonant filter guitar pedals. The distinctive rhythms of the piece are extracted from source tapes with a "depopper" that is intended to remove record surface noise. The device is run backward to extract the pops and remove the signal. These pops are then used as triggers for the networks of swept filters.