Electro-Acoustic music has been around, in one form or another, for a long time. Isolated experiments date back to the late nineteenth century, and
there was quite a lot of activity in the early twentieth century. Most
early electro-acoustic music was instrumental in nature, and involved the extension
of traditional acoustic instruments or the invention of new ones
such as the Theremin. But the most important development in the medium came
with the work of Pierre Schaeffer who, in 1948, using phonograph recording
technology, composed five Etudes de bruits that were broadcast on French
radio the same year. What Schaeffer had inadvertently done was to implement
and codify studio composition, and it is from this date that a continuous
history of electro-acoustic music studio composition is reckoned. Studio
composition is the most revolutionary development in music since the advent
of notation. In studio composition, the composer,
like the studio visual artist who paints or sculpts, is able to compose, create, and produce a
finished work of music without the involvement of anyone else.
While studio composition was unthinkable before the technology of the twentieth century,
it is now taken for granted by not only composers and studio recording
artists, but also by millions of people who create sound materials by means
of their personal computers.
With electro-acoustic music, one is always tempted to discuss the technology behind the music. This seems only natural since, without this technology, the music could not exist. But all music, save a cappella vocal performance, depends on external technology. This does not mean, however, that the focus of the music should be the technology. It would seem strange to devote a discussion of Debussy’s piano works primarily to a delineation of the construction and utilization of pianos. In electro-acoustic music there has, in my opinion, been too great an emphasis on technology, even to the point of considering particular hardware and/or software as the rationale for compositions. But pieces that tend to exist essentially as demonstrations of technologies seldom rise above that level. Music exists as a sounding linear kinetic experience, and must be judged on that plane in terms of how we perceive such events. The various technologies behind the compositions on this CD, then, are, I believe, of little or no importance to the value of the music presented. I hope that the listener will simply accept these works for what they are: forays into musical invention and explorations of the world of sound.
The works on this CD are all electro-acoustic music studio compositions that represent my work from 1986 to 2000.
I would hope that they can be understood and appreciated without reference to any notes, but, perhaps, it may be useful to offer some comments.
Bachahama (1986) is based on two very familiar pieces by Bach: the C Minor Fugue from The Well Tempered Clavier, and Air on the G String from the Orchestral Suite in D. The pitches are rearranged to create something different yet recognizable.
Ground (1998) is based on the idea of a Baroque ground bass, also referred to as a passacaglia or chaconne. It is perhaps closer to the passacaglia, in which the repeated material is not always in the bass, but these terms have come to be used interchangeably. In this work, the repeated material eventually splits into the dimensions of pitch and rhythm, focusing more on the latter, and, at the end, brings them back together in multiple ways.
Dance from the Outside (1989) is one of the few pieces in which I’ve used both concrete and electronically generated sound material. Most of my music uses only the latter. The title referenced something in a book that I was reading at the time, but I’ve now forgotten exactly what that was. I still like the title, however.
Still Lives (2000) is a suite of five pieces, each of which focuses on a restricted gestalt. While there is obvious reference to still lifes in painting, the title Still Lives connotes that, while these works are quite short and concentrated, they still have musical life and are complete in themselves; the music still lives.
Triptych (2000) is, in part, an attempt to illustrate some of my own compositional theory, particularly my belief that, at any given moment, and, in most music for the entire piece, the most important information resides in one of the primary dimensions: pitch or rhythm. Thus the first two sections of the piece deal, respectively, with pitch and rhythm as the primary dimensions; both sections are constructed in the same general form, rondo-variations. The third section, which is not in any traditional form, is an attempt on my part to switch the listener’s attention to a third possible primary dimension: timbre. I don’t believe that it’s feasible to do this with instrumental music, but in electro-acoustic music what I refer to as timbral transformation can be constructed in a way that, perhaps, focuses the listener on what is happening in this area of musical information. I attempt to do this here by repeating the pitch and and rhythmic information, constructed in a traditional period structure (antecedent (A,B), consequent (A,C)). Since the pitch and rhythmic material keeps repeating, the quality of this information will decrease with each repetition. However, each repetition brings about a change in the timbre of the material, which, over the course of the piece, moves from a fairly simple state to one of complex noise. That you can hear this happening, and that it follows in a straight line, creates, I believe, the possibility of the perception of timbre as a primary dimension since this is what you end up listening for; it’s where the new information occurs. The piece ends with a brief coda recapitulating the theme.
Barry Schrader’s compositions for studio media, dance, film, video, multimedia, live/electro-acoustic combinations,
and real-time computer performance have been presented throughout the world. Schrader is the founder and
the first president of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS).
He has written for several publications and is the author of Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music.
When not involved in musical pursuits, Schrader enjoys gardening, vegetarian cooking, and potbellied pigs.
He is currently on the Composition Faculty of the California Institute of the Arts, and has also taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara and California State University at Los Angeles.
Barry Schrader’s music is also recorded on the Opus One, Laurel, CIRM, SEAMUS, and Centaur labels.