Larry Austin on his music

Larry Austin on his music...

I relish the experience and assimilation of all kinds of music and sound. My pieces come into being, in fact, from a synthesis of these musics and sounds I hear and combine: hybrid musics. Combining seemingly disparate compositional processes, sonic materials and mediums is the modeling process for much of my work.

Exploring new concepts, new materials and their interaction is essential to my work as a composer. If my explorations take me to what turns out to be a rich vein of musical material, I experiment intensely with its creative potential. The material derived instructs me in how the piece will form itself. My technical explorations and experiments often develop from new and powerful music technology, not invoked for its own sake but at the service of my own musical imperatives that--it turns out--often cannot be achieved without advanced music technology to use as my modus operandi. Thus, when I am sometimes described as an 'electronic composer,' I smile at what seems an oxymoron: a human organism electronically connected to and controlled by a machine. That description confuses the way I explore materials and modes of making music with its substance. On the other hand, electrons certainly do flow through my musics...charged particles outside the atom's nucleus...a metaphorical model for my work with electroacoustic and computer music since 1964 and, conceptually, since I composed my first piece in 1948. These electrons of music fascinate and surprise me with their beautiful complexity and vast range of sonic possibilities: they fuse my hybrid creations, smooth my mixtures of idioms, make transparent my inter-play with media, deftly reconcile my open and set forms, improvise with my improvisors, change continually or remain the same, dramatize or existentialize. Electrons forever!


Larry Austin and His Musics

by Rodney Waschka

The musics of Larry Austin resist style or label. As John Cage observed, "It's beautiful! I don't understand it!" Each piece or series of pieces has its distinctive, carefully conceived profile, each always composed from the bottom up. He re-invents music for every piece he makes. Yet, there are threads through all his work that are thoroughly consistent with this dynamic flux of experiment and invention: the creation of new form-modeling processes (open, set, narrative, spatial, temporal), the exploration and experimentation with powerful technological tools to create the materials of his pieces, and, always present, the metaphor--the poetic imagery for each work.

Having known and worked with Austin and his music for more than a decade, I now have some understanding of the reasons for his long-lived and continued success as a composer. The first component is the character of his talent: grand and rugged, lyrical yet unsentimental and, perhaps surprisingly, all firmly rooted in his knowledge and deep appreciation of the pluralism of the worlds musical traditions, all this welded to a natural and profound musicality. This is immediately evident in the kinds of pieces he sets out to make -- works that introduce fruitful new procedures and large-scale works that develop and re-model important ideas from the past and present. The ground-breaking pieces feature significant musical innovations, as in three works for piano and electronics composed in the 'sixties, 'eighties, and 'nineties: Sonata Concertante (1983), for piano and computer music on tape, where the concept of duality and contrast occur simultaneously rather than successively; or technological innovations, as in AccidentsTwo: Sound Projections for Piano with Computer Music (1992), where the composing and processing of the spatialization of the sounds is stunning; or both, as in Accidents [One] (1967), where concept and technique are fused. His large-scale works refer to the past as in his realization and completion of Ives' Universe Symphony, mixing the past and present; or his updating of Mozart in the Sinfonia Concertante: A Mozarean Episode (1986), for chamber orchestra and computer music narrative; and expound on contemporary concepts as in Transmission Two: The Great Excursion (1989), for chorus, narrative, and computer music ensemble; and his computer music portraits of four contemporaries in his solo tape piece, SoundPoemSet (1990).

The second component of Austin's success is obvious to anyone who has ever tried to keep up with his whirlwind pace. Larry Austin works very hard. He is a demanding and inspiring teacher and a skillful administrator, but most importantly, a dedicated, often tenacious, composer. His amazing ability to regularly re-tool, to re-educate himself in the ways and means of the latest technological advances is evidence of his youthful, ongoing curiosity and enthusiasm. (He laughingly relates that recently he was described as "a senior artist in transition".) These traits are apparent in the music. The first seeds of ideas are thoroughly and carefully worked out and documented in one of his many notebooks. His attention to detail continues as he produces, revises, and polishes his sounds. The final product incorporates daring ideas, skillful craftsmanship, and the magic that is instilled in a work after many long, long days that normally begin a 5 a.m.

Larry Austin's music lives and thrives because of Austin's constant willingness to apply his talent and effort to explore new ideas, materials, and procedures. We celebrate the broad and important nature of Austin's contribution to contemporary music and, especially, to computer music, a genre of music he loves and so generously nurtures as one of its pre-eminent and most prolific composers.