Ive's Universe Symphony completed by Larry Austin
New York Times
To France and China, in Search of Adventure
Milwaukee and Nashville Symphonies at Carnegie Hall
Reviewed by James R. Oestreich
For me and undoubtedly others who remember the work of the conductor Kenneth Schermerhorn, his spirit hovered over the last two concerts of the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall on Friday and Saturday as an almost palpable presence.
Schermerhorn, who died in 2005, played pivotal roles as music director in developing both the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Nashville Symphony into excellent, Carnegie-worthy ensembles. He led each in a proud Carnegie debut — Milwaukee in 1972, Nashville in 2000 — and here those orchestras were again, on consecutive evenings.
The core purpose of Spring for Music is to encourage and reward imaginative and eloquent programming. And the Milwaukee lineup on Friday certainly came as a surprise to one who had known the orchestra chiefly from those formative years.
Schermerhorn took over the ensemble, then just nine years old, in 1968 and schooled it in a Germanic repertory in keeping with the city’s cultural heritage. Now, under the cosmopolitan Dutch maestro Edo de Waart, its music director since 2009, it was offering a program with a strong Gallic tinge: more specifically, a thread of influence from Claude Debussy to his student Olivier Messiaen and on to his student Qigang Chen.
“Les Offrandes Oubliées” (“The Forgotten Offerings,” 1930), by Messiaen, and “La Mer” (“The Sea,” 1905), by Debussy, each a tripartite symphonic suite, made a stimulating pair. The Messiaen, a relatively early work, stops well short of the supersaturated harmonies of the composer’s later, truly mystical years, but already reveals a strong spiritual bent, its three sections representing Jesus’ crucifixion, human sin, and repentance and redemption. The Debussy, in contrast, is based in sheer pictorialism, yet it may have served as a model in its evolutionary development of themes.
To a Debussian sensuousness and a Messiaen-esque meditativeness (though without the religious cast), Mr. Chen, in “Iris Dévoilé” (“Iris Unveiled,” 2002), added an overlay of another culture, that of his native China. In nine shortish movements, the work bravely tries to encapsulate the temperaments that make up womankind, from “Ingenious” to “Voluptuous,” by way of “Melancholic,” “Hysterical” and others.
Mr. Chen fuses musical cultures with an ingenuity of his own, making subtle (perhaps too subtle) solo use of Chinese instruments — pipa (lute), zheng (zither) and erhu (fiddle) — and having sopranos sing either Western-style vocalise and coloratura or elliptical texts in the sinuous lilt of Beijing opera. The score calls for three sopranos; Milwaukee made do with two terrific ones: Xiaoduo Chen (she is not related to Mr. Chen), in Western style, and Meng Meng, mostly in Chinese style.
Mr. de Waart, no surprise, showed full command here and in the more standard works. And the responsive orchestra shone everywhere, with warm strings, characterful woodwinds and strong brasses.
In remarks from the stage before the Nashville Symphony concert on Saturday, Giancarlo Guerrero, the orchestra’s music director since 2009, summed up the program in a word, adventure, echoing the festival’s founding principle. And on paper, the lineup of Charles Ives, Terry Riley and Percy Grainger seemed to bear out that promise.
But the longest work on the program (no, it just seemed the longest, endless, in fact), Mr. Riley’s new “Palmian Chord Ryddle” for electric violin and orchestra, commissioned by the Nashville Symphony and receiving its New York premiere, offered evidence of a renegade composer grown soft and toothless. Tracy Silverman handled the countrified solo fiddling well enough, but the work was almost devoid of tension. The orchestra functioned not so much as a combatant with the soloist, or even a foil, but more as backup band, providing atmospheric, often soupy accompaniments.
“The Warriors,” which Grainger conceived as an “imaginary ballet,” is adventurous mainly in scale, not sound or spirit. Begun in 1913, when the real adventure in the world was Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” “The Warriors” is positively tame by comparison. Only in a section with offstage brasses going their own way does it challenge the ear with a mild, Ivesian sort of complexity. But it is big for sure, requiring three pianos and — here, at least — three conductors.
At that, it shrinks in comparison with Ives’s “Universe Symphony,” which opened the program in a realization and completion by Larry Austin. Though you couldn’t easily count the players on a stage teeming with them, it seems safe to say that all 21 of the percussionists listed in the program (in addition to the timpanist) were holding forth, and the middle section, with its welter of meters and tempos, took 5 conductors (including Mr. Austin) working simultaneously to hold it together.
So conjectural is this completion, based on muddled sketches and annotations emitted over decades, and so different from another, more recent completion by Johnny Reinhard, that it is hard to know how to fit it into our conception of Ives. It is a powerful utterance, to be sure, with a persuasive contour from the deep past (a suspenseful pulsing) through the present (that Ivesian complexity to the max) to the future (heavenly lightness).
Here was adventure all right, and Mr. Guerrero and the orchestra carried it off, like the rest of the program, with fine skill and artistry.
Financial Times, London
Nashville Symphony/Ives, Carnegie Hall, New York
By Martin Bernheimer
Charles Ives’ hyper-forbidding ‘Universe Symphony’ was the highlight of a visit from this adventurous orchestra
Nashville, Tennessee, is celebrated for the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and endless rocky-and-rolly extravaganzas. But the city can also boast a fine new concert hall and a remarkably adventurous symphony orchestra, expertly led by Giancarlo Guerrero. The quasi-classy band visited Carnegie Hall on Saturday as part of the imaginative “Spring for Music” series (all seats $25!). More than 500 hometown fans came along, waving green banners for their team, literally rising to the occasion at the slightest provocation, applauding the cheerleading banalities of a New York radio host and, most crucially, paying appreciative attention to a programme thorny enough to make those big guys at Lincoln Center quake.
The primary attraction had to be a more than reasonable facsimile of Charles Ives’ hyper-forbidding Universe Symphony. Left in sketches at the composer’s death in 1954, it is a sprawling, multi-layered, minutely textured soundscape that virtually asks the impossible. The performers include multiple orchestras led by as many as five conductors, each gang marching to its own computerised click-track drummer.
The score curves and swerves with overlapping expositions in conflicting rhythms, tempos and tonalities, amid mumbo-jumbo annotations concerning the creation of the world, or something like that. Ignoring all laws of practicality, the electronic-music pioneer Larry Austin has “realised” the 37-minute super-magnum opus for contemporary assimilation, revelling in its meticulous incoherence. The ultimately hypnotic result, an orgy of organised chaos, exerts curio appeal in excelsis. The Aldeburgh Festival, not incidentally, will host the European premiere on June 24.
As if Ives were not sufficiently demanding, Guerrero & Co. also presented the New York premiere of Terry Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle. Neatly constructed, this rumbling ramble pits a loud and twangy electric violin against a clangourous orchestra for something like a psychedelic hoedown. Tracy Silverman fiddled feverishly, and the natives seemed to enjoy the restlessness.
The overwrought wrong-note romanticism of Percy Grainger’s would-be ballet score, The Warriors (1916), served as a tumultuous finale. Here, as elsewhere, the bombast was bracing.
Ottuplo! Larry Austin: The Eighth Decade
SoundPortraits * Convolutions * Cityscape
CDCM Computer Music Series Vol. 35
The Composer in the Computer Age X
CENTAUR Records - CRC 2830
Performed by Flux Quartet, Smith Quartet,
F. Gerard Errante, Stephen Duke, Robert Black,
Michael Lowenstern, Jacqueline Martelle
Reviewed by Jim Phelps, Northern Illinois University, USA
Computer Music Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 2007
While it is not so difficult to cite many composers and performers who have contributed important innovations in one or two areas of musical art, it is not so easy to find those who have dispersed their visionary efforts over such a broad spectrum as has Larry Austin, who now serves us in this capacity in his eighth decade. These innovations lie not only in the domain of music composition and performance (e.g., early mixing of jazz with new-music elements, "open style" including incorporation of theatrical and dance elements, sonic/visual explorations with fractal geometry, the realization of Charles Ives' Universe Symphony, unique employment of convolution cross-synthesis techniques, to name a few) but also venture into realms of archiving, recording, publishing and distributing music as well as playing leading roles in our organizations of the music community.
During a recent symposium, Richard Kostelanetz cited SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde, co-founded, edited and published by Larry Austin from 1966-1974, as one of the most important music journals ever published. Indeed! The impact of SOURCE lives on to this day. It is easy to view CDCM: Consortium to Distribute Computer Music, founded by Austin in 1986, and its production on the CENTAUR label of thirty-five discs, as a contemporary version of the same vision which created SOURCE. Following was a progressive presidency of ICMA which saw the first Asia-hosted ICMC and, in 1996, the award of the Magisterium prize/title in Bourges presented to Austin, honoring his artistry, influence and vision over the course of several decades.
While this document serves as a review of a new CD - not a history - this release should be heard bas relief against the backdrop of such a career--a career which, in 2006, exhibits all the enthusiasm and energy embodied in its past. This new CD offers us the opportunity of hearing new Larry Austin music in the present, as we reflect on accomplishments in the past, and look forward to new ones in the future.
Music presented on this CD spans the years 1965-2006--one early "tape piece", RomaDue, from 1965 (revised in 1997), art is self-alteration is Cage is ... from 1982-83 (revised in 1993), Ottuplo! (1998-2000), Threnos (2001-2), Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme (2003-4), Adagio: Convolutions on a Theme by Mozart (2004-5) and Les Flûtes de Pan: Hommage à Debussy (2005-6).
Larry Austin has a long history of "tipping his hat" toward music of other composers and performers. These musics include those from the distant past, more-recent past as well as from the present, contemporary world in which we live. It could be said that it requires a certain bravery to invite, implicitly, comparison of one's self with certain venerated icons, the likes
of which would include Purcell, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Ives, Cage and others. Fortunately, Austin does not go about his work with a fear of intimidation. He honors, glosses the works of these other artists and, in the process, contributes new art to the many streams of influence and inspiration flowing from our past into, and through, "us." Austin "tips his hat" in such a manner with several pieces on this CD.
His travels have taken him far and wide on this planet and often his music reflects this cultural influence, both overtly and covertly. Surely we all have experienced reflections from our excursions into other cultures and have studied their impact on our lives and music. Two such "studies" appear on this CD and both represent interaction with and absorption of these cultural dynamics in the music.
Always enjoyable is the opportunity of hearing early works by our most influential composers-- works that, perhaps, aren't performed as often and especially works that represent a composer's early efforts within a genre they later grow to champion and, in some cases, help to create and develop. Included on this CD is a work from 1965 (revised in 1997) - RomaDue. It is presented here as a fixed-media, electronic-music piece but originally allowed various other participants, including musicians and dancers. Playful, brash, bravado, passionate - well .... that's Rome, isn't it! And indeed this piece was realized at the American Academy in Rome. Were all of our "firsts" of this quality ..... ah .... yes .... would be nice. This piece is from the psyche of a performer as much as it is from that of a composer - Austin the performer. This might be a convenient time to remind us all that his musical roots include a very healthy dose of jazz and he himself was a jazz player. I can easily see THAT Austin "performing" THIS piece. This is jazz without the jazz.
Ottuplo! was recorded live at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, performed by Flux Quartet (Smith quartet appearing as ambisonic-encoded virtual quartet), and it's difficult to imagine a better recording resulting from a studio session. All of the tricky elements of mix, balance, space and performance are working perfectly together in this recording - a definitive recording, surely. Perhaps if more people were to hear this piece, then more composers would write contemporary works for string quartet - works which are not neo-classical but, rather, works that speak with a present-day language "about" a present-day society. This is such a work. This piece could rightfully reside along side other seminal string quartet works, such as Black Angels, in their capture, and captivation, of a contemporary society - a fresh, unique utterance powerful enough to exist outside the dark shadows of venerated histories (monoliths) of genres. This is one of the first known string quartet compositions to combine live performers and ambisonic encoding/decoding for three-dimensional recording and performance technology. The quartet "sound space" is visited by delightful reminders of where this piece was composed - alongside Lake Como while the composer was in residence at the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, Italy - a rather unexpected peek into this inspiring environment.
Ever wonder what sixteen double-basses playing together would sound like? How about sixteen Robert Blacks? That's what we hear when we listen to art is self-alteration is Cage is .... Austin composed this "omniostic" piece based on the letters C-A-G-E for John's 70th birthday. Upon receipt of the piece, John exclaimed, "I feel changed already." The sixteen string basses trace a path through the 64 block letters of Cage's name. The 64 letters are structured as 16 iterations of C-A-G-E. Each step along the path (each block letter) offers a combination of four pitches and/or silences derived by a computer algorithm. Notated pitches are limited to open strings plus the first three natural harmonics of each string with the instruments tuned scordatura to the pitches C, A, G and E, each instrument tuned to one of four different sequences/permutations of the letters. Whatever the reader of this review is imagining in their "mind's ear" as they ponder such a piece, it is likely very different from what they will hear on this CD. The clarity in polyphony and texture is just as astonishing as the subtlety in performance and mix is beautiful - a fitting walk down the paths of CAGE.
Larry Austin's music has always been about SOUND! His music explores and glorifies sonics unique to whatever sources are brought to bear, whether traditional acoustic instruments, electronics, or a combination of the two. A recent avenue of such sonic exploration is witnessed through his pairing of materials recorded by the same instrument, convolving the two, thereby creating a cross-synthesis timbre. This is rather unique, since most examples of convolution pair dissimilar instruments. Using convolution in this manner allows Austin, and the listener, to hear delicacies embedded within the original sonic attributes of the instrument that might otherwise go unheralded--an intensification of beauty. These convolutions are heard along with the live performance of the instrument. Such explorations on this CD are Adagio: Convolutions on a Theme by Mozart, Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme, and Threnos.
In Les Flûtes de Pan: Hommage à Debussy, Austin distills precious ideas and moments from a piece by Debussy (Syrinx) which, standing alone, is little more than a ditty (it is doubtful the piece was intended by Debussy to be any more than that), elaborates on (one might say "realizes") these morsels and creates a flute wonderland of sonics, replete with rich, subtle beauty. If Debussy had scripted a few ideas, handed them to Austin and said "make a piece out of this", this is what you would get, and it is indeed what we have. Jacqueline Martelle's performance (flute) delicately navigates a zone representing "common ground" between Debussy and Austin - an important and challenging performance feature of the piece.
Most classical repertoire involving the clarinet, while perhaps rather glorious in some respects, seems not to appreciate/employ the richness of the clarinet as a unique voice, capable of subtleties in drama, color and articulation. In short, much repertoire simply ignores, as if to eschew, much of this tonal splendor. Austin "corrects" this malady in Adagio: Convolutions on a Theme by Mozart with the artistry of renowned clarinetist F. Gerard Errante. The original Mozartean beauty-in-simplicity, provided by materials from the slow movement of Mozart's Concerto for Clarinet, is maintained and, now, enriched. The treatment of the materials is rhapsodic - enlightening - and informs the original musical content. Mozart's musical innocence is now, somehow, less innocent, more poignant - painted with thicker, broader brush strokes which are not always bound by the edges of the canvas.
This recording of Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme offers exactly what you would expect from saxophonist Stephen Duke (alto saxophone) - a commanding, compelling, virtuosic performance, rich with both delicate shading and dramatic flair. A rare breed of performer indeed, Stephen Duke "becomes" the piece - lives it - infuses it - and it is virtually impossible for an audience to be even slightly inattentive during one of his performances. This piece is a celebration of saxophone sonics, both live and pre-recorded/convolved materials, and of virtuosity in performance and composition. The listener is treated with and gratified by a glorious statement of the famous 19th-century piano melody, from which other materials of the piece derive, toward the end. Rapture!
A very solemn work, understandably, is Threnos, dedicated to the victims of 9/11 - ominous, foreboding yet offering a blanket of comfort, almost solitude. Michael Lowenstern, performing on bass clarinet, artfully portrays this complex psychology which mirrors us all, and envelops us. Among the pieces on this CD which incorporate, and honor, musics of the past, this is the only work which never allows the earlier music to be heard as a quote, either in entirety or in significant excerpted fragments. This is important, and brilliant. Who can view the skyline of NYC without seeing the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the shadows of our memory. They are not there, but we see them. Our memories superimpose them - we are haunted. We never hear the famous and beautiful lament from Purcell's opera, but it's there in torn fragments, sewn together by our familiarity of the music, and of the lament. We are torn - yes. We lament - yes. But we are also "recomposed." Once heard, this piece will not be forgotten by the listener.
Reviewing this new Larry Austin CD has often found the reviewer scratching his head while trying to avoid repetitions of the word "beauty" and trying to find appropriate synonyms, for the sake of writing style. There's a reason for this. This music is ABOUT beauty! If art is self-alteration, then this CD actically represents beauty as self-realization - a collective of life's sensitivities and sensibilities lived thus far. With due apologies: beauty is self-realization is Austin is...in his eighth decade.
Larry Austin at Experimental Intermedia
Journal SEAMUS, Vol. 19 No. 2, 2007
by Dary John Mizelle
Experimental Intermedia, the venerable new music loft in lower Manhattan, operated for over 30 years by Phil Niblock, presented a concert of six recent works by Larry Austin on March 15, 2007. The audience at EI was a virtual Who's Who of New York experimental music. Austin, who has been creating avant garde music in many media for over fifty years, has served as a mentor to several generations of American composers (of which I was one of the first). His teaching career included appointments at the University of California at Davis, University of South Florida and the University of North Texas. Among his credits include: being a founding member of the first free group improvisation ensemble which did not use scores of any kind (the New Music Ensemble at UC Davis in 1963), the Editor of SOURCE--Music of the Avant Garde magazine (1967-74), and the first composer to realize and complete Charles Ives's Universe Symphony (work begun in the 1970's).
The program included all six works with octophonic electroacoustic and/or computer music, and four also included solo woodwind music performed live with the computer playback. There were two premieres. All the pieces performed were. in some sense, reflections on other composers' music or thought processes, perhaps as a function of Austin's reflections (in his 70's) on his life in music, its history and his place in it. There was a deeply meditative air to the whole evening's performances.
The program opened with Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme (2003-4), which was composed for and performed brilliantly by Stephen Duke on alto saxophone, a New York premiere. The theme reflected was Mussorgsky's Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition and Ravel's familiar orchestration of it. All the electroacoustic material was derived from Duke's studio recording of saxophone material, with computer wave-shaping created by a kind of cross-synthesis enhancement of the waveform spectra, in Austin's home studio, gaLarry, in Denton, Texas. The sonic result was ethereal and contemplative. The Mussorgsky material was revealed only at the end.
art is self-alteration is Cage is... (1983, revised in 1993) was inspired by John Cage's definition; "Art is self-alteration." Scored for multiple contrabasses, it was performed on computer from materials recorded by bassist Robert Black. The contrabass strings were all tuned to different arrangements of the letters in Cage's last name. The recorded music consisted of various readings through what Austin calls a "uni-word omniostic, that is, all possible arrangements of the letters of one word--here C A G E." Austin composed the work as a 70th birthday present to Cage, who responded, "Thank you, I feel changed already." The version presented was for four double bass quartets, tracing paths through a sixteen-pitch gamut interspersed with silence, all of which was computer derived. The musical effect was one of complex indeterminacy, a context-driven chance operation; a unique and static sound world, with unpredictable microstructure.
Adagio: Convolutions on a Theme by Mozart (2004-5) was commissioned and performed by clarinetist F. Gerard Errante. Based on the Adagio movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and scored for clarinet and computer music, it followed the 'convolution' process with a good deal of Mozart's haunting melodic and harmonic material present throughout the composition. The realization was orchestral in scope and displayed a two-part structure bridged by an improvised cadenza and executed masterfully by Mr. Errante.
Williams [re]Mix[ed] (1997-2000) was composed using the compositional strategy of Cage's groundbreaking classic Williams Mix (1951-53) which was the first octophonic tape piece, and assembled from thousands of short pieces of magnetic tape; measured, cut, spliced and assembled into eight monophonic tapes designed to be played back simultaneously in a surround-sound configuration of loudspeakers, according to an elaborate 192-page score. Cage had invited other composers to use the score of Williams Mix to make new compositions. After his two-year analysis of Cage's original materials and sounds, Austin reassembled Williams Mix using digital means and then composed six short variations using Cage's original strategy of categorizing the collected sounds as: A - city sounds, B - country sounds, C - electronic sounds, D - manually produced sounds, E - wind produced sounds, and F - small sounds. It was a fascinating and original collaboration with excellent musical results.
Les Flûtes de Pan: Hommage à Debussy, (2005-6) composed for Jacqueline Martelle, on flute and piccolo was a world premiere. The piece quoted from Debussy's Syrinx for solo flute (1913). It used a similar synthesis model to the first and third pieces, a kind of computer cross-synthesis applied to prerecorded instrumental sound material to derive new timbres by multiplying the overtone spectra of the acoustical sounds by a computer analysis of those sounds. The sonic result was gorgeous and unpredictable; the premiere performance was engagingly executed by Ms. Martelle.
Threnos (2001-2) was composed for Michael Lowenstern in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001 and is a kind of lamentation. The performer was living in Brooklyn, not far from ground zero during 2001. It uses the model and inspiration of Dido's lament from Henry Purcell's 17th century opera Dido and Aeneas, although Purcell's famous lament music is never heard explicitly in Austin's composition. It is scored for 1, 2, 4, or 8 bass clarinets, real (live) and virtual (computer). The performer, who has a deep personal connection with the material, brought a special presence to the performance, which served to bring this unique and moving concert to a touching close.
Electronic Music Midwest Festival, Lewis University, Romeoville, Illinois, USA; 16-18 September 2004....James Phelps, Computer Music Journal, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 2005.
...Altogether too infrequently, it happens that a very rare performer, a master composer, and an equally outstanding piece come together to create one of those moments that define concerts and even entire events. Stephen Duke's performance of Larry Austin's Tableaux: Convolutions on a Theme was one such prize. Seldom do a performer, composer, a piece, a time and a place coalesce into a musical "rapture" as was the case with Tableaux. Just one of those rare moments that render a given day unforgettable. Mr. Austin evokes convolution technologically, metaphorically, and musically/thematically. Even the cross-synthesis technique of convolution is used in an uncommon manner, "crossing" one instrument (Mr. Duke's alto saxophone) with itself. In a similar, yet seductively more elusive manner, the work impresses the listener as being a musical convolution of a thematic passage (from a piece of "classical" repertoire which I won't give away here) with itself. Convolution in technique and metaphor has never been more gloriously hailed.
Charles IVES (1874-1954), Universe Symphony (1874-1951) Realized and completed (1974-1993) by Larry Austin (b.1930) Recorded live at Hermann Neuberger Sporthalle, Vülkingen, Germany, May 24, 1998 (Universe) and at Grosser Sendesaal des SR, November 16-18, 1999, COL LEGNO WWE 1CD 20074 [74?52]...Reviewed by Tony Haywood for MusicWebInternational, 2004.
Here at last is an alternative to the worthy Centaur recording of the Universe Symphony that set Ivesians chattering a decade ago. As everyone should be aware, this is a "realization" by composer Larry Austin of a thick wad of sketches left by Ives, as Deryck Cooke did with Mahler 10 and Antony Payne with Elgar 3. The difference here is that Ives virtually left an open invitation for "somebody" to carry out his aspirations for the work: "in case I don't get to finishing this, somebody might like to try to work out the idea". That somebody was Larry Austin and, rather like Cooke, working on this piece became an all-consuming passion for twenty years, with this recording representing what appear to be his final thoughts on it.
Listening afresh leaves one open-mouthed in astonishment. However much is conjectural (and one has to admit it's certainly a great deal) the end result, though never easy or comfortable, displays a breadth and sheer untamed wildness that befit the inspiration. If you are of the opinion that Ives was a true visionary, a lone original way ahead of his time, this version will come as manna from heaven. If you believe that that he was a wacky amateur, that view may, unfortunately, also be confirmed.
The Symphony runs for around 36 minutes without a break, is scored for multiple orchestras and is in three broad sections: Past - from Chaos, Formation of the Waters and Mountains; Present - Earth and the Firmament, Evolution in Nature and Humanity; Future - Heaven, the Rise of all to the Spiritual. Titles like these may have you thinking of the wilder excesses of Scriabin, or latterly of the nature soundscapes of Hovhaness, but what emerges is nothing like that. The longest section is undoubtedly the first, a 20-odd minute build-up that Austin now subtitles "Life Pulse Prelude". It starts in the very bowels of the orchestra, and is basically a slow, rhythmically-phased crescendo for massive percussion ensemble. The strict tolling of a solitary bell keeps things in check, but around this pulse are woven dense, often aleatoric sub-patterns that constantly shift and grow. The effect is very avant-garde, though curiously comforting and sometimes redolent of early minimalism.
The idea of different instrumental combinations representing gas clouds, rock formations etc., and using any harmonic means to achieve this (quarter tones, chord clusters, collage effect) in 1911 is quite unbelievable. The later sections of the work display great timbral variety, though some listeners may not get beyond the novelty value of Ives' vision. It is a difficult experience in some ways, and demands giving ones self over to it in a suitable frame of mind, rather as one might do with Morton Feldman. The sceptic may feel life's too short to bother, but I believe it is worth the effort...
...Recordings and performances here are good. The Universe Symphony is obviously the main draw, and this is taken from a Saarbrþcken Radio broadcast. Michael Stern keeps a firm hand on proceedings, ably helped by his four co-conductors, one of whom is Austin himself. This lends an air of authority to the venture, and the whole event is generally well captured by the engineers, though this is one to have probably been there for, visually as well as aurally....A must for Ivesians, or those with a penchant for something different - very different.
Larry Austin OCTO MIXES. Year of release: 2001, EMF CD 039, Electronic Music Foundation, Ltd., 116 N. Lake Ave., Albany, NY 12206, http://www.emfmedia.org, reviewed by Elainie Lillios, Computer Music Journal, Vol. 28, No. 3, Fall, 2004, pp. 86-88.
OCTO MIXES by Larry Austin is unique among electronic/computer music recordings in that it presents a solution to the issue of listening to/experiencing multi-channel pieces outside the multi-channel/multi-speaker environment. OCTO MIXES contains four of Mr. Austin's octophonic pieces composed between 1996-2001, each with unique sounds, subjects, and spatial treatment, yet all reflecting Mr. Austin's affinity for texture, sensitivity to line, keen awareness of form, and subtle temporal development. Through careful re-mastering and spatial translation, Mr. Austin brings his multi-channel sound to the stereophonic listener, providing an opportunity to hear his music in a new and different context.
¡Tárogató! (1997-98), commissioned by Esther Lamneck, features her recorded/processed tárogató- sounds masterfully interwoven with Stephen Dukeàs live performance and improvisation on soprano saxophone. ¡Tárogató! evokes an other-worldly, mystical sense, with undulating, layered drones and florid melodies combined in an ethereal, sonic dance. ¡Tárogató! exhibits an inherent strength yet simultaneously a delicacy and fragility that seems to echo the complexities of life.
One of Larry Austin's "signatures" are his collection of sound portraits, that are found throughout his repertoire and include such compositions as: LaBarbara: the Name, the Sounds, the Music (1991) written for/about vocalist Joan LaBarbara; and SoundPoemSet: PaulineOliveros/JerryHunt/MortonSubotnick/DavidTudor (1990-91), written for/about the aforementioned composers and performers. While many composers speak about the "life" of a piece in long time spans, Larry Austin's sound portrait pieces are unique in that the life of the piece is frequently equivalent to the life of the performer whose portrait is sonically painted with Mr. Austin's computer music "brush."
Larry Austin adds to his sound portrait collection on OCTO MIX with Singing!...the music of my own time (1996-98) a sonic documentary/portrait of baritone Thomas Buckner. Singing! explores Mr. Buckner's voice as a narrative vehicle, as an instrument, and as a sound object, progressing sonically through a day divided into three parts: warmup, lunch, and improv. While the second part of Singing! provides a welcome contrast to the first and third sections of the piece by featuring a granular-type background of processed lunch time sounds (plates and forks clanking, bottles opening, and restaurant ambience), the majority of Singing! immerses listeners in Mr. Austin's distinctive sound world of long, sinuous lines combined to form dense yet stratified textures. The character of Singing!, however, is not the gentle persuasion found in ¡Tárogató!. Singing! exhibits a more aggressive sound, an almost boisterous quality supported by the flexibility and timbre of Mr. Buckner's voice. While ¡Tárogató! effortlessly lulls the listener into a timeless reverie, Singing!'s length and content can prove to be challenging for the casual listener.
Djuro's Tree (1997) another addition to Larry Austinàs sound portrait series, depicts a family rather than a single individual, reflecting on three generations of Serbian mathematicians. Commissioned by Borik Press, Djuro's Tree presents narrated historical information, anecdotes, and familial reminiscences amidst a sliding landscape of processed voices, wind, and creaking sounds creating a virtual "family tree." Formally Djuro's Tree emulates a rondo, with ritornello-esque sonic collages appearing after each narrative scene. Djuro's Tree is perhaps less successful in stereo format than ¡Tárogató! and Singing!. Its numerous lines and textures that maintain a clarity in the 8-channel environment sometimes become lost when spatially reduced to two channels.
Larry Austin assumes the role of historian and researcher in another of his "signature" styles, creating contemporary representations of composers such as Schoenberg in Variations beyond Pierrot (1993-95) and Ives in Universe Symphony (1974-93). On OCTO MIXES, Mr. Austin shares John Cage's sound world with us through his composition, Williams [re]Mix[ed] (1997-2001), successfully translating the heavily surround-reliant, gesture-based composition into a virtual three-dimensional stereophonic environment. Larry Austin spent years of detailed research and reconstruction deciphering John Cage's "recipe" (which Mr. Cage referred to as a "dress-maker's pattern") for the original William's Mix (1951-53), "recomposing" the work using sounds from contemporary society. The first track on Williams [re]Mix[ed] is the original piece re-mastered by Mr. Austin, who purposely retained a portion of the piece's noisy artifacts thus maintaining its authenticity and charm. Following the re-mastered original are six new variations composed by Mr. Austin that explore individual sound categories defined by John Cage for Williams Mix: A—city sounds; B—country sounds; C—electronic sounds; D—manual sounds; E—wind sounds; and F—small sounds. My favorite variation, F—Small Sounds, distinguishes itself from the others with its delicate, eerie quality that entices the listener to lean forward in their seat to hear tiny, intimate sonic details. The final Williams [re]Mix[ed] track on OCTO MIXES is The Nth Realization, incorporating sounds from all six categories in a sound/silence collage that truly pays homage to John Cage's affirmation that all sound is musical sound.
John Cage, to Austin, after hearing Canadian Coastlines: Canonic Fractals for Musicians and Computer Band, in a concert at the 1981 International Computer Music Conference, Denton, Texas, Nov. 5, 1981:
"I think it's beautiful, Larry. I don't understand it."
Leo Kraft, to Austin, after hearing Canadian Coastlines, in a concert at the 1983 American Society of University Composers, Baton Rouge, Feb. 26, 1982:
"Actually, Larry, I didn't like it. I don't understand it."
Larry Austin: SoundPlays, Cityscapes, SoundPortraits--1993-96
The Consortium to Distribute Computer Music (CDCM) Computer Music Series Volume 28 is the eighth release categorized as The Composer in the Computer Age. The composer in this case is Larry Austin, well known in computer music circles and the producer and cofounder of the CDCM series. This 1999 release notably highlights this composer and presents three contrasting works which are bound together in a cohesive statement by Mr. Austins pervasive aesthetic and mastery of his genre.
The CD is entitled SoundPlays, Cityscapes, SoundPortraits--1993-96. The music presents a fabric woven from text, context, and historical reference, exploring human language and jazz language, creating distinct sonic environments, and melding past and present. SoundPlays is specifically Variations...beyond Pierrot , scored for Pierrot ensemble and written for the Canadian group, Thira. Following it is Shin-Edo: CityscapeSet, a five-movement computer music reflection of Tokyo. Completing the CD is BluesAx, written for saxophonist Steven Duke and for which Mr. Austin was awarded the 1996 Magistère (Magisterium) in the 23rd International Electroacoustic Music Competition sponsored by The International Institute for Electroacoustic Music, Bourges, France. The music on this CD ranges from solidly classic to definitively jazz with a bit of in between.
Variations...beyond Pierrot is aptly titled. While drawing upon Arnold Schoenbergs twentieth century classic, these Variations are reflective of their inspiration, but not duplicative. It was a commission from Thira, a chamber ensemble drawn from the Pierrot mold (soprano, Flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and electronics), which prompted Mr. Austin to reexamine a work which he admits was influential in his own musical development and to write his first work for this type of ensemble. The result while closely mapped to the Schoenberg original, goes beyond a simple restatement and builds upon the original works concept. Such historical reflection is not unprecedented in Mr. Austins catalog. His realization of Charles Ives Universe Symphony (1974-93) from Ives sketches and his Sinfonia Concertante: A Mozartean Episode (1986) reflect his interest in exploring and reinterpreting his musical forebears.
Variations extends the dramatic context of its model. Mr. Austins work is intended to be theatrical in live performance including costuming, stage direction, dramatic interaction of the players, and theatrical lighting. A glimpse of the theatrical setting can be seen in the CDs cover, which overlays photos from Thiras performance of the work on a photo of the front of a Japanese kabuki theater (its a very nice cover design by Lou Harrison of the North Carolina State University Graphics Lab). It does not suffer, however, in a concert setting on recorded media. The drama of the work is conveyed through Mr. Austins combination of vocal, instrumental, and computer music, with an emphasis on text provided by the computer music track which presents the set poems in four languages (English, French, German, and Japanese). The computer-processed text readings are also a player in this drama. Through gentle manipulations and spatial orientation, the computer music becomes a motionful presence in this musical milieu .
To form his Variations, Mr. Austin has selected lines from 20 of the original 21 poems set by Schoenberg (for philosophical and aesthetic reasons, he chose not to set poem 11, Red Mass.) He has set the refrains from the rondels as well as additional text from the poems that he has selected and adapted. The result is a reference, evoking the original Pierrot but also providing the composer his own palette from which to base his soundplay. In a conversation with Mr. Austin, he described a process by which he also mapped the original instrumental texture onto his variations. This process influenced the creation of moon scores (pun intended) for the players, consisting of concentric ellipses of musical staves containing precomposed gestures from which they freely constructed their performance. Like its model, Variations is in three parts, however, it consists of three continuous movements with the computer-mediated recitations providing the focus for coordinating the performance.
I found Variations to be an intriguing and evocative work. It is certainly performed excellently on this CD. It prompted me to revisit Pierrot Lunaire, an interesting encounter, since my more mature and experienced ears immediately grasped Schoenbergs work with an understanding that was not yet present in my academic exposure to the piece at a much earlier age. Mr. Austins composition is a fascinating late twentieth century reflection of this pivotal early twentieth century work.
Shin-edo: CityscapeSet stands as a marked contrast to the preceding Variations. It is a computer music sound poem in five movements, drawn from Mr. Austins experiences while in residence at the Kunitachi College of Music Sonology Department. In spite of the contrast between the two works, there is a link between Variations and Shin-Edo. Some of the processing of Variations was done at that same time in Japan and the Japanese text for the work, rendered by kabuki actor Takashi Ohtsu, was recorded shortly before Mr. Austins return to the U.S.
Shin-Edo, a term apparently coined by Mr. Austin to mean new-inlet, presents a rich sonic landscape experienced by the composer while residing in an unfamiliar city. To those of us who regularly stop in our tracks, risking the askance stares of passerbys, transfixed by some unique combination of environmental acoustica, this music is a decided treat. These tracks are best listened to in a good stereo environment or, better yet, with a quality set of headphones. My first experience of the music was in a less-than-quality stereo environment, but I was still impressed with the sound portrait painted by this work. A second listening with headphones immersed me in a sonic landscape, with sounds surrounding my ears and moving in the audio space providing the illusion of movement through this audible environment.
My personal favorites from this set are Rikugien Garden and Tamagawa-josui desu, movements two and four, respectively. The former is a subtle depiction of falling rain with the muted calls of birds making their way through the foreground veil of water. It is the audible equivalent of stepping into a Monet painting. Tamagawa-josui desu is a quite different but equally compelling sound journey. It is Mr. Austins forty-minute train ride from his apartment to Kunitachi College, condensed into a seven and one-half minute sketch. The use of sound movement through the stereo space is notable, placing you in the midst of speeding trains and busy stations. It is the composers interpretation of this journey that makes it interesting, combining recurring train ostinati with episodes of tranquil repose.
Solo computer tape works are not really a rarity amongst Mr. Austins output, however, he has shown a definite inclination to write for live performers and tape. Shin-Edo is a nice addition to his solo catalog. Its text is the living sounds of a vibrant city and it provides a fitting counterpoint to the instrumental compositions which frame it on this CD.
BluesAx is generally the best known of the three works on this CD. It has received the most live performances, understandably because of its award-winning status and its inclusion in Mr. Dukes repertoire. With BluesAx, Mr. Austin revisits his own history and reveals his deep appreciation for the jazz artform. In 1947, he was one of the first to participate in a now internationally famous jazz studies program and played in a now famous jazz band at the now University of North Texas. His affinity for jazz has surfaced in compositions such as Homecoming: A Cantata for Soprano and Jazz (1958-9) and Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists (1961) (Leonard Bernstein Conducts Music of Our Time, New York Philharmonic, Columbia Masterworks, MS6733, 1965.)
BluesAx features four of what Mr. Austin has labelled as interpretive sound portraits of jazz saxophonists Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker. In a conversation with the composer, he described the day-long recording session that provided the source material for the computer music part, where he asked Mr. Duke to improvise in the style of those jazz greats. Also included in that session were improvisations by Mr. Duke in his own style, and those serve as the basis for the three interludes which outline the interpretive portraits. The score to BluesAx presents meticulous transcriptions of these improvisations as source materials to be interpreted by the performer in coordination with the computer music tape. In live performance, digital delay and reverb affects are applied to the saxophone part as it is amplified an mixed with the tape part.
The result, as performed by Mr. Duke, is a work which would be equally at home in a concert hall or a jazz club. The effect is not the opposition of live performer and prerecorded tape, but rather the blending and interaction of a chorus of saxophones. This is punctuated by BBC-recorded Kenyan rainforest and lakeside sounds, London and New York street sounds, and samples form New Orleans heritage Festival. Mr. Austin has provided an environmental context for the jazz references, from hints at jazzs origins in 1. BluesInCameroon to the musical pun of Kenyan birdcalls in VII. BluesOutParker.
The majority of work on these pieces was apparently done at the composers Denton, Texas studio using csound, cmix, and rt (for Variations and Shin-Edo) on a NeXTstation computer. The high quality of recording of the live performances deserves special note. David Rosenblad of Dallas Sound Lab has done excellent work engineering both Variations and BluesAx. Considering the superlative performances and excellent audio quality of the CD, it stands as an outstanding representation of computer music art.
Leonard Bernstein's signed inscription on the score title page of Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, after conducting the New York Philharmonic in a Columbia recording session of the work at Lincoln Center, New York, Jan. 13, 1964:
"May this be the first of many such joys."
Aaron Copland, to Austin, after hearing Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, in performance at Lincoln Center by the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor, Jan. 9, 1964:
"Not my cup of tea."
Milton Babbitt, to Austin, after hearing Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, in performance at Lincoln Center by the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor, Jan. 9, 1964:
"Congratulations, Larry, you've done it again."
Richard Taruskin, New York Times, "Recordings View: Away With the Ives Myth: The 'Universe' Is Here at Last", October 23, 1994, reviewing the compact disc recording of Larry Austin's complete realization of Charles Ives's Universe Symphony, for multiple orchestras on Centaur Records, wrote:
"Nothing I can write will give you an idea of the experience you are in for. All I can do is urge it upon you....Whoever started it or finished it, the work is what it is, and it is wonderful....it is sheer metaphysical sorcery. Ives and Austin have vastly magnified the effect of [Beethoven's] the Ninth's opening bars as described by Nietzsche: 'The thinker feels himself floating above the earth in an astral dome, with the dream of immortality in his heart: all the stars seem to glimmer about him, and the earth seems to sink ever further downward.' The Ninth at one end and the 'Universe' Symphony at the other: together they enclose the transcendentalist epoch in music.
Tom Johnson, Village Voice, Oct. 19, 1978, reviewing the all-Austin 'Seventies Retrospective of Music and Intermedia' at The Kitchen in New York, Oct. 6-7, 1978, wrote:
"His style is neither uptown nor downtown, nor is it minimal, eclectic, hypnotic,or European. But it works, it is strongly personal, and it has something to sayin all these directions....His music is much too dense and busy to be consideredminimal or static, but it does have a certain steady, unmoving quality, like apicture on the wall. One never senses animated dialogue between live performersand tapes, there are never any true climaxes, and the pieces never break up intosharply contrasting sections. Austin's music just hangs there, a bit the way Morton Feldman's music does. But while Feldman's musical paintings are strictlyabstract, Austin's involve many realistic images. I suspect that he has thought a lot about Miro and Klee and other painters. The real source of Austin's music, however, is clearly Charles Ives, who also liked musical symbols, enjoyed collaging them together as densely as he could, and never had much of a knack for prettiness."
Mike Silverton, reviewing Austin's ¡Rompido! Centaur cd recording in Fanfare, July/August, 1997, wrote:
"This twenty-fourth volume of...CDCM's electroacoustic music series, is remarkable for tenacity no less its high quality....Larry Austin's ¡Rompido! (1993) is an entirely different kind of beast. Well, three beasts, actually: GraniteHarp (9:10), ThunderStone (8:55), and SteleMusic (5:52). Although these computer-generated sounds are based in one way or another on granite in the Texas sculptor Bautista Moroles's workshop, suggesting thereby musique concrete's general deportment, the work's three hefty parts...play as essays in texture, and thus one's subjective "beasts," for music is mobile, and granite is not--at least to a brief-time mortal's naked eye. As I hear these handsome, dance-intended examinations, I am inclined to see desert reptiles whose skins mimic the rocks against which they amble."
Robert Cummings, reviewing Austin's ¡Rompido! cd recording in the Computer Music Journal, Spring, 1998, wrote:
"...Larry Austin's ¡Rompido! (which means "torn" or "rent") is composed of "sounds...from recordings made...in October and November, 1993, at two exhibits of granite sculpture by Texas sculptor Bautista Moroles and at his studio..." There are three movements: GraniteHarp , ThunderStone , and SteleMusic. The piece was conceived to be performed "for dance and granite sculpture (that) combines live performance (optional) on the sculpture by a percussionist with computer-processed chunks of sounding granite..." Clearly, the music is descriptive or programmatic in nature, rather than abstract or conventionally structural: you won't find a typical or even atypical sense of an exposition-development-recapitulation scheme here. Not that the music doesn't logically develop or progress: ThunderStone, for example, a vivid sonic depiction of the "chipping, wedging, polishing, sawing, drilling, and tearing of granite..," starts and ends with the sound of running water, and in between builds up tension with the obsessive pounding and chipping of hammers and with the spinning of drills, until you finally hear chunks of granite drop to the floor. The sonic effects are quite engaging, especially as the motoric drilling and sawing sounds (blue collar music?) shift from speaker to speaker, left to right, then right to left, with greater Ping-Pong regularity than our current fence-clinging president. If you were to cross a xylophone with a vibraphone, you might approximate a good portion of the sounds in SteleMusic. It contains mostly slow, rather ethereal music, consisting of bell-like, yet hollow-sounding sonorities in arpeggiated chords and glissandos. The first movement, GraniteHarp, is not unlike the third. But here there is a greater percussive, less delicate sound in the deeper, echo-laden sonorities of the granite being played. To me, this section doesn't invoke images of a "granite harp," but rather those of an unsettling hallucinatory trip through some netherworld, with the increased tempos and seeming roller-coaster ride near the end heightening your sense of loss of control ¡Rompido! is a major achievement of its kind..."
Mara Helmuth, reviewing the 1997 ICMC performance of Austin's BluesAx in Array, Winter, 1997, wrote:
"BluesAx, by Larry Austin, is a great piece. Steve Duke has now performed the piece numerous times, and it is fluid and tight. The seven movements contain tributes to great jazz saxophonists such as Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker, interspersed with several blues choruses. Concrete sounds provide changing international contexts for this very American music, including crickets from African rainforests, the "BluesHum" orchestra, and city sounds of New York and London. Delays of the sinewy, pulsing lines created textures with depth and resonance, shining forth within the reverberations of the large concert hall."
Allan Kozinn, "A Mini-Retrospective Birthday Party," New York Times, New York City, New York, September 12, 1996, reviewing Austin's La Barbara, performed by soprano Joan La Barbara; BluesAx, performed by saxophonist Stephen Duke; AccidentsTwo, performed by pianist Philip Mead and sound diffusionist Stephen Montague; and, Life Pulse Prelude (version II), performed by Percussion Group Cincinnati; in an Interpretations Series concert curated by Thomas Buckner and presented by the World Music Institute, Merkin Concert Hall, New York, September 12, 1996, wrote:
"Since the mid-1960's, Larry Austin's work has been the gently accessible face of the electronic music avant-garde. His pieces combine instrumental and electronic sounds, and if his choices of timbre have sometimes been outlandish, he has always maintained a sense of musical syntax and drama that makes his work easily comprehensible. And his inventiveness and catholicity of taste have kept the pieces lively and entertaining, if not always profoundly moving.
Four of Mr. Austin's recent works were performed in the season opener of the Interpretations series at Merkin Concert hall on Thursday evening, which happened to be Mr. Austin's 66th birthday. One could not have hoped for a better demonstration of his compositional agility.
La Barbara: The Name/The Sounds/The Music (1990) was composed for and performed by Joan La Barbara, a soprano whose vocal arsenal includes sounds that mimic instrumental and electronic timbres. The work had Ms. La Barbara chirping, whispering, scat singing, clicking, chattering, panting and also singing in a conventionally attractive way, with electronically altered recordings of her voice turning her into an otherworldly chorus. The inclusion of excerpts from a discussion between Mr. Austin and Ms. La Barbara in the work itself seemed a misstep: interesting as the conversation was, it distracted from the musical texture.
Mr. Austin's love of jazz colored BluesAx (1996), a work for saxophone and a tape track that included nature sounds, street noise and other saxophone lines. The work's main movements evoke the styles and coloration of Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Johnny Hodges and Charlie parker. Stephen Duke played the music with a gorgeous tone and moved easily between, say, the Coltranesque leaps and the supple fluidity of the Hodges pastiche.
AccidentsTwo (1992), an energetic, percussive piano work, straddles the worlds of randomness and composed music. Watching slides of sound patterns projected on the stage wall, Philip Mead approximated the shapes of the patterns on the piano and Stephen Montague manipulated a computer music track.
The concert ended with Life Pulse Prelude (1996) for live and taped percussionists, based on Ives's Universe Symphony sketches. The interaction between the Percussion Group of Cincinnati and the taped percussion was fascinating for its precision and textural variety, and in its best moments the work had a magical, enlivening quality."
Rodney Waschka, annotator and co-producer for the Centaur Records compact disc, CDCM Computer Music Series, Vol. 13: The Virtuoso in the Computer Age--III," Fanfare, the Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, Vol. 16, No. 5, March/April, 1994, reviewing the CDCM/Centaur cd recording of La Barbara: The Name/The Sounds/The Music, wrote:
"Larry Austin's La Barbara: The Name/The Sounds/The Music is certainly one of the more fascinating voice-based conceptions in the literature (there exist by now a great many such), as well as among the more successful collaborations I've heard.... a brilliantly faceted and dimensioned display of La Barbara's justly celebrated technique.... Austin's control is exemplary: the piece ranges brilliantly within its novel parameters, neither running away with itself nor miring in pretentiousness. Very nicely done."
"Each movement begins with an introductory conversation between Austin and La Barbara that focuses on her name, her sounds, or her music. At the end of each discussion, Austin spins out a web of seductive tones, luxurious harmonies, and contemplative phrases based on the sonic material most recently heard.... Austin is effective in translating the textual meanings of their conversation into musical representations through word painting and alliteration. This work is both a celebration of La Barbara's talents and a sublime display of Austin's mature compositional style.
Mike Silverton, "CDCM Computer Music Series, Volume 11", Fanfare, the Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, Vol. 16, No. 4, March/April 1993, reviewing the CDCM/Centaur cd recording of Life Pulse Prelude, wrote:
"Larry Austin's Life Pulse Prelude, built on a foundation of sketches and plans for percussion orchestra music from a portion of Charles Ives's unfinished Universe Symphony, opens the show and quite steals it away. (The audiophile whose system reproduces very low bass may indeed perish of ecstasy.)"
"Ultimately, Larry Austin has created a set of sound portraits that reflects the aesthetic vocabulary, the raison d'etre of both the subject and creator. The movements, heard as individual works, are both engaging and inviting. Clearly, this composer has tremendous command of the medium.... Having listened to the works multiple times using the composer's notes as a guide and reference, the whole SoundPoemSet comes off marvelously."
Mike Silverton, "The Composer in the Computer Age--IV: A Larry Austin Retrospective: 1967-92", CDCM Computer Music Series, Volume 19", Fanfare, the Magazine for Serious Record Collectors, Vol. 18 No. 1, January/February, 1995, reviewing four Austin works, wrote:
"As one of CDCM's principals, Larry Austin shows commendable forbearance in abiding so long into the game before filling a disc with himself....The program operates in book-end style, with the opening and closing works in close, if in no way obvious, relationship. But backwards: The disc begins with the recent AccidentsTwo: Sound Projections for Piano with Computer Music (1992), which draws on Accidents of 1967, 'for [David Tudor's] electronically prepared piano and Buchla-100 electronic Music System.' AccidentsTwo plays for these jaded ears as a thrilling voyage in dimensionality. The Montague/Mead Piano Plus duo (they commissioned the piece) occupies a somewhat airless chamber in an otherwise spacy soundstage of near-holographic horizontalities--dramatic, fly-by-whooshes!--that I could wallow in happily for a good deal longer than the work's 14:27 duration. That, of course, is what I hear. I I give you an excerpted Austin on what goes on: "AccidentsTwo continues, extends, and subsumes [Accidents One of 1967]. It continues my work in open form, invoking highly evolved improvisational formats and protocols; it extends the musico-technical resources from the live-electronic theater piece towards hypermedia [wonderful word!]; and it subsumes the actual sounds from [Accidents One]...transforming those accidents into 73 stored sonic events, computer-processed for performance in AccidentsTwo." There's a lot more; the notes are exhaustive in this regard....The antecedent Accidents of 1967 reflects it Aquarian Zeitgeist as an in-your-face abrasiveness, occupying one's attention much as student-radicals filled administration buildings. Tudor's piano is scarcely recognizable as such. At 26:48 the disc's longest work, Accidents begins appropriately enough, and continues, with randomish metallic incidents shifting about in character and color within a generally threatening atmosphere, and this is for the duration. Of destination there is none. Austin conceived Accidents for an "electronically prepared piano, ring modulator, and--in its theater piece realization--with mirrors, actions, black light, and projections...[It] ends when the performer successfully completes every gesture...Sound is produced through accidental rather than deliberate action...all notes are depressed silently, and sound occurs only when a hammer accidentally strikes a string...'
On its face, Canadian Coastlines, for vocalists and small instrumental ensemble, plays as an intensely textured, Ars Nova-flavored flight of converging, diverging strands. Commissioned by the CBC, the present recording transpired as a 'synchronized, live [radio performance from three cities]...Four voices of an eight-voice canon are performed by eight musicians, the remaining four--'the computer band'--played as digital synthesizer sequences pre-recorded on tape...none of the eight voices are performed in the same tempo...the musicians follow four distinct click tracks, allowing different, concurrent tempos as well as gradually accelerating and decelerating tempos over relatively long spans of time...' If you want to know how fractals figure (or what in hell they are) say goodbye and go to the notes.
The imposingly titled Quadrants: Event/Complex No. 4 and Event/Complex No. 9 of 1974 and '72 (with revisions to No. 4 in 1994) occur concurrently as an appealing, texturely luscious event. It's a question again of milk and honey as against the technical note's eye-crossing astringency. If you can bear to hack your way through the underbrush above, you'll see that J. B. Floyd...performs No. 4 on a Yamaha Disclavier piano and is further credited as programmer. No. 9 calls for a percussionist on, as I hear it, tam-tam cymbals, tubular bells and suchlike. Lots of good drama--a most appealing piece(s)."
Rodney Waschka, "The 1991 International Computer Music Conference: The Music in Montreal," Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1992, reviewing Austin's SoundPoemSet, performed at the 1991 ICMC, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 17,1991, wrote:
"SoundPoemSet: Oliveros/Hunt/Subotnick/Tudor by Larry Austin was next on the program. These tape works are based on conversations between Austin and the composers indicated in the title. Various phrases, aphorisms, and sentences were extracted from the conversations and transformed to create the music. Slides containing the text of each piece were shown wherein text sizing and spacing frequently mirrored the aural presentation. The Oliveros piece is particularly striking and attractive. It features echoes of up to one hundred twenty seconds in length, so that tiny pebbles of sound from the conversation quickly disorient one within a fascinating avalanche of reverberations...."
Kyle Gann, Village Voice, Oct. 17, 1987, reviewing Montage, performed at the Salvatore and Dorothy Martirano concert at Roulette Extramedia Foundation, New York, Oct. 12, 1987, wrote:
"Dorothy Martirano played another work with tape by North Texas State's Larry Austin. Montage was free of the Cagean conceptualism that marks Austin's more expansive works: the violin began with soulful two-note motives, the computer tape responding with pensive near-tonality. In most such pieces, the instrumentalist holds everything together while the electronics run wild, but here the case was refreshingly opposite: Martirano's impassioned doublestops feigned impatience with the tape's stately sostenuto counterpoint....Montage was one of the most moving instrument-and-tape pieces I've heard."
Harold Schonberg, New York Times, Sept. 24, 1967, reviewing the first two issues of Austin's then new publication, Source, wrote:
"Austin speaks for a very strong segment of the international avant-garde, and it is a segment that is beginning to take control of the younger generation. The older Boulez-Babbitt axis, around which revolved so much activity after World War II, has been declining as the younger composers become increasingly impatient with the serial movement. Where the great Boulez-Babbitt progenitor was Anton Webern, the new line goes back to Cage, Earle Brown and Morton Feldman, who were the pioneers in a kind of music that later was enthusiastically adopted and refined by such composers as Karlheinz Stockhausen....What they do, whether or not you like it, remains art, in that it uses materials for expressive effect, even if the expression is intended to be anti-expressive. (But have we not been told by the scientists that anti-matter is indistinguishable from matter?) It is not art in the Robert Browning sense, of infinite passion and the pain of finite hearts that yearn. It is art in the Rimbaud sense, in the style of a bad dream. And, in a funny, delirious, black-is-white upheaval, it turns out that the avant-gardists in their way are as romantic, as much poseurs (in the romantic sense of the word), unconsciously as sentimental, as the Byrons, Schumanns and Delacroixes of the early 19th century...."
Elliott Schwartz, "Zurich ISCM 1991," Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1992, reviewing Sinfonia Concertante: A Mozartean Episode, performed in concert by the Camerata Zurich, 1991 World Music Days, International Society for Contemporary Music, Zurich, Switzerland, Sept. 20, 1991, wrote:
"Stylistic juxtapositions and balances of yet another sort, subtle, and tightly integrated, could be heard in the Sinfonia Concertante by the American composer Larry Austin. Combining vocal narration--namely, fragments from Mozart's letters--with computer-generated sounds and other digitally processed material, Austin has created a taped 'concertante' part, one which moves easily in and out of a chamber orchestra fabric (often in elegant parody of eighteenth century style). The result is a fascinating merger of disparate technologies and cultural traditions into a unified whole....It is worth mentioning that--the occasional youthful triumph notwithstanding--many of the Festival's greatest successes were the work of established international figures. Klaus Huber, Heinz Holliger, Helmut Lachenmann, Joji Yuasa, Arne Nordheim, John Casken, Kenneth Gaburo, Larry Austin, and Nam June Paik have already been mentioned...."
Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 25, 1970, reviewing an all-Austin concert/lecture, as the last in the Encounters Series at the Pasadena Art Museum, produced by Leonard Stein, Apr. 24, 1970, wrote:
"He is an artist of considerable complexity... Sunday's Encounter revealed quite a lot about Austin the innovator, Austin the technician, Austin the iconoclast and Austin the showman. The lecture-concert revealed relatively little in the conventional sense about Austin the composer. But, since he hardly is a composer in the conventional sense, that mattered relatively little....It all struck this observer as another bitter--and appealing--putdown of the square musical establishment. Unfortunately in the question-and-answer session which followed, Austin claimed Bass was intended to glorify Turetzky's special skills and to provide him with an illuminating (maybe even beautiful?) vehicle. The angry face was just to confuse us. Foiled again. But with a man as inventive as Austin, even confusion can be fun. I think."
Thomas Clark writes, in an essay for the Austin entry, "Larry Austin," Contemporary Composers, St. James Press, London, second edition, 1996:
"Throughout his career, Larry Austin has engaged in a broad spectrum of musical pursuits. An experimenter, he has composed highly original musical works. An entrepreneur, he has organized performances and founded institutions of artistic collaboration. An observer of contemporary musical thought, he has contributed to professional societies and journals. A mentor to emerging composers as a professor at universities in California, Florida, and 1978-96 in Texas, he co-authored a 1989 composition textbook.
Theatrical avant garde works brought Austin early notoriety. Later works in advanced computer music mediums draw from a background of experience with analog electroacoustic sound sources, especially combined with "live" performers of conventional instruments, voice, and dance (as in Beachcombers, 1983). Traditional ensembles have also figured prominently in the compositional output, approached (as in Open Style For Orchestra With Piano Soloist, 1965) in a way free from preconceptions of idiom. sinfonia concertante merges a traditional Mozartean chamber orchestra with computer music and dramatic narration on tape.
The Musical Quarterly 's 1968 review of Austin's Source magazine pointed to the primacy of experimental process as the essence of the avant garde. Austin's own works invariably focus on a single exploratory process, setting up a problem or volatile situation ripe with contrast and surprise (as in Accidents, 1967). Sound relationships are modeled after natural or mathematical patterns or by the natureof sound itself. The resulting works are strongly unified, defining their own idioms with singular persistence. Musical ideas and characters often combine in the form of collage, as in American composer Charles Ives' music. Life Pulse Prelude (1984/96) is based on Ives' unfinished compositional sketches for the Universe Symphony (1974-93), which Austin eventually "finished" by incorporating all of Ives' ideas and materials into his own large, landmark composition. Drawing energy from dramatic juxtapositions, such Austin works are dense with sound activity, transforming gradually in single, extended thrusts of form.
Improvisation shows an early influence, incorporating jazz soloists into an orchestral medium (as in Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, 1961). A jazz trumpet player in his youth, Austin typically structures the flow of events by constantly establishing then disintegrating pulses. As in jazz, the 'beats' can be cool and languorous, almost at a standstill, or relentlessly red-hot.
Other musical structures are generated systematically by unconventional processes. Canadian Coastlines: Canonic Fractals for Musicians and Computer Band (1981) traces actual map contours for compositional data. Word strings and mathematical fractals are other favored non-musical pattern models. The process is first tested intuitively "by ear," then turned loose to fill in the substance of a carefully planned architecture. Specially designed computer algorithms may assist this approach for structuring pitch, register, density, loudness, and timbre choice. An interest in musical color has led Austin to exotic sound sources offered by percussion sounds (Quadrants: Event/Complex No. 9, 1974), extended instrumental techniques (Current, 1964), and digitally synthesized sound (Montage, 1985). Subtle shadings of sound color play an interesting role in some works, such as Sonata Concertante (1983), which pits the piano against larger-than-life synthetic piano sounds, juxtaposing and eventually merging their distinct but kindred timbres.
Recently, many of Austin's works have focused on the role of the composer, refering directly to other composers' work as a compositional theme. The computer music work, SoundPoemSet (1990-91) quotes and manipulates recorded conversations with four composers sharing ideas about the meaning of their work. Variations . . . beyond Pierrot (1993-95) pays homage to the model of Schoenberg's landmark composition, much as Sinfonia Concertante: A Mozartean Episode (1986) deals with the composing career of the eighteenth-century master. Like a play within a play, these works are compositions about the essence of composing itself.
A drive to share accumulated musical resources and ideas has led Austin personally to found several institutions for experimental music and composition: the periodical, Source, Music of the Avant Garde; SYCOM: Systems Complex for the Studio and Performing Arts; CEMI: Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia; and CDCM: Consortium to Distribute Computer Music. A leader in the computer music field, Austin hosted the 1981 International Computer Music Conference in Denton, Texas, and served as President of the International Computer Music Association, 1990-94. Austin's work exemplifies avant garde traditions of public activism and personal exploration. His music, whether intensely dramatic or dreamlike, delights in discovery through dynamic processes, contributing to a heightened appreciation of new mediums and modes of expression.
John Rockwell, New York Times, Dec. 21, 1981, reviewing the all-Austin concert at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, Dec. 18, 1981, wrote:
"Larry Austin might be called a born-again Texas composer. His rebirth, in his case, means that although he was born and educated in Texas, he won his reputation as a Cagean conceptual avant-gardist in the San Francisco area, where he lived and taught from 1955 to 1972. Then, after six years in Florida, he returned to his alma mater, North Texas State University. There, he has apparently been busy both as a composer and as an organizer and catalyst of the local new-music scene--just as he was in San Francisco....Insofar as sound is concerned, Mr. Austin can be classified as an electronic composer, and some of his sounds are quite beguiling...His most sonorously effective work was called Tableaux Vivants, a blend of electronics, live music and slide-projected art that contained some musical notation....alluring as sound if mystifying as process...."
Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 25, 1970, reviewing an all-Austin concert/lecture, as the last in the Encounters Series at the Pasadena Art Museum, produced by Leonard Stein, Apr. 24, 1970, wrote:
"Larry Austin, editor of Source (the newest bible of the musical avant-garde) and faculty stalwart at UC Davis, was the center of attention for the final Encounters program of the season at the Pasadena Art Museum. He is an artist of considerable complexity, and a verbal apologist more notable for candor than consistency. Sunday's Encounter revealed quite a lot about Austin the innovator, Austin the technician, Austin the iconoclast and Austin the showman. The lecture-concert revealed relatively little in the conventional sense about Austin the composer. But, since he hardly is a composer in the conventional sense, that mattered relatively little....It all struck this observer as another bitter--and appealing--putdown of the square musical establishment. Unfortunately in the question-and-answer session which followed, Austin claimed 'Bass' was intended to glorify Turetzky's special skills and to provide him with an illuminating (maybe even beautiful?) vehicle. The angry face was just to confuse us. Foiled again. But with a man as inventive as Austin, even confusion can be fun. I think."
Jack Anderson, "Making Music for Cunningham," New York Times, March 13, 1983, previewing the premiere of Merce Cunningham's dance work Coast Zone with Austin's piece, Beachcombers, New York City Center Theater, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York, March 15-18, 1983, wrote:
"Music and dance have always been allies but, over the centuries, they have been allied in many different ways. One of the most unusual alliances is that of John Cage, the composer, and Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, who this season are celebrating their 40th year of collaboration....As an impecunious composer in the 1930's and early 40's, Mr. Cage enjoyed collaborating with choreographers, charging them $5 for each minute of music. Since, for the most part, he dealt with modern dancers, he usually had to compose music for existing pieces of silent choreography. But, he said, 'I started objecting to the politics of the situation. Composing dance for choreographers usually meant that one art became more important than the other. Either the dance followed the music or the music followed dance.' He then speculated that it might be possible for music and dance to occupy the same space of time independently, without either art relying upon the other. Although some choreographers looked askance at this idea, Mr. Cunningham eagerly adopted it and, from the 1940's onward, his productions, both to music by Mr. Cage and to other composers, have treated music and dance as separate but equal entities. Typically, Mr. Cunningham will tell Mr. Cage that he wishes to do a new work and that he has an idea of how long he wants it to last. 'I'll then ask if he's thought of a title,' Mr. Cage said, 'or whether he has any other notions about the dance.' And on the basis of that information he will either write the score himself or assign it to someone else. Thus, when Mr. Cunningham told Mr. Cage that he was planning a work called Coast Zone and spoke of it in terms of waves, beaches and bluffs, Mr. Cage decided to commission a score from Larry Austin, composer of a piece he admired called Canadian Coastlines. The collaboration between Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Austin receives its premiere on Friday. But Mr. Cage has no idea what the music Mr. Austin wrote for it sounds like because, as usually happens in the Cunningham company, choreography and music are brought together for the first time only on opening night....Mr. Cage said he is happy to be one of the artists responsible for dance productions in which the component parts 'go freely in the own way,yet go together to enrich the available experience."
Moira Hodgson, Vanity Fair, June, 1983, reviewing the premiere of Merce Cunningham's dance work Coast Zone with Austin's piece, Beachcombers, New York City Center Theater, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York, March 15-18, 1983, wrote:
"...In the pit, John Cage, Martin Kalve, Takehisa Kosugi and David Tudor perform Larry Austin's electronic score called Beachcombers. It sounds like the sea...."
Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times, March 21, 1983, reviewing the premiere of Merce Cunningham's dance work Coast Zone with Austin's piece, Beachcombers, New York City Center Theater, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York, March 15-18, 1983, wrote:
"It was an excellent program....The novelty was Mr. Cunningham's latest premiere, 'Coast Zone.' As a pure dance work, it is one of Mr. Cunningham's most curious and eye filling. In many ways, it accents especially vividly the choreographer's once-disturbing idea that all his dancers were autonomous and could face any direction--that is, dance independently of one another. 'Coast Zone' is full of soloists ignoring the ensembles that sweep by them. It is also very formally structured, with trios of dancers serving as some sort of thematic device. Repeatedly, two dancers turn into a group of three, with two flanking ones apt to carry the third forward between them. There is also Mr. Cunningham's favored method of in fact dividing his dancers into two companies. In 'Coast Zone,' as in some other recent works, Mr. Cunningham keeps us guessing how many dancers are actually in the piece. There are 12 listed in the program, but only midway through the work do dancers previously absent suddenly appear on stage. This sense of the stage's suddenly filling up has marked much of Mr. Cunningham's recent choreography. 'Coast Zone,' particularly, contains the image of dancers entering while others are dancing. They pick up the same movement and are absorbed by a unison ensemble. Or in reverse, one performer will drop out of a trio or duet. Such a wavelike ebb and flow could, by a push of the imagination, be linked to the reported starting point of 'Coast Zone' and the sea imagery of the title. Mr. Cunningham is said to have been thinking of shifting sands, bluffs and beaches before he began the choreography. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he asked Larry Austin, a composer who has created an experimental piece calledCanadian Coastlines, to do the score for Coast Zone. Mr. Austin has come up with several layers of sound and called it all Beachcombers. John Cage, Martin Kalve, Takehisa Kosugi and Mr. Tudor were the musicians in the pit who electronically, presumably, maneuvered what sounded like individual channels of sound--impressionistically rendered as a downpour over a metallic clang, overlaid with a vocal stutter. Each musician, one suspects, had the possibility of accelerating his soundtrack. And when the stutter did speed up, the effect was that of increased tension in the air."
Philip Krumm, San Antonio Light, March 18, 1985, reviewing Tableaux Vivants, in concert during the 1985 Festival of Texas Composers at the University of Texas, San Antonio, March 15, 1985, wrote:
"...My personal favorite on the concert was Larry Austin's "Tableaux Vivants"....Utilizing rather artful slides of collaged music and photographs, this tasteful and controlled work was made all of a single fabric, and a lovely one at that. Long, sustained chords through which floated simple melismatic vocal and instrumental patterns formed the structural matrix, and the blend of organ and recorded sound was especially effective. There were moments when the solo voice seemed to be singing the baritone solo from the Neilsen "Expansiva," but the overall effect was beautiful and smooth...."
Bruce Jones, Tampa Tribune, Nov. 6, 1973, reviewing Tableaux Vivants in a SYCOM Event Series concert at the University of South Florida, Nov. 4, 1973, wrote:
"....The fascination is intense. Just as the euphoric effect of Tableaux Vivants is intense. This work by Austin and [printmaker] Charles Ringness involves a drone chord cluster played on an electronic organ with sound figurations working around it. Meanwhile, six actors sit on the stage facing four Ringness[/Austin] paintings. Lighting on the individual participants and paintings comes and goes in some kind of obscure symbolism or imagery. The intent of the work is not clear, but the mesmerizing effect is positive and unavoidable."
Nicolo Sani, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-2, 1987, reviewing Sonata Concertante, performed at the 1986 International Computer Music Conference, Den Haag, Oct. 22, 1986, wrote:
"Sonata Concertante by Larry Austin, for piano and tape, is a musical construction based on the principle of the duality and contrast in Sonata form, but in terms of siumultaneity rather than of sequence as is the tradition. The piano line consists of an extremely contorted theme in double octaves which is interrupted by clusters and long trills. The compositional algorithm, based on a principle of several coincident processes, was developed by the composer. The tape was realized at the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia, North Texas State University, and consists of a digitally re-synthesized Steinway piano expanded to nine octaves. Austin's Sonata Concertante displays a profound musicality. The compositional whole created by the various simultaneous processes results in a great openness, where serial, modal and diatonic influences intertwine. If the frame of reference is the pianistic tradition, expressive choice falls on the recovery of elements from the past, from Sonata to free form, clusters, post-serial pointillism, and interaction with the tape. Ellen Carver's precise interpretation at the piano gave this work still further elements of interest and value."
Theodore Strongin, New York Times, "Sight and Sound Mix at Concert," Nov. 1, 1968, reviewing The Magicians, performed in the New Image of Sound Series, Hunter College, October 30, 1968, wrote:
"Larry Austin's The Magicians was indeed magical, with a dark stage graced by film projections and iridescent lights flashing on rectangular panels. There were also mimes, children and ominous electronic sound."
Wilma Salisbury, The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, "This Music Could Really Hurt Someone," Nov. 17, 1973, reviewing Quadrants: Event/Complex No. 3 and Tableaux Vivants, performed in a concert at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, Nov. 15, 1973, wrote:
"Listening to music by Larry Austin is a strange and unnerving experience, not recommended for the faint-hearted. Two works by Austin, professor of music at the University of South Florida and former editor of the progressive ultramodern unperiodical Source, provided a stunning grand finale for a day-long concert of electronic music Thursday at Oberlin College. Quadrants: Event/Complex No. 3, which received its first two performances on the New Directions Series program, documented the composer's concerns with live electronics, quadraphonic sound, mathematical processes, fantastic effects and the aesthetics of time.... As the sonorities race around the room, gradually rising in pitch, velocity and intensity, you begin to feel dizzy. Then as the sound reverses, zigzagging slowly into an abyss, you feel as though you are falling out of your chair. Though the physical impact was strong in Quadrants, it was even stronger in Tableaux Vivants, a Sonograph.... Completely anti-intellectual, the piece offers nothing to follow and little to think about. After a while, however, the mindless sound wraps itself around you, gets inside of you and (help!) becomes part of you. The throbbing bass is your own heartbeat, the sonic vibrations merge with your own nervous system, and when the music fades away, you feel a little as though you are dying. The most visceral music I have ever heard, this piece should be programmed with caution. Given an over-responsive audience, it could actually hurt someone....Though the program as a whole was efficiently presented and instructive, it was the music of Austin that really reached out and zapped at least one member of the small audience."
Brian Belet, "Recordings", Computer Music Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4, 1993, reviewing the CDCM/Centaur cd recording of Montage: Themes and Variations for Violin and Computer Music on Tape, wrote:
"Larry Austin's Montage: Themes and Variations for Violin and Computer Music on Tape (1985) is the second composition on this recording. This 13-minute work is an artful combination of intuitive, improvisational, and computer-algorithmic composition processes. The piece is a synergy of highly unified yet intensely diverse material. The two generative sets of themes 'are intuitively composed melodic/harmonic sequences [which serve] as model data for consequent computer-determined variations.' These variations are generated by a program, written by the composer, which analyzes each sequence, generates a frequency table of discrete relations for each sequence as a result of the analysis, and then creates variants of the sequence according to probabilities of recurrence. Within its own context of human and machine restraint, the resultant work is completely determinant. This concept relates to the panel discussion on algorithmic composition that took place during the 1992 International Computer Music Conference, where I witnessed in both amusement and shock, a heated debate over the validity of algorithmic composition. One particular challenge directed to the panel was to identify even one composition of value that was composed algorithmically. Larry Austin, a member of the panel, politely refrained from citing his own works, so I will offer the following claim: Here is a masterful composition, full of aesthetic and technical complexities and subtleties on several levels, that was composed in large part by algorithmic means. Those who argue against the right of algorithmic compositions to exist should realize the irrelevant and quasi-fundamental religious ring to their protests. The means of construction, while very interesting on a technical level and an exciting topic for discussion at conferences, is not the music. The music itself, the end result of the composer's activity, is the issue, and is ultimately the only relevant object to evaluate when judging a musical work. True to the meaning of the word, Montage is a rich composite and multilevel superimposition of musical lines. The computer variations overlap with and complement the ongoing violin themes in a constantly evolving polyphonic web. And, while Austin has structured this work with tightly organized sections of themes and variations, the music unfolds gracefully as a single, large, unified whole. The result is a composition that successfully defines itself on technical, aesthetic, and emotional levels."
Kenneth Young, "Hiller, Austin Music Comes Alive," Buffalo Express, Apr. 14, 1983, reviewing *Stars, Tableaux Vivants, and Canadian Coastlines, performed at the North American Festival of New Music, State University of New York, Buffalo, Apr. 12, 1983, wrote:
"Rule Number One: do not go into a new music concert with preconceived notions. I did that Tuesday night at the State University of Buffalos's Slee Hall for the Lejaren Hiller-Larry Austin concert, expecting music reeking of ozone, fortran II, or some such thing. Computers, you know. They use the. Program credits for Austin say, '...compositional algorithms and interactive digital synthesis systems.' Wow. What we got was: Stars (1982) by Austin. Electronic tape of siren sound and random metallic thumps; four members of the Zodiaque Dance Company in blue leotards and sparkling spangles on the upper deck; slowly thrusting molecular motion in and out of each others' gravitational sphere; twilight fade back to siren song, timeless universal constant of energy. Canadian Coastlines (1981) by Austin. Ensemble of bassoon, harpsichord, trumpet, two vibes, bass flute, viola-players wearing earphones, taped electronics from surrounding speakers; hesitant motives build an arch in density and dynamics. The title's power of suggestion is the thing; could have been rocky pine-lined shores, could have been Crystal Beach....Tableaux Vivants (1973/81) by Austin. Slides projected on screen: a house, a child, a musical score. Trio of flute, piano and voice improvises on stage as the images become superimposed on each other, dreamy fragments of autobiographical imagery...."
R.I.P. Hayman, "Computer Music", Ear Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 1-2, Feb.-May, 1983, reviewing the Folkways LP recording of Canadian Coastlines, wrote:
"...Canadian Coastlines by Larry Austin for ensemble and tape is subtitled 'Canonic Fractals for Musicians and Computer Band.' The patterns of a section of a map of Canada provide coordinates for a compositional algorithm which generates the musical materials. These are performed by eight musicians in canon, along with additional voices on pre-recorded digital synthesizer. All parts are in varying tempo. The result is a flowing tonal wash, aurally true to the visual sense of a meandering coastline. The work is really very pleasant and whimsical in its tidal texture, the music--like nature--easily subsuming its mathematical basis."
James Manishan, "Modern Music Works Get in Your Face," Winnipeg Free press, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, April 30, 1996, reviewing Variations...beyond Pierrot, performed by the Thira chamber ensemble in a joint GroundSwell and Manitoba Chamber Orchestra Series concert, Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 29-30, 1996, wrote:
"It means what it means is your standard cliche. Last night's concert of new music theatre pieces, co-produced by GroundSwell and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, really did have open ears and inquiring minds absorbing two very modern works for what they were. Variations...beyond Pierrot by American composer Larry Austin, and Down by the Greenwood Side by British composer Harrison Birtwistle sent a conspicuous message to the audience that these highly theatrical pieces have their own personality for which it's futile to want to alter as you experience it. It was an in-your-face invitation to take them on. And though not without moments where you wished they'd just go away, there was a refreshing individuality and sense of missing out on something if you disengaged. The performances helped, as they were pillars of virtuosity and commitment with some sprightly stage direction by Libby Mason. Therese Costes's remarkable singing showed an inexhaustible fund of gesture and expression. In Kabuki makeup as mad Pierrot in the Austin, she was like a coiled victim in a demented Punch and Judy show. Moon Madness repeats again tonight."
"Sinfonia Concertante--actually a melodrama for recorded voice with chamber orchestra--numbers among his best works, and it is so accessible that one can readily imagine its being programmed on an ordinary subscription series, as no doubt the composer intended, since it was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. The orchestral part is a tightly organized, rondo-like collage of Mozartean fragments (none quite identifiable), accompanying a taped reading--in an oddly effective voice--of letters Mozart wrote home during his Paris trip of 1778. The disembodied, other-worldly effect of taped narration in a concert setting (which must be consciously called up when listening to the CD) is enhanced by a continuous haze of computer-manipulated echoes and fore-shadowings of the text in both English and French (the central reading is in English throughout). The result is that Mozart seems to be speaking from beyond the grave, surrounded by a double aura of distorted speech and distorted orchestral music. Since the text recounts mostly the cabal against the lost Sinfonia concertante, K. 297b, and the death of Mozart's mother, there is wheels-within-wheels psychology to the whole thing that proves very satisfying."
Tod Dockstader, reviewing "SOURCE, Issues Number One, Two, and Three. Edited by Larry Austin," Musical Quarterly, Vol. LIV, No. 4, Oct., 1968," wrote:
"...There is a thick red line running through all these scores, in all three issues: a new romanticism. I am sure Source would refuse my subscription for using this term, but I can think of no other. But do not confuse this romanticism with the "excesses of Wagner" that burnt down Vienna. The new work is romantic in the old, forgotten, basic way: the event, not the system, is the thing. These composers want music as "magic" again. Although many of them are engaged in the current anti-hero mystique (fostered by Hero John Cage) their work is full of personality: grand gestures, often made in person, on stage, since so many of them perform (or, more correctly, participate in realizing) their own works. Rock music appeals to them strongly because rock is today's romantic music: it is theatrical, ritual communion; unscored, improvised, popular. 'It's beautiful because it's really aural magic...the music really happens...it happens with ecstasy' (from the first issue of Source). If you doubt this, witness Stockhausen's description (from the same issue) of his feelings about music that he likes: 'It's just incredible. You get goose skin and everything. And you may cry. You fall in love....This is the first thing.' And this is the value of Source: showing us Stockhausen crying over a piece of music, falling in love with it. In this sense, Source is what is happening, and it a pleasure to watch it happen in such a literate, lovely way...."
Brad Garton, Computer Music Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 199, reviewing the CDCM/Centaur cd recording of Sinfonia Concertante: A Mozartean Episode and Sonata Concertante, wrote:
"...Many Journal readers heard this piece [Sinfonia Concertante] performed at the 1989 International Computer Music Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Written for chamber ensemble and computer-generated tape, the CD version manages to capture the delightful and entertaining qualities of the live performance. The composition seems to be functioning at three distinct levels: The first is a reading of excerpts from Mozart's letters to his father from 1777 to 1778 (the English translation is read on the tape by Stefan Hurdalek). The second level is a backdrop for these readings created by the chamber ensemble. Austin has written a series of very "Mozartean" cadences and phrases for the ensemble. These serve to punctuate and illuminate the text of the letters. The third level is an extraction of Hurdalek's voice, processed using techniques such as comb filtering and linear predictive coding (LPC) voice resynthesis. It is in the interconnecting of these three levels that the piece really comes alive. Hurdalek's voice is well-suited for an aural rendering of Mozart's personality (or what we know of it). Hearing this reading of the banal facts of Mozart's life, his petty grievances, and personal egotism or insecurity, creates a counterpoint to the ensemble's performance which suggests the rich musical world created by Mozart. From this counterpoint emerges on of the paradoxes of our culture: How can such beautiful work come from such a disturbed person? This question has been explored to death in books and plays such as Amadeus, but Austin does something unique by injecting the processed voice into the dynamic established between "mozart" and "Mozart." This third level, created by stretching and resonating certain words and phrases, elucidates the role of the individual listener in helping to foster the cultural paradox represented by Mozart. The more I listened to this piece, the more I found myself considering the baggage I bring into the hearing of Mozart's (or any) music. Is it the internal echoing of Mozart's name through his music that adds to the masterpiece-aura surrounding it? How much am I responsible for creating my perception of a piece? Austin's Sinfonia does not present any answers, but I found the raising of these questions to be an intriguing feature of the music...."
"...Another work by Larry Austin entitled Sonata Concertante (1983) also appears on the CD. The music in this piece comes from a live piano performance and a tape of computer-performed and modified piano sounds. Austin used Mandelbrot's fractal methods to generate the tape part. Perhaps it is the resultant self-similarity in fractal techniques which causes this piece to sound like a piano reflecting upon itself. It begins with arpeggiated figures rising up from some very low piano note, soon joined by inverse arpeggios descending the pitch scale. The live piano part enters by playing a melody in double-octaves. The melody in this piece reminds me, for some reason, of the piano gestures in the slow movement of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 2, only played at about three times the original sampling rate. This frenetic activity builds until the live piano part disintegrates into some improvisational chord-clusters. The piano sounds on the tape reflect this by becoming more and more processed. Eventually, the live piano part fragments into short bursts, which are slowly integrated into the processed tape sounds. This transition is one of the magical moments in the piece. Probably because the tape part was constructed from a sampled piano, the live piano is able to be subsumed quite naturally into the tape sounds. I suspect that some of the credit is due to Wodnicki's performance. He seems to have a good ear for aligning his playing with the tape."
Lisa R. Dominick, "The Eighteenth Annual Festival/Conference of the American Society of University Composers: The Composer in the University Reexamined," Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 21, No. 2, spring/summer, 1983, reviewing Canadian Coastlines wrote:
"...The succes fou [tremendous success] of the festival was Larry Austin's stunning Canadian Coastlines: Canonic Fractals for Musicians and Computer Band, performed with elan by members of the Baton Rouge Symphony Chamber Orchestra. (Canadian Coastlines has met with success elsewhere, as well: John Cage so admired the piece that he commissioned Austin to write the score for Merce Cunningham's Coast Zone, premiered in New York City on 18 March 1983.) Eight musicians performed four voices of an eight-voice canon; the remaining four voices were played as 'digital synthesizer sequences pre-recorded on tape, each voice entering in turn in exact melodic/rhythmic imitation.' The eight voices each followed a different tempo; the musicians were fed differing tempo click tracks through headphones, timed so that the eight parts melodically and rhythmically coincided five times during the piece. Melodic contour, interval choice, textural density, dynamic change, and rhythmic design were determined by a graph of the Canadian coastline, hence the title."
Steven Swartz, "Report from Buffalo--The North American New Music Festival 1983," Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 21, No. 2, spring/summer, 1983, reviewing *Stars, Canadian Coastlines, and Tableaux Vivants, Apr. 12, 1983, wrote:
"...An evening of his [Lejaren Hiller's] and Larry Austin's music was presented as a Hiller-Austin collage. It was an odd pairing which made for an entertaining evening....Whereas Hiller's music is frequently extroverted and brash, Austin's is often subdued and introspective. His music isn't really eclectic: it shows a play of conflicting tendencies rather than the traces of separable styles. Stars (1982), an algorithmically composed digital tape piece based on constellational grouping, was played, evoking slowly moving points of twinkling light. Canadian Coastlines (1981), another algorithmic piece, based this time on geographical features, was played by a mixed ensemble of eight players and tape. In both pieces, Austin enables us to find eloquence in the apparent randomness of the physical universe. His Tableaux Vivants (1973/81, for soprano, piano, flute, and tape, with slide projections) created a foreboding atmosphere with small events emerging from overlapping drones. Austin's music transcends categorization; his work bears the stamp of a distinctive and compelling musical personality."
John Strawn et al, "Report on the 1981 International Computer Music Conference," Computer Music Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1982, reviewing a performance of Canadian Coastlines, Nov. 5, 1981, wrote:
"...Canadian Coastlines by Larry Austin is an intriguing work for ear and mind. Austin is intent upon sonic evocation of the predictable and unpredictable qualities suggested by natural distributions, in this case the fluctuating courses of Canadian coastlines that "freely concatenated from the coordinates on the graph of melodic motion and pitch choice, the relative amount of sound-versus-silence, dynamic flux, and rhythm" (program notes). In the computer programs used for the piece, Austin uses fractal sets based on the work of the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot who, concerned about the inability of classic geometry to render "many important spatial patterns of nature," worked on a family of shapes that he called fractals. All of this would be fascinating to think about even if the piece did not work, but if one hearing means anything, it does. The model melody is used as the basis for a strict eight-voice canon, with four voices dispersed among a lovely natural/unnatural ensemble of soprano, two marimbas, flute, harp, euphonium, viola, and string bass. Four other voices are taped using a Synclavier II. Earphones provide discrete tempos for the performers, allowing widely varying tempos and rubatos. The work thins, thickens, cools and occasionally warms, moves forward and then veers away, joins, separates, soothes and disturbs, and truly allows the listener to enter the process. It also sets up a strong desire for further hearings."
Leonard Bernstein, CBS television broadcast of "Jazz in the Concert Hall," New York Philharmonic's Young Peoples Concert, introducing Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists, performed by the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein, conductor, March, 1964, stated:
"And now, to end this exciting look into jazz in the concert hall, we're going to come back to the music of today and see what our younger composers are up to. We've brought back our jazz combo or three fifth's of it, as you see, and we're going to play for you an unusual and strange new work by a young Californian named Larry Austin. Mr. Austin is as serious a composer as you can find anywhere. He's a master of all the techniques of modern music and at the age of thirty-three, he's an assistant professor of music at the University of California. So, this is no tossed-off stuff, but a really serious symphonic piece. In fact, it's such a serious piece--in spite of its jazz combo and its hair-raising ending, which is like a tremendous jam session--that I think you may not even realize there is jazz in it, especially during the first part. But the jazz is there alright. Only it's gotten thoroughly mixed with the serious or symphonic writing, so that it's almost unnoticeable. In other words, it's a real 'third stream.' And the other thing that makes this piece so special is the amount of improvisation that goes on in it. There are two times during the music that we 'long hairs' just stop playing, and the combo invents whatever notes they happen to feel at the time. And even more unusual than that is the fact that certain members of the Philharmonic are also asked to improvise every now and then. And that's a new wrinkle. So now, we're going to play for you this fascinating new piece called 'Improvisations for Orchestra and jazz Soloists' by Larry Austin. It's in three movements--Fast blues, Slow blues, and Very fast blues--played without pause and, as you may notice, without violins."