Wednesday, September 29, 2010
David Rosenboom & Donald Buchla - Collaboration in Performance
David Rosenboom was an early proponent of minimalism and live electronic music, and a fantastic classical and free-jazz pianist. As a performer he's worked with LaMonte Young, Anthony Braxton, Jon Hassell, Robert Ashley, and others. He taught at the famous Mills College Centre for Contemporary Music in Oakland throughout the 1980s, and since the 1990s has been heading the music department at CalArts. He's got quite a lot of recordings under his belt, as a performer and composer, including CDs on Lovely, Pogus and Centaur, with recent rereleases of 1970s LPs on Mutable Music, New World and Japan's EM records.
Interestingly, this LP is co-credited to Donald Buchla, designer of the famed Buchla Electric Music Box, one of the earliest modular synthesizers, so favored by Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick and others. He performs some of the synth material on "How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims, Section V".
"And Out Come the Night Ears" takes up the first side of the LP, and is an amazing showcase for Rosenboom's improvising and pianistic skills. Rosenboom plays an unending flurry of notes throughout the piece. His playing is incredibly fast and fleet, more textural than anything else. He runs up and down the keyboard at blinding speed.
Throughout this, a nearby Buchla synthesizer is set up to respond to Rosenboom's playing. It seems like it's probably using a pitch follower, and when he strays into certain areas of the keyboard the synthesizer responds with effects or sounds. Some low pitches cause the synth to make a snare-drum type sound, while other regions respond with synthesized bell-like tones or filtering effects or the like. It's an interesting piece, and again, Rosenboom's playing is extremely impressive without being pointlessly virtuosic. Rosenboom periodically employs the sustain pedal to blur the notes, but this is no "Strumming Music" piano drone piece. It's closer at times to a free jazz improvisation, though I can't think of any particular pianists who play like this.
The last four minutes or so feature Rosenboom repeating a short clustery phrase, which causes the synth to process the sound and create a sort of detuned tremolo effect, with occasional snare synth interjections.
"How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims, Section V" is the only only instance I'm aware of of Donald Buchla himself performing on a record. He and Rosenboom together play the then new Buchla Electric Music Box 300 Series, which from my understanding had an exceptional amount of sequencing capabilities for the time as well as live control over the settings.
The piece features several extremely fast repeating synth melodies playing simple modal scales at varying speeds. It has a strongly Indian feel to it, and is quite reminiscent of some of Terry Riley's late '70s organ improvisations. It's a gorgeous piece, a fantastic example of late 1970s electronic minimalism.
"And Out Come the Night Ears" has been released on CD as a bonus track with Rosenboom's "Future Travel" album on the fantastic New World Records. Apparently, however, this LP features a different excerpt from an hour long improvisation than the CD does. I haven't heard the CD so I don't really know how similar the material is.
"How Much Better if Plymouth Rock Had Landed on the Pilgrims" has been recently released in its entirety, in nine sections, on a double CD also on New World Records. That version consists mostly of new recordings, however, though there seem to be excerpts from this version used in some capacity. Again, I don't have the CD so I don't know exactly what the similarities are.
This LP was released in 1978 by the excellent 1750 Arch records, who released a ton of excellent music from the 1970s to the 80s, including lots of 20th century american classical music and some great free jazz stuff, most of which hasn't been rereleased.