Elliott S. Schwartz
Of the many musical innovations of the twentieth century, surely one of the most significant was the development, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, of music created by electrical means. During the postwar era, a number of composers-including Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgard Varese and John Cage-began using the raw resources of electronically generated sound, traditional "musical" sound, and/or natural sound from the world about us, to create works on magnetic tape.
Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky also belong to the select group of early pioneers in electroacoustic music. These two composers and faculty colleagues at Columbia University began experimenting with tape in 1951, and a year or so later a number of their compositions were heard on a concert of new music (introduced by Leopold Stokowski, and sponsored by Broadcast Music, Incorporated) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The impact of these works on the musical community was overwhelming. Critic Jay Harrison spoke for many when he wrote, in his review for the New York Herald Tribune:
It has been a long time in coming, but music and machine are now wed. The result is as nothing encountered before. It is the music of fevered dreams, of sensations called back from a dim past...the sound of echo...vaporous, tantalizing, cushioned. It is in the room and yet not part of it. It is something entirely new. And genesis cannot be described.
The date of the concert-featuring the first performance of tape music in the United States-was October 28, 1952.
Forty years and one day later-October 29, 1992-the College Music Society hosted a day-long symposium at the University of San Diego, designed to celebrate that historic Museum of Modern Art program, to honor ninety-two year-old Otto Luening (who was in attendance throughout the day's events), and to bring together a number of other figures-such as Max Mathews, Donald Buchla and Jon Appleton-who were prominent movers during the first few decades of electroacoustic music. The CMS symposium organizers also wanted to discuss a larger phenomenon, still with us-and still growing-in the wake of those early postwar developments: the extensive influence of electronic technology (such as the increased use of amplification and electric instruments in live performance, or the development of videotape and the compact disc) on our perceptions, and the corresponding transformation of the esthetic experience. By focusing upon ways in which the post-1945 loudspeaker revolution has altered our musical thinking, the symposium planners hoped we might not only commemorate the past, but deliberate upon the present and the future as well.
I cannot resist adding a personal note here. In the fall of 1954, early in my second year as an undergraduate at Columbia, Professors Luening and Ussachevsky played recordings of their daring, experimental tape music at an informal reception for the sophomore class. To my ears, the music was-literally-incredible, other-worldly. Over the next few years I was to study composition with Otto Luening, and very soon realized that his avant-gardism was solidly rooted in classical discipline. I was also delighted by, and am still grateful for, the patient, flexible and supportive quality of his teaching. It was a great pleasure to see him four decades later, as articulate and energetic as ever, at The College Music Society symposium honoring the "birthday" of one of his greatest achievements.
The CMS 1992 San Diego symposium, Celebrating the Fortieth Anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art Concert: The History and Future of Electroacoustic Music, proved to be stimulating, moving and revelatory for all those who attended. We hope that this volume captures the spirit and excitement of that remarkable event.