(This part was last updated: July 20, 1996)
When Matthew Davidson first suggested placing a mail box on the new web page, I was of many minds. I am often enough swamped by fan mail and thoughtful, kind letters as it is, and have already discovered that I simply can't keep up with it all. But I'm trying it out for a while. So rest assured, I do see and read all your e-mail. Promise. It's a shame, but a realistic one, that I can't write a custom reply to each of you.
Another Pen Pal, Arthur Clarke, usually just sends a rather cordial form letter to answer such mail. It's better than no answer at all, he suggests. Perhaps that's the simple truth of it. So I'd like to post this sectionalized letter to reply to all of you as I cannot do individually. And for newer items, as these come in, I'll try to update this document regularly to cover your additional interesting questions.
Thus said, here goes...
But I am encouraged that there are at least a few of you out there who do listen and do connect with my music. It's very solitary work, as many of you already know, working away in a studio space, with no means of feedback aside from an occasional visit by a friend while you're finishing work. Composition has almost always been solitary. Performance not, aside from the practice time we all could do more of... And good theater really demands audience reaction. Of all kinds.
So it's gratifying and helpful to hear your comments and feedback. I can't promise that I'll necessarily agree with each of you, but find that more often I do anyway, and that we all seem to be on a similar wavelength. Huzzah! For those who are NOT, I do read everything you have to say nonetheless, and do try to consider it as my work progresses. None of your thoughts get wasted, I assure you. So my sincere thanks for taking the time to do this.
Some of you seem to hate everything I've done in the last 15 or more years. No, I'm not going to give you the Web Finger, you certainly have a right to your opinions. But I'd love to know exactly what stimulus you're responding to. Woody Allen parodied this cliche very amusingly in Stardust Memories (we love your early movies, you know, the funny ones?!) I wish for your sake that artists weren't first also human beings. As human beings we do change, grow, adapt, perhaps even learn and become wiser.
So it becomes quite impossible to remain statically in the same one spot. For that we can thank the new technologies that our earlier creative works can now be stored and preserved very well for years to come (well, there's another side to that, witness some of my older masters, like those from 'Tron', which are currently unplayable, as the tape turns to pure tree sap...). I'll soon be able to re-release most of the back catalog CBS ignored as new CDs (see my comments on the discography page, if you haven't already.)
I used to feel likewise, when digital first came in, and I heard the 3-M early machines at a NY AES show. As the tech editor of Studio Sound found out, these initial machines were hideous. At least at the lowest levels. So he maliciously used the 'gently key-jingling trick', and recorded his large key ring at some distance from a mike, at low level onto the early digital machines. Couldn't make out WHAT it was-- a funny sputtering noise.
Then dithering was invented, and a funny thing happened. The distortion at low levels went away. I mean it really did. Soft sounds just went down into a background of white noise, just like on the best analog gear. With recent improvements the dither has gotten more refined, and can even gain more than the 16-bit limits of low background noise. Even without that, well done dithered 16 bit audio is awfully good.
If you want to hear what the remaining problem, stepwise linearity, can do, if mucked up, get a copy of CBS (yes, my old company!) CD: MK 37267, Murray Perahia plays Mozart Piano Concertos. Listen to the right channel only on cut 2: @ 1:29 and 2:03 the piano, and @ 1:44 the Horn fall into gleeful weird digital distortion. That's what digital distortion does: sounds like a multi-path FM or short-wave radio effect, no more no less. The 'warmth' and 'reverb-ambience' comments are simply myth and fabrications, like alien abductions, possibly, if truly believed. The real interesting story is why the beliefs persist in the face of the truth. But I'm no psychiatrist.
And whenever the topic has come up ever since, I simply have to remind him of the realworld test, and it pretty much kills the whole taunt. When double-blind, no expectations runs like this, you're hard pressed to ignore the implications. Still, why did he seem to prefer the digital (to me they sounded as near identical as those famous pod peas...?)
When I had done the same stunt with my first CD release and the master tape, and then with the LP version, I changed my earlier opinion against digital. Digital could be pretty remarkable, if the engineers didn't muck up. Anyway, I was an LP mastering engineer for several years. Why that old-fandangled method (and not, say, Dolby-SR 15 ips tape) should be now considered as anything but a stopgap method of sound recording is beyond my ken, in front or behind the scenes. Go figure.
Performance gestures that are done instinctively are great. Small changes in a repeating melody are essential composorial tools. A nice blend of prediction and surprise seem to be at the heart of the best art. But don't you agree? So I try, even on those many times when I fail. If this is what you dislike, best to listen elsewhere, as I am unable (constitutionally)y to loop around and around, mantra like. In India it may be flattering to fall asleep during certain music. Not in the West.
Stoney Stockell c/o Korg USA 89 Frost Street Westbury NY 11590
But I ought mention, behind his back, that this is purely another of Stoney's altruistic gestures. It is only for the love of the machines, and what they represented in the history of the speedy field that he does this. So please don't take advantage of him.
There has still been no one to use the 2-D interpolating method of the Synergy. From lowest to highest note was one direction (axis). And from softest to loudest was the other. And the whole in-between was filled in smoothly and continuously to get the entire area that each sound could take on. Great idea. A 3-D version would be a gass, truly. So far it hasn't happened. So I still cherish my Digital Keyboards as MuLogix units. Very special, what they taught me. And thanks to those who feel likewise, and wrote to tell me.
Those who continue the 'museum' of the traditional orchestra and chamber ensembles are doing just that, preserving a past world for posterity. And that's a noble, important activity, don't smile. But it just happens not to be on the path to the future. They're now the ones looking in at those of us herein.
So, where to go? One very easy answer is provided by the simple gesture of discarding the 12-tone Equal Tempered scale. Hey, it's had its heyday, and fine, it still works pretty well, and sounds pretty good. BUT...
There are so many other interesting worlds of scale and tuning to try out. And they're rather easy to try, not a lot of backbreaking work, as it once was for pioneers from Bosanquet through Partch. The main credential seems only to be a sense of curiosity and adventure. Like that shown by Johnny Reinhard and the American Microtonal Festival. They produce several concerts a year in the NE and elsewhere of new or old alternatively tuned music. And they're far from the only ones to do so. Great!
Did you know, there are several interesting pages and sites on the web for microtonal resources and information (do a search on the word: "microtonal")? I was quite happily surprised. There's a listing of recordings available, if you want to hear what others are doing. But really, if you are a composer or performer, why not at least try it yourself? If you want to hear a genuinely stimulating example of what might be done, get a copy of the new CD re-release:
CDR 90000 018
I find his work in alternative tunings among the deepest and most appealing I've yet encountered. But since he's never answered any of my mail I've had no chance to follow up with questions and interaction. He's also authored a rigorous, fascinating book on the subject. But I think it's more for the specialist than as an introduction. Use Debussy's method instead: whatever pleases your ears...
A more accessible introduction to microtonal music is found in the writings of American microtonal pioneer Ivor Darreg, in 'Xenharmonic Bulletin' (when you can find copies of them). An amazing man, whom many of us now sorely miss. Fortunately there's an excellent Darreg CD privately and lovingly assembled by Jonathan & Elizabeth Glasier, Brian McLaren and Gary Morrison, called "Detwelvulate".
I expect to keep trying other scale options on many if not most of my compositions from now on. There's plenty of room for all of you in this category: let's try it, but not throw out the 12-tone past along the way. Please, no dogma and religion here, been enough of that already. Let's simply have both. Or ALL. Wotta idea, more options, more choice! (Yes, I'm pro choice...)
Yes, I have tried to encourage her become involved with recording projects again, since she has a great many talents and skills to offer. She always smiles and says she's been thinking about it. I'll let you know any news I hear. I've told her that some of you have made inquiries, which is proper, as without her I don't believe most of this would have happened.
More recently, I worked with another fine conductor, Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony, doing a concert of live orchestra versions of the music from Digital Moonscapes. It was instructive to play several examples from the digital master in the hall to compare with the orchestra's versions. Interpretation and performance gestures seemed to be far more important than the mere difference between acoustic or electronic sound sources, as everyone could plainly hear. Does that surprise you? With the latest technology of the past couple of years, the differences of sound source ought be even smaller now. (I don't expect performance differences to lose their importance by one whit, technology be dammed...!)
If you include demonstrations, I've done many talks with slides and audio examples over the years, here and in Europe. It would be hard to remember them all right now. Some were aimed at more "tech level" audiences, like at three AES (Audio Engineering Society) meetings, two international, one NYC area, which I presented. There was an elaborate one for Ars Electronica in 1980, held in Linz Austria, that was a lot of fun. Others were more designed for general audiences. I'll confess to being a bit of a "ham", so these things are usually fun for me to do, (but also a lot of work to prepare properly.) Hope this covers your queries.
Bach was and continues to be a very important part of my musical background. But I really learned more about his music by doing it, making those recordings, than by study. So I don't really know what effect arrangements of his cast-iron counterpoint (it's that unassailable!) have had on the music world in general.
I'm also not aware that there's any important revival of interest in the fugal forms. It would be great news if it were true. Alas, I fear that we're living through a period of Cultural Dark Ages, in which the least substantial examples are made much of, while works of any profundity are avoided as too threatening, or requiring too much effort to understand. Some amazingly dull music has made it to the top of the charts, haven't you noticed? This is a topic that lies very temptingly close to a "rant", as it's called, and is out of place in this open letter. (But I'll save it for an eventual one of those!)
After the appearance of the original S-OB, we did notice an increase in the number of Bach arrangements for many ensembles. Brass Quintet or Quartet seems to my ears to be an appropriate medium, and I've been a fan of The Canadian Brass and other such ensembles for many years. Certainly a wirey, small ensemble is more compatible with Bach's linear music than those huge orchestral transcription of earlier this century. Sodden and bloated vistas, they were much more a reflection of late 19th century Romanticism, than J.S. Bach's Baroque period. Perhaps my own synthesizer transcriptions will eventually be looked on as a sort of later 20th century misappropriation, but I sure hope not...
So I did see Comet Hyakutake surprising well from the roof of our building in NYC. Friends like Fred Espenak, whom I mention on my Solar Eclipse Page, sent me some images of it taken from really dark skies. And as many of you know, there are/were several good sites on the Web, so we could follow the comet via satellite cameras past perihelion, when it was lost in the solar glare here on earth.
It's just about ten years ago that a few of us went down to Mexico to see Halley's Comet, which we photographed, and finally bade farewell, by renting a car and driving due west from NYC, nearly to Pennsylvania, to find an adequately dark sky (at Lake Budd.) Sadly, it was a poor show this time. Now, those lucky to see it in 2061... *sigh*
In truth, one of my biggest kicks for searching the Net and Web is all the info available on the latest bits of knowledge which we as a species have painfully gleaned. This continues in spite of our primitive brains desperately yearning to retreat back into dark-ages mysticism and psychic featherheading. If the West collapses, as even Jacob Bronowski thought it might, it will be when the ratio of very possibly true to most probably untrue drops below some ill defined threshold.
Are we there yet, mommy? Sometimes I fear we're getting dangerously close. Look at what now clutters the airwaves in para this or that, and the old: My psychic's better than your psychic hooey. Laughable now perhaps? We shall see. As long as there are others of you, like the many who've written, with appreciation for the 'test in reality': the old scientific method (a shoddy tool, maybe, but the best we've got), I'll try to remain hopeful. Thanks for those comments and ideas!
Audio (video, too) moves too quickly. Companies are born and vanish at times distractingly without warning. Updates, upgrades, and "New Improved Versions" orbit overhead, distracting me from making music almost as much as MIDI Hell. I don't know who makes Vocoders nowadays, for example. But there are some new digital programs and devices that claim to be able to do the same sort of speech processing. I'll have to try them to find out if they're any good. If my Moog and Synton units crash, I'll be worried and at a loss to repair or replace them. Ditto the Fairlight VoiceTracker , an utterly amazing box that was available for too short a while.
The many of you who "choose" this absurd arena to consume your time & lives already know what I'm talking about. Will it surprise you to learn that I have really very few sources for information that you don't already have, or can't find yourselves? But it's true. Perhaps search the Net, or put ads in Classifieds of appropriate magazines and newspapers. That's what I generally do.
The LP, long out-of-print, (CBS: KC 31480) is one of the masters we'll be gaining control over at the end of this year. As I mentioned on the Discography Page, we'll eventually have it out on a clean new CD release, for the first time. Look for it then. And yes, as with Geodesic Dance, I've always maintained a certain fondness for Country Lane, and thanks to those who share this opinion. Both were similarly nasty examples of "hocketing" to play live directly onto tape, but with enough patience, came out transparent to all the effort. That's why I tell young musicians who come up to me to probe for my secrets and shortcuts: "The best shortcut is to realize that there aren't any shortcuts. Or the music suffers." That's my secret. Honest. Just DO it!
So for the final track we had to replace the foreground Flugelhorn elements with my Moog version of the Berlioz Dies, and that was that. I never have cared for it, although a few friends maintain it fits the actual mood of the film better than the much more colorful "version that got away". At least Rachel's electrifying singing and vocal effects are still in there. The audience responds to that.
Our other music includes the drive up to the Overlook, which was one of several experiments I made using my then-new Circon. We built it ourselves, using some generous circuit design from Bob Moog. I've reworked this Theremin offshoot again in the last couple of years, and am using it among other exotic sources on my newest project(s). The Circon is so much easier to learn to play, and can hit jumping intervals exactly, unlike the Theremin. Wish I could find someone to manufacture it. Perhaps after the new albums come out, and people begin to wonder "how it was done". . .
Finally, we produced several layers of musical effects for The Shining , which in the final soundtrack are combined with other music and sounds, collage-style. Kubrick supervised all of these while the final mix was underway, and Rachel and I had nothing to do with what appears in the final movie, past making these musical sound elements. But all of this story appears in some interviews we did in the early '80's, notably for Keyboard magazine. They promise to place the many interviews I've done with them up on the Web. We'll then put links to them from these pages, when those become available. Stay tuned!
So we came up with the Living Page idea as a better description of what we are about, and I designed the little leaf icon. Now others of you have expressed the wish to use the Living Page concept, too. Hit a resonance in you, too? Great! We should project the positive side of dynamic information, since there's really nothing to apologize about, which those Under Construction images and words unfortunately do. Let's put our best foot forward, and I can envision no time when such "construction bars" would be removed, if the medium is being used creatively. Can you?
There's a touching ethical side to asking about this, too, instead of merely cribbing the icon and description for your own site. Says a lot to me about the caliber of people who are our cyberneighbors here on the web. (Hmm.. I like that word, cyberneighbors, too.) Since neither Matthew nor I have any ulterior motives for coming up with this bit of fluff, feel free to use it on your own pages. I guess it would be neat to discover that (in a word-of-mouth Net equivalent) knowledgeable Web Surfers know the idea came from here first. But I don't know how that could happen. Otherwise, as they say: use it in good health!
Nevertheless, I'll take your request quite literally, and so have added several more images of "the guys" to the Photos Page. If you think this is all silly or nuts, please just ignore them. In person it's a little harder to ignore them, but on the Web you can just turn to a different place. But if you do enjoy animals a lot, I hope you'll get a smile out of a few of the images now posted. C'mon, some of them are cute enough for a small smile even from the "animally challenged" or cute-a-phobic of you...!
All I did was to stick to whole numbers, and symmetrically "rob from Peter to pay Paul" all the way around a "circle of Fifths". If you draw such a circle and then write my detuning (from E.T.) values beside each of the note-names, starting with C at the top (or whatever is home key), it shows up right away. Each reducing of the Equal Temperament error on the keys near the top is exactly balanced by the worsened ones just opposite and below. The keys of A major and E flat are about the same as E.T.
Keys nearer C major are better, and those with more accidentals are worse. I don't remember the mathematical way I rms-smoothed out the cycle, but in the end it was really splitting hairs. Being a pragmatic microtonalist, I let it go as is described in the Kurzweil Tuning article I posted on the Resources page a short while ago. You may enjoy looking it over, and especially examining the table that goes with it.
But by noticing that problem which flattened most of our pre-S-OB experimental tracks, we decided to work around it. Fine, all the sounds fall into just a small range, do they? Hmm.. Okay, then let's switch from one to the another constantly, and use new and varied patterns of shifting, and lots of tricks borrowed from the best of traditional orchestration. I've discussed a few of these thoughts in my Secrets of Synthesis recording, as many of you will remember.
The point is that these modest "tricks", if you will, did and do work. They're not as necessary nowadays to be sure, but you might do well to bear them in mind. And for those of you who will produce the opening theme for some PBS special that I will watch soon (extrapolate), please remember that some of us don't require boring constant exact repetition of theme or timbre. A little variety can spice things up nicely, and you'll find the audience will smile more without knowing exactly why. Respect for the intelligence and even untutored perceptions of the listener is kind of appealing. So don't be so stingy with those sounds and ideas, puh-leeze!
The problem is that none of those were mixed in actual surround stereo. So now I'd have to go back to the multitracks and try to come up with equivalent new mixes using Dolby Surround that also retain every gesture and nuance of the originals. Having lived through those originals, I remember just how careful and polished the mixes were before I was satisfied with them. Took a long time.
Often there were misbalances and poor transitions on the multitracks that had to be massaged and finessed artfully in the mix, making the mix more of a performance, than just setting some faders in a rough row and trimming them for a final balance. No such luck. If we'd had a memory system to record each fader and other control's movement, it would now be possible to reconstruct much of a mix. But we don't. (I made designs for ways to do this back in 1970, but we never were able to build such a system of "automated mixing" ourselves. We were too early on that...)
That leaves doing what (at this years later stage) would be inferior mixes to the originals. Don't look at me, I want no part of that. And you who love the originals ought not want a part of it, either. I'll do a gentle overall level touch up, some EQ and mild hiss & noise cleanup, perhaps, a real optimization, but no more than that.
But-- come to think of it, all of my earliest mixes were made using a simple positioning matrix. As it turns out, the way the center tracks were mixed in phase to the two sides is exactly the same as a surround matrix. Furthermore, the echo, reverb, and ambiance tracks were placed in a very similar way to surround channels, mostly out-of-phase or random phase, or a combination of those. After all, these ideas of phase and level for positioning stereo sounds goes quite far back. A lot of us used ideas congruent with current surround methods.
And this means that in truth, all those earlier albums will play back very nicely on Surround decoders! We don't HAVE to do a new surround remix! Had the original mixes been less simple and pure in concept, this might not be as true. But the reason I released my Bach 2000 album in Dolby Surround is that it seemed such a natural extension of the way I've been doing things for years! So rest easy. If you play the new CD releases on a surround system you will be hearing surround sound, nothing "fake" about it. And on a traditional stereo system, it will continue to sound correct and just fine.
So I have little say in what sounds and cues make it to the final mix. Even my careful attempts at synchronizing at times get altered, and this is a tale all other composers for film soundtracks can speak about, most of them better than I can. You expect changes, and hope you still come out okay with your contribution, as film is a team or collective art form.
I don't really know all the music Kubrick used in assembling The Shining. We provided additional cues of a textural nature, to give Stanley the maximum flexibility in collaging together what he wanted. Some of these made it into the final print. The song at the very end is one I thought worked rather well, but I had nothing to do with it. Kubrick does mention (in the book about him by Michel Ciment) that it's called "Midnight, the Stars and You", a popular dance tune from the 20's, with Ray Noble's band and an Al Bowly vocal.
I'm unaware of any exact influences for my score to "Tron", except for a few inside jokes, like the high trumpet phrase borrowed from Stravinsky's "Nightingale" (when Flynn gets scanned). Certainly I don't believe there are more than accidental similarities (Ear of The Beholder) to early electronic music, such as Gassman's "Electronics", which I think was mostly assembled by Oskar Sala, anyhow. (A real expert like Tom Rhea would know if this is truth or legend.)
On the other hand, deadline pressures on composing original film scores can and usually are enormous. One must so depend on inner instincts and initial ideas, that it becomes unusually likely to suggest existing pieces that you'd never do otherwise. At times, as in Al Newman's score for the classy early CinemaScope Fox film, "Anastasia", the plagiarism is deliberate. Here he simply orchestrated Arensky's Waltz from Suite #1 for two pianos, as the Grand Waltz in a ballroom scene. It was P.D., after all, and authentically from the proper country and period. Still, this is no mere style or phrase or excerpt that got borrowed, but a whole four minute dance!
Now we have yet another winner, number six. Eric Frampton of mindspring.com has also done an impeccable job of listening and deduction for that one Moog Synth sound. Congrats, Eric! If this keeps up, I may have to make this a separate block or page! We shall see...
So come on gang, it's not all that difficult-- you can't be trying. Read the hints in the liner notes again some day, and send in your suggestions. I'll try to mention anyone else whose ears (and logic) are sharp enough to nail that analog "interloper"...! 'Nuff said!
It also happens to be a neat way to learn how to control all of our tools, so my whimsy above is not quite sincere. But I don't have the time to listen to your interesting examples. Try as I might, I find that the most difficult thing about getting older is the awareness of how short life really is, and how hard it is to get anything completed to some degree of perfection, or satisfaction anyway.
The important thing is to keep trying. Did you hear that? The attempt is what's important, that you try to do your utmost best, no cop-out, no shortcuts and formulae (the search for those is perhaps 99% folly), no excuses. The results are for others to decide upon, not you or me. So don' t worry about posterity, nor those who may help or encourage you on the way. After all, as Robert Heinlein told Jerry Pournelle: "You can't pay back; you pay forward."
You can scarcely spend your time more productively than in training your ear. Learn how to hear the nuances in every given performance, each tiny change of tempo, the variations of ensemble and balance. If you get to fool with a good synthesizer, try to hear each parameter directly, not depending on the graphics and your eyes, which can mislead. It's possible to learn to hear every lower partial in struck timpani, for instance. I know, because I've done it. Not so hard once you get the "knack". And Helmholtz did it long before any of us! (Ever hear of Helmholtz Resonators? Read his Dover reprint: On The Sensations Of Tone. At least skim it!)
Lately my listening time is very limited, and I'd prefer not to have the temptations of your kind gifts. At the same time, I am thankful that you care enough to offer them to me.
Thanks for reading this long (and growing!) bit of ramble..!
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Wendy Carlos Open Letter