’I Dream of Wires’: Morton Subotnick’s belated valentine

At 82, Morton Subotnick is one of the few remaining members of an eclectic consortium of international electronic composers who were the pioneers of the medium in the mid-20th century. During his long career, he has witnessed the resurgence and diversification of electronic music, from the rarified confines of academia to almost every corner of modern musical expression. As a lovely tip of the hat to his unorthodox musical identity, a new generation of electronica fans has now rediscovered him and his work, featured in a Canadian film by producer Jason Amm and director Robert Fantinatto, and”I Dream of Wiresand” which was shown in Berlin on July 28. As part of the filmand’s ongoing global release, the event was a long but reverential evening in Berlinand’s historic film house Babylon. Subotnick was there in person to perform excerpts of his works and give a lengthy public interview — all to an overflowing crowd. The initial emcee for the promotional evening was Alec Empire, a founding member and front man for Atari Teenage Riot and Digital Hardcore Recordings and who also appears in the film. As Fantinatto then took the stage, he announced: and”This is the end of a five-year journey around the world [to promote the film], and itand’s wonderful to see that the ticket queu is around the block! Morton Subotnick is one of the most important in this field.and” Subotnickand’s achievements are enjoying a resurgence of attention, due in part to the phenomenal fast-track progress of the equipment developed since these composers started tinkering with wires and knobs to create their music. The film affectionately traces the early days of analog electronic musicand’s musicians and inventors and their equipment that is characterized by an often overabundance of wires.
For some consumers of modern components, this new technology has become a compulsive collecting habit via trade fairs and catalogue purchases. As one young man in the film admitted, he had gotten to the point where he simply loves to and”sit there watching the blinking lights.and” and”I Dream of Wiresand” (with an original electronic score by Solvent) is an entertaining valentine to the genreand’s inventors (chiefly Americans Robert Moog and Don Buchla, and German Dieter Doepfer) and to the generations of users of all stripes. But most of all, itand’s an affectionate and often hilarious appreciation and exegesis for the layman about the way the industry has exponentially exploded, and how the terms and”analogand” and and”digitaland” have become integrated in our modern consciousness.
h2From academia to dance hallsh2 The film shows, with considerable attention to technical detail, how and why the proliferation of thousands of different component parts became a thriving commercial market, starting with the monstrously large first computers of the and’50s. At that time, that international academic consortium was able to develop these room-sized computers usually under the aegis of universities like Columbia, Princeton, Yale, the State University of New York, Mills College in California and the California Institute of the Arts. The list of pioneers includes Turkish composers Bandulent Arel, ilhan Mimaroilu and ilhan Baran working alongside Vladimir Ussachevsky, Otto Luening, Charles Wuorinen, Edgar Varandegravese, Wendy Carlos and Yannis Xenakis. Landeacuteon Theremin is credited with inventing of the first electronic musical instrument — the theremin (prominently featured in several recent works by Fazil Say). The and’60s were a definitive time for the development of the modular synthesizer, an outgrowth of the older tape-based models. Along came oscillators, transistors and sequencers later came digitized sound, all of which provided fundamental change. But still, the components were too large for private consumption. Inventors Moog and Buchla, according to the filmand’s narration, made diverging philosophical decisions in that decade. and”Bob was interested in things that would be successful for a commercial musician,and” explained one technician on the soundtrack. One of the main issues was to scale down the size of the products. What followed over the decades is what the general public witnesses in clubs and dance halls around the world, and has become the stock equipment for DJs. But early on, Subotnick was on the other side of strictly commercial thinking: and”I said from the get-go we didnand’t want a black and white keyboard, because I knew what that would mean,and” he explained in the film. and”If I had a keyboard I was going to produce regular music — thatand’s not what I wanted to do.and” In the 1960s Subotnick received a recording offer to produce a full-length recording of strictly computer-generated music, and”Silver Apples of the Moon,and” which went on to become a bestselling classic of its kind. And thatand’s precisely what the Berlin audience heard live, after the post-screening QA session where Subotnick told behind-the-scenes stories, cracked jokes and talked about his basic musical trajectory: and”I started on something in 1961, and Iand’m still working on it. Iand’m not interested in knobs [for me] it was the tactile experience I could get with my fingers pressing on my clarinet and using my voice. My original idea Iand’m still trying to understand. And Iand’m still learning the new technology the whole notion of computers is changing — new controllers are where itand’s all going.and” Subotnick has obviously figured out enough new technology to be able to reproduce his and”Silver Applesand” live, with a Mac coupled with several plug-ins — a considerably downsized amount of equipment than in 1967, the year of its debut. VJ Lillevan provided luxurious complementary abstract images on a giant screen. Both artists were in moment-to-moment communication with each other, as the soundscape started from pianissimo stillness, escalating slowly in sections of rhythmic sequences bouncing from speaker to speaker, with occasional single naked tones emanating from the balcony. Listeners were immersed in bizarre dissonances from the center of the earth, from cacophonous eruptions to unutterable beauty, permeated the room. This rendition, plus their new version of his 1978 and”A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur, Revisitedand” gave listeners a true taste of the primary source of the entire genre in their magnificent opus — a fanciful, and artistically coherent, dream of wires.