15 October 2014

Objets sonore, II

Not every electronic composer can boast of having learned his chops while editing and composing for "Tom & Jerry" cartoons.

Re, as with what I stated earlier about Richard Maxfield. It seems like saying that the music of Tod Dockstader has been unfairly neglected or undocumented is akin to sending the USS Cliché to run aground on the Shores of Redundancy. At least in Dockstaer’s case, there’s actually a few discs of the collected early work, plus that spate of recent productivity that was released about a decade ago, executed shortly before his faculties started to sadly decline.

Watching the clip from the proposed documentary above, I can’t help but be struck by how Dockstader seems so much as he did in that series of b&w photographs taken in 1966, during the recording sessions for Omniphony. A tall figure towering over the equipment, the hairless head gleaming under the overheard lights, and - in many of the images - some sort of smile across his mug, as if there were nothing else in the world he’d rather be doing than pushing sounds around, exploring new sonic syntaxes. One can’t help but wondering if his early jobbing as a film editor didn’t have something to do with why it is his pieces - when stacked alongside those of his then-contemporaries - moved with such brisk fluidity.

From an interview with Chris Cutler, c. 1993:
"I'd done quite a lot of music in a relatively short time. I'd almost lived in that studio for six, seven years, engineering by day and doing my music in down-time, nights, and weekends there. Concrete and electronic music was an expensive music to make, then; it cost a lot in time and money - too much money, in those days, for some one working alone. And time... l was pushing those studio machines hard, and they were always breaking down and I had to stop and fix them right then, no waiting, so they'd be ready the next working day. A regular composer, what's the worst will happen? He breaks a pencil, he loses a few seconds. l break a big Ampex and you lose most of a day, or, in my case, your job if you can't get it working again. And the heat... The decks would get so hot you couldn't touch them and you'd have to turn them off to cool down for a while. It really was like a kitchen. I read, much later, where someone from those days - maybe Berio - said he couldn't believe he put in all that physical work that tape-music demanded. Of course, he had another way to make music: he went back to writing, as Stockhausen and most others did around that time, late 'Sixties, 'Seventies. I suspect many of them turned away with a sigh of relief. But, as I've said, I wanted to make music out of sound, not the other way around, even if I could have. And then, things were changing even while I was still at it. The 'Glorious Junkshop,' as someone called it, of [musique] concrète was closing. And it did."

And at a later point in the same interview:
"TD: I remember I got a couple of 'phone calls in the 'Eighties from someone, I don't remember his name, who said he was working in a group, composing, or trying to, and they were all listening to my LPs, and could I tell him what to do. I didn't know what to say to him, except, don't worry it, just do it. Because, I'd always worked alone, not even listening to other people's music then, let alone working in a group. So, what were they hearing in my music? I don't know; maybe - it's the hands.
CC: 'Hands'?
TD: Well - in painting, which I studied, seriously, in school, we used to say a painter we liked had 'good hands.' You could see his hand in the work, in the brush-work. This was early 'Fifties, with painters like DeKooning and Bacon; they had great hands. And, for me, like painting, making music was always a very physical thing, very tactile. I played those tape machines like a DJ plays turntables, rocking reels back and forth, pulling the tape through by hand. The only time I sat down was to edit - more hand-work - otherwise I was always in motion. ..."
I'm not so sure about the doco. But at the very least, maybe there should be a Kickstarter campaign to liberate and market the musical contents of Dockstader's hard drive.

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