Jon Appleton (b. 1952)


Contes de la mémoire

1. San Francisco Airport Rock (1996) [3:23]
A MIDI sequence prepared at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT in the Fall of 1994. Airport voices recorded at the San Francisco International Airport in March, 1996. Final mix at the Bregman Electronic Music Studio in May, 1996.
Recording assistance: Janice Neri. Mixing engineer: Martin Dupras.

2. Dima Dobralsa Domoy (1996) [7:16]
Original voice recordings in September, 1993 at the Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College. Synthesized and sampled material from the Synclavier. Edited and mixed on the Synclavier in the Bregman Electronic Music Studio in December, 1993.

3. In Medias Res (1978) [9:44]
Synthesized material from the Dartmouth Digital Synthesizer developed by Sydney Alonso and Cameron Jones at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College. Mixed down from Scully multitrack recorders in the Bregman Electronic Music Studio.

4. Homage To Orpheus (1969) [3:10]
Composed to accompany a sculpture by Varujan Boghosian. Concrete sounds and synthesized material processed through a Moog III in the Bregman Electronic Music Studio. Recordings of African voices by James Fernandez. The work was originally recorded on an endless tape loop for its performance in the gallery where the sculpture was exhibited.

5. Times Square Times Ten (1969) [9:00]
Recordings done in New York City in July, 1969. Edison cylinders belonging to Ray Nash recorded in Royalton, Vermont. Mixed in the Bregman Electronic Music Studio.

6. Newark Airport Rock (1969) [2:12]
Composed in 1969. Recordings done at Newark Airport.

7. CCCP (1969) [5:14]
Composed using voices recorded from Radio Moscow, the BBC and synthesized material processed by a Moog III synthesizer in the Bregman Electronic Music Studio.

8. Spuyten Duyvil (1967) [2:58]
Composed in the Electronic Music Studio at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

9. Georganna Fancy (1966) [2:33]
Composed in March, 1966 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City.

10. Chef D'oevre (1967) [2:23]
Composed in the Griffith Electronic Music Studio at Dartmouth College. Original recording of the Andrews Sisters used with the permission of American Home Foods.


Looking back over the thirty years of electroacoustic music represented by the music on this recording, it can be difficult to untangle the web of personal, cultural and technological influences which shaped these pieces. Unlike my instrumental music from the same years, in which one can observe a certain stylistic consistency, my work in electroacoustic music consisted of three, distinct approaches.

Two of these approaches appeared early in my music; the abstract manipulation of timbre (Georganna's Fancy, 1966 and Spuyten Duyvil, 1967) and the use of 'found musics' and recognizable objets sonores (Chef d'œuvre, 1967 and Homage to Orpheus, 1969).

The third approach, not represented on this recording, are the ten years I spent composing electroacoustic music for the Synclavier, a live performance instrument I helped develop. These pieces combined the stylistics elements of my instrumental and electroacoustic music.

I began composing electroacoustic music because it was the only aspect of 'new music' in the 1960s that I found compelling. The serial music I was urged to compose while in graduate school, and that we were told would be the 'music of the future,' seemed emotionally vapid to me. In the final years of the 20th century, young composers look with nostalgia to the 1960s and the liberation artists were supposed to have felt. We did feel that there were no 'rules' and, as I told Nat Hentoff, in 1968: "a revolution has not occurred in the arts so much as it has in our own attitudes. In this period of change we should feel elation at the approach of a new order of civilization." Thirty years later I am embarrassed by my naïveté but at the same time recognize the excitement which propelled my work in electroacoustic music. Here was a truly new kind of music. Here was a new way to awaken the emotions and consciousness of listeners. Here was a way I could express myself without the burden of past traditions.

Perhaps the greatest frustration I experienced as a composer of electroacoustic music was the constant need to develop a new technique for the various equipment used to produce the music. I still use my piano technique, but have long ago abandoned my ability to splice tape, control tape loops, patch an analog synthesizer, use various computer-music languages... Now I struggle with software like MAX and hardware like ProTools III knowing that in another decade the tools will have changed again. There are some composers who relish the challenge of new technology and the artistic opportunities it provides. For some, new technology has provided the sole motivation for being a composer. For me, studio technique was a necessary evil which could have the advantage of forcing me to limit my materials and to be less facile when composing.

I can still remember the excitement I felt beginning each new piece when I first began composing electroacoustic music. I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going or what would be the result of my hours in the studio. Nevertheless, a recognizable style did emerge and today, when I start a new piece, is a fear that I can do nothing truly new. Of course there is the satisfaction the skills honed over the years will enable me to produce a composition worth hearing, I do wish that I could recapture that youthful quality of seeing the world in a new way. I am sure all experienced artists feel the same way.

The music should stand for itself and thus my comments about the individual works on this recording will be brief, ancillary and dedicated to providing information that might be of interest to other practitioners and critics of electroacoustic music. The listeners can take care of themselves and stop reading here.

Having spent the year 1965-66 at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (New York City)-where we believed that our artistic work was the center of the universe-I was forced to reconsider my work as a composer when I moved to rural Vermont in 1967. Suddenly I was confronted by the fact few of the people in my village knew what a composer did and none knew about electroacoustic music. That same year, stranded by weather at the Newark airport, I took the opportunity to ask my fellow passengers "what do you think about the new electronic music?" Later I assembled the choicest answers, placed them on a bed of sequenced, electronic sound produced by a Moog synthesizer, and called the piece Newark Airport Rock. Nearly thirty years later, Esmé Thompson suggested that I do a companion piece to show how things had changed. Between planes in San Francisco, I asked passengers the same question. Again I assembled the most interesting answers, composed a MIDI based accompaniment using E-MU and Roland synthesizers and Vision sequencing software, and named the piece San Francisco Airport Rock.

As mentioned above, the pieces Spuyten Duyvil, Georganna's Fancy, and Homage to Orpheus were all assembled in what was then called a 'tape studio.' These studios, such as the one constructed at Dartmouth College in 1967, with the assistance of James Seawright, were modeled after the first studios for electroacoustic music in France. Several tape recorders and sound modifying equipment were connected to a central mixer. When I listen to these pieces I can remember how they were made and why they sounded the way they did, but I can no longer recapture the musical vision I had at the time. They almost sound like music composed by someone else. Perhaps this is because many years have passed since I have heard them.

The opposite is true of Chef d’œuvre. It so happens that composers are often saddled by others with a 'signature' work. It is my Boléro. It is the work of mine that has been most frequently played and recorded. Using the sounds of a singing commercial for Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pizzas by the Andrews Sisters, there is a frenetic pace and sense of humor which can be heard in subsequent works. The tape studio techniques used to produce this piece are the same used in Times Square Times Ten, a longer work in the same genre. Here we have a programmatic, musico-archeological cross section of Manhattan. In 1969 I wrote that this piece "moves from the street to lower and lower levels below 42nd Street and Broadway. Sonic objects from the past lurk in the subway tunnels and at times try to assert themselves again. In the end they are buried and can only emerge from the tunnels as ghosts which ride the trains." In 1986 I returned to this style of composition in works such as Homenaje a Milanés (1987), Dima Dobralsa Domoy (1994) and 'U ha'amata 'atou 'i te himene (1996).

My relationship with Russia (and the Soviet Union) has been long and complex. My father was born in Kishinev (Moldova) and my step father in Ufa (Russia). My parents dedicated a large part of their lives to Communism. I was raised listening to Russian folk and symphonic music and to believe that the future could be found in the Soviet Union. Imbued with an interest in politics, many of my pieces would have both artistic and political purposes such as Apolliana (1970), Dr. Quisling in Stockholm (1971), 'Otahiti (1973), Homenaje a Milanés (1987) and Ce que signifie la déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen de 1789 pour les hommes et les citoyens des îles Marquises (1989). An epiphany occurred in 1969 when I was forced to think about the role I might have had as a composer of electroacoustic music had I lived in the Soviet Union. The defection to the West by writer Anatoly Kuznetsov affected me deeply. For the first time I came to understand the effect of political oppression on artists. The composition CCCP (In Memoriam Anatoly Kuznetsov) was a direct result. It combines the voices of Tolstoy, Stalin, Kuznetsov, Radio Moscow and Russian folk music to create what I have referred to elsewhere as 'musical storytelling.' Some twenty years later I became a close friend of the late Dmitri Pokrovsky, an extraordinary singer and choral director who had grown up in Moscow at the same time I grew up in Hollywood, California. Through him I learned much about politics, music and the Russian side of my own musical personality. To celebrate that friendship I composed Dima Dobralsa Domoy which tells, through music, the search for one's Russian home. The title means "Dmitri finally returns home after a long journey."

In the process of developing the Synclavier, I used several digital systems to compose pieces. Some of these pieces are Stereopticon (1972), Zoetrope (1974), Georganna's Farewell (1975), The Sydsing Camklang (1976), Mussems Sång (1976), In Deserto (1977), Syntrophia (1977), and Oskuldens Dröm (1985). Perhaps the strongest of these is In Medias Res (known in Brazil as "Sudden Death"). It is abstract music and the title only refers to the fact that the piece ends with startling abruptness. Sequences of digitally generated sound were combined using multitrack, analog tape recorders. At the end of the work there is the briefest reference to Irish folk music inspired by some of the drones used in the work.

For many years I have wanted to acknowledge those musical colleagues whose musics has helped shape my own. The list-found on the credit page-includes family, friends, and some musicians I have never met.

-Jon H Appleton, White River Junction (VT, USA), August 1996




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