Tod Dockstader (1932-2015)

Travelling Music (1960) 9:08
Luna Park (1961) 11:28

Two Fragments From Apocalypse (1961)

First Fragment 3:05
Second Fragment 3:00

Apocalypse (1961)

Part One 3:06
Part Two 2:02
Part Three 4:59
Part Four 8:49
Drone 13:25

Four Telemetry Tapes (1965)

No. 1 3:00
No. 2 2:34
No. 3 3:30
No. 4 3:55

Water Music (1963)

Part One 2:26
Part Two 2:56
Part Three 3:32
Part Four 2:21
Part Five 3:08
Part Six 3:11

Two Moons Of Quatermass (1964)

First Moon 4:17
Second Moon 4:37

Quatermass (1964)

Song And Lament 9:41
Tango 7:13
Parade 7:02
Flight 7:49
Second Song 13:36

"Water music" (1963) & "Quatermass" (1964) previously released by Owl Records.
"Two moons of Quatermass" (1964) is exclusive for this release.
"Water music" sources are: water, toy gong-rattles, Indian finger bells, a sheet of metal, two test generators (rewired for instability), two water glasses, a Coke bottle, a metal garbage can (to hold the water), and a nail.
Basic source for "Quatermass" is a balloon.

Interview 1963 (WRVR, Riverside Radio, New York City), 22'49"

Tod Dockstader was born in 1932 in St.Paul, Minnesota. After majoring in psychology and art at the University of Minnesota, he went on to study painting and film, earning money by drawing cartoons for local newspapers and magazines. In 1955, Dockstader moved to Hollywood to work as an apprentice film editor, cutting picture and sound for animated cartoons including "Mr.Magoo" and "Gerald McBoing Boing." He then moved on to writing and storyboarding cartoons.

Dockstader became a self-taught sound engineer and sound effects specialist and apprenticed as a recording engineer in 1958. It was around this time that he started to use his off-work hours at Gotham Recording Studios to experiment with musique concrète. By 1960 he had amassed enough material to assemble his first composition Eight Pieces (later to be used in the soundtrack of Fellini's Satyricon), the last of which was re-worked into his first stereo piece Travelling Music. His last piece at Gotham was Four Telemetry Tapes in 1965, after which he left to work as an audio-visual designer on the Air Canada Pavillion at Montreal's Expo '67. It was around this time that some of Dockstader's pieces were released on three Owl L.P.s, and his work became known to a larger audience (he had previously released some pieces on Folkways). However, he no longer had access to studio facilities and was denied access to the major electronic music centres because of his lack of academic credentials. He therefore concentrated on educational audio-visual productions, and has written and produced hundreds of filmstrips and videos for schools.

Musique Concrète

Dockstader was by no means a pioneer in his methods of musical composition. Pierre Schaeffer had been manipulating sampled sounds in the early 1940s using discs, and France's RTF had broadcast them in 1948 in a programme billed as a "concert of noises". This aroused the interest of fellow composers, one of whom was Pierre Henry, who was later to collaborate with Schaeffer on the first major work of musique concrète, Symphonie Pour un Homme Seul. By 1951, Schaeffer's studio was formally established as the Groupe de Musique Concrète (later the Groupe de Recherches Musicale), and he opened his studio for other young composers to work in the new medium. Among these were Olivier Messiaen, who created his only electronic work there, Timbres-durees (1952), and his pupils Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Jean Barraque, who all produced studies there.

The later 1950s saw a period of serialist ascendance, led by Boulez, Stockhausen and others, and any compositional technique not integrating these concerns was subject to question. Boulez denounced Schaeffer's approach to electronic composition, calling it unsophisticated and inadequate. The music Schaeffer was producing took taped sounds and manipulated them empirically, manually in the studio. If a score was produced at all, it was usually after the piece was completed rather than as a prior conceptualization, unlike the mode of the serialist avant-garde who worked to preconcieved and highly theorized plans and scores. The degree of control over the musical material required to realize such highly complex scores was so high that composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbit turned to purely electronic techniques (using sine tones generated by oscillators rather than sampled sounds as source material) to realize them.

Edgar Varèse had experimented in the 1930s with discs, and later had included early electronic instruments (the trautonium and ondes martenot for his piece Ecuatorial in 1934) in his orchestral works. As early as 1916, Varèse had been striving for the means to produce music by electronic means, saying "I refuse to submit myself to sounds that have already been heard. What I am looking for are new technical mediums which can lend themselves to every expression of thought and can keep up with that thought".; He had written to film companies as early as 1940 outlining his ideas concerning the realization of "combinations of sound possible today, but which never before today could have been produced," in an attempt to encourage them to take a lead in promoting and developing electronic music. It was not until 1953 that Varèse was given the opportunity to realize his ambitions when he received the gift of a tape recorder after pressing for just such a means of musical production for over thirty years. It is quite fitting that Dockstader should come from the background in which Varèse had first envisaged the beginnings of an electronic music studio, and also that his poeme electronique should be aired alongside Dockstader's composition Piece No.8 (from Eight pieces, 1960) on New York's WQXR in 1961.

Varèse and Schaeffer are the two most important forerunners to Dockstader, both being more interested in using the new medium of tape in a way which explored the possibilities of that medium, rather than trying to bend the medium to adhere to the rules of a compositional technique. Examples of the latter include Ilhan Mimaroglu, Otto Leuning and Vladimir Ussachevsky, whose mode of working involved the formulation of a score, and the use of tapes (both of noises and instrumental sounds) as instrumentation for such scores. Another composer to use tape as a compositional medium is John Cage, whose tape collage pieces Williams Mix (1952) and Fontana Mix (1958) were constructed by the use of complex graphic scores which determined the time bracket, splicing technique, looping behaviour, etc. of taped sounds - although the nature of the sounds was unspecified, and indeed the scores can be interpreted by performers using conventional instruments. Williams Mix was composed in the electronic studios set up in 1953 by Louis and Bebe Barron, whose work included the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet, which was revolutionary for 1956 in the way it brought electronic music out of the classical studio and into the domain of popular culture. Iannis Xenakis also produced tape pieces in the studio of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales at the end of the '50s and early '60s (Diamorphoses, Concret PH, Orient-Occident and Bohor - now collected on a CD devoted to his Electronic music on the Electronic Music Foundation's own label - EMF CD 003), but like Cage his methods of composing these tape pieces closely follow those he employed in the composition of music for more traditional instrumentation. Dockstader's compositional technique on the other hand seems to have been more intuitive, and manages to convey the great excitement he must have felt in exploring the completely new possibilities in music production which the tape recorder afforded him. The structure of Dockstader's pieces can be clearly heard, and it is this simplicity in conjunction with the use of a battery of effects to create hugely complex and other-worldly sounds that makes listening to his work a lot more immediate.

It is both a surprise and a disappointment that Dockstader finished making music in this way as early as 1965. In his notes for Four Telemetry Tapes, he notes that his work with tapes became instantly obsolete when synthesizers and sequencers became available, but the same way of composing was still being practised through the 1970s at the Groupe de Recherches Musique studios, and lives on today in the work of Christian Zanesi and his contemporaries. We will never know what new realms of sound he may have led us into if the Columbia Princeton Center hadn't turned him away in the mid-sixties.

Dockstader on Dockstader

I don't remember just when I first heard musique concrète; it must have been in the early 50s. I think I liked the idea of it more than the Toonerville-Trolley sound of the early pieces. In Pierre Schaeffer's original definition, it meant working with the sound in your ears, directly with the sound, as opposed to "abstract" music in which the sounds are written. Like Schaeffer, a working sound engineer, I had the training to be a "worker in rhythms, frequencies and intensities." As a non-musician, I couldn't write music, but this "new art of sound" didn't need notation. In the beginning, musique concrète wasn't even agreed upon to be music; Schaeffer's first presentation of his work was called "a concert of noises."

It also seemed to me, this new art of sound, a very democratic art. I'd studied painting for five years and gave it up, primarily because I came to dislike the exclusivity of it; a painting became the property of one person, one institution. I liked the idea that Schaeffer's first work was created in a (public) radio studio; his first premieres were broadcasts, not the "narrowcasts" of concert hall performances. And, when you bought a recording of it, you owned the work just as much as anyone else, because the work was a recording. So, I pursued that.

Any art is, of course, not just all the possibilities; it is also choice - organization. That this new sound-art could be rigorously organized I first learned by hearing Edgar Varèse's Poeme Electronique of 1958 - a powerfully dramatic work in which the strength and personality of choice among all the possibilities is very evident. My choice of the term "Organized Sound" for my own work was, in part, a tribute to the Poeme and Varèse.

I also chose it because, in the '60s, the term "electronic music" was coming to mean music made purely of synthetic sound, and I was working in both "concrete" and electronically generated sounds.

By 1960, in addition to Varèse's Poeme, I'd heard tape music pieces by Berio, Leuning, Ussachevsky, and Stockhausen. Also, I had always listened to instrumental music. From the start, I had preferred 20th century music, or at least what there was of it that was dramatic, colorful, and adventurous - everything from Stravinsky's Firebird to Messiaen's Turangulila Symphony to Boulez's Le Marteau sans maitre (three that pop into mind). Of all I heard, the three electronic pieces I can hum are Varèse's Poeme, Stockhausen's Gesang der Junglinge.

As I went, the sound got easier but the organization got harder, and I entered into a struggle I hadn't anticipated. John Cage (in Silence) tells of the effort it took him to overcome his musical training and become a Listener to sound again. There came a struggle to resist forcing the sounds too far into Music and away from a true art of sound, This, I think, is the continuing struggle in electronic music of all kinds. It's very hard to stay a Listener. I think I was aided, in my time and circumstances, by not having a synthesizer of any kind: no keyboards, no pre-set voices.

My "synthesizer" for everything on this CD was one or two sne-wave test generators ("oscillators" in those days) which were "played" by turning a dial. I forced them to produce harmonics (square waves) by amplifying them into distortion, and got the pulse-trains out of them by temporarily rewiring them into instability (temporarily, because they had to resume life the next day as stable test generators). The "notes" they produced were achieved by deiting tape, not by note (by note by note...). For Quatermass, I acquired a Heathkit test generator of my own, which I built to allow me to "switch" tones instaead of having to "tune" them (like a radio). Also, when turned on or off, it made marvellous shrieks and groans.

Some composers who worked in what's been called the "glorious junkshop" of the now-classic tape studios have looked back in awe and dismay at the amount of hard, physical work it took to make a piece. But easier isn't necessarily better. I enjoyed it: I found it was like the best part of painting - standing on your feet all day, moving around, working with your hands , sometimes very fast, more often very slowly, mixing, cutting, stitching it together with the sound in your ears. It had a muscular joy to it. I think a lot of us had fun up on that singin high wire, teetering between control and chaos, trying to push the sound a little farther forward toward Something we hadn't heard before, working in it... Listening.

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