Sonic Arts Union

1. Alvin Lucier "Vespers"

2. Robert Ashley "Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon"

3. David Behrman "Runthrough"

4. Gordon Mumma "Hornpipe"


LP, Electric Sound, Mainstream, LP, 1971

Liner Notes

The Sonic Arts Union formed in 1966 when Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier, and Gordon Mumma decided to pool their resources and help one another with the performance and staging of their music. Since that time the group has performed extensively in the United States and has completed three tours of Europe.

"Vespers" Alvin Lucier

I would like to pay my respects to all living creatures who inhabit dark places and who, over the years, have developed the art of echolocation (sounds sent out into an environment returning as messengers with information as to shape, size and substance of the environment and the objects in it). I am envious of the astonishing acuity of such creatures--dolphins, certain species of nocturnal birds, and bats, particularly those of the familv Vespertilionidae, the common bat of Europe and North America.

Vespers was composed in 1968 and is performed in darkness. Each performer is supplied with a Sondol (sonar-dolphin), a hand-held echolocation device which emits a fast, sharp, narrow-beamed click whose repetition rate can be varied manually, and is given the task of orienting himself in the dark by means of scanning the environment and monitoring the relationship between the outgoing and returning pulses. When the pulse repetition rate is adjusted so that the returning echo is half-way between the outgoing pulses, an object appears to emit sound, the quality of which depends upon the material of the object itself.

Moving from place to place the performer discovers clear pathways, avoids obstacles and takes slow sound photographs of his surroundings.

This recording was made with the Environ-Ears Recording System, an integrated acoustical labyrinth and microphone assembly which duplicates the localization and noise-reducing functions of the human ear. The system consists of a pair of ears mounted on a tube containing two miniature high quality microphones which record the actual physical positions of sounds in three dimensions.

Both the Sondols and the Environ-Ears System were designed by Listening, Incorporated, Arlington, Massachusetts.

Alvin Lucier was born in 1931 in Nashua, New Hampshire . He studied music at Yale and Brandeis and spent two years in Rome on a Fulbright scholarship. He was formerly conductor of the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus and now teaches electronic music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His recent works include Music for Solo Performer 1965 (live brainwaves), Whistlers 1966 (ionospheric disturbances), Shelter (sounds filtering through walls and floors) 1967, North American Time Capsule 1967 (humans talking to aliens), and Chambers 1968 (moving small and large resonant environments).


Singers: Mary Ashley, Barbara Lloyd, Mary Lucier Speaker: Cynthia Liddell

Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon is the opening number of "The Wolfman Motorcity Revue," a theater work for amplified voices and tape, which has as its subject matter the melodrama and song structures of the nightclub entertainment situation. As in the popular songs of the nightclub world, the themes are love and sex and violence. Purposeful Lady Slow Afternoon IS a solo song for female vocalist with a "back-up group" of girls' voices and a simple, rhythmic accompaniment.

Robert Ashley was born in 1930 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and studied at the University of Michigan and at the Manhattan School of Music . He is one of the organizers of the annual Once Festival in Ann Arbor and Director of the Once Group. His compositions include various kinds of electronic music, works for conventional instruments, film soundtracks, and theatre-music works for ensembles of non-musician performers. Until 1969, when he was appointed Co-Director of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College , he was a sound-engineer and producer of sound tracks for commercial motion pictures.

"RUNTHROUGH" David Behrman

Runthrough is made from cheap circuitry put together at home. Three or four people can use it to make improvised music. There is no score. The circuitry consists of sound generators and modulators, with dials and switches which can be worked by one or two people, and a photocell distribution circuit which two others can play with flashlights. The sound is best heard coming from four or eight large loudspeakers placed in a circle around players and listeners. No special skills or training are helpful in turning knobs or shining flashlights, so whatever music can emerge from the equipment is as available to non-musicians as to musicians. The generators and modulators provide a large reservoir of particular sound possibilities which can be gotten at by the players in the course of operating the various controls. Because there is neither a score nor directions, any sound which results from any combination of switch and light positioning remains part of the 'piece.' (Whatever you do with a surfboard in the surf remains a part of surfboarding). The flashlight wavers can take the sound sent out by the dial players, turn it up, down or out, and send it anywhere among the loudspeakers in any manner and speed they choose. Things are going well when all the players have the sensation they are riding a sound they like in harmony together, and when each is appreciative of what the others are doing.

David Behrman was born in 1937 in Salzburg, Austria and grew up in New York . He studied music at Harvard and made concerts there with Frederic Rzewski and Christian Wolff. In 1964. with Gordon Mumma's help, he began experimenting with home-made electronic circuitry for use in music making. Since then he has composed and performed a number of pieces for small groups of people involving special electronic and musical setups. He worked for several years as a producer for Columbia Records and has toured as musician with the Cunningham Dance Company.

"HORNPIPE" (1967) Gordon Mumma

I had played French Horn for more than a decade, but nearly abandoned it for lack of original new music. Then Morton Feldman, who had composed a beautiful work for Horn and 'cello, brought to my attention two compositions for Horn and piano by Christian Wolff.

For several years Robert Ashley and I performed one of these remarkable pieces, the Duet II, in our concert tours. It was this and several other works of Christian Wolff which inspired me to compose my own works for Horn. In 1961 I began a series of pieces for Horn, with various accompanying resources, culminating in late 1967 with the cybersonic piece Hornpipe.

Hornpipe is a live-electronic work for French Horn with cybersonic console, and is dedicated to Christian and Holly Wolff. The cybersonic console is a small metal box worn by the performer. This console contains electronic circuits of my own design which respond to the sounds of the Horn and to the acoustical resonances of the performance space. In Hornpipe the instrument is seldom played traditionally. Most of the sounds are produced with special double reeds, and the slides are rearranged so that sound is heard from different parts of the instrument.

Hornpipe begins as a solo without electronic sound. The player performs from four types of sound materials: sustained natural Horn, sustained reed Horn, articulated reed Horn, and staccato reed Horn. The cybersonic console monitors the resonances of the Horn in the performance space and adjusts its electronic circuits to complement these resonances. During this adjustment certain circuits become unbalanced and attempt to rebalance themselves. While rebalancing, various combinations occur which produce electronic sound responses. These responses, heard from loudspeakers, results in three further sound activities: Horn in ensemble with electronic sounds, solo electronic sequences of long cybersonic responses, and electronic sounds articulated directly by Horn sounds.

In each performance the player learns from his own choices and their corresponding electronic responses which sounds are most likely to unbalance and rebalance the cybersonic console. Beginning as a solo, a performance of Hornpipe becomes a duo of responses between the Horn and the cybersonic console, ending when a sustained Horn sound balances all of the cybersonic circuits and terminates the electronic sounds.

Gordon Mumma was born in 1935 in Framingham, Massachusetts . He was one of the organizers of the ONCE Festival And the Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music in Ann Arbor, Michigan . He performs widely with Robert Ashley, John Cage. Barbara Lloyd, David Tudor, the Sonic Arts Union, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Co.

These files are made available courtesy of the Avant-Garde Project


Robert Ashley in UbuWeb Sound
Alvin Lucier in UbuWeb Sound
Alvin Lucier "Music with Roots in the Aether"
David Behrman "Music with Roots in the Aether"
Gordon Mumma "Music with Roots in the Aether"
Robert Ashley "Music with Roots in the Aether"

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