The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde

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The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant- Garde

Edited by David Bernstein

This book tells the story of the influential group of creative artists — Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnick, Ramon Sender, William Maginnis, and Tony Martin — who connected music to technology during a legendary era in California's cultural history.

An integral part of the robust San Francisco “scene,” the San Francisco Tape Music Center developed new art forms through collaborations with Terry Riley, Steve Reich, David Tudor, Ken Dewey, Lee Breuer, the San Francisco Actor's Workshop, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Ann Halprin Dancers' Workshop, Canyon Cinema, and others.

Riley, along with fellow minimalist Steve Reich, represented the top end of what could be achieved at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, an “autonomous, unaffiliated organization” for composers looking to break into the Digital Age. “I didn’t have to think about it,” Riley says in his interview with the book’s editor, David W. Bernstein, about the genesis of his rhythmic juggernaut. “It was the only thing I’ve ever written that came to me like that. . . . I saw it all on the page, but I didn’t really have a plan of how it would be performed.”

At its premiere, “In C” was performed as though it were a stack of ancient New Orleans jazz cylinders being fed through a futuristic synthesizer blasting wave after wave of rhythm. This was the full flowering of the ethos behind the center as it was envisioned in 1961, when composers Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick put their radical dreams in motion. The center was to be a place where new approaches to composition were explored, tape loops were built and effects boxes pressed into service in transforming what it meant -- on the West Coast, at least -- to make classical music. Gone were the normal repertory conceits -- string quartet, aria, concerto, movement -- and in their stead came pieces that streamed out through modulators and matrix mixers, with light projections and cinematic backdrops, for a new era of concertgoers. Except that these weren’t concerts so much as happenings: festivals of loops, in which jazzers, rockers, students, poets, filmmakers, acid takers, scholars and cultural philosophers came to be wowed and overcome, or at the least puzzled.

Told through vivid personal accounts, interviews, and retrospective essays by academics and artists, this work, capturing the heady experimental milieu of the sixties, is the first comprehensive history of the San Francisco Tape Music Center.

Mint Condition/As New
344 pages
Colour/B&W
18cm x 25cm