MUSIC OF VLADAMIR USSACHEVSKY COMPOSERS RECORDINGS, INC.
during the wake of the second World War, something extraordinary began
to happen almost simultaneously throughout Europe and in the United States.
Perhaps its roots can be traced to the technological developments in warfare,
or surveillance, or something equally scientific; or maybe it can be attributed
in part to the creation of a new ethos in the wake of human disaster,
an unmistakable shift in the direction of a worldview among artists in
general. What we are now talking about, however, was to have a longstanding
influence not merely on the streams of information available to those
in immediate search of meaning in the world, but ultimately on the popular
lifemusic, visual arts, entertainment fieldsof the global
community as well.
To put it differently: we were listening to early Kraftwerk yesterday.
Everyone knows Kraftwerkthe late 70s, dark, analog synthesizer-filled
pretechnojunglebreakbeatfreakout Germans who performed as many as four
concerts simultaneously across Germany. We were thinking, we bet the innovations
in electroacoustics, synthesizer technology, early computers, theater-science
were not, as Capitol records might have wanted listeners to believe (or
may even have believed themselves), without precedent. Indeed, we were
right. And a big part of that precedent is contained on a CRI disc entitled,
Music of Vladimir Ussachevsky.
First, a word on Composers Recordings, Inc: it is remarkable, as any record
shopper will attest, when a record company anywhere keeps a large back
catalogue of some of its early ventures in print and available to the
public. Most of the larger companies are now coming to (after what must
be interpreted as some sort of psychotic fugue) and realizing that those
old records which had a quick run 30 years ago might still
be of historical and musical interest to another two generations. CRI,
however, has managed to keep not only a large percentage, but the entirety
of its catalogue in print throughout the decades of its existence. The
American Masters is its reissue series, dedicated to continuing to make
available the earliest recordings of composers like Mario Davidovsky and
Ussachevsky; it keeps a focus on turn-of-the-millennium composers, too
(like James Fei, whose work, Chinese Music, is featured on
eXchange: China, one of CRIs music at the intersection
of cultures series).
All of which brings us back to our main focus: Ussachevsky. Music which
is challenging and dynamic, historical and immediate. This work functions
as a near perfect introduction to one of the first masters of electroacoustic
music (then known primarily as tape music, as it was constructed
through manipulations of electronic signals recorded onto reel-to-reel
tape), and encompasses works from as early as 57 up to 72.
Stories of Ussachevskys legacy still echo in the halls of the Computer
Music Center at Columbia University, the modern incarnation of his brainchild,
the Columbia Experimental Music Studio, and the place from which most
of these works were born. Equipped with an Ampex 400 tape recorder, a
microphone, a set of earphones, a Magnechord recorder, and an unlimited
natural acoustic/electric sound palette, Ussachevsky fashioned works like
Of Wood and Brass, perhaps the most effective and dynamic
use of acoustic materialstraditional western instruments like the
trombone and xylophoneof the time. Along with tape alterations and
microediting, of which it is said that both Ussachevsky and his partner
in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, Otto Luening, spent
hundreds of hours cutting and taping fragments of sound, several of Ussachevskys
works feature the integration of voice and electronics. Middle period
works, like Three Scenes From the Creation, capture some of
this interest, and provide another side to the development of the composer/scientist.
Another CRI disc, Pioneers of ELECTRONIC MUSIC, features Ussachevsky
in contextplaced alongside his fellow travellers, like Otto Luening
and Mario Davidovsky, Arel and Smileyand provides an interesting
portrait of some of the other composers working out of the same studio.
It offers a chance to glimpse the other creators in the field, some whose
interests parallel Ussechevskys and others who provide an alternative
conception of tools like tape manipulation and splicing (like Luenings
52 work, Low Speed).
In addition to tape manipulation and splicing, Ussachevskys later
works began to peek into the digital world a little moretechniques
which, in many ways, predated and anticipated the more complex world of
synthesizers as tools to explore and alter sounds. Today, developments
in electronics, computers, psychoacoustics, and theater-sciences are more
readily available: Kraftwerk, Bjork, the Rza continue to bring these streams
into the public domain, as information and technology. Let it be said
only that the foundations of the world of modern computer music were lain
with tape works of Ussachevsky and his collaborators, and that work is
captured, in depth, we might add, in CRIs The Music of Vladimir
A catalogue of this and other works can be obtained through CRI, 73 Spring
Street, Suite 506, New York, New York 10012.
New York, New York