Life Art Music Writing

Milton Babbitt's Demonstration on Electronic Music

This is fascinating to look more than a half century back and realize that how much electronic music has gone through. In this video, Milton Babbitt showcased four different ways to either create or manipulate sounds. With each one, he played excerpts from the following works.

Pre-recorded Sound: "Of Wood and Brass" by Vladimir Ussachevsky.

Electronic Oscillation: "Electronic Study No. 2" by Mario Davidovsky

Computer-generated: "Mudgett, Monologues for a Mass Murderer" by James Randall

Synthesizer: "Vision and Prayer" by Milton Babbitt

Babbitt is extremely eloquent and clear-minded. He gave concise descriptions of each means, showed enthusiasm about the works to be played and answered the host's questions with wittiness and conviction. One of the host's question is a real problem, as he involuntarily relate the electronic sound to science-fiction film soundtracks. It is similar to people who relate classical music to bedtime music and serial music to emotionless creation. In short, it is a kind of prejudice. One does need to eliminate any pre-existing connotations if he or she wants to be able to understand or perceive something new. With the "bad habits of oneself' no one can embrace any changes, not to mention appreciate them.

However, Babbitt mentioned that composers who turned to electronic music were not interested in the new sound, but the possibilities electronic music could provide, to which I have a different point of view, as I was largely drown to electronic music by the sound per se. I remember when I heard Luigi Nono's "Contrappunto dialettico alla mente" the first time, how my ears opened up to a whole new sound world that is simply parallel to the acoustic music. I agree that the sound world is fundamentally enabled by the possibilities a computer can provide, but I also believe that more and more composers are now aware and conscious of creating their own sound, which is self-explanatory by listening to different electronic music composers.

Another point of interest is how computers and synthesizers looked back then. If I did not hear him talking about them while the images were shown, I would not be able to recognize them as something I could just click on on my desktop and start working with. My respect to the punch cards.