The Most Amazing Sound in the World…Ever

I’ve recently had the chance to leaf through Pauline Oliveros’s Software for People: Collected Writings 1963-80. It’s probably not an easy volume to get one’s hands on, but if you can, I’d recommend it without reservation as a primary source on experimental music in the American academy in the 1960s and 1970s. This is a world I’m quite curious about, in a child’s sort of way, having encountered several of its inhabitants many years after the fact. I always wonder whether anyone will be curious about my colleagues and me in the same way.

At any rate, one of my favorite morsels in Software for People is entitled “Three Themes: Introducing the UCSD Music Community.” In this short article written for Numus West, Oliveros simply asks her coworkers and students to name their favorite sounds and records their responses.

Roger Reynolds: “I assume you mean independent of context?”

Robert Erickson: “I used to think I had favorites; now I don’t, really. The most I could say is that there might be a time and a place.”

Ken Gaburo: (Ken is out of town, but I am sure he would like the sound of St. Michael pouring the water of life from cup to cup.)

As an undergrad, I became quite familiar with the work of Reynolds, Gaburo, and especially Erickson, so of course upon reading these replies (or, in Gaburo’s case, Oliveros’ supposition regarding his non-reply) I immediately tried to situate them in the context of the music that inspired me as a larval composer. To be honest, this isn’t a repertoire I’ve spent much time with over the past few years, but these aphoristic answers are tugging me back to it: Maybe it’s time to revisit Corona and Kryl, say, two Erickson pieces that really captured my imagination when I was but a freshperson.

The context that led me to check out Software for People has nothing to do with UCSD composers in the ’70s—and indeed the book holds a great deal of insight beyond that narrow subject!—but I’m glad to have reconnected with these names that loomed over my musical adolescence. And I’ve also given some thought to what my favorite sound might be.

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