FRANK J. OTERI:I want to thank you for taking time out from your very busy concert trek around the world to talk to us about intellectual property and the creative experience, and the murky areas in between the two. In much of your work, you are crossing a very thin line between what is yours in the traditional sense and what somebody who might not perceive of the process of how sound is put together as being belonging to someone else. I read in an essay by you which stated that the thing that really got you excited about music and composing and creating was archiving a bunch of recordings and it was a very wide mix of music, so I wanted to begin by talking with you about that.
CARL STONE:Sure, I had some very formative experiences when I was a student. I studied at CalArts and it was in their first 5-year period where the philosophy was “a curriculum for every student”, and as a music student there I had exposure to not only western classical music, but also a lot of contemporary and avant-garde music, non-western music and jazz. There was an African music program, there was a Javanese music program, and there were all these ensembles that came through. I heard Gagaku for the first time, I heard music of Iran live, Bulgaria, and much more, all of which I had never heard before. So certainly this was very important as part of a formative student experience, but what happened to me that had the biggest impact was actually outside the music school per se. I had been assigned a work-study job in the music library, and remember this was like 1973-1974, and the library had, I don’t know how many, but tens of thousands LP recordings that reflected the broadness of the music curriculum there, music ranging from the Renaissance up to the late 20th century, and not only Western music but music from all over the world.
FRANK J. OTERI:And pop music as well?
CARL STONE:Well actually not that much pop music, but some. But a lot of folk music and vernacular music, but outside of pop and rock and roll, which wasn’t a component. And my job was, in principle, to take all the recordings in the music library and to back them up onto cassette, which was the medium of storage and long-term archiving of the day.
FRANK J. OTERI:(laughs)
CARL STONE:(laughs) Again, this was 1973. So they set me up in a dark room, windowless, kind of like this only smaller, with 3 turntables and 3 tape cassettes recorders, and a small monitoring system – a mixer and a couple of speakers – and so what I was supposed to do was continuously record all the LPs in the library, 3 at a time, and I discovered that I could monitor by mixing all of the recordings together and it wouldn’t effect any of the taping process, but I could listen to what would happen if you combined Machaut with Ussachevsky, or the music of the Babenzele pygmies with… I don’t know… a Berg chamber piece, up to 3 at a time. And I began to experiment and notice the connections and re-contextualizations that would happen as these things played together. And I would mix them, and explore, and it was kind of play at that time. I didn’t think of it as composing.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now you had been composing…
CARL STONE:Well sure, I was studying composition and electronic music composition with Morton Subotnick and James Tenney. And I worked with Barry Schrader in the electronic studios there. And I was using these big Buchla synthesizers, and so I was making a kind of classic electronic music using tape recorders and making tape music.
FRANK J. OTERI:Cuts and splices?
CARL STONE:Cutting and splicing to be sure. But even in those days I began to experiment with some appropriated materials, such as if I found a record that really attracted me, I might take it and use it as a kind of starting point for an experiment in the studios. But it wasn’t until I finished at CalArts and I took a job as the Music Director of a radio station in Los Angeles, which was KPFK, the Pacifica station there. So there I was, a fully matriculated composer, but without a studio a of my own, and once again just with a couple of tape recorders, a couple of turntables, and a big music library. And I asked myself, “Well, what can I do, how can I make my piece now?” And that was the beginning of my professional work with found or appropriated musical material, in what I consider a sort of breakthrough piece (for me anyway), back in 1979. This was my piece piece Sukothai which took just a 1 1/2 minute performance on the harpsichord of a Rondo by Henry Purcell who a lot of people might know because it was the theme that Britten used for the Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. So I took that and I recorded it onto my tape recorder in stereo, and I rewound the tape and I mixed the two channels to mono and I recorded them onto the left channel of my second tape recorder and I rewound again, and then I recorded the same harpsichord playing onto the right channel, on the same tape recorder, displaced a little bit in time. So we had this kind of very simple canon when you played it back. Then I rewound again, and now mixing my 2 copies of this harpsichord piece to mono, I re-recorded onto the left channel of the other tape recorder, and rewound again and recorded on the right channel, again displaced in time but by a different interval, so now my 2-part canon became a kind of 4-part canon with a somewhat more irregular rhythm. And then I thought, “Well, let’s just keep going here” so I rewound again and I took my 4-mixed tracks to mono, doubled them to 8, 16, 32, 64 all the way up to 1024 layers of the same harpsichord material. I just kept going. It’s 2 to the 10th. And what was interesting to me was – first of all the rhythms became more complicated, that was sort of the musical interest, but then I noticed as things became denser, you actually lost the sense of rhythm altogether. The sound massed, and the smaller in-time details of the harpsichord completely disappeared. And what you were left with at the end, by the time you got up into the 512 or 1024, was just this broad harmonic expanse of the musical material itself. It sounded more like a very ethereal organ, like Rameau playing in a cathedral in heaven somewhere.
CARL STONE:Exactly, yes and I was very influenced by that, I have to say. I was influenced generally by minimalist tendencies at this time. The process pieces of early Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Alvin Lucier. And that particular process that Lucier did was I have to say very, very impressive to me. And the idea that where the process and the form are one, the form and the content become the determinant of the piece. Jim Tenney was also working in this way. Some of his pieces of that period were process oriented pieces, where nothing is concealed from the listener. The listener could follow the process and might even try to predict what the next step will be. And while they might predict correctly that I would double it again, probably they wouldn’t predict what the result would be.
FRANK J. OTERI:Right…
CARL STONE:And that’s kind of what interested me as well. And so the piece itself became just a serial assembly, you hear 1 to 2 to 3.