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Gordon Mumma: Electronic Music Of Theater & Public Activity

Release Date: 10/25/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80632   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gordon Mumma
Performer:  Gordon MummaStephen Smoliar
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Gordon Mumma (b. 1935) is one of the most important of the post-Cageian generation of experimental American composers. He was a member of the ONCE Group in Ann Arbor, and of the Sonic Arts Union, which included such other notables as Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, and David Behrman. Above all, he now stands as a pioneer of live electronic music. This is a very wide and amorphous field, but some salient aspects of its practice are: real-time generation of electroacoustic sounds; the use of computers as a partner in performance; the redefinition of composition as the generation of unfolding sonic environments, aka installation art; and the incorporation of unforeseen Read more concrete sounds into open structures, often using chance and randomizing procedures. Mumma has been a leader in all these aspects. This collection highlights four very different approaches to the field, though each is equally challenging and radical in its realization.

One work is a classic, Megaton for Wm. Burroughs. This is a theater piece from the 1964 ONCE festival that evokes with sinister energy and imagery the sense of impending doom hovering over America during the Cold War and Vietnam. This version is condensed from archival tapes to about half its full length, and it?s useful to read the program notes to get some sense of the dramatic and visual devices that were used in the piece because, frankly, without them it?s difficult to sense the overall nature of the work from the sound alone. There?s one great sequence, though: a montage of airplane drones and cockpit chatter from a WW II air-war film, which is funny and horrifying at once.

Conspiracy 8 (1970) was a work for live computer sound processing, co-composed with Stephen Smoliar at MIT. Mumma, a professional horn player, has often made his own live performance a part of his works, and here he plays a musical saw, which not only elicits laughter from the audience (which in turn becomes part of the sonic fabric), but produces unearthly sounds that take on a life of their own. Cybersonic Cantilevers (1973) is the record of an installation generating material over an entire day at a museum exhibition in Syracuse. The public was allowed to choose and input sounds, which were processed and gradually transformed by the electronics. This work is perhaps the most musically satisfying of the disc, because it parses out into a clear binary structure: the first half is all jagged contrasts, with blasts of distorted popular music and snippets of film noir dialogue, morphing into an ethereal texture of drones and gentle burbles in the second.

Finally, Cirqualz (1980) is a classic tape piece, designed for a dance company, which Mumma himself admits was composed under a pressing deadline. It?s also quite funny, as it?s a catalog of clichés from circus marches that pile up upon one another until they reach a critical mass (with a bit of Strauss, Bruckner, and Beethoven mixed in), a little like the Ives Fourth of July ?indeed, there are recorded fireworks at the end of this piece, not to mention a car wreck!

All these are composer-generated and -edited documents, so they cannot help but be authoritative. A lot of this music stretches the definition of the term, since it accepts many of the sounds that are byproducts of audio technology (white noise, intermittency, hum, static, machine sounds) as being just as valid as more traditional musical materials. Some Fanfare readers may find this anathema. If so, you know who you are, and are forewarned. Inevitably, since so much of this music draws a large part of its character from its intellectual/conceptual underpinning and its situational aspect, sound alone only goes so far to convey what its ultimate impact and worth can be. But at the very least, as historical documentation of works that have helped to define an entire discipline, this is a worthy release. Further, if paired with Tzadik 7074, which includes Mumma?s 1967 classic Hornpipe for horn and ?cybersonics,? one can get a very full portrait of the composer?s range and imagination in just a couple of discs.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Megaton for Wm. Burroughs by Gordon Mumma
Performer:  Gordon Mumma (Electronics)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; USA 
Length: 22 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Conspiracy 8 by Gordon Mumma
Performer:  Gordon Mumma (Electronics), Stephen Smoliar (Electronics)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1970; USA 
Length: 18 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Notes: This work was written in collaboration with Stephen Smoliar. 
Cybersonic Cantilevers by Gordon Mumma
Performer:  Gordon Mumma (Electronics)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973; USA 
Length: 19 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Cirqualz by Gordon Mumma
Performer:  Gordon Mumma (Electronics)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 43 Secs. 

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