Morton Subotnick

Composition Types

New Works (6)
Operas (1)


Born: April 14, 1933
Morton Subotnick's interest in electronic music began in the 1950s, and by the end of the decade he had begun composing his own electronic works. In 1960 Subotnick co-founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center with composer Ramon Sender; among its members were aspiring composers Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, and Steve Reich. Subotnick scored several of the Tape Center's collaborative theatrical performances in addition to writing many chamber pieces with tape and soundtracks for educational films. Most of Subotnick's pre-1967 catalog has been withdrawn.

In 1962 Subotnick and Sender asked electronic instrument inventor Don Buchla to build a synthesizer to their specifications. After a year spent in research and development, Buchla built the 100 series Electronic Music System, which both provided Subotnick with his primary instrument and found widespread use in university-level music education. In 1966, the San Francisco Tape Center was merged into Mills College's music department, and Subotnick moved to New York.

In 1967, Nonesuch Records launched Subotnick's first album, Silver Apples of the Moon, the first LP on the market to be devoted to a single electronic work, and at 31 minutes the longest electronic piece yet published on record. Silver Apples of the Moon defied all expectations through its ensuing popularity with record buyers and the positive critical notices it gained. Subotnick followed Apples with The Wild Bull (1968), also warmly received both critically and commercially.

In 1969, Buchla and Subotnick entered into a joint venture with CBS/Fender to produce a relatively inexpensive consumer model of synthesizer. As a result, the suitcase-sized Electronic Music Box debuted in 1970. Subotnick utilized this instrument on his CBS recordings, including Touch (1969), Sidewinder (1971), and Until Spring (1975). During his seven years with CBS/Fender, Subotnick enjoyed a high public profile experienced by few avant-garde composers. But as novelty interest in the synthesizer wore off and the market in new instruments became over-saturated, CBS/Fender pulled the plug on its electronics division, ending its association with Buchla and Subotnick in 1976. By this time Subotnick was moving into a different technology altogether, that of the "ghost score," introduced with Two Life Histories (1977). This was an electronic device combined with a computer program that acted as a compositional component, with the capability to modulate live sounds along a pre-determined plan. The most famous of Subotnick's ghost score-enabled works is A Fluttering of Wings for string quartet (1979). With Ascent Into Air (1981) Subotnick installed elements of ghost score technology into the massive mainframe computer at IRCAM in Paris, and brought the capability full circle in that live players were now able to effect the sounds the computer created, in addition to being modified by it.

With Return (1984) Subotnick adopted a commercially available MIDI platform. While nowhere near as flexible as his ghost scoring, even Subotnick couldn't ignore the advantages MIDI had to offer in terms of convenience. This gave Subotnick the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the digital revolution. From 1990, Subotnick began to develop interactive software aimed at assisting children in basic music education, including such CD-ROM titles as All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1991), Morton Subotnick's Creating Music (1995), Gestures: It Begins With Colors (2000), and others. The string quartet Echoes From the Silent Call of Girona (1998) also makes use of a CD-ROM for the electronic portion.

Subotnick has also composed a number of works for the stage, including The Dream Life of Amphibians (1984), Jacob's Room (1995) and Intimate Intensity (1997), plus orchestral pieces such as Before the Butterfly (1975) all of which make at least some use of electronics.
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There are 16 Morton Subotnick recordings available.

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Composition Types

New Works (6)
Operas (1)