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Morton Subotnick (born April 14, 1933, in Los Angeles, California) is an American composer of electronic music, best known for his Silver Apples of the Moon, the first electronic work commissioned by a record company, Nonesuch. He was one of the founding members of California Institute of the Arts where he taught for many years.
Subotnick has worked extensively with interactive electronics and multi-media, co-founding the San Francisco Tape Music Center with Ramon Sender, and often collaborating with his wife Joan La Barbara. Morton Subotnick is one of the pioneers in the development of electronic music and multi-media performance and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems. Most of his music calls for a computer part, or live electronic processing; his oeuvre utilizes many of the important technological breakthroughs in the history of the genre.
Subotnick graduated from the University of Denver. In the early 1960s, Subotnick taught at Mills College and with Ramon Sender, co-founded the San Francisco Tape Music Center. During this period he collaborated with Anna Halprin in two works (the 3 legged stool and Parades and Changes) and was music director of the Actors Workshop.
In 1966 Subotnick was instrumental in getting a Rockefeller Grant to join the Tape Center with the Mills Chamber Players (a chamber at Mills College with performers Nate Rubin, violin; Bonnie Hampton, cello; Naomi Sparrow, piano and Subotnick, clarinet). The grant required that the Tape Center relocate to a host institution that became Mills College. Subotnick, however, did not stay with the move, but went to New York with the Actor’s Workshop to become the first music director of the Lincoln Center Rep Company in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. He also, along with Len Lye, became an artist in residence at the newly formed Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. The School of the Arts provided him with a studio and a Buchla Synthesizer (now at the Library of Congress). During this period he helped develop and became artistic director of the Electric Circus and the Electric Ear. This was also the time of the creation of Silver Apples of the Moon, The Wild Bull, and Touch.
Silver Apples of the Moon
Early electronic music was made using wave generators and tape-manipulated sounds. Subotnick was among the first composers to work with electronic instrument designer Don Buchla. Buchla's modular voltage-controlled synthesizer, which he called the Electric Music Box and which was constructed partly based on suggestions by Subotnick and Sender, was both more flexible and easier to use, and its sequencing ability was integral to Subotnick's music.
At a time when electronic music was highly abstract, largely concerned with pitch and timbre, with rhythm an afterthought or of no consequence and patterns largely avoided, Subotnick broke with the academic avant-gardists by including sections with regular rhythms. Both Silver Apples and 1968's The Wild Bull (another Nonesuch-commissioned work for tape; they have since been combined on a Wergo CD) have been choreographed by dance companies around the world.
In 1969 Subotnick was invited to be part of a team of artists to move to Los Angeles to plan a new school. Mel Powell as Dean, Subotnick as Associate Dean, and a team of four other pairs of artists carved out a new path of music education and created the now famous California Institute of the Arts. Subotnick remained Associate Dean of the music school for 4 years and then, resigning as Associate Dean, became the head of the composition program where, a few years later, he created a new media program that introduced interactive technology and multi media into the curriculum. In 1978 Subotnick, with Roger Reynolds and Bernard Rands, produced 5 annual internationally acclaimed new music festivals.
Approach to music
Where previous electronic music had used non-traditional structures, Subotnick's electronic compositions are structured more like the classical music for acoustic instruments with which audiences are familiar, but with nontraditional timbres and pitch manipulations no orchestra could produce. He has also written for acoustic instruments, and studied with Darius Milhaud and Leon Kirchner at Mills College in Oakland, California.
In addition to music in the electronic medium, Subotnick has written for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, theater and multimedia productions. His "staged tone poem” The Double Life of Amphibians, a collaboration with director Lee Breuer and visual artist Irving Petlin, utilizing live interaction between singers, instrumentalists and computer, was premiered at the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles.
The concert version of Jacob’s Room, a mono drama commissioned by Betty Freeman for the Kronos Quartet and singer Joan La Barbara, received its premiere in San Francisco in 1985. Jacob's Room, Subotnick's multimedia opera chamber opera (directed by Herbert Blau with video imagery by Steina and Woody Vasulka, featuring Joan La Barbara), received its premiere in Philadelphia in April 1993 under the auspices of The American Music Theater Festival. The Key To Songs, for chamber orchestra and computer, was premiered at the 1985 Aspen Music Festival. Return, commissioned to celebrate the return of Haley's Comet, premiered with an accompanying sky show in the planetarium of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles in 1986. Subotnick's recent works—among them Jacob's Room, The Key to Songs, Hunger, In Two Worlds, And the Butterflies Begin to Sing and A Desert Flowers—utilize computerized sound generation, specially designed software Interactor and "intelligent" computer controls which allow the performers to interact with the computer technology.
All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1994) was an interactive concert work and a CD-ROM (perhaps the first of its kind), Making Music (1995), Making More Music (1998) were his first works for children, and an interactive 'Media Poem', Intimate Immensity, premiered at the Lincoln Center Festival in NY (1997). The European premiere (1998) was in Karlsrhue, Germany. A string quartet with CDROM, Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona (1998), was premiered in Los Angeles by Southwest Chamber Music.
Subotnick was commissioned to complete a larger version of the opera, Jacobs Room. This premiered in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival in Austria.
Subotnick is developing tools for young children to create music. He has authored a series of six CDROMs for children, mounted a children's website and he is developing a related school program. Subotnick's Pitch Painter for iPad and iPhone is a musical finger painting app which presents a new intuitive way for kids to create music.
Subotnick is working with the Library of Congress as they are preparing an archival presentation of his electronic works. He tours extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe as a lecturer and composer/performer. Morton Subotnick is published by Schott Music. Students of his include Ingram Marshall, Mark Coniglio, Carl Stone, Rhys Chatham, Charlemagne Palestine, Ann Millikan, John King and Lois V Vierk.
Subotnick is married to Joan La Barbara, a singer and composer. Subotnick's oldest son, Steven Subotnick, is an animator; his youngest son, Jacob Subotnick, is a sound designer and his daughter, Tamara Winer, is a psychiatric social worker.
- Guggenheim Fellowship
- Rockefeller Grants (3)
- Meet the Composer (2)
- American Academy of Arts and Letters Composer Award
- Brandies Award
- Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Künstlerprogramm (DAAD), Composer in Residence in Berlin
- Lifetime Achievement Award (SEAMUS at Dartmouth)
- ASCAP: John Cage Award
- ACO: Lifetime Achievement
- Honorary Doctorate from the California Institute of the Arts
- Sonata for viola and piano (1958)
- Silver Apples of the Moon (1967)
- The Wild Bull (1968)
- Touch (1969)
- Sidewinder (1971)
- Four Butterflies (1973)
- Until Spring (1975)
- A Sky of Cloudless Sulfur (1978)
- Axolotl (1981)
- A Fluttering of Wings (1981)
- An Arsenal of Defense for solo viola and "electronic ghost score" (1982)
- Trembling (1983)
- The Key to Songs (1985)
- Jacob's Room (1986)
- and the butterflies begin to sing (1988)
- All My Hummingbirds Have Alibis (1991)
- Gestures (1999–2001)
- Then Now and Forever (2008)
- The Other Piano (2007)
- Jacob's Room Opera (2010)
- From Silver Apples of the Moon to A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur (2009 – 2013)
- Jacob's Room Monodrama (2013)
- Bernstein, David W. (2008-07-08). The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde. University of California Press. pp. 117–. ISBN 9780520248922. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
- Gillespie, John (June 1972). The musical experience. Wadsworth Pub. Co. p. 444. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
- Schrader, Barry (February 1982). Introduction to electro-acoustic music. Prentice Hall. pp. 130–. ISBN 9780134815152. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
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- Morton Subotnick's Creating Music
- CalArts Faculty: Morton Subotnick
- Subotnick at The International New Music Consortium
- New Albion Artist: Morton Subotnick
- European American Music Distributors LLC: Morton Subotnick
- Morton Subotnick at Schott Music
- Malaspina Great Books: Morton Subotnick
- From Moog to Mark II, to MIDI to MAX By Kyle Gann for American Public Media
- Interview with Peter Shea at the University of Minnesota
- Interview with Dublab
- Interview with RedBull Music Academy
- Mars Millennium Project 2030: Artist: Morton Subotnick
- Morton Subotnick interview
- Art of the States: Morton Subotnick Echoes from the Silent Call of Girona (1998)
- Subotnick's The Double Life of Amphibians at the Internet Archive Avant Garde Project has FLAC files made from high-quality LP transcriptions (originally from the Avant Garde Project) available for free download.